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Dodge has been playing the pickup game beautifully ever since it introduced the Ram in 1994. With this year's introduction of a 4-door extended-cab pickup truck, Dodge has fired yet another shot across the bow of Ford, Chevy and GMC, which offer only three doors on their extended-cabs. The new Dodge Quad Cab, as it is called, is an option on all 1500 and 2500 extended cab trucks and it's standard on the big 3500 models.
That one major product advantage is backed up by a host of other significant changes for 1998 from one end of the Ram family to the other. Interiors have been given a thorough makeover for the new year. A passenger-side air bag that can be switched off is now available.
For 1998, buyers will be able to get either a V10 gasoline engine or the Cummins turbodiesel in a 2500 series truck.
Our Ram 1500 was fitted with the 5.2-liter V8 and a 5-speed manual. Driving it made us think of the old muscle car drag racing days on Woodward Avenue in Detroit. It's that powerful and that much fun to drive.
It may not be ideally suited for a commuting situation where a lot of shifting would be involved, but it's great fun on the boulevards. It's also a really flexible, driveable combination in off-road situations, much more so than the automatic. The low-end torque of the engine and the low gearing in first and second gears make it easy to get around in most driving situations.
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. Rear suspension is a conventional live axle with leaf springs designed to carry heavy loads. We found the suspension delightfully smooth and supple on the street, aided by those big fat Goodyear RT/S tires. But the body is so high off the ground that some passengers--particularly females--had a great deal of entry/exit difficulty even with a grab bar on the A-pillar.
One thing we didn't like about the Ram's dynamics last year was the steering, which was light enough and quick enough, but had an enormous dead space on center, and seemed to require constant left-right adjustments to stay straight ahead. That has been fixed this year with a new steering gear setup and new steering geometry, and the feel of the truck is much more precise than earlier models.
Braking, with discs in front, drums in rear, was exemplary. The Ram stops quickly with superb straightline stability. Our truck was free of squeaks, rattles and shudders, and everything about it seemed a bit tighter, a bit smoother, a bit more high-quality than previous models we've driven.
This four-door Ram is so terrifically easy to use for a group of four or five people that it may lead the other three truck brands to offer four-door body styles in the very near future.
With the new dashboard, the new powertrain and body combinations for 1998, and all the basic goodness and style of the Ram, Dodge has an excellent package here.
There's plenty of room for family hauling, plenty of ground clearance for off-roading, plenty of power, and plenty of style for just cruising around town or going to the beach.