The 1994 Dodge Ram may go down as truckdom's hardest-ever act to follow. When this Peterbilt-to-the-people poked a stick in the pickup world's beehive, it multiplied Dodge's slice of the market by a huge factor. But no vehicle design lasts forever, so the Dodge boys faced the daunting task of siring a son to their rambunctious one. The offspring rolled into dealerships this past fall wearing a horse-collar grille bigger and bolder than the original. Wisely, they didn't fiddle much with the looks. But there are comprehensive improvements that make the 2002 Ram a much more satisfying pickup than the original.
Engineering advancements include a hydroformed frame four times stiffer than before, two new overhead-cam engines, the optional five-speed automatic transmission, rack-and-pinion power steering, and softer-riding suspensions. But Dodge's truly courageous move is chopping 3" of length out of the standard cargo box to stretch interior space. The body style selection has also been pared down to one regular cab and one Quad cab with forward-hinged back doors. (The two-door extended cab and interlocking suicide rear doors fitted to the previous Quad cab are both history.)
To test the 2002 Ram, I hitched a 21' Triton bass boat on an EZ-Loader tandem-axle trailer and headed for the Great Smoky Mountains from Asheville, North Carolina. Fitted with its traditional 5.9-liter V-8, the only remaining pushrod motor in the lineup, a four-speed automatic transmission, and two-wheel drive, the new Ram carried an 8,350-pound tow rating, which was hardly dented by my 3,580-pound rig.
Within a block of the parking lot, it was clear that this is not your old man's Ram. The quick, direct rack-and-pinion steering gives this truck an agile feel that belies its weight. The new Ram loves to carve corners and tear up back roads.
New creature comforts seal the deal. White-dial instrumentation would wear well in a Ferrari. The cabin is as roomy as a condominium, and the seats are cozy. The fold-down center armrest has extra stowage room, too. The longer cabin and reconfigured rear doors give you a practical second row of seating without stretching overall length or the turning radius beyond reasonable bounds. The back seat easily converts into a rugged load floor.
The Ram held the long bass boat securely in line through the curves even with a 225-horsepower Johnson outboard hanging off the back. There was no convenient launch ramp for checking wet-surface traction, but my guess is that the big 17" Goodyear galoshes will have no trouble climbing out, even without the optional four-wheel drive.
|MODEL||DODGE RAM SLT|
|Engine||5.9-liter OHV V-8|
|Net torque (ft-lb/rpm||335/3200|
|Suspension Front||control arms, coil springs|
|Suspension Rear||rigid axle, leaf springs|
|Brakes (front/rear)||vented disc optional 4-wheel ABS|
|Tires||Goodyear Wrangler, P265/70SR-17 M+S|
|Curb weight (lbs.)||5,400|
|Towing capacity (lbs.)||8,350|
|Cargo capacity (max. cu. ft.)||58|
|Fuel capacity (gal.)||26|
|City/highway towing fuel economy (avg. mpg)||9.0|
FINAL WORD. As was the case seven years ago, the new Dodge Ram is a must-drive for anyone shopping for a broad-shouldered pickup tow vehicle.