When I mentioned to one of my Ace Buzz Patrollers that I'd be passing through Detroit he volunteered to pick me up at the airport, telling me that he had a surprise for me. He wasn't kidding. My jaw dropped when I saw a shinny new 2002 Dodge Ram Quad Cab parked at the curb.
The first thing you notice about Dodge's all-new truck is just how big it is. The thing looks massive, especially the big front grille carrying on the Ram's big-rig inspired look. I didn't have my tape measure with me, but I'd say it was a few inches taller than a current 4x4 ram. They've also boosted the tire and wheel size. This was a key move since the current Ram always looked "under-tired." P245/70R17 tires on steel 17-inch wheels are standard and there are several options including big P275/55R20 tires on 20-inch polished cast aluminum wheels that are identical to those used on the Power Wagon concept.
The added height helps make the cab even more spacious then its predecessor. I'm six feet tall and I could easily wear a Stetson in the cab with room to spare. All the interior dimensions, leg-room, shoulder room and hip room feel larger than the current truck. The dash has a sleek/modern look reminiscent of other vehicles in the Chrysler lineup.
The current Ram was undoubtedly the most influential truck of the 1990's. Both it's styling and ergonomic innovations have been widely imitated. Dodge engineers took that as a challenge when designing their new truck. A perfect example is the innovative 40/20/40 front seat that was one of the most popular options with current Ram buyers.
Like its predecessor the new center console folds downs to create a spacious armrest or work surface. Pop the lid and there's still ample space to store a laptop computer and a cell phone. But they've kicked it up a notch, the area now features fold up dividers so that the area can be configured several different ways. Smartest of all, they've added a power plug inside the console! Plus, when the console is folded up, the lower cushion of the "20" section folds up to reveal a secret storage compartment.
My test vehicle was a Quad Cab. Unlike the previous Quad Cab with its clam-shell suicide doors the new Quad has conventional forward swinging doors. They've also added 3 inches to the rear to create a passenger area on-par with a true crew cab. The back seat is comfortable with good leg, head and shoulder room. The bottom of the seat folds up to create inside cargo room. A neat feature is the corrugated metal load floor that can be folded out to protect the rear carpet when carrying gear.
After checking out the truck it was time to take a drive. Like in the current Ram you have an excellent view from the cab. As huge as the hood seems from the outside, it's barely visible from the drivers seat. My test truck had big side mirrors with a convex mirror integrated into one corner, which further enhanced the view from the cab.
The first thing I noticed as I pulled away from the curb is how quiet the new truck's cab is, even on the highway there was almost no noise infiltration. The truck was equipped with the venerable 5.9 liter Magum V8 which is a carryover from the current model. Based on the original "LA" small-blocks this engine has been in service since the mid-sixties. The tried and true engine delivers good, predictable performance.
It will be the top engine option for 2002 with the other two being the new 3.7 liter V6 and the 4.7 liter V8. The 5.9 will be phased out in 2003 when it will be replaced by Dodge's all-new 5.7 liter HEMI V8. The 5.9 delivered plenty of power both in-town and on the highway and felt smooth the whole time. That said, my source said that he prefers the feel (and economy) of the 4.7 liter V8. The truck was equipped with a four-speed automatic that worked smoothly and quietly under all conditions.
The truck's new independent front suspension (which will be used exclusively on the half-ton Dodge 1500) delivers outstanding performance. The truck tracked perfectly straight with no wandering. Steering feel was firm but with no harshness. Same goes for the suspension. It had a firm but very comfortable ride. You were aware of bumps, but it just went over them smoothly with no effect on steering. The test truck (which was a pre production unit) was completely free of any rattles and felt very tight. Stopping power was especially impressive. The big four-wheel disc brakes brought the big truck to a perfect straight stop in almost no time with absolutely no drama.
Another smart thing they've done with the new Ram is to give each of the models their own visual identity. The base model is the ST, with Sport, SLT and SLT+ packages available. There are several visual clues on the outside of the vehicle that tell you which one your looking at.
For example, in addition to having a body-colored grille like previous models, the grille on the new Sport features horizontal bars instead of the egg-crate style found on the other Rams. Perhaps the most distinctive looking is the grille on the SLT+ which features body color around the outside of the grille with a chrome center section. I liked the look of all the different models though the sleek look of the Sport is probably my favorite. Each truck also has a unique lower fascia to further set them apart.
Overall it's a phenomenal truck. Dodge engineers had a tough challenge creating this vehicle. The current Ram has been a huge success. It was their task to create an all new truck that retained the essential character of its predecessor while taking the Ram to new heights. They've done an admirable job. Like its predecessor, folks will either love or hate the new truck's look.
I predict that a lot more folks will love the new truck's brawny good looks than hate it. Once they climb into its huge cabin and experience driving a truck that sounds and drives like a world-class car they'll be convinced that Dodge is still building the best pickup trucks on earth.
As far as the competition is concerned . . . Dodge has raised the bar once again. The new Ram will be the gold standard of pickups . . . the truck that all future pickups will be judged against.