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The introduction of the Dodge Ram Quad Cab shocked the automotive industry last year as the first full-size extended cab pickup with four doors.
Dodge was first, but the rest of the world is catching up: All Ford F-Series SuperCab trucks come with four doors this year. Chevrolet and GMC are expected to offer four doors on their all-new line of trucks as soon as next year. All of this makes 1999 an interesting year in pickup trucks.
There are a host of significant changes to the Dodge Ram line for 1999. Interiors have been given a thorough makeover. A passenger-side air bag that can be switched off is now available. A removable storage container has been added under the rear seats of the Quad Cab. Four-wheel anti-lock brakes are now standard on all 3500 models. And, as if you couldn't tell by how high they ride, 4WD tailgate graphics have been added.
Our Ram 2500 was fitted with the 5.9-liter V8 and a 5-speed manual transmission. This engine has a ton of torque and a broad power band, which makes it a great deal of fun to drive. This is a great engine for heavy-duty use. It's the best choice if you need to pull a trailer, but don't want the diesel or the fuel bills generated by the V10.
A 5-speed V8 pickup truck may not be ideal for commuting, but it's great fun for cruising. Passing is effortless; a quick downshift and you're by. The manual adds flexibility in off-road situations. The low-end torque of the engine and the low gearing in first and second gears make it easy to get around in all dirt and rock driving situations, especially negotiating downhill gullies.
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. The suspension in our 2500 model was smooth and quiet on the street, aided by big Goodyear RT/S tires.
But the body is so high off the ground that some passengers -- particularly females -- had a great deal of entry and exit difficulty even with a grab bar on the A-pillar. The high ground clearance also makes loading and unloading cargo more difficult. For these reasons, we would consider the two-wheel-drive models unless we thought we would really need four-wheel drive.
A new steering gear design along with new steering geometry make steering much more precise than earlier models. Steering in the earlier Rams was light and quick, but had a lot of dead space on-center and seemed to require constant left-right adjustments.
Braking, with discs in front, drums in rear, was exemplary. The Ram stops quickly with superb straight-line stability.
The other thing that may have improved is the build quality. 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 trucks are no longer thought of solely as work vehicles. Four-door pickups make good sense for so many families that they'll be as common as minivans in a few years. Dodge was the first to offer four doors, but its success has forced Ford, Chevy and GMC to follow.
Dodge offers an excellent package. Improvements to the instrumentation, new powertrain and body combinations have made it better. 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.