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.
InteriorProbably the most significant and recognizable changes for those familiar with the current Ram can be found inside the cab. In both the regular cab and Quad Cab, the interiors have been lengthened by 3 inches. This was accomplished by taking 3 inches from the bed length and adding it to the cab. Preliminary literature claims that with this change the truck "remains essentially the same length as the previous model." We checked that out against the 2001 Quad Cab specs and found that "essentially the same length" means that the new Quad Cab has an overall length of 227.7, which is 3.6 inches longer than the old model. If the engineers traded bed length for cab space, we haven't figured out where that extra 3.6 inches comes from. Likewise, the regular cab sports an extra 3 inches in overall length, although the listed specifications show a box-length decrease of 5 inches from the old model. Go figure.
Whatever the case, the new Ram has more interior space than its predecessor, providing more passenger room and interior hauling space. Another noticeable update is the new instrument panel, which features bright white gauges for better visibility. Cool options include a dual-zone climate-control system, heated leather seats on the SLT+ model, and optional power adjustable brake and accelerator pedals for a more custom driver fit.
Engineers also addressed some safety concerns. Front and rear side-curtain air bags are available, and the rear seat of the Quad Cab is bigger and comes with lap-and-shoulder belts in all three seating positions-allowing more accommodations for child safety seats and boosters. The center seat position on the Regular Cab also has lap-and-shoulder belts.
DrivetrainFor 2002, the 1500 series trucks continues to boast three engine options-one V6 and two V8s. The hard-hitting 5.9L Magnum is still in the lineup, but the 3.9L V6 and 5.2L V8 engines have been displaced by all-new powerplants.
Economy-minded buyers will like the new 3.7L Magnum, which replaces the old 3.9L, for the simple reason that there are no sacrifices by going with a smaller displacement. The new V6 delivers 210 hp (at 5200 rpm) and 230 ft-lb of torque (at 4000 rpm est.), with a fuel economy of 16/21 (manual) and 16/20 (automatic). That's 35 more horsepower, the same torque, and one mpg better fuel economy in city driving than the 3.9L.
The new 4.7L Magnum gives only a slight horsepower improvement over the 5.2L it replaces, delivering 235 hp (at 4800 rpm) compared to 230 hp for the 5.2L. The smaller engine does go backwards in torque rating. With its 295 ft-lb of torque (at 3200 rpm), the 4.7 has 5 ft-lb less torque at the same rpm than the 5.2L. Fuel economy is only slightly better in the various 2WD/4WD/manual/automatic configurations. Unfortunately, the rumored new Hemi V8 will not be part of this year's model lineup.
Only one change has been made to the transmission. The NV3500 five-speed continues to be the base manual tranny for the two smallest Magnums, but the 42RE automatic is now replaced with the new-to-the-Ram 45RE four-speed auto, which is purported to be a quieter and more responsive slush box. The 45RE is also the only tranny in its class with a Reverse-gear ratio equal to the low-gear ratio, and an alternate Second-gear ratio which kicks in when needed for extreme towing, hauling and steep grade climbing. Trucks with the 5.9L Magnum can still be optioned with the 46RE four-speed automatic. For 4WD models, the manual NV 241 manual shift or NV 243 electric-shift transfer cases are the two choices.
Platform EnhancementsFor 2002 the Ram has also undergone some slight changes to improve safety, ride quality, and capabilities. A lot of engineering, for example, has gone into the frame. The front structure is now made through the hydroforming process which GM has been exploiting in their pickup and SUV lines, and has been designed to be stronger and better able to absorb impact forces, thereby offering increased passenger protection during collisions. In back, the frame has been additionally reinforced to maintain better crash integrity.
On the handling side, new steering ratios are aimed at helping maneuverability and steering ease. Engineers also revisited the braking system and, according to the company, have integrated the largest four-wheel disc brakes available in this truck segment. Four-wheel-drive models get a new torsion bar independent front suspension, while the traditional rear leaf springs have been lengthened by 3 inches for reduced wheel hop and added durability. Ground clearance comes in at a healthy 9.5 inches, with suspension travel increased by half an inch over the previous Ram, to 8.5 inches. Seventeen-inch wheels and tires are standard, but for those who want some truly impressive rolling stock, a 20-inch wheel/tire combo will be offered.
Performance And ConclusionSo what do all of these changes mean in the real world? We're not able to give you any quarter-mile numbers at this time, but from the "work mule" point of view, the 2002 Ram has a leg up on its predecessor. Both payload and towing capacities are up in the 1500 series. The Quad Cab towing capacity jumps from 7,650 pounds to 8,350 pounds, with a payload increase from 1,567 pounds to 1,750 pounds. The regular cab's towing capacity goes from 7,950 pounds to 8,660 pounds. Each model features increases in Gross Combined Weight (GCW) and Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR). Plenty of Mopar grit to tote boats, campers, engine blocks, show cars...you get the picture.
The original Ram design was one that gave truck buyers and owners a chance to have something different. In keeping with the Dodge: Different motif, the 2002 remake, though not as radically different as its first-generation predecessor, will continue to stand alone in an ever-increasing pack of competitors in its marketplace.