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In the Santa Ynez Valley, we cruised past wineries as the HEMI’s multi-displacement system switched off half the V-8’s cylinders to save fuel until we needed power for accelerating and passing. A “fuel saver” message appeared in the R/T’s trip computer when the engine was running in V-4 mode. Chrysler says MDS works up to about 70 mph.

The R/T has a console mounted shifter that can be manually shifted up or down by pushing the lever left or right once it’s in the drive position. Downshifts took slightly more time to execute than upshifts as the transmission checked to make sure it wouldn’t redline after changing gears.

The bucket seats were very comfortable in the R/T. Considering how poor the seats could be in the old Ram during long-distance drives, the new seats are almost as big a breakthrough as the improved ride from the rear suspension.

The trip computer mounted in between the gauges in the instrument panel provided a lot of useful information, from average fuel economy to transmission and oil temperatures and range until empty. The R/T also had an optional 6.5-inch navigation display. While friendly and an improvement over the old nav system, it’s too small. A GPS display should be at least 8 inches in a full-size pickup.

Another gripe -- the RamBox storage option isn’t available on the regular cab Ram. RamBox only comes in the Crew Cab’s 5-foot, 7-inch box, not the 6-foot, 4 inch one found on our R/T.

Passing real-world Dodge truck owners in small towns, the little red truck caught many of their eyes. It also caught the attention of the California Highway Patrol, who cited us for exceeding local laws governing vehicle velocity. We’ll keep quiet about our forward momentum rating until we plead our case before a judge. On the bright side, we’ll be framing the first (but likely not the last) speeding ticket for the Ram R/T.

During our approximately 75-mile drive in the Ram R/T we averaged 15.2 mpg, according to the trip computer. Not great, but not bad for an aggressively geared half-ton with a hopped-up torque converter, which we exercised heavily several times.

Dodge Ram Laramie Crew Cab 4x4, 1,000-Pound Payload

Next, we planted ourselves in a 5.7-liter HEMI Laramie Crew Cab short box 4x4 with 20 50-pound bags of horse feed in the bed.The crew cab configuration is new for 2009, replacing the 2008 Mega Cab version that never sold large numbers in the half-ton segment. The Mega Cab option continues to be available for the 2009 Dodge Ram heavy-duty pickups.

While the rear coil-spring suspension won’t misbehave on the road, the single-stage spirals showed the vertical strain of 1,000 pounds of payload, letting the back end sag noticeably (see picture). The weight in the cargo box was still 640 pounds shy of this configuration’s maximum 1,640-pound payload capacity.

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