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2003 Dodge Ram 3500 Review

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subscribeSANTA BARBARA, Calif. — Bigger, stronger and more luxurious. No, we aren't talking about high-end SUVs or the new German sedan lineup or even Anna Nicole Smith’s next rehab suite. We're talking about Dodge's new heavy-duty trucks, a redesigned stable of workhorses with two new engine offerings and, for the first time on a Ram, a single rear wheel option.

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, as well as a third of all Ram sales. This upward trend in heavy-duty purchases could give this DaimlerChrysler division a much-needed boost.

At the same time, buyers are increasingly looking to powerful, more fuel-efficient diesel motors: purchases of heavy-duty pickups with a diesel motor have increased to 21 percent from 2 percent in recent years. Accordingly, the 2003 Ram lineup includes an all-new High-Output Cummins turbodiesel motor, with increased horsepower that makes it the most powerful of its type in its segment, delivering 305 hp and 555 lb-ft of torque.

The big news in this new flock, however, is the return of the Chrysler Group's legendary HEMI motor. First introduced in 1953, the V-8 HEMI motor out-accelerated and out-towed the competition. In its current iteration, a 5.7-liter V-8 called the HEMI Magnum, this powerplant delivers 345 hp and 375 lb-ft of torque. Like its predecessor, it also beats competitors off the line and delivers more horsepower than similar V-8 gasoline engines.

First look

I drove a number of the new models recently at a press introduction in southern California. What was notable on first impression was the length of the lineup--there are many models to choose from-- and the big and brawny sheetmetal was eye-candy for a truck-loving automotive journalist.

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