2003 Dodge Ram 2500 Review

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High Gear Media Staff High Gear Media Staff  
October 14, 2002
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2001 Chevrolet Silverado HD by Sue Mead (12/18/2000)

 

The difference between half-ton and 3/4- or one-ton pickups isn’t particularly great. Make the frame a bit beefier, the springs thicker and reinforce the drivetrain for the expected abuse, and suddenly the gentlemanly half-ton is a bruising 3/4-ton.In the way they behave, move and act, what’s most remarkable about the new 2003 Dodge Ram Heavy Duty 3/4- and one-ton trucks is how closely they resemble their half-ton brother. Despite the beefier frame, thicker springs and reinforced drivetrains, the Heavy Duties are civilized, comfortable and composed.

But while that’s just fine and dandy, the real news is the thoroughly revised Cummins turbodiesel six and the spectacular new 5.7-liter, “Hemi” V-8.

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Expectedly civilized

Without fender badges announcing the engine type (Hemi, Cummins or V-10) or the dualies’ extra set of rear wheels, it’s tough to tell the new Ram Heavy Duty trucks from the Ram 1500 that was new last year. The bodies are identical to the half-ton Ram and offered in the same two configurations -- regular cab and extended Quad Cab with four conventional opening doors. The beds are even shared with the exception of the extra wide fenders on the dualie.

Not screwing with the basic Ram package is smart thinking on Dodge’s part. The Ram cabs are the most accommodating in the business with a clean design and enough cubbyholes to store a whole gross of cubbies. Some bruiser class buyers may prefer the my-truck-is-bigger-than-your-truck distinctive styling of Ford’s Super Duty line, but on the basis of actual comfort, the Ram has the field covered.

The chassis under the Ram 2500 and 3500 is basically the same as on the 1500 too. In fact the two-wheel drive Heavy Duty Rams are the first trucks of their capacity to get rack-and-pinion steering similar to the rack-and-pinion used by lesser capacity Ram. That steering pays off in excellent road feel and responsiveness (at least for a truck this large). Dodge however keeps traditionalists happy with the 4x4 Ram Heavies which still use a recirculating-ball steering system and retain the solid front axle serious off-roaders consider an indispensable element of any real truck (the Ram 1500 4x4 switched to an independent front suspension last year). In fact the coil sprung 4x4 front suspension is virtually indistinguishable from that of the outgoing Ram Heavy Duty 4x4.

2003 Dodge Ram 2500

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Americans have been buying more and more high-capacity pickups over the last decade and the category has grown increasingly competitive. Like the Ford and GM entries in the class, the Ram can be had with virtually ever comfort and convenience item they offer on the half-ton pickups. None of the competitors in this class is a laggard, but the Ram is the best when it comes to cab comfort, chassis sophistication and the strength of the base V-8.

The best Hemi ever

5.7-liter V-8 Hemi

5.7-liter V-8 Hemi

Not to put too fine a point on this, the new Dodge Ram Hemi is the best driving small-block V-8 ever offered in a new pickup. Time will tell if it is as rugged as its competitors, but it’s got them covered in every other way already. And it’s actually the base engine in the new Ram Heavies.

Built at a new plant in Mexico, the Hemi doesn’t look at first glance like a world-beater. After all, it still uses pushrods to operate just two overhead valves for each cylinder – technology that’s practically been around since the dawn of fire. Maybe it’s the hemispherical combustion chambers (the Hemi name isn’t just marketing bluster) or the dual spark plugs or DCX’s engine development engineers are performing some weird voodoo, but this engine is simply awesome.

Using an iron block and aluminum cylinder heads, the Hemi’s most surprising element may be that it’s a relatively short stroke design. The 3.58-inch stroke of the Hemi’s crank is actually shorter than the 3.78-inch stroke used by GM’s 5.3-liter Vortec 5300 V-8 or the 4.16-inch stroke of Ford’s 5.4-liter Triton V-8. And naturally that means the Hemi’s 3.92-inch cylinder bores are relatively large. That short stroke may be what gives the Hemi an eager-to-rev personality that isn’t matched in any other pickup V-8. For a truck engine, this one feels like a sports car.

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2003 Dodge Ram 2500

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Yet the rev-happiness of the Hemi doesn’t come at the expense of output. The Hemi makes one horsepower for each of its 345-cubic inches of displacement (at 5400 rpm) despite a modest 9.6:1 compression ratio and an appetite for regular-grade swill. The 375-pound feet of peak torque at 4200 rpm is also unmatched in a pickup truck small-block V-8. In fact, the only V-8 that offers more grunt than the Hemi is GM’s Vortec 8100 big-block which pumps out 455-pound feet at just 3200 rpm but uses 151-cubic inches more displacement than the Hemi to do it, can only muster 340-horsepower and is thirstier.

To put it in perspective, the 5.7-liter Hemi is rated just five-horsepower less than the standard 5.7-liter LS-1 V-8 in the Chevrolet Corvette. And the Corvette has both a higher compression ratio and a few cubic inches more displacement. When Chrysler starts pounding on this engine for automotive use (an all-aluminum version is being engineered for Chrysler’s new family of rear-drive cars) the results could be epic.

Hooked to either the standard five-speed manual or optional five-speed automatic transmission, the Hemi is totally ingratiating. It purrs like a three-ton kitten, runs like a full-grown mountain lion and pulls like a bull elephant. Why they named this truck after a sheep remains a mystery.

Cummins and the V-10

The other big engine news is the thoroughly revised Cummins turbodiesel. In “High Output” form this new straight six makes a hulking 555 lb-ft of torque at 1400 rpm and 305 horsepower at 2900 rpm. At least initially, the new Cummins is paired only with a New Venture six-speed manual gearbox while the old “standard output” (250-horsepower/460-pound feet) Cummins six is offered with a four-speed automatic.

The 24-valve Cummins is quieter thanks to tweaks like a gear-driven fuel pump to feed the high pressure fuel rails and pilot injection to smooth combustion, and is now at least as quiet as GM’s Duramax turbodiesel V-8, if maybe a bit louder than the new Ford PowerStroke. But even though it doesn’t make as much noise, the noise it does make is unmistakably that of a big, truck-only straight. The towing cult that has built up around the Cummins over the years will adore this engine, and those of us who care more about the capability than the mystique will find it a more satisfying alternative now that it doesn’t sound like a whole sword boat fleet returning to Gloucester.

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2003 Dodge Ram 2500

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Continuing almost unchanged in the Ram 2500 and 3500 is the 8.0-liter, OHV V-10. Based on the old Magnum V-8, the V-10 seems almost superfluous considering the excellence of the Hemi and ability of the Cummins. But for those buyers with a taste for the archaic, the V-10 is still on the option sheet, rated at 305-horsepower (five less than 2002) and 440-pound feet of torque at 2,800 rpm. Rumors of a new V-10 based on the Hemi are just rumors, but the idea is delicious.

A Ram for all seasons

2003 Dodge Ram Heavy Duty

2003 Dodge Ram Heavy Duty

Enlarge Photo
There’s no way to make a full-size, one-ton dualie feel as nimble as a half-ton truck, but Dodge comes closer than any previous attempt. Particularly in two-wheel drive form, this is a truck whose massive abilities don’t require painful compromises in comfort or surefootedness. Unladen, the Ram’s rear end will bounce about with little dignity on some surfaces (California’s undulating freeway pavement for instance), but even that is better controlled in this truck than in previous versions or in competitors.

Throw a ton in the bed or haul a fifth wheel and the big Ram’s ride motions are even better. The tamping of the rear suspension is more controlled under load, the ride is only slightly harsher and the steering remains well weighted and quick. This is about as good as a truck chassis can reasonably be expected to behave.

Skipping the V-10 should be the easiest decision any Ram buyer can make. More problematic is the choice between Hemi and Cummins. If one doesn’t need the absolute torque advantage of the Cummins, the Hemi’s easygoing personality and stunning power make it one of the greatest truck engines ever conceived. But while the High Output Cummins is a solid player, its attractiveness is compromised by the fact that it can, at present, only be had with the manual transmission. Serious haulers who want a high capacity diesel and don’t want to shift will find themselves shopping at Ford and GM dealers.

So good are the 2500- and 3500-series Rams that, except for purchase price, there’s little advantage to buying the Ram 1500. Why buy a Ram 1500 when the “best” engine available in it is the outdated 245-horsepower 5.9-liter Magnum V-8? Buyers are better off stepping up to the 2500 and getting the Hemi. Or they can wait until next year when the Hemi makes its way down into the half-ton Ram.

2003 Dodge Ram 2500 Hemi Quad Cab SLT (Short Bed)
Base price: $26,795 (plus $745 destination)
Engine: 5.7-liter V-8, 345 hp
Drivetrain: Five-speed manual transmission, rear-wheel drive
Length x width x height: 227.7 x 79.9 x 74.4 in
Wheelbase: 140.5 in
Curb weight: 5521 lb
Safety equipment: Dual front airbags, four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes
Major standard equipment: Power windows/locks/mirrors, A/C
Warranty: Three years/36,000 miles comprehensive; seven years/70,000 miles powertrain

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July 27, 2015
2003 Dodge Ram 2500 4-Door Quad Cab 140.5" WB SLT

Great truck

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I love the truck, the one weak part about the truck is the front end it is built to light for the diesel engine
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