Big and brash, the Dodge Ram lineup covers the full-size-pickup spectrum with a vast range of body configurations, trim packages, and powertrains. Hardcore boulder-climbers will love Power Wagon, while NASCAR Craftsman Truck enthusiasts will lust after the Viper-powered SRT-10. Most consumers, however, will fall somewhere between those two extremes, likely drawn to the capable 1500 truck in regular-cab or Quad Cab forms.
Dodge launched the current iteration of the light-duty Ram for the 2002 model year to great acclaim for its bold exterior styling and mechanical advances. Since then, Dodge has continued to improve the range, most notably with the addition of the 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 in 2003. Rear-wheel-drive models come standard with a 3.7-liter V-6, but most buyers will opt for either the 4.7-liter V-8, standard on four-wheel-drive models, or the laudable Hemi. New for 2005, a six-speed manual transmission comes standard with both the V-6 and the 4.7-liter V-8, replacing last year's five-speed. The Hemi mates to a five-speed automatic only. The cabins come in two guises, regular and Quad Cab, with the choice of three mainstream trim levels--ST, SLT, and Laramie, each with increasing degrees of convenience and comfort options. Cargo-bed lengths measure 6-foot, 3-inches with the short wheelbase models, or 8 feet with the long wheelbase, with either cab choice.
The chiseled, look-at-me styling of the Ram 1500 makes it a standout among the domestic competition, with the enormous grille being the most striking exterior feature. The appearance of that distinct visage varies depending on trim level and option packages selected; the base ST model gets a gray plastic grille that doesn't do justice to the truck's aggressive look; fancier trim levels boast a chrome finish better suited to the big-rig personality; and the Sport Appearance Package provides the sleekest nose, with a body-color surround and centerpiece. Laramie and SLT versions are also available with 20-inch chrome wheels to complete the assertive look. The Quad Cab features four real doors, with the rear access ports opening 85 degrees to aid ingress/egress and facilitate cargo loading. Everything about this rig is big, which can make getting in and out a quite a hike for the vertically challenged. That's the price you pay for all this presence on the road.
The Ram's interior goes from simple utilitarian in the base ST to plush in the Laramie. The general style is monolithic, reflecting the stark, vehicle exterior design. Such an upright dash and center stack design accentuates the roomy accommodations, while giving the cabin a modern, tough appearance. We find the style and perceived quality straddle the middle ground between Ford's stylish splendor and GM's outdated cavern. Assembly is better than average, with tight, consistent panel fit, though the surface finish quality is midpack. The white-faced gauge cluster contains prominent tachometer and speedometer dials, which have satin-silver bezels in the Laramie package. The audio and climate controls located on the center stack look a bit dated, but their layout and operation are straightforward. Laramie trim provides dual-zone climate control, along with two-tone leather seats.
In all models, the 40/20/40-split front bench feels a touch on the soft side--more-supportive seats would be better for long hauls. The middle "20" portion of the front seat can be equipped with a massive, multi-function armrest that Dodge calls a "business center," useful for storing a notebook computer and travel sundries. The bench can move fore and aft a good distance, and in combination with the optional power-adjustable pedals, drivers short and tall will be able to get comfortable in the large truck. The rear seat of the Quad Cab is split 60/40, revealing hidden storage bins. Fold-up rear seat cushions allow the entire floor-to-roof space to be filled with cargo.
Both driver and passenger front airbags are standard on all models, and unlike the Ford F-150 and the Chevrolet Silverado/GMC Sierra twins, the Ram 1500 offers optional side-curtain airbags. To accommodate a child-safety seat on two-door models, the passenger airbag can be switched on and off. Brakes are another area where the Ram sets itself apart: Large-diameter disc brakes at all four wheels are standard, as is rear-wheel ABS. The Laramie package upgrades to ABS at all four corners. Rear-drive models may have a tricky time navigating snowy winter roads, as traction and stability control are conspicuously absent.
The mix of powertrains offered in the Ram 1500 ranges from the overtaxed 3.7-liter V-6 to the mighty 8.3-liter V-10 lifted from the Dodge Viper. The V-6 hooks up only to rear-wheel-drive, and the SRT-10 is a low-volume model, so most buyers will choose from two V-8s. The smaller of the two, a 4.7-liter unit making 235 horsepower and 300 lb-ft of torque, connects to either the standard six-speed manual or a five-speed automatic transmission. A "kick-down" mode is featured in the automatic, allowing the transmission to grab a lower ratio for second gear under high-load situations. The real star of the drivetrain lineup is the 5.7-liter/345-horse Hemi V-8 with 375 lb-ft of torque mated to the same five -speed automatic. Two 4WD transfer cases are offered: one part-time, one full-time. Properly equipped, the Ram 1500 is rated to tow up to 9,250 pounds.
Driving the Ram, you're constantly aware of its tremendous size. For someone unaccustomed to sitting up this high, piloting this truck the first time can be dizzying. Despite its scale, however, the Ram has relatively good road manners. Its light steering provides precise action with decent feel, and this pickup takes corners reasonably well--credit the enormous wheels and tires and stiff hydroformed frame. But while cornering ability may be a strength, the suspension refinement overall is a critical weakness of the Ram, as it bows to the more refined manners of the F-150 and Nissan Titan. The smaller 4.7-liter V-8 has satisfactory power and torque; it'll get the job done, but that's all. Hemi-engined Rams, on the other hand, are a blast to drive. They can sprint to 60 mph in a sport-sedan-matching seven seconds, and make enough torque to tow a large trailer with ease.