Ready for a Ram - Mayor of Truckville heats up the competition

Friday, July 25, 2003

Competition is a wonderful thing. Competition put a man on the moon. It pushes Lance Armstrong over the Pyrenees. It gives us the World Series, the Indy 500 and … the Dodge Ram!

If you haven't met the "mayor of Truckville," it's time for an introduction. Backed by innovative buzzwords and catchy phrases like, "I think, therefore I Ram," this is one contender to be reckoned with. Although I doubt GM and Ford are quaking in their boots, they, like all Americans, have definitely noticed the 2003 Ram and are back at their drawing boards trying to come up with something better. But for now, the Ram has center stage and is enjoying the spotlight.

Arguably the most recognizable truck on the road today, the 2003 Ram carries over the distinctive front end treatment which turned the truck world upside down when it was introduced in 1994. The bold styling not only gave Ram an unmistakable identity, but also gave sales a huge boost. The Ram looked good in '94 and it looks even better today.

But, don't even consider this truck if you don't want to be noticed around town. Not only does the "mayor" have the most distinctive styling in the truck business, but his campaign promise is to deliver the biggest, tallest, meanest ride in the country. If his constituents don't see him coming, they will definitely hear him! You see, to make the "mayor" a little more appealing to the voters, he received a little personality tweaking at Mr. Muffler. Gone are the standard wimpy factory dual exhausts. This is America, man, and any decent mayor needs a bully pulpit to get his message across. Duck your head under the bed of the new Truckville mayor and you'll see two big chrome "turbo exhaust" systems belching the most outrageous campaign slogans you've ever heard. You'll need earplugs when you cruise Broadway.

The Dodge re-election committee knows it takes more than a loud mouth and good looks to win the race for mayor of Truckville. "Power to the people" was a popular adage of the past, so the "mayor" rules the truck community with a 5.7 liter Hemi V-8 producing a remarkable 345 horsepower and 375 foot-pounds of torque, which increases the towing capacity to 9,200 pounds and payload by an additional 500 pounds. The Hemi adds about $800 to the price, and, remarkably, 10 percent to the fuel economy. On a round-trip test drive to Poplar Bluff we got 15 mpg. The new Ram is available in two body styles: Regular Cab, which has quite a bit of storage behind the seat, and Quad Cab, which has four doors and a full-width rear seat for passengers that can also be folded down for cargo.

This Ram, equipped with after-market ground effects, wheel liners, bug shield and turbo exhaust, listed for $38,745 at Auffenberg Dodge in Cape Girardeau. But to get your vote for the new mayor there are deals galore, including a $2,500 base rebate, a $750 military appreciation bonus, a $500 Farm Bureau member deduction, and a $300 commercial users write-off.

Driving impressions

While the previous-generation Ram had fallen behind the GM and Ford in terms of refinement, the current Ram runs with the best of the best. It has a much smoother ride and a bigger, more comfortable, and more convenient cab than the old Ram.

Dodge used hydroforming to fashion the redesigned frame, allowing engineers to include a new suspension and rack-and-pinion steering system. The result is better handling, a better ride, and a truck that feels much tighter. The torsion bar front suspension works great. We never heard a rattle in our 150 miles of test-driving. The huge tires lend tremendous grip in the curves, and the truck is free of body lean and sway. Thanks to the Hemi engine and a 3.92 rear axle ratio, the "mayor" feels very eager around town and on winding roads. It accelerates quickly onto freeways and has no trouble passing slow-moving traffic despite its 5,000 pounds of weight.

Bigger is better

In the pickup truck race, bigger is better, and the Ram seems to have won the race. It sits tall and wide and rides on enormous 20-inch wheels and tires. It takes some time to acclimate to the Ram's immense proportions. The ride height of the Ram adds to this sensation. About the only vehicles you won't be looking down at are the 18-wheelers. I brought it home and parked it next to our diminutive Ford Ranger pickup that had totally satisfied my wife up to that point. Anybody interested in a rather tiny Ranger? In the parking lot of our favorite Mexican restaurant the Ram dwarfed everything in sight. We parked next to a Cadillac Escalade that normally looks like one of the biggest SUVs on the road. Not any more! If size matters to you, this is your truck.

Steve Robertson of Robertson's Creative Photography is a car enthusiast and former staff writer/photographer for the Southeast Missourian.

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