The Ram pickup slipped into the #2 spot in the U.S. pickup market in 2019.

Say the word, “luxury,” and car like the BMW 7-Series, Mercedes-Benz S-Class or, moving even further up-market, a Rolls-Royce Phantom might come to mind. But in line with the dramatic changes sweeping through the auto industry, buying service Cars.com turned its back on traditional products like those, instead naming the Ram 1500 as its 2020 Luxury Car of the Year.

A closer look at the fast-changing U.S. automotive market reveals that the choice of the full-size pickup is not out of line. For one thing, demand for traditional high-line passenger cars, such as the 7-Series and S-Class, has all but collapsed over the last several years as millions of American buyers have migrated to SUVs and, indeed pickups.

The latest trucks are frequently loaded up with all the classic high-line accoutrements, including plenty of leather and wood, as well as what a new study by consulting firm McKinsey calls the new definition of luxury: connected car technologies. In the process, their prices are soaring into traditional luxury territory.

“So many things that used to be considered luxury are now available across the line, said Joe Phillippi, head of AutoTrends Consulting. Once you get past the basic exterior design, it can be difficult to “differentiate” high-line trucks from more traditional luxury vehicles.

(Jeep Gladiator named North American Truck of the Year…and more.)

Ram’s connectivity is one of the features highlighted by Luxury Car of the Year judges.

And price is just one example. The Limited Edition of the full-size Ford F-Series already is nudging the $100,000 mark once fully loaded. General Motors is moving towards that territory with the additional of the recent edition of the Chevrolet Silverado High Country trim package. Ram is nudging into that range, as well with the top versions of the Ram.

“The 2020 Ram 1500 Longhorn and Limited trims stand out from the crowd thanks to their stunning interiors with premium wood, leather, metal and chrome finishes, an awe-inspiring multimedia system and outstanding ride quality,” said Jenni Newman, Editor-in-Chief of Cars.com. “The Ram 1500’s top trim levels are stunning and well deserving of Cars.com’s Luxury Vehicle of the Year award.”

Those classic luxury features are complemented by more modern touches, including the huge 12-inch touchscreen anchoring the center stack of the Ram 1500, one of the largest displays currently on the market. The Uconnect infotainment system adds features like Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, as well as camera technology making it easier to use the pickup for play or work.

(First drive: 2019 Ram 1500 Laramie.)

Utility remains a major selling point for pickup buyers – whether suburban cowboys or work truck customers.

Going forward, there is a new definition of luxury, said Ben Ellencweig, a partner at McKinsey, with connectivity becoming as important as horsepower and other traditional measurements.

Of course, the Ram retains plenty of horsepower and towing capacity, and its diesel option also pushes into territory once thought impossible for a full-size pickup, over 30 mpg on the highway.

Pickups have also gained traction in the luxury segment because of their versatility – the Ram generating particularly strong reviews Cars highlighted, with such things as the storage box built into the pickup’s bed walls, along with a 115-volt, 400-watt electrical outlet.

While pickups, in general are gaining traction, the Ram did especially well with the launch of a complete redesign, last year usurping the traditional number two model in the full-size pickup category, the Silverado.

(Ford plowing ahead with updates to F-150 Laramie.)

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