I know what you are thinking and I’ll spare you asking it yourself: why in the hell would I bother testing a two-year-old stripper work truck? Well, it comes down to a couple of facts that are prevalent in today’s world of new automobiles:
- The pickup truck is one of, if not the most popular choice for a new vehicle.
- The pickup truck sports the most desirable engine choices that are available for bread-and-butter vehicles in the lineup.
- The pickup truck can still be had for easily accessible money, IF the buyer is willing to forgo some luxuries.
We can make cracks at $70,000 ultra-luxury diesel pickups all day long, but if you go hunting in the work-oriented half-ton segment of the Big Three’s selection, you can find deals. And I’m not kidding about forgoing luxuries in the least…we are talking rent-a-truck basic trim packages, with the lightest weight and an engine that might feel a little bit better than it would in the more typical mid-range optioned lot trucks you’d find for sale. I’ve wanted to get my hands on a super-stripper with a good engine package for a bit now to showcase how it might be wiser to build up a half-ton that’s fairly new, and lo and behold, the other day I found my mark: a two-year-old Ram 1500 Tradesman, powered by the same 5.7L Hemi V8 that I live with daily, in a regular-cab shortbed configuration with exactly two options TOTAL on it’s original sticker, the 5.7L Hemi and the TorqueFlite 8 automatic tranmission. The truck was sitting on the lot at Campbell Chevrolet in Bowling Green and any way you looked at it, the feel was “low-buck” with only the Hemi badge keeping me from walking away. Brand new, this thing stickered for $28,990 out the door, and if it sat on the lot for a bit, you could have probably worked the dealership down nicely. As you see the truck in the photos, it’s up for sale for $16,809. So what is this thing: a penalty box with an engine worth saving or is this sleeper fodder? Scroll on to see what I think…
So what’s the verdict here? If you’re old enough to remember when having air-conditioning was an expensive luxury and remember the fun days of fixed seatbacks, the Tradesman shouldn’t bother you in the least. If you’ve grown accustomed to the luxuries and will get pissed off cranking up the windows, then you might want to look elsewhere. I enjoyed the truck, even with the crank windows. It was quiet…maybe too quiet, in fact…it tracked well, and when I did push it, it stomped for something that weighs this much. I’d debadge the side emblems in a half-second and start looking for a lightweight wheel/tire package, and start planning a turbocharged build for the Hemi if racing it was the goal. But what the Tradesman really does well is undercut a lot of vehicles on price. Seventeen grand for a truck with this engine is very, very hard to pass up, even if all you can afford to do is put pipes on it. I’m curious to see what you guys think about this one…and keep in mind, this works for Chevy/GMC and Ford, too. Could you handle rental-spec interiors with a good engine choice?