Throughout the '90s, serious truck buyers such as the contractor and tow/haul folks placed their sights on the Dodge Ram. Whether it was the 1500, 2500, or 3500 series trucks, the Rams had the styling and guts to pin its competitors to the ropes. When GM released its latest "serious" pickups a couple of years ago, the company clearly had its crosshairs on recapturing market share from Dodge. And, to be honest, when we put those new GMs through their paces, we realized that the Dodge boys were going to have their work cut out for them in order to fend off the wolves.

Well, later this year Dodge will respond to GM's Sierra and Silverado Heavy-Duty trucks, and set the bar for the new Fords arriving in the not-too-distant future. The all-new Heavy Duty Dodge Rams are heading for the dealer lots with a totally fresh look (thanks to last year's 1500-series Ram re-do), equipment improvements, and class-leading upgrades which will put the quake in the competition once again.

We've already waxed coherently about the redesigned Ram (see Mopar Muscle, June 2001), and the Heavy Duty models carry the same basic interior and exterior styling upgrades as the 1500 series trucks. For this preview, let's keep our focus on the truly new and amazing...

The big news in this department is the release of a fresh V8 that harkens back to the Dodge glory years. Standard on all 2500 and 3500 series trucks will be the much-anticipated, all-new 5.7L Hemi Magnum. This engine boasts cross-flow hemispherical aluminum cylinder heads to accommodate larger valves and improve airflow through the combustion chambers. Additional hallmarks include a composite integrated air-fuel module, two spark plugs per cylinder, and electronic throttle control, plus a direct ignition system. Altogether, the 5.7L Hemi can produce 345 horsepower at 5,600 rpm and 365 lb-ft of torque at 4,400 rpm, and is expected to rekindle an old-school legend in a late model chassis.

Of more interest to some Heavy Duty Ram buyers is the revamped 5.9L Cummins turbo diesel inline six-cylinder (the company reports that 75 percent of 2500/3500 buyers opt for diesel power). The bright spot to the Cummins is a new high-pressure common rail injection system. It uses a gear-driven injection pump that is electronically controlled to provide optimal pressure at each of the injectors. This system also uses "pilot injection." Simply put, a minute amount of fuel is sent into the cylinder to begin the combustion process prior to the bigger fuel charge being squirted into the cylinder. Engineers say this concept "smoothes out combustion pressure." Combined with the new injection system and refined fuel-injection calibration, the Cummins turbo diesel offers reduced noise, improved cold starting, and higher low rpm torque. In a nutshell, horsepower peaks at 305 at 2,900 rpm, while torque is a whopping 555 lb-ft at 1,400 rpm. Another standout feature is a longer operating life, with an average major overhaul interval of 350,000 miles.