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...
Harking back to the muscle of yesteryear, the '03 Rams bring the all-new 5.7L Hemi Magnum
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.
The Cummins Turbo Diesel is the most popular engine option for the Heavy Duty Rams. This t
Behind the new 5.7L, reworked 5.9L, or big 8.0L engines, HD Ram buyers will find two new transfer cases for four-wheel-drive models. For ST and SLT trim pickups, the manual shift two-speed NV271 comes standard, while more up-level SLT Plus models get the electric-shift two-speed NV273 transfer case.
In keeping with the "strength" theme, Dodge engineers beefed up the Heavy Duty Ram's chassis to better accommodate harsh work requirements and towing/hauling capacities. The hydroformed boxed section frames are significantly stiffer than previous versions, and this strong construction sets the stage for the HD's hefty 12,000 Gross Vehicle Weight Rating.
Additional chassis refinements include a new steering system for two-wheel-drive models. The 2WD trucks have a new rack-and-pinion steering system that's supposed to be more responsive and better-tuned than the old system. Four-wheel-drive models come with a recirculating ball steering system redesigned for 2003. Aside from manufacturing the system to reduce internal friction, the new gearbox offers a quicker turning ratio.
The 2WD/4WD disparities continue in the suspension department. All 4x4s have a new version of the five-link, coil spring setup, while the 2WDs have new geometry dialed-in to provide consistent camber, caster, and toe configurations throughout a wider range of wheel travel. Both 2WD and 4WD trucks get the same multi-leaf rear suspension. These two-stage spring packs are three inches longer than the old version, and 3500 series trucks get an auxiliary leaf spring to accommodate heavier payloads.
On the braking front, huge 13.9-inch ABS discs grace the front and rear axles, providing swept area increases of 42 percent and 45 percent for the front and rear brakes, respectively. Furthermore, the dual-rate vacuum booster introduced on the '02 1500 series Ram finds its way onto the 2500 and 3500 series trucks for added stopping power.
Four-wheel drive models also get new, stronger beam axles front and rear, and this year the one-ton trucks can be optioned with a single rear-wheel configuration instead of the dually.
Safety and Convenience
Finally, Dodge has given the nod to safety and convenience. Side curtain air bags are now found on the Heavy Duty trucks, pre-tensioners are incorporated into the seat belt retractors, and the LATCH child seat anchoring system has also been added.
On the convenience side, the HD Rams offer power-adjustable pedals on trucks featuring both manual and automatic transmissions.
In sum, the 2500 and 3500 series Heavy Duty Ram pickups won't get any bigger for the '03 model year. But better...?