2002 Dodge Ram by John Pearley Huffman (8/6/2001)
There's an awful lot riding on the new Dodge pickup, and I'm not talking about the Ram's additional 12 percent of payload rating (1,750 lb) for its Quad Cab version, either. Since its debut in 1994, the Ram pickup has become — if you'll excuse the barnyard mix-up — Dodge's fatted calf. Annual sales have grown from 70,000 trucks in '93 to a peak of 439,000 in '99, with the result that Ram is now the best-selling vehicle in the Chrysler Group.
No way is Dodge going to upset this apple cart — particularly since trucks represent a sole bright spot within the gloomy U.S. auto market. Accordingly, the debut of the 2002 Ram has been tightly scripted to ensure maximum exposure during its nationwide showroom rollout during this last week of September. Memories linger, no doubt, of the public's lukewarm reception for last year's new Dodge Caravan. There were so many unessential gee-whiz features built into the new model that soccer moms actually felt somewhat betrayed by Dodge for "fixing" a favorite minivan that wasn't particularly broken.
History will certainly not repeat itself with this new Ram pickup. At first glance, it's almost impossible to detect the subtle styling flourishes that have softened and tailored the overall silhouette. The Ram's flagrant impersonation of an 18-wheeler cab remains sacrosanct. The most dramatic tell-tale for this next-generation Ram is what is being dubbed its "horse-collar grill." With a St. George's Cross strapped right across the front, this is a grill that looks like it's all business — the business end of a water treatment intake sluice, to one manner of thinking.
But if the "context" of Ram's big 'n' brawny, workaday personality appears little changed, its "subtext" is significantly altered in many important, albeit invisible, ways. There's rack-and-pinion steering for the first time, for example, which delivers precise and more durable steering action in both two- and four-wheel-drive Rams. Combine this with super-stiff hydroformed frame rails and altered, more compliant torsion-bar suspension for the 4x4 powertrain, and the result is much-improved ride quality and handling on road surfaces both rough and smooth.
Two new engine choices debut with the 2002 Ram as well. I tested the new 4.7-liter Magnum V-8, which is smaller and more efficient than the 5.2-liter V-8 it replaces, even while delivering an equivalent 235 horsepower. The Ram can also be equipped with a new 3.7-liter, 215-hp V-6 that it borrows from the Jeep Liberty, and the 5.9-liter, 245-hp V-8 is a holdover from previous model years. The 4.7 Magnum is agreeably stout and responsive, and it issues a fine little grumble for an exhaust note; but I'd be hard-pressed to proclaim its mileage rating of 13 mpg city, 17 highway as a paragon of fuel efficiency.
Also new for '02 is the optional 45RFE "Multi-speed" automatic transmission ($975). For the most part, it operates as a smooth-shifting and very quiet four-speed auto. The off-road enthusiast, however, will appreciate the fact that Reverse gear is the same ratio as Low/Forward, which makes it that much easier to maneuver the truck in any direction in particularly rugged conditions. As for the "Multi-speed" designation, this transmission also incorporates an alternate second-gear ratio meant to tackle heavy towing chores, especially on steep grades. Given the heavier 8,300-lb tow rating for the 4x4 Ram Quad Cab, this new transmission will undoubtedly be welcomed by the pull-toy crowd.
The Quad Cab concept, of course, is a Dodge brainchild from the late 1990s, and it is further refined for 2002. In this latest iteration, in fact, it is not entirely clear how best to describe the versatility of this new Ram interior. It seats up to six, like a sedan; it accommodates many shapes and sizes of cargo, like a minivan or SUV; and it offers a convincing interpretation of a business office on wheels. This latter feat owes much to the huge central console that is desk-like in proportions. Folded down onto the front seat cushion, it provides a flat working space on top; and the storage bin within it is large enough to swallow both a laptop computer and a cell phone. Raising the console upright makes it possible to seat three adults on the 40/20/40 front bench. And if the center seating cushion itself is raised, there appears yet another large storage cubby for storing bulky items at the driver's side.
In back, a generous bench seat makes room for three more folks and folds up to accept cargo. An optional 60/40 split bench, moreover, makes it possible to stow varying sizes of gear alongside either one or two passengers. A particularly clever feature is a flip-folding steel floor panel under either of the split seats. Folded flat over the foot well, the panels provide a level floor surface capable of withstanding up to 600 lb; and if the seat is put back in use while the panel remains extended, small children have a handy footrest for their shorter legs.
Convenience is the watchword with this new Dodge Ram Quad Cab. All four doors hinge forward for easy access to the interior. An optional adjuster ($120) allows brake and accelerator pedals to be moved fore and aft at the driver's preference, and optional side-curtain airbags are also available. Four-wheel-drive is a shift-on-the-fly proposition.
In short, the 2002 Ram is a truck intended to cater to the widest variety of possible uses, ranging from work to play, from people-pushing to cargo-hauling. It's the very truck Dodge most needs right now, which explains why the company has gone to such great lengths to convince buyers that Ram is the truck their modern lifestyles most deserve.
2002 Dodge Ram Quad Cab 1500 4X4 SLT
Base price: $32,240
Engine: 4.7-liter V-8, 235 hp
Transmission: Four-speed “Multispeed” automatic, four-wheel drive
Length x width x height: 227.7 x 79.9 x 74.1 in
Wheelbase: 140.5 in
Curb weight: 4990 lb
EPA City/Hwy: 13/17 mpg
Safety equipment: Front airbags, optional side-curtain airbags
Major standard equipment: Four-wheel disc brakes w/rear anti-lock control, rack-and-pinion steering, HVAC, power windows/locks/mirrors, 40/20/40 front bench & six-passenger seating, steel cargo floors in rear
Warranty: Three years/36,000 miles