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Dodge Ram backs up its bold looks with powerful engines. It boasts excellent street manners with a smooth ride, quick steering and excellent brakes.
And it comes with a host of significant changes for the new model year: more powerful engines; new front suspensions and steering systems for improved ride, directional stability and steering precision; new brake systems. Two new options have been added to the lineup for 2000, a special off-road package and a luxurious leather SLT Plus package.
For the most part, its looks haven't changed. The bold design of the Dodge Ram is reminiscent of big Freightliners steaming down the road with a full load of logs. It is arguably the best-looking pickup on the market.
A number of under-the-skin upgrades have been made including electrocoated frame paint. The Sport package comes with a body-colored grille and front and rear bumpers, decals, fog lamps, outline white letter tires, and cast aluminum wheels. This year there is an even bolder front end with a new grille design and clear-lens lamps on the Ram Sport.
The Quad Cab four-door pickup truck design is said to be as strong as a conventional pickup body shell even though it does not have a pillar between the doors. To improve structural rigidity, Dodge designed a beam that runs laterally under the truck, and reinforced both the A and C pillars. Side door guard beams were also added to improve protection from side impacts.
The Ram Quad Cab is about cavernous space. It offers buyers a roomy interior with conventional front doors and rear-hinged rear doors. The absence of a B-pillar makes it much easier to get in or out of the rear seat; it also makes it much easier to stick something behind the front seats. The door handles for the rear doors are integrated into the front interior face of the door, providing a more secure dual locking system for all four doors when the rear door is locked.
The Dodge Ram's big, wide instrument panel has a more modern layout than the original design. This includes a new steering wheel design, a big storage compartment, an extra power point, and new cupholders designed to handle any commercially available drink container. For 2000, the Ram comes with reduced-force air bags with a lockout for the passenger side. Other improvements include a new keyless remote entry system, an upgraded base sound system, a new cassette and CD sound system option and a new center console. The instrument pod features vacuum-fluorescent odometer and trip odometer that are tamperproof, and there are new driver-programmable keyless entry key fobs. Other interior features include heated power mirrors, illuminated power door locks and window switches, and an optional security alarm system.
The front seat in all Rams is divided 40/20/40, with a huge fold-down center section that doubles as armrest and writing table. The cloth-covered seats in our test truck were nicely upholstered, plush, supportive and comfortable. When no one is sitting in it, the center position provides a large storage box, with divided spaces for coins, cassettes, maps or a laptop computer. For 2000, the designers have integrated the front seat belts into the seats themselves, which gets rid of messy hanging belts -- a particularly nice improvement for the wide-open Quad Cab doorway.
The Quad Cab rear seat is the same one used in other extended cab versions. It's handy for children, pets and petite adults, but it is not very comfortable for adults on long trips. The bench portion of the seat flips up out of the way effortlessly from either side for hauling tools or cargo. The power window option comes with an express-down switch on the driver's side. Steering wheel mounted radio controls are optional. There are two new overhead console designs; one with and one without trip computer. A rotary headlamp switch replaces the former pull switch design on the left side of the dash.
Our Ram 1500 was fitted with the 5.9-liter V8 and 4-speed automatic 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, the best choice if you need to pull a trailer, but don't want the diesel or the higher fuel bills generated by the V10.
A V8 pickup truck is great fun for cruising. Passing is effortless. The manual transmission can add flexibility in off-road situations, but we recommend the automatic for street use. The low-end torque of the engine and the low gearing in first and second gears make it easy to get around in all driving situations.
Front suspension on a Ram 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 1500 model was smooth and quiet on the street, aided by big, soft Goodyear tires. The Dodge V8 pickup truck has for years had a special kind of presence on the street, and the Ram backs up that presence with excellent street manners and ride.
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, is exemplary. The Ram stops quickly with superb straight-line stability. The brakes have been redesigned with dual-piston front disc brake calipers and a more responsive brake booster for improved braking performance.
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 we no longer think of trucks solely as work vehicles. Four-door pickups make so much 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. For cruising around town or going to the beach, the Ram offers loads of room, loads of power and loads of style.
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