It's hard to believe that the Dodge Ram pickup has been around in its current configuration for eight years. In fact, it still seems like a new truck to many of us (a feeling we can no doubt attribute to what has been a revolutionary, even radical, approach to truck styling), although in the broader scope of automotive evolution, the Ram is rapidly approaching the long-in-tooth category.

When Chrysler presented the revised Ram to consumers in the '94 model year, the company launched the first of many volleys in its battle to ascend to a more commanding position in the car, truck, and SUV markets. To more effectively compete with GM and Ford in commercial and consumer truck segments, Dodge had to do something different...really different. In redesigning the Ram pickup, company brass placed their bets on a radical and refreshing "retro-styling" approach that year, with distinctly lowered front fenders and high-cab design. The gambit paid off big time, and seemingly overnight the new Dodge Ram leaped to the front of its competition, if not in total sales, then in widespread appreciation by consumers. In the ensuing years, this has continued. Though the Ram has had a few rough edges, these have always been eclipsed by the overall package.

Now DaimlerChrysler is focusing its attention on putting a fresh polish on the vehicle that helped push the company to its currently enviable market position. For the 2002 model year the Dodge Ram pickup will host a number of refinements inside and out, its first true redesign since the debut. There's nothing radical going on, so don't worry that the bigwigs are planning to tamper with success. Rather, the engineers have been hard at work trying to make the Ram a smoother, quieter, more functional, and more efficient vehicle. It's the same old Ram, only better.

Dodge is beginning the 2002 Ram relaunch by focusing attention on the 1500 series trucks-specifically the Regular Cab and Quad Cab models. Production begins this summer, with the finished products heading for the dealer showrooms in the fall. Similar revisions for the 2500 and 3500 series trucks will be made for the 2003 model year.

ExteriorNow before anyone gets their shorts in a bind, understand that the new Ram will not feature any shocking appearance alterations. In fact, most folks won't even be able to see that anything at all has happened to the Ram, because the exterior engineering has essentially been limited to tweaking-primarily to improve the vehicle's aerodynamics, reduce wind noise, and improve cooling.

For starters, the windshield has been raked back slightly to help with airflow and water management. This was designed to work hand-in-hand with the revised A-pillar/door seam. Now the front doors overlap the A-pillar to smooth out front and side air flow, and to better allow channeling of water over the roof instead of along the side windows. To reduce wind noise, the dual-lamp headlights and side mirrors have been redesigned. Minor stuff, really, but at this stage of the game, improvements to an already exceptional package come mostly in small increments.

On the styling side, the Ram grille is bigger than before, and each trim level (ST, SLT, Sport, and SLT+) will receive its own "interpretation" of this distinctive front-end piece. Another small change is a more pronounced hood crown as it slopes down to the fenders. Beneath that bulbous hood, designers have now integrated an air dam to help with engine cooling and enhance air flow to the A/C condenser for better A/C performance.