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We spent a day driving three cab configurations in four key scenarios a pickup truck owner can expect to use their rig: unloaded on-road, unloaded off-road, loaded with 1,000 pounds of cargo, and unloaded pulling a 5,800-pound camper.

Dodge Ram R/T (Sport) Regular Cab 4x2, Unloaded

Among the approximately 20 Dodge Rams that Chrysler provided for the media to sample, only one was a short-wheelbase regular cab with 20-inch wheels. Others might have missed it as they dove over each other jumping in the pretty, top-of-the-line Laramie Crew Cab 4x4s, but not us. The subtle R/T badge in the lower right quadrant of the crosshair grille confirmed the truck’s hidden 4.10 rear axle and high-stall torque converter. OK, the inferno red paint job helped, too.

The R/T comes standard with Chrysler’s reengineered 5.7-liter HEMI V-8 gas engine, rated at 390 horsepower and 407 pounds-feet of torque. That’s 13 percent more horsepower and 8 percent more torque than last year’s HEMI produced. It’s paired with the carryover 545RFE five-speed automatic transmission from last year’s Ram 1500, which is also shared with Dodge’s gas-powered heavy-duty pickups.

The R/T is built for speed. Chrysler says it will go from zero to 60 mph in less than 6 seconds. We believe it, though the best we could launch on the truck was 6.1 seconds, forgetting to turn traction control off.

Assisting the HEMI at takeoff was the 4.10 limited-slip rear axle. It’s the right choice for a performance truck like the R/T. All other 2009 Ram 1500 models have taller (numerically smaller) final drive ratios, from 3.92 to 3.21, for better fuel economy. Even the max trailering (9,100 pounds) configuration only comes with a 3.92 back axle. The 4.10 ring and pinion helped the Ram overcome the 545RFE’s relatively short 3.00 first gear. Comparable 2009 V-8 pickups from Ford, GM and Toyota have six-speed transmissions with taller first-gear ratios to help with takeoffs and fuel economy.

Unloaded short-wheelbase regular cab pickups are notorious for ride hop on choppy road surfaces, whereas long-wheelbase extended and crew cabs leverage their extra frame length to soak up rough roads. Even though Chrysler drilled us about the benefits of the new rear suspension, it still took about five minutes driving the truck before our subconscious (or the coffee) finally broke through and shook our conscious mind like a rag doll: The R/T drove like no other full-size pickup we’ve ever been in, regardless of length or cab configuration. The 120-inch-wheelbase R/T felt like it was gliding over the freeway. Where was the harshness? The coil springs, linkages, stabilizer and track bars eliminated virtually all vertical and lateral axle hop. The 2009 Ram’s noise, vibration and harshness tuning is brilliant for a half-ton pickup.

We exited the freeway for the twisty turns and hill climbs of the Santa Ynez Mountains, just east of Santa Barbara, Calif. Again, the truck’s rear end remained firmly stuck to the tarmac, even as we took some of the corners aggressively. The coil springs made sure the rear tires weren’t going anywhere as the stabilizer and track bars held the rear axle in place. Gradually increasing understeer, instead of skipping rear tires, marked the point where the truck was starting to lose its battle with physics, making for more predictable mountainside carving.

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