2011 Mopar Ram Runner

2011 Mopar Ram Runner 2011 Mopar Ram Runner
Short Take Road Test From the August 2011 Issue of Car and Driver TESTED

Building on its rich history of street machines and wheel-standing drag cars, Chrysler’s Mopar group is now entering the mud-spattered off-roading arena with this, its answer to Ford’s F-150 SVT Raptor. True to the brand’s character, the Mopar Ram Runner package for the Ram 1500 is to the unpaved realm what the Dodge Challenger Drag Pak is to the quarter-mile.

Unlike the Raptor ($42,930 base price), the Ram Runner is a not a regular-production vehicle. Instead, it is a collection of  bits available from Mopar that can be fitted to any current-gen Ram 1500 4x4 with a six-foot-four-inch bed. Co-developed with Kroeker Off-Road Engineering, the Ram Runner’s Stage 2 package ($13,270) leverages the latest Ram’s all-coil-spring suspension for maximum off-road potency.

It’s a serious upgrade over Mopar’s bolt-on Stage 1 kit ($3129), with Stage 2 adding lengthened and reinforced front control arms, heavy-duty tie-rods and ball joints, and fat, 3.0-inch Fox internal-bypass front and rear shocks. Those monster dampers support 14 inches of wheel travel at both ends, with the truck’s overall height rising 3.5 inches (to 79.2) with the recommended 35-inch-tall tires. Ground clearance gets a similar lift, to 13 inches.

Nearly $7000 in other Mopar parts makes up the full Ram Runner package and further transformed our $34,690 SLT 4x4 Quad Cab tester into a $61,863 desert truck: flared fiberglass fenders ($1020) and bed sides ($1350) that increase overall width by 6.0 inches to a driveway-choking 85.4, a gnarly tube front bumper and skid plate ($1250), a bed-mounted spare-tire carrier ($1010), an aluminum hood ($978), a cat-back exhaust system ($1135), and a set of all-weather floor mats ($70). The not-so-subtle Mopar vinyl wrap seen on our test vehicle might actually be added to the catalog, for those determined to assist Mopar’s marketing efforts.

Additional aftermarket bits include a pair of super-bright LED light bars ($1400) and HID auxiliary lights ($600), 17-inch Pro-Comp wheels ($940) with BFGoodrich Mud Terrains ($1500), a full roll cage ($1000), and Mastercraft front seats with five-point harnesses ($1200).

The Runner shined on the sand dunes of Michigan’s Silver Lake State Park, where the suspension’s initial stiffness gave way to a mechanical cushion that, at highway speeds, soaked up launches and knee-high obstacles. Thanks to the Hemi’s ample grunt and the truck’s limited-slip rear differential, it was easy to steer with the throttle, and the wider track and big tires helped plant the chassis during high-speed cornering. The overall look and feel is more feral than the Raptor’s and, indeed, the Ram Runner lacks the refinement of a factory-prepped vehicle.

Such a focused package is about as at home on the street as it would be on water, even if the kit does not affect the truck’s factory warranty or its street legality. With its added width, football-field–sized turning radius, and humming mudders, the Ram Runner is predictably clumsy on pavement. Its lowly 0.67 g on the skidpad, even worse than the Raptor we tested most recently (0.70 g), was accompanied by great steaming chunks of cast-off tread. Acceleration from the stock 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 is adequate, pulling the truck’s 5949 pounds (about 250 more than stock) through the quarter-mile in 15.6 seconds at 88 mph. But the 211-foot stop from 70 mph had us wishing for more-pavement-oriented tires. The stock truck’s fuel economy (13 mpg city and 19 highway) also took a hit, as we averaged only 12 mpg on the street and 5 mpg off-road.

Unfortunately, our test was cut short by a transfer-case failure incurred while powering out of deep sand. We suspect the truck’s past beatings might have had something to do with this and that what may be considered “excessive abuse” could affect warranty repairs. The failure highlighted two things: the brutality of off-roading and the fact that the Ram Runner conversion does not touch all of the base truck’s key components.

Chrysler has yet to say if  it will offer a factory version. Depending on your budget and skill level, the Mopar parts can be ordered a la carte for home installation or added to your new or used truck at the dealership. That makes for an attractive alternative to the Raptor for those who don’t want to go whole hog or simply cannot betray their chosen brand. In our minds, the kit’s flexibility makes it all the more attractive if you start with a less-expensive Ram model. As with the equally thirsty Raptor, you’ll need the money you save for fuel.