- The Washington Times - Friday, September 5, 2008

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. — Last January, when Dodge unveiled the new Ram at the Detroit auto show, the appetite for full-size trucks was already shrinking. This summer, the sales kept on sliding.

Therefore, Dodge does not expect to be able to repeat its success from 1994. At that time, Dodge´s market share nearly tripled after the market introduction of the current generation of the Ram 1500.

Nevertheless, the Chrysler division has high hopes to attract lots of customers who are looking for a completely new pickup truck with a sporty, bold appearance and an entirely redone interior.

As crew-size cabs accounted for nearly 50 percent of more than 2 million units sold in the segment in 2007, Dodge added a Crew Cab to the Ram model line. The shift in the segment toward crew cabs that started in the early 2000s, is mainly driven by customers who want a hard working vehicle and yet comfortable for family use.

The new Crew Cab is a first for Dodge and one of three cab configurations, based on two different wheelbase lengths: 120 and 140 inches. Its cargo box is with a 5-foot 7-inch bed the biggest. The Regular Cab has an 8-foot 3-inch bed, or 8 foot cargo box, while the Quad Cab has a 6-foot 4-inch cargo box. With a length of 209 or 226.9 inches, all three configurations are garageable .

The Crew model offers room for six adults, lots of leg room (six inches more than the Regular Cab) and in-floor storage bins.

For practical and lockable storage Dodge offers a new RamBox system that fills in the wheel wells along the full length on both sides of the bed. It stows away 7.4 cubic feet of goods or, as Joe Veltri, director of Dodge product marketing puts it, with a couple of hundred 12-ounce cans plus ice. To get rid of melted ice, the box has two drain plugs in the bottom. In case kids like to play and hide in the boxes at the sides of the Ram, the lids van be opened from inside. The RamBox system also includes a stowable bed divider that can be put in the various stamped slots along the sides, or can be used as a bed extender. Between the foot wells the width of 49 inches remains good for transporting building materials.

Ralph Gilles, Chrysler´s new design chief, says “It is definitely time for a new aesthetic at Chrysler. We’re done with the Edge look.”

That design marked the new Chrysler models such as the Dodge Nitro and the fifth generation minivans.

Like its competitors, the new Dodge truck has an aggressive look with the new ‘head-down´ grille and more aerodynamic hood and fenders.

The new designed seats are supportive and have soft arm rests. Heated and ventilated seats and a heated steering wheel are optional.

Other luxurious options now include a 10-speaker surround-sound system, while Dodge´s infotainment system can be extended with touch screen navigation, Bluetooth, a 30 GB hard drive and the first in-segment live Sirius backseat TV.

For the redesign of the new generation Ram, Dodge went to great length to offer customers not only new sporty looking sheet metal, but also a more performance with the upgraded 5.7 Hemi Magnum V-8 with MDS. According to Dodge, with variable valve timing (VVT) it has a 10 percent increase in horsepower, an 8 percent increase in torque and a 4 per cent better fuel economy.

The engine provides best-in-class 290 horsepower and 407 lb.ft. of torque, with 20 mpg highway on 4x2 models. Also available are the 3.7 V-6 with 215 horsepower and 234 lb.ft of torque and the 310 horsepower strong 4.7 V-8 with 330 lb.ft. of torque. All Rams are available with 4- or 5-speed automatic transmissions.

Prices for the new Ram trucks range from $ 22,170 for the Ram ST regular cab 4x2 with a 6-foot-4-inch box up to $40,920 for a Laramie Ram Crew 1500 4x2. The prices include $900 destination fee.

In 2010 the Ram 1500 will also become available with a Cummins diesel. A new two-mode hybrid Ram is due then too. Maybe the most significant technical renewal of the Ram is the coil spring independent suspension. It is a segment first and provides a refined ride.

During a test drive the new suspension revealed handling improvements. The Ram was very stable, more than its predecessor and stayed firm on the winding country roads. You notice some body movement, but get used to that pretty quickly.

I also towed a trailer and hardly felt the 7,200 pound unit behind the Ram. Good to know that the Trailer Sway Control can intervene when needed, by applying the brakes or lifting the throttle. With the Hemi, the Ram easly tows the trailer.

Dodge has class leading suspension, aerodynamics and suspension, which makes it a smooth riding full size pickup truck.

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