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If Chicago is the city of broad shoulders, here's its pickup truck equivalent. When Dodge introduced the all-new Ram family in 1994, it was the company's first ground-up redesign in 22 years, and an instant success. From also-ran status, the Ram has created huge waves in the marketplace, vaulting to a record 382,000 sales in 1996.
This chrome-grilled, big-rig-wannabe is not only the most bodacious looking truck on the market, it also boasts the biggest engine, the highest power ratings, the biggest payload ratings, and the highest towing capacity of any pickup truck you can buy. It's also collected several J.D. Power trophies for quality and for overall appeal.
Like all of the domestic full-size pickups, the Ram is available in three load ratings--the 1500, 2500 and 3500 series. Engine offerings are also multiple, starting with a basic 3.9-liter V6. There are two V8 options--5.2 and 5.9 liters, plus the monster 8.0-liter V10 and the fine Cummins 5.9-liter inline six-cylinder turbodiesel.
The Ram comes with either two- or four-wheel drive, in standard and Club Cab body styles, in Work Special, LT and Laramie SLT trim levels. The regular bed is 6.5 feet long, the optional long bed is eight feet. Again, this pretty much parallels the range of offerings from Ford, Chevy and GMC.
Improvements for 1997 include a new keyless remote entry system, an upgraded base sound system, a new cassette and CD option, leather seat availability on SLT versions, a new Sport Plus package with 17-inch wheels, suspension upgrades, a 5.9-liter V8 engine with sport exhausts, and a number of appearance and quality upgrades: electrocoated frame paint, new colors, and new interior colors.
The attention to quality shows. Paint quality, trim and body panel fits on our test truck were very good, and door closures were excellent. The bed liner that comes with the truck is well made, with only a few tiny apertures where dirt and moisture can gather.
Though most customers are initially attracted to the Ram for its bold exterior design, there is a great deal more good stuff to be discovered on the inside. Tops in the good stuff category is roominess. The interior design guys figured out a way to do the instrument panel and the seats in such a way as to provide more room in a standard cab layout and a whole bunch more room in a Club Cab layout than anybody else, although Ford's new F-Series trucks have since largely matched the Ram's roominess.
The instrument panel looks distantly related to that of a Jeep Grand Cherokee, and, of course, it is, with the same radio equipment and similar switchgear, instrument graphics and placements. Is this bad? No way. It's a good layout, with a few dollops of color to keep it visually interesting, and very few customers cross-shop Grand Cherokees and Rams anyway.
The leather-covered seats in our test truck were unique in our truck experience, built with an enormous amount of cushiness, so that your body sinks down into the seat and is well supported from backside to shoulders. The SLT six-way power seat with manual recline is divided 40/20/40, with a huge fold-down center section that doubles as an armrest and writing table, with a substantial storage box inside that incorporates divided spaces for coins, cassettes, maps and the other odds and ends we all carry.
While the new leather seating option is very spiffy, some other elements of this truck's interior decor are not. We think Ford and GM truck interiors are a bit closer to design unity than the Ram. The tan leather interior gets a black instrument panel, which is a normal combination, but there is a lot of hard plastic of varying tan tones and grains that brings down the impression of quality. There are only two exposed screws in the Ram interior, a big improvement, but still two too many.
One of the slickest things about the interior is the optional storage rack system fitted to the back wall of the cab that allows an owner to get the absolute most out of the space behind the seat in a standard cab Ram. We love this storage rack, and wish other truck makers would get with the program.
The storage system has a deep, full-width tray at floor level, divided 75/25, a cargo net behind the right seat, and two stacked trays behind the left seat. The trays are heavy duty plastic, permanently installed and designed to carry real loads. Each door also has a generous set of storage bins arrayed along the bottom edge.
We've driven every engine the Ram has to offer at one time or another, and we love the V10's amazing torque. But we must caution you that it not only costs $975 more than the standard V6, but that its gas-mileage performance over the life of the truck may put you in the poorhouse. If you don't absolutely need the V10 engine for big-load heavy duty work, we recommend the 5.9-liter V8, which has been in the Dodge system for ages, as has the less muscular 5.2-liter V8. And for that matter, the basic V6 in the standard 1500 series is a stout-hearted hauler in its own right.
Having said that, the optional V10 in an unladen Ram 2500 4x4, will rip across an intersection faster than any other truck on the market, and its league-leading 450 pound-feet of torque are mighty handy for anything from off-roading to hauling four-horse trailers--up to 13,000 pounds. Only the optional turbodiesel engine comes close in torque, at 440 lb.-ft., and will certainly offer better fuel economy and durability over the long haul.
The front suspension on a Ram 4x4 is a coil spring setup with four leading arms, a track bar and a stabilizer bar to keep the front axle assembly located fore and aft and side to side, and the rear suspension is a conventional leaf spring/live axle setup to carry the loads. We found that at this weight rating in a 4x4 the suspension was choppy with no load, and the heavy duty nature of the suspension places the body so high off the ground that shorter passengers had trouble climbing in and out, even with a grab bar on the A-pillar. No problem for a tall, macho guy, but certainly for kids, pets and significant others.
The one thing we didn't like about the Ram's dynamics was the steering, which was light enough and quick enough, but had a dead space on center, and seemed to require constant adjustments during straight ahead travel. It's not a problem in town, but freeway wander is a small but persistent trait at higher speeds.
The disc/drum brakes, on the other hand, were exemplary in their power and straight-stop behavior.
Over frost heaves, potholes, snowdrifts and ice the Ram was remarkably and utterly free of squeaks, rattles and shudders, a tribute to an excellent chassis design as one of the reasons it has been getting such high quality marks from J.D. Power, Strategic Vision and other survey companies.
There's no doubt that the Ram is strong enough in many areas to steal sales away from Ford and Chevrolet. Dodge has an excellent overall package here, and in the three years it has been on the market, the engineers and designers have added significant upgrades each year to make it even more competitive in the blazing-hot full-size truck market.
The only omissions are the lack of a passenger-side airbag and the absence of a third-door option, a la Ford and GM.
The Ram SLT Lariat 4x4 base price--about $25,000--is competitive, a tad more than an equivalent Chevrolet K2500 4x4 and quite a bit less than the Ford 2500 4x4 XLT, but as you can see from the price box, a truck like this one can reach $30,000 quite easily with all the options checked.
While we enjoyed the big-time torque of the V10, and recognize that some buyers need it, our pick for a family street truck would be a 1500 4x4 with the 5.9-liter V8 as a much less expensive alternative. Not to mention a truck that leaves no doubt about what it is and what it can do. Broad shoulders indeed.
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2011 Dodge Ram 2500$29,896 | 65,197 mi
2011 Dodge Ram 2500$34,995 | 36,266 mi
2011 Dodge Ram 2500$36,986 | 23,330 mi
2010 Dodge Ram 2500$44,999 | 33,465 mi
2010 Dodge Ram 2500$47,900 | 20,742 mi
2009 Dodge Ram 2500$21,977 | 93,609 mi
2009 Dodge Ram 2500$27,998 | 31,929 mi
2008 Dodge Ram 2500$28,999 | 79,507 mi
2007 Dodge Ram 2500$15,995 | 112,804 mi
2007 Dodge Ram 2500$30,995 | 69,000 mi
2007 Dodge Ram 2500$38,896 | 38,857 mi
2006 Dodge Ram 2500$13,987 | 141,863 mi
2006 Dodge Ram 2500$18,988 | 81,728 mi
2006 Dodge Ram 2500$19,998 | 53,861 mi
2006 Dodge Ram 2500$25,988 | 91,068 mi
2006 Dodge Ram 2500$28,900 | 91,543 mi
2005 Dodge Ram 2500$11,995 | no mileage
2004 Dodge Ram 2500$8,999 | 200,362 mi
2004 Dodge Ram 2500$19,790 | 63,660 mi
2004 Dodge Ram 2500$19,999 | 175,005 mi
2004 Dodge Ram 2500$27,588 | 28,664 mi
2002 Dodge Ram 2500$19,999 | 141,000 mi
2002 Dodge Ram 2500$23,999 | 97,820 mi
2001 Dodge Ram 2500$11,249 | 107,541 mi
2001 DODGE RAM 2500$16,986 | 166,921 mi
2001 Dodge Ram 2500$17,855 | 49,771 mi
2001 Dodge Ram 2500$23,985 | 107,882 mi
1999 Dodge Ram 2500$12,500 | 88,338 mi