By JEREMY SINEK
Special to The Globe and Mail
Friday, July 13, 2018
KINGSVILLE, ONT. -- We have our differences, Canadians and Americans, but one thing we share is our penchant for big pickups. In both countries the overall top-selling nameplates have long been Detroit's full-size pickup models.
Yet, as we learned with the 2019 Ram 1500 Sport - a version of the all-new Ram that is unique to Canada - there are surprising differences within that larger truth.
In the United States, for example, the Ford F-Series, Chevrolet Silverado and Ram 1500 rank 1-2-3 in sales; the Silverado's twin, the GMC Sierra, is a long way down the chart. In Canada, GM still ranks second in big-pickup sales if you combine Silverado and Sierra as a single product. But Sierra sales here are much closer to Silverado's, which tends to "split the vote," so individually, the Sierra and Silverado slip to fourth and fifth in Canada.
Surprisingly, too, "full-size trucks are relatively more popular in Canada than in the U.S.," says Robert Karwell, senior manager, power information network, J.D. Power & Associates. "Full-size truck is the second-most-popular segment in Canada, but No. 3 in the U.S."
As well, Canadians are more likely to buy the higher-trim models than are Americans, says Mike Szymkiewicz, senior manager, product planning, FCA Canada. And not just higher trims - we also gravitate toward the biggest and most expensive configuration. Virtually all Ram 1500 sales are 4x4s, Szymkiewicz says , and more than 70 per cent are crew cabs.
Across the industry, Karwel puts the crew-cab penetration at 77 per cent: "Note that the crew-cab number has come down slightly, but only because most extended-cab offerings are also now featuring four forward-hinged doors, mimicking a crew cab, just in a slightly shorter layout."
Model for model, the pickup makers also tend to set higher MSRPs in Canada than in the United States and then offer bigger incentives. Karwel says that helps the automakers in Canada deal with exchange-rate fluctuations against the U.S. dollar. "Incentive levels can fluctuate more easily to adjust against any currency movement," he says.
Karwel notes, though, that a given trim level is often slightly better equipped in Canada than in the United States.
Canadian MSRPs for the highest trim levels start well more than $60,000 and can be optioned up into the mid-$80,000s. Yet the incentives mean that, even given their preference for higher trims, Canadians are not paying nearly as much as you might think for their trucks: The average actual transaction price for a half-ton is in the high $30,000s, Karwel says.
And so to the 1500 Sport, which is so uniquely Canadian that FCA Canada laid on a special program for it in Southwestern Ontario, even though we already sampled the all-new 2019 Rams last spring in Arizona.
The Sport trim has been around a while, but was far more popular in Canada than in the U.S. - typically accounting for 25 per cent of sales up here, versus about 5 per cent down there. When Ram was redesigned for 2019, the factory was originally going to drop the Sport trim altogether, until FCA Canada said, "Uh, no-o."
And so, the U.S.-based design team was persuaded to come up with a Sport trim just for us. "We fought the fight and made the case," Szymkiewicz said. "The Sport is a big deal for us. Our dealers are behind it. They stock it in heavy volume."
In the U.S., conversely, the onedown Big Horn is the volume trim, including a special U.S.-only, Texas-inspired Lone Star trim.
The U.S. sells a lot of chrome trucks, Szymkiewicz adds, whereas the stand-out feature of the Sport is its monochromatic exterior with body-colour grille, bumpers, door handles and mirror housings. Can't get much more different than that. What does it say about the relative tastes and attitudes and Canadians and Americans? Let's not start ... The Sport is two trims up from base in the seven-trim Canadian lineup and is available in both quad and crew-cab configurations starting at $52,595 for the quad 4x2. Aside from the exterior, it's set apart by an all-black Sportthemed interior with satinchrome garnishes and unique low-back seats. Notable standard amenities include LED head and fog lamps, power-adjustable pedals, heated steering wheel, remote dampened tailgate, and Uconnect 8.4-inch touchscreen.
Also standard is the 5.7-litre Hemi V-8. The 5.7 will also be available with optional eTorque - a 48volt mild-hybrid system - that will also be standard on the 3.6-litre V-6 that is offered on most other trims. However, it was not installed on any of the Rams available for media drives.
Since the Sport package has no powertrain or chassis sportification (other than available 22-inch wheels), our ramble around the back-roads and small towns of Ontario's Essex County, didn't add much to our impressions from our first drive in Arizona in March. Apart from a somewhat stiff unladen ride (on optional air springs), the Canuck truck drives less like a sport truck and more like I'd imagine a Buick pickup would, if Buick ever built such a thing. It's comfortable, relaxed, refined and remarkably easyhandling for something of this size and capability.
Speaking of capability, FCA took us down into a disused quarry and demonstrated how the available height-adjustable air suspension compensates for a heavy payload, or can facilitate hitching up a trailer by raising the tow-ball up into the cup. Of course, no new truck can be launched without increased payload and tow ratings: In the Ram, depending on the configuration, they max out at 1,043 kilograms and 5,783 kilograms, respectively.
Chances are, you'll never come even close to using all that ability in your 2019 Ram 1500 Sport. But whatever your load, you'll feel good hauling it and look good too.
And nobody is going to mistake you for an American.
The 2019 Ram 1500 Sport stands apart from other Ram 1500s with its monochromatic exterior with body-colour grille, bumpers, door handles and mirror housings.
JEREMY SINEK/THE GLOBE AND MAIL
The Canadian-exclusive 2019 Ram 1500 Sport some with an all-black Sport-themed interior with satin-chrome garnishes and unique low-back seats.