- The Washington Times - Friday, September 13, 2002

Bigger, stronger and more luxurious. No, we aren't talking about high-end sport-utility vehicles or the new German sedan lineup. We're talking about Dodge's new heavy-duty trucks, a redesigned stable of workhorses with two new engine offerings.
The redesign of the 2500 and 3500, Dodge's two heavy-duty models, comes at the right time. Since 1996, the heavy-duty pickup market has grown 34 percent, with the Rams now taking a 31 percent share of the segment.
At the same time, buyers are increasingly looking to powerful, more fuel-efficient diesel engines. Accordingly, the 2003 Ram lineup includes an all-new High-Output Cummins turbo diesel, with increased horsepower that makes it the most powerful of its type in its segment, delivering 305 horsepower and 555 foot-pounds of torque.
The big news in this new flock, however, is the return of the Chrysler Group's legendary Hemi engine. First introduced half a century ago, the V-8 Hemi out-accelerated and out-towed the competition. In its current iteration, a 5.7-liter V-8 called the HEMI Magnum, this power plant delivers 345 horses and 375 foot-pounds of torque. Like its predecessor, it also beats competitors off the line and delivers more horsepower than similar V-8 gasoline engines.
Ram heavy-duty trucks are offered in Standard or Quad Cab, which seat three and five persons, respectively. Two wheelbase lengths (short and long) also are offered on Quad Cab models. The 2500 models come standard with four wheels on the rear axle while 3500 models are equipped with two wheels on the rear axle. Dual rear wheels are optional on all but short-wheelbase 3500 Quad Cabs.
Dodge calls the massive grille that dominates the front end of these big-boy trucks a "horse-collar."
Overall, the entire exterior has been revised to be smoother. The steep windshield overlaps with side pillars to meet up seamlessly with doors, which are squared off at the bottom, to fit rear doors and extend to the bottom of the sills. These improvements help reduce noise, vibration and harshness in the cab, while a fuller-looking hood and roof make the truck look even bigger without looking more menacing.
Safety played a large role in the overall chassis and frame redesign, allowing Dodge to position the new Ram workhorse lineup as one of the safest choices in the segment. The stiffest-ever frame has controlled crush zones and improves handling and braking, while largest-in-class brakes, tires and wheels, standard anti-lock brakes, standard front center shoulder safety belts in Standard cab models, standard rear center shoulder belts in Quad cab models and a child seat LATCH system make this a class-leading vehicle in terms of safety. These pickups also are the first ever to offer side curtain air bags and power-adjustable pedals.
The new Rams include an almost bewildering array of drivetrain configurations.
All 2500 and 3500 models, both regular and quad cab, short and long wheelbase, are available with either four-wheel or two-wheel drive.
Towing capacities and payload vary widely across the many drivetrain/seating/wheelbase configurations. Payload capacities go from 2,000 pounds for the 2500 Quad Cab 4WD with the 5.9-liter, high-output turbo diesel and manual six-speed transmission, to 5,090 pounds for the 3500 regular cab with dual rear wheels, 5.9-liter regular output turbo diesel and automatic four-speed transmission.
Climbing into the cab can be a tall step up, but once you are in, you'll find it's worth the climb. The new pickups are available in three trim levels: SL, SLT and Laramie. All trim levels have been upgraded this year to include more of what you might not expect in a hard-working truck luxury amenities and greater creature comforts.
The basic SL models include air conditioning and assist handles in the cab, as well as cargo and glove-box lights, a cigar lighter and AM/FM cassette stereo. Vinyl seats and floors are standard, but can be upgraded to cloth, and a CD player is optional. Height-adjustable seat belts are standard.
Up one level, SLT trucks get added features, such as an overhead console display with compass and trip computer, carpeting in front, CD stereo with four speakers, cloth seats and chrome-clad wheels.
Laramie-level models get the works: a six-disc, in-dash CD changer with seven premium speakers, auxiliary 12-volt power outlet, premium overhead console display with HomeLink, leather-wrapped steering wheel, leather seats with power-adjustable front driver and passenger seats.
In addition to the three trim levels, Dodge offers five trim-and-feature groups, including the Convenience Group (speed control and tilt steering column); Heavy-Duty Snow Plow Prep Group, Security Group (with remote keyless entry, alarm and Sentry Key engine immobilizer); Sport Appearance Group (including 17x8 aluminum wheels and body-color rear fender with step) and Trailer Tow group (with Class IV hitch, seven-circuit wiring harness and 750 amp battery).
The new Rams include a refined version of the five-link, coil-spring suspension with beam axle used on previous heavy-duties. Heavy-duty shock absorbers and longer leaf springs in the rear suspension also are improved. The 2500 models drive and ride more like full-sized trucks, while the larger brethren, especially in the diesel version, drive and feel large.

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