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The Dodge Ram has been extensively re-engineered for 2006. It has also been modestly restyled and the interior has been upgraded.
The bumper fascia, grille, headlamps, fenders and wheels are all new, but far more significant are less visible improvements, including a new hydroformed frame that's boxed its full length to provide more strength than in any previous Ram. You can't see the new suspension and body mounts, either, but they improve ride, handling, and quietness.
Inside the '06 Ram, the instrument panel, center console and seats have been redesigned for more car-like comfort, while new radios and entertainment features help the miles roll on by.
Those miles will roll quicker still when you order the Hemi engine, which has drawn much attention for its power and efficiency as well as the heritage its name evokes. It is an exceptionally good engine, smooth and very responsive. For 2006, the Hemi features the new Multi-Displacement System (MDS), which shuts down four of the Hemi's eight cylinders when they are not needed. Dodge claims the switchover is seamless, and that fuel economy is improved by as much as 20 percent. Step on the gas, however, and the cylinders reawaken, ready to deliver the 345 peak ponies that make the Hemi-powered Ram the most potent mass-production light-duty pickup on the market. Adding to the Hemi's responsiveness is a five-speed automatic transmission.
As if the Hemi wasn't enough, enthusiasts can choose the SRT-10, which looks like a NASCAR Craftsman Truck and runs like a race car, with stunning performance from its Viper V10 engine. Super-duty brakes and suspension help keep it on the road. The Guinness Book of World Records called the SRT-10 the world's fastest production pickup. Like other Rams, the SRT-10 is offered in either Quad Cab or Regular Cab configurations.
Ram's popular 4.7-liter V8, while not as powerful as the Hemi or SRT-10, delivers responsive performance and is smooth and sophisticated, benefiting from a modern overhead-cam design. Full-time four-wheel drive (all-wheel drive) is available with the 4.7-liter for improved stability in slippery conditions.
The light-duty Ram 1500 models are smooth and refined. Their cabs are comfortable and convenient, among the roomiest in their respective classes. The Quad Cab is handy for hauling friends and family but even the Regular Cab is roomy. Arguably, the Ram is the best-looking truck on the market. Its styling is bold and handsome, even more so in its latest incarnation.
This may indeed be the golden age of the full-size pickup. The Ford F-150 and Nissan Titan made headlines with their engineering. Coming soon are all-new versions of the Chevrolet Silverado, GMC Sierra, and Toyota Tundra. In spite of all this, the Dodge Ram remains an excellent choice. Re-engineered for 2006, it may be the best choice, depending on what you want from a truck.
Two bed lengths are available: a 6-foot, 3-inch short bed and an 8-foot long bed. Ordering the long bed adds 20 inches to the wheelbase. And a Quad Cab wheelbase is 20 inches longer than a Regular Cab. So a Quad Cab long bed has 40 more inches of wheelbase than a Regular Cab short bed. Long-bed Rams also get a bigger fuel tank, 35 gallons in place of the standard 26.
Regular Cabs start at $20,800 with rear-wheel drive (2WD), $25,055 with four-wheel drive (4WD). Quad Cabs, which ride on a wheelbase 20 inches longer than comparable Regular Cab models, start at $24,870 with 2WD, $29,005 with 4WD.
Several engines are offered: The most economical choice, one that can actually break 20 mpg on the highway, is the 3.7-liter overhead-cam V6, rated 215 horsepower. It's the base engine in 2WD Regular Cabs and 2WD Quad Cabs with the short box. The available 4.7-liter V8 uses modern overhead-cam heads to generate 235 horsepower. The popular 5.7-liter Hemi produces 345 horsepower. At the top end of the scale is the 8.3-liter pushrod V10 in the SRT-10, rated 500 horsepower and 525 pound-feet of torque.
A six-speed manual transmission is standard equipment with the 3.7-liter V6 and 4.7-liter V8. A four-speed automatic is optional with the V6. A five-speed automatic is optional with the 4.7-liter V8 and standard with the Hemi. The SRT-10 Regular Cab comes only with a six-speed manual gearbox; the SRT-10 Quad Cab comes only with a four-speed automatic.
ST is the base trim level. It comes standard with air conditioning, AM/FM/CD stereo, rear-wheel ABS, 17-inch steel wheels and a full-size spare tire. Upholstery is vinyl, and the windows wind up manually. Options include a bed liner, trailer tow mirrors, speed control, four-wheel ABS, 17-inch chrome-clad steel wheels, and a power sliding rear window for the Quad Cab.
SLT comes standard with the 4.7-liter V8, and adds power windows and door locks, keyless entry, an overhead console with mini-trip computer and compass, speed control, and 17-inch aluminum wheels. Options expand to include a power sunroof, power adjustable pedals, six-disc CD changer and Infinity speaker system, navigation system, Sirius Satellite Radio, UConnect Bluetooth hands-free wireless communication, bucket seats with leather upholstery, six-way power driver seat and 20-inch aluminum wheels.
Sport, which was an option package last year, has been promoted to a trim level for '06. It comes with the Hemi engine and five-speed automatic transmission, unique bucket seats, body-color fascia and grille, fog lamps, and 20-inch chrome-clad aluminum wheels. Sport adds $7,256-$8,410 to price of an ST. Options are the same as for the SLT, but the long bed is not available.
Laramie is the luxury level, with dual-zone climate control, steering-wheel mounted audio controls, four-wheel ABS, security alarm, and Sentry Key engine immobilizer. Leather seats are standard, with a split 40/20/40 bench up front and power adjustment for the driver. Laramie retails for $6,600-$7,800 more than the base (ST) trim level, and offers a nice selection of luxury options.
SRT-10 is its own trim level, available in both regular cab ($47,605) and Quad Cab ($51,810) models. In addition to its go-fast equipment, SRT-10 also comes with most Laramie-level luxuries, plus heated sport bucket seats up front and a lot of unique, performance-oriented trim inside and out.
The TRX4 Off-Road package ($1,250) comes with unique 17-inch aluminum wheels on LT275/70R17 off-road tires, 3.92 rear axle, limited-slip differential, skid plates for the transfer case and front suspension, special red-painted shocks, tow
The Dodge Ram has a pleasant ride quality, even when empty. Like all full-size pickups, it rides better with a some weight in the bed. New shear-type body mounts on 2006 models isolate the passenger compartment from vibrations that reach the frame. (These mounts consist of two concentric tubes: one bolted to the frame, the other bolted to the body structure, with internal steel reinforcements and rubber bonded in between. Dodge claims they provide direction-specific response, as well as a quiet cabin and comfortable ride.) Also new for '06 are laminated front-door glass, improved door seals, and extensive use of Polymer Constraint Layer (PCL) sound insulation. Dodge says this all results in a significant 5 decibel reduction in sound level in the cabin. Our impressions of a 2006 Sport model support this claim.
Ram's rigid chassis minimizes road vibration. The new frame on 2006 models is fully boxed and, like the old one, is hydroformed. (Instead of having to weld a bunch of straight pieces together, hydroforming uses ultra-high water pressure to force the metal into shape.) This highly rigid frame is a key component to the ride and handling of the Ram. It allowed Dodge engineers to redesign the Ram suspension and tune it precisely, without having to work around a lot of chassis flex. Rack-and-pinion steering sharpens handling, and a new steering rack for '06 provides more precise steering feel. Big 17-inch wheels are standard. The result overall is that the Ram offers responsive handling, a comfortable ride, and a general feeling of tightness.
The Ram is a big truck and on narrow roads it feels big and tall, with broad fenders that 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 because you can't see them, so it's not the best vehicle for the timid. In this regard, the Ram is at the opposite end of the spectrum from the 2006 Toyota Tundra, which feels small and nimble by comparison. Quad Cab models add 20 inches to the wheelbase and a long bed adds another 20 inches, so a Quad Cab long bed is a long truck, riding on a 160.5-inch wheelbase. It's long on roominess and utility, but not the easiest to turn around.
That said, the Ram handles reasonably well and powers through or over just about anything, even when the tires aren't always precisely where you intended to place them. Springs, jounce bumpers, and bushings are all re-tuned to provide better handling for '06, and all models now feature monotube shocks for more precise control of body motions. Additionally, 4WD Rams now ride on a new coil-over-shock front suspension, replacing last year's torsion bars. (In general, torsion bars absorb hard impacts better than coil springs, but are harder to tune for smooth, progressive action.)
All Rams come standard with big four-wheel disc brakes that are smooth and easy to modulate.
As mentioned, a choice of engines is available for the Ram. The 4.7-liter V8 was until recently the most popular choice among Ram customers, but in 2005 it was surpassed in sales by the 5.7-liter Hemi V8, which is now ordered in nearly half the Rams that Dodge makes. In the three years since its debut, Chrysler has produced more than 1 million Hemi-powered vehicles and it's no wonder that the 5.7-liter Hemi V8 has become the Ram's most popular engine choice. Fire up the Hemi, let it idle, and it burbles like the good old American V8 it is, recollecting the sound of a mid-'60s muscle car. Yet in spite of the Hemi name's long heritage, there's nothing old or outdated about this engine. The first Chrysler Hemi was decades ahead of its time in 1951; half a century later, most state-of-the-art, multi-valve, multi-camshaft engines use some variation on its hemispherical combustion chamber. Chrysler totally reengineered the Hemi in 1964, stretched it to 7.0 liters, and saw its legend soar
The Dodge Ram offers big power and big capabilities. It's responsive and comfortable as an everyday driver and it's ready to do some serious work when called upon. Ram's distinctive styling, tweaked for 2006, makes it stand out in a rapidly improving field. Ram Quad Cab models offer a brilliant combination of comfort and utility. Even Regular Cabs are generously roomy and are thoughtfully set up to accommodate gear behind the seat. The responsive 4.7-liter V8 delivers good acceleration and gets the job done; it's paired well with a five-speed automatic transmission that's smooth and responsive. The 5.7-liter Hemi delivers strong acceleration performance and is an excellent choice for towing; its real-world fuel economy should improve with the new MDS system. The V10-powered SRT-10 makes you feel like you're qualifying for a NASCAR Craftsman Truck race.
New Car Test Drive editor Mitch McCullough reported from Los Angeles, with Sam Moses in San Antonio. John Katz contributed to this report.