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Dodge Ram boasts high levels of refinement and comfort. Completely redesigned and re-engineered last year, this latest-generation Ram has re-established Dodge as a leading product among full-size pickups. While the previous-generation Ram had fallen behind the GM and Ford in terms of refinement, the current Ram competes head to head with the other full-size trucks.
The latest Ram offers a much smoother ride and a bigger, more comfortable, and more convenient cab. But all this refinement doesn't mean the Dodge Ram has gone soft. The new-generation Ram also delivers improved towing and hauling capability, plus more powerful and efficient engines.
For 2003, Dodge has introduced a sophisticated new five-speed automatic transmission. A more capable Off-Road package has been added, along with a rugged Work Special. Also new for 2003 is a line of heavy-duty 2500 and 3500 models, not covered here.
In January 2003, the 5.7-liter Hemi V8 replaced the aging 5.9-liter V8, increasing power by 100 horsepower and 40 pounds-feet of torque while improving fuel economy by 10 percent.
Two bed lengths are available, a 6-foot, 3-inch standard bed and an 8-foot long bed. Ordering the long bed adds $300-$350 to the price, and another 20 inches to the wheelbase. Long-bed models also get a bigger fuel tank, 35 gallons in place of the standard 26-gallon tank.
Three engines are offered: The most popular choice is an overhead-cam 4.7-liter V8, which is standard with four-wheel-drive. For maximum economy, two-wheel-drive Rams can be ordered with a 3.7-liter V6 that's similar in design to the 4.7-liter V8. The most powerful engine in the line is the new 5.7-liter Hemi V8 with hemispherical combustion chambers for improved airflow and burn. The new Hemi produces 345 horsepower and 375 foot-pounds of torque. When properly equipped, that increases the towing capacity to 9200 pounds and payload by an additional 500 pounds. The Hemi adds about $800 to the price.
A five-speed manual transmission is standard with the 3.7-liter V6 and 4.7-liter V8. Optional is a new five-speed automatic ($975) that includes an alternate second gear for hill-climbing and towing (so it's technically a six-speed). This new transmission is more responsive than the unit it replaces.
Three trim levels are available, ST, SLT, and Laramie.
ST is the base level and comes standard with air conditioning, but is equipped with vinyl upholstery, wind-up windows, and manual door locks.
SLT adds $1700-$3200, depending on cab style and driveline, and includes the 4.7-liter V8, plus cloth upholstery, nicer interior trim, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a host of convenience items, and wider tires.
Laramie is the luxury package, which costs in the neighborhood of $7800-$8900 and brings leather seating surfaces, dual-zone air conditioning, a premium stereo, 17-inch cast aluminum wheels, and a long, long list of luxury features.
Sport body-color trim for grille and bumpers is available for $470 with any trim level; that price includes fog lights and 17-inch aluminum wheels. Add another $1600 or so if you want aggressive, street-rodder-style 20-inch wheels and tires.
New for 2003 is optional Work Special trim, with gray bumpers and grille and gray-painted 17x7 steel wheels. Also new this year is an Off-Road Package ($870-$1405) for 4WD models consisting of a 3.92:1 limited-slip differential, heavy-duty engine cooling, LT275/70R17 all-terrain tires, skid plates, tow hooks, and fog lamps.
A pleasant ride quality and a responsive engine characterize the driving experience. This latest Dodge Ram rides much more smoothly than the pre-2002 model.
A rigid new chassis has reduced vibration dramatically. Dodge used an increasingly popular manufacturing process called hydroforming to fashion the frame. Instead of having to weld a bunch of straight pieces together, hydroforming uses ultra-high water pressure to force the metal into any shape needed. This highly rigid frame is arguably the key component of this new pickup. It allowed Dodge engineers to redesign the Ram suspension and to tune it precisely, without having to work around a lot of chassis flex.
A new rack-and-pinion steering gear sharpens handling, and 17-inch wheels are standard. The result is better handling, a better ride, and a truck that feels much tighter. Handling and maneuverability were key goals of the Ram design team, according to Dodge, in an effort to help drivers avoid crashes. All Rams come standard with big four-wheel disc brakes that are smooth and easy to modulate. Dodge claims they are the largest brakes in the segment.
Pickup trucks don't seem to be getting any smaller. One of the first sensations of driving the Ram is awareness of its immense proportions. This truck feels big and tall, and its fenders seem to fill small country roads. The ride height of the Ram adds to this sensation. It's sometimes difficult to be sure exactly where your fenders are, so it's not the best truck for the timid. In this regard, the Ram is the opposite of the Toyota Tundra, which feels smaller and nimbler by comparison. The big Ram reminds us a bit of driving an off-road race truck. It handles reasonably well and powers through or over just about anything, but the tires aren't always precisely where you wanted them.
Most Ram buyers will get the new 4.7-liter V8, and it's the best choice unless you have specific reasons to order the 3.7-liter or 5.7-liter engine. The first thing I noticed about driving a Ram pickup with the 4.7-liter was its responsiveness. This truck feels very eager around town and on winding roads. It accelerates quickly onto freeways and has no trouble powering up grades. It's a smooth, sophisticated engine that always feels ready to go.
The 4.7-liter V8 and 3.7-liter V6 are overhead-cam designs, smaller and more efficient than the overhead-valve engines they replace. The 4.7-liter V8, for example, offers a 1 mpg improvement (13/17 mpg City/Highway for a 4WD automatic) over the 5.2-liter V8 engine it replaced; it revs higher and produces 240 horsepower, 10 more than the 5.2-liter, although torque was reduced by 5 pounds-feet to 295. In practical terms, this is splitting hairs. What you will notice is that the 4.7-liter engine feels smoother and more refined, emitting a pleasant American burble while underway. I really liked it.
The 3.7-liter V6 is smooth and works just fine with the manual five-speed gearbox. It might be a good choice for someone who lives in the flatlands at relatively low altitudes and neither pulls trailers nor hauls heavy loads.
The new 5.7-liter Hemi V8 uses hemispherical combustion chambers for improved airflow with a bump inside for better swirl. It adds up to more power and better fuel efficiency. The Hemi generates 345 hp at 5400 rpm and 375 lbs.-ft. of torque at 4200 rpm.
Trailer towing capacities range from just 3050 pounds for a 3.7-liter V6 Quad Cab with 2WD and manual transmission, to 9200 pounds for a 5.7-liter V8 Regular Cab with 2WD. A 4WD Ram with the 4.7-liter and automatic transmission is rated to pull a 7450-pound trailer with the 3.92 rear axle ratio. Those who need to pull trailers up to 9200 pounds will want to opt for the 5.7-liter engine. It delivers 245 horsepower and 335 pounds-feet of torque. The available 20-inch wheels reduce towing capacity by 1000 pounds.
Payloads range from about 1300 pounds to 1850 pounds for a 2WD regular cab with the 3.7-liter V6.
Dodge has done it again: Eight years after breaking the rules for pickups, Dodge redesigned its Ram and reasserted itself as a top contender among full-size trucks. The 2003 Dodge Ram remains stylish and highly capable. It's also comfortable.
Quad Cab models offer a brilliant combination of comfort and utility. Regular Cab versions are far roomier than they used to be, and are thoughtfully set up to accommodate gear behind the seat.