A Perfect Pair
The new Ram 1500 EcoDiesel and Lance 1995 travel trailer are a match made in RVing heaven
As we drive through the scenic Owens Valley along California’s Highway 395, the word that keeps coming to mind is “effortless.” The trailer feels planted and stable, and the tow vehicle purrs along contentedly, nonplussed by neither steep grades nor an incessant headwind. This is trailering nirvana. This is the way it’s supposed to be.
Trailer towing is a numbers game: Horsepower, torque, tow capacity, hitch weight, gross axle weight (gawr) and gross vehicle weight (gvwr) ratings. They all factor into what truck and trailer make a good pairing but don’t necessarily tell the whole story. In fact, there are dozens of factors that can affect the way a trailer tows — from suspension and brakes to wheelbase and weight balance. Frequently, as we set out on a test, we find something lacking in the way the combination works, but we learn to accept it, because we know the two weren’t built for each other and therefore can never be perfect. But the 2014 Ram 1500 Outdoorsman EcoDiesel and the lightweight Lance 1995 travel trailer are about as close to a perfect match as you can expect to get.
The Ram 2014 model year brings with it an abundance of upgrades, the most notable of which is the segment-exclusive 3.0-liter EcoDiesel V-6 engine and TorqueFlite eight-speed automatic transmission. Between them, they bestow this light-duty Ram with impressive EPA fuel economy ratings of 20 mpg city/28 mpg highway, with only a 1 mpg penalty paid (both ratings) if you opt for 4WD. The Italian-sourced V-6 produces 240 horsepower at 3,600 rpm, but more importantly, 420 lb-ft of torque at only 2,000 rpm. That’s more twist than even the top-dog 5.7-liter Hemi, and at roughly half the rpm, too. With a max tow rating of 9,200 pounds, it falls well short of the top 1500-series gasoline offerings, but after sampling its capabilities, we think it may be conservatively rated.
In an effort to give customers more choices, the Ram 1500 models are available in a dizzying array of nine trim levels, five cab/bed configurations and seemingly limitless options. The tester that Ram provided us with underscores the latter; the base price of the Ram 1500 Crew Cab 4×4 in Outdoorsman guise is $40,615, but with options (including the $2,850 EcoDiesel), that price swelled to an astounding $53,385. And that’s without cowhide at your backside.
For this princely sum, you get the Customer Preferred Package 28T ($1,545), which includes relevant equipment such as a Class IV hitch receiver, fog lamps, a steeper 3.92:1 axle ratio (3.55:1 is standard), tow hooks, a 32-gallon fuel tank, “extra heavy duty” rear shock absorbers and an anti-spin rear differential. It also brings niceties such as power-heated mirrors, remote start, and painted front and rear bumpers that look rather striking. We’d also go with the Trailer Tow Mirror and Brake Control Group ($330), which includes an integral brake controller; the spray-in bedliner ($475); and the Rear Camera and Park Assist Group ($595), which includes a huge backup display that makes solo hitching a cinch.
Depending on where you live, you may also appreciate the heated seats and steering wheel included in the Comfort Group ($330), but we would opt out of extras like the upgraded UConnect, audio and speaker systems ($995), four-corner air suspension ($1,695) and black 20-inch wheels ($1,400). We’d also avoid the $1,295 RamBox Cargo Management System, which sacrifices valuable bed space for lockable storage inside the bed walls. Thankfully, Ram offers the EcoDiesel engine across its model line, so it’s still possible to get a competent, comfortable and economical tow vehicle for less than $40,000.
These days, there seems to be an unwavering focus on making pickups more civilized, and the Outdoorsman’s interior reflects this. Call us old-fashioned, but we still believe that a truck, at its core, should make you feel as though you’re driving a truck, not a family sedan. We certainly appreciated the comfortable seats and legible instruments (including a multi-information display between the tach and speedometer), but there’s nothing satisfying about turning a knob to put a truck into gear or pushing a little button to select a 4WD mode.
What’s more, eliminating the column shift likewise dispatched the most logical place to put the tow/haul mode switch, not to mention manual shift controls. After searching for a while, we felt what we thought (wanted?) to be manual shift paddles behind the steering wheel, which would have been great, not to mention logical. Alas, these were for the audio system volume and tuning. The manual shift controls are actually small buttons, placed adjacent to one another on the right side of the steering wheel, above the cruise controls. Change is good if it’s done to make an improvement, but why Ram thinks this arrangement is better escapes us. Please, Ram, bring back the column shift.
There were other oddities. The “key” (a sort of amalgam of key and key fob) is located low on the dash, and the key chain constantly bumped the right knee of taller drivers. In fact, the blocky dash actually juts out at its bottom, putting one’s knees precariously close to hard plastic once the seat is moved up to a comfortable driving position. The center console has the usual armrest storage, but in front of it is what amounts to a square hole and two cup holders. It’s not attractive, nor is it an efficient use of space. Moreover, we found the center stack to be overly complex, with some of the controls arranged as buttons, some built into the color touch-screen display. Figuring out what you need and how to access it takes one’s eyes off the road for too long.
These gripes aside, the Ram is really very pleasant to drive, whether towing or solo. Its structure is rigid, as a truck should be, yet the ride is still compliant, even with the 20-inch wheels. It handles well, and the brakes feel strong but not grabby. The engine … ah yes, the engine. It feels as though it taps into a bottomless well of torque, easily pulling the test trailer up any grade at the posted speed limit, even in a strong headwind. It is silky smooth and refined, but as a result, it sounds about as tough as a Volkswagen TDI. It’s barely audible at idle, and once cruising down the highway, you can’t hear it at all unless you mash the throttle. The eight-speed automatic transmission performed its duties in a similarly seamless manner, although it seems like the extra gears are academic with so much torque on hand.
As we exited Highway 395 near Lone Pine and made our way to the campsite, we were looking forward to spending time near the foot of the Sierra Nevada in the Lance 1995. A leading camper manufacturer since 1965, Lance is accustomed to packaging a lot of features and livability into a small space, and the 1995 is no exception. It has a generously proportioned living area and bedroom, and every single cubic inch is used efficiently, whether for living, storing or both.
Starting up front, the queen bed has a large nightstand on either side, with a drawer and plenty of counter space for a book, a glass of water, reading glasses and the like. There’s also a 120-volt AC outlet on either side for charging a phone or tablet while sleeping, for example, and underneath the overhead cabinets are appropriately placed reading lights and a single task light right in the middle.
Above each nightstand is a small wardrobe, and larger items like comforters and extra pillows can be stored under the bed platform, which is equipped with gas struts for support and a latch that keeps it from opening and closing during travel. There’s even a curbside magazine rack, and on the street side, a tall, thin cabinet with a power outlet and two cubbyholes cut into it that would be a good place to keep small items. We also appreciated the fact that the bedroom can be separated from the living area by a curtain that felt substantial and well made.
The living area is dominated by a curbside dinette slideout, which is both wide and very deep. Once it is deployed, it completely changes the character of the living space; it’s hard to believe that this is only a 24-foot trailer with roughly 19 feet of floor space.
The kitchen is well equipped with a 6-cubic-foot Norcold refrigerator, a small microwave (a $210 option) and a three-burner Atwood stove with a decorative metal-look backsplash. The test trailer had no oven, which we didn’t miss, as it provides more storage for kitchen essentials. However, if you really want an oven, there is still an amazing amount of storage in this area. Two large, deep drawers fit underneath the dinette, and a
great cabinet underneath the sink has a shelf and three pullout bins that make it easy to organize smaller stuff. There is no cutlery drawer, per se, but it would be easy enough to put one into the top bin.
The sink is large and round, and is a pleasing gray color instead of the usual white. It has a black plastic cover for more prep space, which we used at times, as there isn’t much room otherwise. To the right of the microwave is an overhead cabinet that is segmented to make organizing your things easier. The left section is good for plates and bowls, to the right and above are perfect for seasonings and a few pantry items, and below this is a space that
seemed ideal for coffee mugs. The only complaint, and it’s a minor one, is that this cabinet door doesn’t go all the way up level with the ceiling, so if you’re tall, you have to duck under it.
After preparing a simple meal the first evening, we settled into the U-shaped dinette, which we considered large for any RV, not just one this size. Four people fit easily, and as many as six could probably squeeze in. The seat cushions are well padded and very comfortable, and in the corners are small shelves with elegant brushed nickel rails to prevent knickknacks from falling off. We loved the added detail of a dimmer-equipped light switch located in the top of the slideout room. Once seated, it’s easy to turn on the light, then dim it for the desired amount of dining ambience. And just above the dinette is a skylight that has a sliding corrugated cover built into it to keep out the morning sun — another nice detail.
Small travel trailers are often used in primitive campgrounds, and it became increasingly evident that Lance designed the 1995 appropriately. Knowing we would be staying at a site without hookups, we had anticipated just listening to music during dinner, but then noticed a small LED light on the face of the 24-inch LED television, which is mounted on a telescoping arm for viewing from the bedroom or living area. Curious, we poked the power button and the television came on … so we plugged a DVD into the Jensen AM/FM/DVD/iPod stereo (which we normally would have watched on an iPad) and enjoyed a movie in surround sound!
The A-frame is equipped with a dual battery tray, and the interior lights are all LED, so power consumption was of no concern on our trip. For that matter, neither was water use. The 1995 has a 45-gallon water tank as well as 45-gallon waste- and gray-water tanks. Clearly, Lance knows its customers and understands how its products will be used.
At the rear of the trailer is a cabinet that contains two huge wardrobes, with large storage compartments underneath. Here again, Lance thought this through. Having this cabinet right by the entry door makes it quick and easy to pack for a trip. The bathroom is located just inside the entry door as well, and although it’s nothing special, it does have essentials like a porcelain toilet, a vanity and a medicine cabinet with lights. We had to chuckle at the fact that the TP holder was located in the under-sink storage, but when we looked around, we realized there really wasn’t anywhere else it could be mounted. The shower is your typical white enclosure with a curtain, but it did the job just fine.
Lance claims the 1995 is four-season certified, and we believe it. With temperatures approaching 90 degrees during the day, the interior never got hot or stuffy, and with temps hovering just higher than 50 degrees at night, we never found it necessary to turn on the furnace. Besides, the weather was too nice to be inside anyway. We spent our afternoons and early evenings underneath the power patio awning ($754), listening to music through the exterior speakers and watching the floor of the Owens Valley take on a soft orange glow as the sun set over the majestic Sierra Nevada behind us.
As mentioned earlier, one can never expect a truck and trailer combination to be perfect, as perfection is both elusive and subjective. However, one can hope for contentedness at the end of a journey, and the Dodge 1500 Outdoorsman and Lance 1995 deliver on the most meaningful levels.