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Dodge extends new pickup design introduced in 2002 on the Ram 1500 to its heavy duty models for 2003.
Lots of suspension travel means the Ram Heavy Duty can handle rough roads and heavy loads with ease.
2003 Dodge Ram Heavy Duty Pickup Preview
Big and bad yet beautiful: New Ram pickups rule with power
By Bill Roebuck
Sept. 21, 2002 -- The all-new 2003 Dodge Ram Heavy Duty has staked its claim as the most powerful heavy-duty pickup on the market. The new model, in various pickup configurations in 2500 and 3500 classifications, will be in dealer showrooms in autumn 2002.
The Dodge Ram now offers the most powerful diesel engine on the market, as well as a standard 5.7-litre, HEMI Magnum V-8.
The High Output Cummins turbo-diesel really packs a punch, producing 555 lb-ft of load-hauling torque and 305 hp. It's the motor most buyers of these models will choose, says Dodge. It is powerful, as expected, yet surprisingly quick and smooth. In our road tests in the Tennessee countryside, it proved to be amazingly quiet. Dodge should come up with an advertising slogan along the lines of that margarine commercial -- "I can't believe it's a diesel!" That's how quiet it is, even at a cold startup.
The diesel's towing rating is 23,000 lb. That's heavy -- the best in the class, in fact.
Dodge claims the Cummins B-Series 5.9-litre 24-valve Turbo Diesel in its Heavy Duty 2500/3500 pickups offers the best fuel economy in the industry. The Cummins 5.9L 6 cylinder, 235 hp Turbo Diesel Engine with the five-speed automatic transmission is rated at 13/16 city/hwy mpg (US), which converts to 18/14.7 L/100 km. The Cummins 5.9L High Output, 6 cylinder, 305 hp Turbo Diesel Engine mated to the six-speed manual transmission is 14/17 mpg or 16.8/13.8 L/100 km.
The all-new HEMI -- also powerful and quick -- produces 345 hp and 375 lb-ft of torque. It has the best acceleration in its class, and a towing rating of 18,000 lb.
Also available is a 8.1-litre Magnum V10 gasoline engine that extracts 450 lb-ft of torque from a 305 hp package.
New from grille-to-tailgate, the Heavy Duty Dodge Ram 2500 and 3500 feature the now-familiar big-rig styling introduced on the 2002 Dodge Ram 1500 regular-duty pickup. The front end sure makes an impression when it looms into someone's rear view mirror.
"We were able to create a heavy-duty truck with precise steering and a comfortable ride without compromising its work ethic," a Dodge spokesman said. As best as we could tell in our testing, that statement is true.
Assisting steering and handling on two-wheel drive heavy duty pickup trucks is a new rack and pinion steering system. On four-wheel drive heavy duty pickups, a new recirculating ball system improves on-centre steering feel through lower internal friction, and it responds precisely. The result is a quick steering ratio of 13.4:1 and 2.75 turns lock-to-lock, which are especially effective when making tight turns.
The majority of Heavy Duty Rams are ordered with four-wheel drive (90% in Canada, 75% in the U.S.). Two new transfer cases, a conventional manual shift and a new electric shift, are available on 2500 and 3500 four-wheel drive models. They are designed to provide quieter operation.
The four-wheel drive front axle is all-new, but retains solid beam construction. All-new rear axles contribute to a GVWR of up to 12,000 lb. For the first time, a 3500 single rear-wheel option is being offered in addition to a duallie setup.
The models we drove on our test, on both country highways and off-road along an old dirt logging trail, were loaded with 3,500 lb of ballast. You could hardly tell it was there.
Acceleration was smooth and quick with every engine configuration we tried. The transmission displayed outstanding flexibility, especially when linked to the Cummins diesel. Without a load, and even with the ballast in the bed, you could easily pull away in second. Plenty of acceleration was available once you got into third. Shifts -- all the way up to sixth -- are easy to accomplish, although the throw is a bit long. Even in top gear, you could slow to as low as 40 km/h without the need to downshift.
Interestingly, the new heavy duty trucks offers power adjustable pedals -- including the clutch pedal on manual models -- and the first pre-tensioning, constant-force seat belt retractors in a heavy-duty pickup truck. ABS brakes are standard. Side curtain air bags are an option, again, for the first time on a heavy duty pickup.
Short and long-box models are available in two- and four-wheel drive versions. The standard box was shortened to 6 ft 3 in. from 6 ft 6 in., as previous pickup owners told Dodge a 6 ft box was adequate. An 8 ft box is an option. Both boxes offer boat-style cleats for easy tie-downs.
Cab configurations include a two-door regular and four-door, Quad Cab model. The rear doors on the quad cab open from the rear almost 90 degrees. Even so, the opening is narrow and a bit of a squeeze for those who are large of stature, wearing bulky clothes, or laden with tools. There's no problem at all getting in and out of the front seats, although it's a tall step up to the seats.
Inside, the seating position is extremely comfortable. Even the rear is not bad in the Quad Cab, as long as the trip isn't too far. The Heavy Duty RAM comes in three trim levels -- SL, SLT, and Laramie -- and although they have slightly different looks mainly identified by slightly different front grilles, the badging is the only quick way to tell them apart.
In a nutshell, Dodge designers have done an amazing job of creating a comfortable interior and a superb-handling vehicle that offers lots of grunt for tough work. You can probably expect them to be around for a while as well. Research firm R.L. Polk & Co. says the Dodge Ram is the longest lasting pickup on the market, based on vehicles still registered from 1981 to 2000.
With over 50 model, cab and powertrain versions, the Ram Heavy Duty's price range is from C$28,950 for a 2500 Regular Cab 2WD, up to C$42,580 for a 3500 Quad Cab 4x4, before options.
© Copyright Bill Roebuck, CarTest.ca 2002.