If Chicago is the city of broad shoulders, here's its pickup truck equivalent. When Dodge introduced the all-new Ram family in 1994, it was the company's first ground-up redesign in 22 years, and an instant success. From also-ran status, the Ram has created huge waves in the marketplace, vaulting to a record 382,000 sales in 1996.
This chrome-grilled, big-rig-wannabe is not only the most bodacious looking truck on the market, it also boasts the biggest engine, the highest power ratings, the biggest payload ratings, and the highest towing capacity of any pickup truck you can buy. It's also collected several J.D. Power trophies for quality and for overall appeal.
We've driven every engine the Ram has to offer at one time or another, and we love the V10's amazing torque. But we must caution you that it not only costs $975 more than the standard V6, but that its gas-mileage performance over the life of the truck may put you in the poorhouse. If you don't absolutely need the V10 engine for big-load heavy duty work, we recommend the 5.9-liter V8, which has been in the Dodge system for ages, as has the less muscular 5.2-liter V8. And for that matter, the basic V6 in the standard 1500 series is a stout-hearted hauler in its own right.
Having said that, the optional V10 in an unladen Ram 2500 4x4, will rip across an intersection faster than any other truck on the market, and its league-leading 450 pound-feet of torque are mighty handy for anything from off-roading to hauling four-horse trailers--up to 13,000 pounds. Only the optional turbodiesel engine comes close in torque, at 440 lb.-ft., and will certainly offer better fuel economy and durability over the long haul.
The 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, and the rear suspension is a conventional leaf spring/live axle setup to carry the loads. We found that at this weight rating in a 4x4 the suspension was choppy with no load, and the heavy duty nature of the suspension places the body so high off the ground that shorter passengers had trouble climbing in and out, even with a grab bar on the A-pillar. No problem for a tall, macho guy, but certainly for kids, pets and significant others.
The one thing we didn't like about the Ram's dynamics was the steering, which was light enough and quick enough, but had a dead space on center, and seemed to require constant adjustments during straight ahead travel. It's not a problem in town, but freeway wander is a small but persistent trait at higher speeds.
The disc/drum brakes, on the other hand, were exemplary in their power and straight-stop behavior.
Over frost heaves, potholes, snowdrifts and ice the Ram was remarkably and utterly free of squeaks, rattles and shudders, a tribute to an excellent chassis design as one of the reasons it has been getting such high quality marks from J.D. Power, Strategic Vision and other survey companies.
There's no doubt that the Ram is strong enough in many areas to steal sales away from Ford and Chevrolet. Dodge has an excellent overall package here, and in the three years it has been on the market, the engineers and designers have added significant upgrades each year to make it even more competitive in the blazing-hot full-size truck market.
The only omissions are the lack of a passenger-side airbag and the absence of a third-door option, a la Ford and GM.
The Ram SLT Lariat 4x4 base price--about $25,000--is competitive, a tad more than an equivalent Chevrolet K2500 4x4 and quite a bit less than the Ford 2500 4x4 XLT, but as you can see from the price box, a truck like this one can reach $30,000 quite easily with all the options checked.
While we enjoyed the big-time torque of the V10, and recognize that some buyers need it, our pick for a family street truck would be a 1500 4x4 with the 5.9-liter V8 as a much less expensive alternative. Not to mention a truck that leaves no doubt about what it is and what it can do. Broad shoulders indeed.