Hardly Sheepish

Dodge Ram 1500 HEMI

Dodge has created the perfect alternative to an SUV by sliding a hot HEMI engine under the hood of its 1500 Series Ram pickup. In the 1960s, Chrysler HEMI engines powered Richard Petty to Nascar fame and muscle-car owners to the head of the street-racing pack. The new 5.7-liter pushrod V-8 cranks out a potent 345 hp to give the full-size Ram the ability to tow 9,200 pounds worth of boat and trailer.

Hitched to a 24' runabout atop a tandem-axle Trail-Rite trailer, the new Ram hustled just under five tons to 60 mph in 14.5 seconds. Unladen it makes the same sprint in 6.9 seconds. Massive Goodyear radials mounted to striking 20" polished-aluminum wheels scream this truck means business. A five-speed automatic transmission, four-wheel disc brakes, and ABS can be added to the deal. The Ram required only 136' to stop from 60 mph unburdened and 249' with the 5,100-pound test trailer in tow.

Four-wheel drive and traction control aren't offered, so at the launch ramp, it behooves the driver to add throttle with discretion to avoid scorched earth. That said, you'll need only a modicum of patience to tug any wet payload to dry land without a ruckus.

The new Ram is fun to drive with its throaty rumble and enthusiastic surge that follows a tap of the gas pedal. The five-speed automatic provides quiet cruising and confident passing a heartbeat after you ask it to. For such a big guy, this pickup feels light and agile. But with a live rear axle attached by means of leaf springs, bumps and bad pavement make their presence known.

The new $795 HEMI Magnum engine package includes a leather split-bench seat with room for three, dual-zone air conditioning, power-adjustable brake and throttle pedals, and a stereo system with CD and cassette play capability. It's a long climb up into the saddle, but once you're up and buckled in, it's a pleasure peering down on admiring eyes.

MODEL Dodge Ram 1500 HEMI
Engine 5.7-liter OHV V-8
Net hp/rpm 345/5400
Net torque (ft-lb/rpm) 375/4400
Transmission 5-speed automatic
Suspension Front control arms, coil springs
Suspension Rear rigid axle, leaf springs
Brakes (front/rear) disc/disc, optional ABS
Tires Goodyear Eagle LS, P275/55R-20
Wheelbase (in.) 120.5
Length (in.) 227.7
Width (in.) 79.9
Height (in.) 74.7
Curb weight (lbs.) 4,750
Towing capacity (lbs., max.) 9,200
Cargo capacity (max. cu. ft.) 58
Fuel capacity (gal.) 26
0-60 mph acceleration (without/with 5,100-lb. towed load, sec.) 6.9/14.5
60-0 mph stopping distance (without/with 5,100-lb. towed load, ft.) 136/249
Observed towing fuel economy (avg. mpg) 9
Price (as tested) $28,910

LAST WORD. Everyone else will have their work cut out trying to keep up with this muscle truck.