Daring design is fine when you don’t have anything to lose. In 1993 Dodge’s presence in the full-size pickup market consisted mainly of government fleet sales and a wistful memory of the early-Seventies when fictional paramedics drove a Dodge on the old Emergency! TV show.
So they took a chance and the daringly different ’94 Ram turned out to be a big hit. Now Dodge’s ad slogan is “Dodge Different” and the 2002 half-ton truck they’ve prepared to replace the one that made that “different” plausible is ready for market. It doesn’t look all that different at all. Because now Dodge has something to lose.
The best side? The underside
The evolutionary redesign of the new Ram hides more fundamental revisions under the skin. A three-section, fully-boxed, hydroformed ladder frame is the base for all Rams with variations in the center section used for different wheelbases and cabs. DaimlerChrysler claims the new chassis is both much stiffer than the unimpressive frame under previous Rams and more rigid than any competitors. The suspension mated to that frame is a new design, but like every other two-wheel drive pickup, it consists of independent double A-arms with coil springs up front and a solid axle on semi-elliptical leaf springs in the back. On the 4x4 Ram 1500, Dodge has finally abandoned the solid front axle for an independent A-arm system similar to Ford’s and GM’s that relies on torsion bars for springing. Compared to the old Ram, the new suspension is more supple, but the frame’s stiffness makes the ride quality limitations of the rear leaf springs more obvious. Especially when the truck is lightly laden.
With a rack-and-pinion system aboard, the new Ram’s dynamics take a chunky-sized step forward. The steering has a quick 14.1:1 ratio on short-bed Quad Cabs and has excellent feel while remaining composed over bumps and pavement heaves. The 2002 Ram is the tallest, longest, widest and heaviest half-tonner around, so it doesn’t respond to steering inputs like a Miata, but it’s not the tiller on the Bonhomme Richard either. Initial turn-in is good with the standard 17x8-inch aluminum wheels and P245/70R17 Michelin LTX radials and excellent with the optional 20-inch five-spokes and P275/55R20 Goodyear LS tires. For all its bulk the Ram is nimble, even if it sometimes takes concentration to keep its nearly six-feet, eight-inch width contained in one lane.
Those standard 17-inch wheels mean the new Ram can have truly humongoid brakes. Up front sit 13.2-inch diameter, 1.1-inch thick ventilated discs squeezed by two-piston calipers; the rear gets 13.8-inch solid rear discs with single pistons. That makes the Silverado’s 12.01-inch front and 12.8-inch rear, and the F-150’s 12.13-inch front and 13.2-inch rear discs seem absolutely puny. The Ram’s big brakes have set the standard for the class, and when their full-size pickups are redesigned expect GM and Ford to adopt similar binders and similarly huge diameter wheels.
But while Dodge believes in big discs, it’s not that enthusiastic about ABS. The 2002 Ram gets standard anti-lock on the rear discs, but a four-wheel system remains optional.
Familiar today, exciting tomorrow
While the chassis is new, the engines aboard the new Ram are all-familiar. Base power for the low-line ST model comes from the still fresh, 215-horsepower 3.7-liter SOHC V-6 introduced with Jeep Liberty. Based on DCX’s 4.7-liter SOHC V-8, the 3.7 is a quantum leap advance from the pathetic lump of 3.9-liter OHV V-6 it replaces and, thanks to an integrated balance shaft, exceptionally smooth. Also banished is the 5.2-liter OHV V-8 in favor of the previously mentioned 235-horsepower, 4.7-liter, SOHC V-8. Both the 3.7 and 4.7 are available with either a five-speed manual or the excellent 45RFE four-speed automatic which has a split second gear that allows it to act like a five-speed. For 2002 at least, the creamy 4.7 and graceful 45RFE are the best Ram drivetrain. A truck so equipped isn’t particularly quick, but the transmission kicks up on the torque peaks and downshifts with poise.
Beyond the 4.7 lies the one part of the new Ram that’s in no way new at all – the 5.9-liter, OHV Magnum V-8. The Pleistocene 5.9’s 245-horsepower (a mere 10 more than the 4.7) is clearly outclassed by both Ford’s Triton 5.4-liter (260 horses) and GM’s Vortec 5300 5.3-liter (285 horsepower). And the Ford and GM V-8s are new designs that run smoother with better fuel economy too. The only transmission available with the 5.9 is the 46RE four-speed automatic. Fortunately for Dodge the 5.8-liter new “Hemi” should appear for the 2003 model year to replace the dumpy old 5.9. And don’t be surprised if that Hemi is available in an R/T or SS/T sport truck model that takes full advantage of the engine’s legendary moniker. For now, skip the 5.9.
Clearly superior cabs
Fully aware that the ’94 Ram’s groundbreaking cab design brought in customers by the boatload, Dodge has conjured innovative cockpits for the new truck too. The big innovation comes with the extended Quad Cab’s four forward-hinged doors. The Quad Cab’s rear doors are shorter than a conventional crew cab’s, but open a full 80 degrees for easy entry and exit of the rear compartment. And, finally, the door handles are out where it makes sense for them to be. This is clearly the best door arrangement for a four-door extended cab pickup. The rear doors now operate independently from the fronts: it adds a B-pillar to the cab for additional strength and an adjustable seatbelt anchorage, and the rear windows now roll all the way down.
But getting in and out of the Quad Cab wouldn’t mean much if the cab itself weren’t better. Dodge swiped about three inches of length from the bed and turned it into cab length. The result is a rear seat area whose 36.4 inches of claimed rear leg room is 2.7 inches greater than what GM claims for its now second-best in class extended-cab Silverados and Sierras, and the rear seat back is angled comfortably too. Dodge leads in rear head, hip and shoulder room too. The GM and Dodge front accommodations are roughly equivalent. The Ram’s rear seat is available as either a one- or split two-piece unit with the two-piece version also featuring a neat fold-out steel shelf.
Nearly as impressive as the new Quad Cab is the storage provided behind the seats of the regular cab model. The rear bulkhead bins easily swallow a five-gallon bucket and integrate a removable tool box. It makes the regular cab a reasonable work environment rather than a cramped closet that leaves little room for stray thoughts, much less actual cargo.
Both cabs feature clean, logical and easy to use dashboards with oversize controls and an optional steering wheel that features redundant audio controls. Following Ford’s lead, electrically adjustable pedals are available, making finding a comfortable driving position easy, even if the seats are pretty flat. Of course there are storage racks and cubbyholes throughout the cabin and enormous adjustable cupholders. The Ram’s large center armrest/console grows even larger and includes a 12-volt outlet inside it for a cell phone. Throw in white-faced gauges and this is a contemporary, highly useful and fully functional command center, the best of any current pickups.
Externally the new Ram is strictly an evolution of the old one. The front grille is now astoundingly big, the windshield is more steeply raked and the side-view mirrors sit atop their pedestals, but otherwise this is very much Ram: The Next Generation. The bed now gets nifty nautical-style cleats for securing cargo, but inexcusably there’s no locking mechanism for the tailgate latch.
Each of the Ram trim levels is identifiable by its grille. Base ST and mid-level SLT models get chrome crosshairs and surround with mesh inserts, the SLT+ gets chrome crosshairs within a body color surround, and ordering the “Sport” package atop the SLT or SLT+ earns a body-color surround and crosshairs with what looks like factory aluminum billet inserts (they’re actually plastic).
It’s still a half-ton pickup, but the new Ram 1500 is the largest production half-tonner ever to turn a wheel. It’s unashamed of its girth, heft and abilities and that’s going to have a lot of buyers eager to keep Dodge’s sales momentum going without incentives even as the market grows more crowded. And next year the 3/4- and one-ton versions of the new Ram should wear this brawny body well.
But it might be worth waiting until 2003 for the Hemi.
2002 Dodge Ram Quad Cab SLT+ Sport
Price: $27,000 (est.)
Engine: 4.7-liter V-8, 235 hp
Transmission: Four-speed automatic, rear- or four-wheel drive
Wheelbase: 140.5 in
Length: 227.7 in
Width: 79.9 in
Height: 74.1 in
Curb Weight: 4990 lb
EPA (city/hwy): N/A
Safety equipment: Dual front airbags, head curtain side airbags
Major standard features: Rear anti-lock brakes, air conditioning, power windows
Warranty: Three years/36,000 miles