The new Ram 1500 pick-up brings SUV capability without the luxury car tax

Mirror-like glistening alloy wheels and a hulking four-door body define the latest arrival in the intensifying war for the big ute dollar.

The Ram 1500 may be a smaller brother to the 2500 and 3500 that have been on sale here for years – part of the only factory-backed right-hand drive conversion in the world – but its sub-$100K price tag makes it more appealing at the top end of a segment that's on fire.

No wonder Ram Australia has chosen the tagline "Eats utes for breakfast".

Size matters

Stand next to it and the Ram 1500's bulbous bonnet rises to near-chest height, its near-six-metre length confirming this is a big vehicle.

Yes, the 1500 is smaller than its higher-numbered siblings, but it shades any of the regular utes that now account for one in six new-car sales.

That's a big part of the sales pitch, which starts with the 1500 Express at $79,950.

However, the Express is more (big) basic work vehicle, getting a small centre screen and a slim list of standard equipment.

It's the Laramie that is more generously appointed, also bringing with it a larger cabin (its cabin stretches further into the load area) for its six-figure asking price.

Those expecting luxury attention to detail may be disappointed, though; the Ram is decent but has some cheap plastic finishes and a clunky foot-operated park brake.

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The 1500 is all about hauling heavy things.

Most utes can tow 3.5 tonnes, but the 1500 can tow up to 4.5 tonnes.

That's significant for those with big caravans or boats.

However, despite its muscular positioning and bigger dimensions, the smaller utes it will compete with on price can all carry more; the Ram's payload is between 800kg and 845kg, well below the 1000kg-plus with the likes of the Ford Ranger, Toyota Hilux, Mercedes-Benz X-Class and more.

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But the Ram 1500 does have plenty of room for things of all shapes and sizes.

Storage throughout the cabin is plentiful, from the double layer door pockets to the broad centre console and binnacles peppered across the dash.

For another $4500 you can get different side panels at the rear, incorporating a waterproof and lockable "Rambox" on each side. It's ideal for valuables – or can double as a built-in Esky.

Plus, it has some genuine smartphone cleverness, such as the flexible rubber bracket that perfectly holds two smartphones.

Plus, there are two USB connectors that allow you to toggle between two smartphones, depending on what it is you want to access through the 8.4-inch touchscreen, complete with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

Fast or frugal

Options are commonplace when it comes to buying a car.

But the Ram 1500 offers a no-cost choice no other car on the market does: the choice between faster acceleration or lower fuel consumption.

For now, all Ram 1500s are powered by a 5.7-litre V8 (a V6 diesel will arrive late in 2018), making 291kW and 556Nm.

But you can choose a different final drive ratio, with lower ratio translating to marginally faster acceleration, completing the 0-100km/h dash in about 7.8 seconds.

Opt for the higher ratio and each gear change occurs slightly later, in turn allowing the engine to be more relaxed. It means that same 0-100km/h dash will take about 8.1 seconds.

Load 'em up

Just getting in to the 1500 requires a climb; the standard side steps aren't just there for show.

Inside, it feels like a big vehicle, the bonnet bulging above the broad windscreen. You're also sitting a long way from your passengers, the wide centre console reaffirming the substantial width.

However, that makes it easy to get three adults across the broad back seats; rear leg room is generous in the Laramie, too.

Plenty inside is big, too, from the seats and digital speedo to the sunvisors and centre console.

Rock and roll

Under way, the Laramie's light (and lifeless) steering is direct and makes for easy manoeuvring, although you'll never forget you're driving a big vehicle. It pays to leave plenty of room for U-turns.

It comfortably disposes of large bumps, shuddering slightly in response but never feeling flustered.

With coil springs all around (most utes use leaf springs at the rear) it's surprisingly well behaved and there's decent grip from the 20-inch Hankook tyres.

But push the limits and the front wheels scrub wide, the 2650kg heft finally winning out.

The engine works best in its middle engine revs, where there's loads of muscle; rev it harder and there's more V8 noise for not as much reward.

The eight-speed auto – operated via a dash-mounted circular controller – is intuitive and with clean shifts.

Tax break

Luxury car tax is one of the most controversial taxes in our highly-taxed country, mainly because no other item gets taxed for being luxurious.

But it doesn't matter how much you spend on a ute, you won't be paying any LCT.

They're all exempt, even when you're dishing out well into six figures.

It means an equivalently equipped ute could be thousands cheaper than an SUV with similar capability.

Little wonder more sales of the "big trucks" are growing, especially those wanting to make a big statement.