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Friday, September 5, 2008

2009 Dodge Ram Sport R/T

Nobody knows better than the engineers and designers at Dodge that its 2009 Ram needs to break the mold. It's not helping that huge hurdles are in the way-oil breaching $120 a barrel, economy cars flying of dealer lots, and that Ford's about to unleash an all-new F-150 (check out our next issue). It's also no secret that Chrysler is suffering from the backlash of foisting too many mediocre products onto the public.

Will the new Ram make a difference?

To begin, much of the Ram is not modified (the frame is largely carryover, there are three cab configurations, three engine choices-auto and manual gearboxes are the same-and three box lengths). Still there is plenty here to separate the new Dodge Ram from its other half-ton competitors, especially the two recently revamped trucks (from GM and Toyota).

Most notable, all new Rams now use a rear coil-spring suspension with trailing arms to locate the live axle, a la Jeep Grand Cherokee and Dodge Durango. This change saves about 40 pounds in weight and allows frame engineers to better control many of the typical harsh ride frequencies and vague handling issues endemic to leaf-sprung pickup trucks. The front end remains similar in architecture, but does use a liberal amount of high-strength steel and aluminum to save another 10 pounds at each corner. All that weight saving came in handy as Dodge has finally created a true Crew Cab model for its Ram. This new cab length, which also requires a smaller bed box, allowed Dodge to incorporate two weatherproof, lockable storage bins into the bed's fender sides. The storage areas are easily accessed from either side of the truck and offer enough room for tools, sports gear, or camping supplies.

All three engines (3.7-liter V-6, 4.7-liter V-8, and 5.7-liter V-8) remain the same and oddly offer similar fuel-economy numbers. The V-6 is rated at 215 horsepower and 235 pound-feet of torque, is standard on two-wheel-drive Regular and Quad Cab models, and is rated at 15/20 mpg for the manual and 14/20 mpg for the automatic, with a flex-fuel version available for fleet sales. The 4.7-liter V-8 has 310 horsepower and 330 pound-feet of torque, is standard on all 4WD models and the Crew Cabs, and is rated at 13/19 mpg for 2WD and 13/18 for 4WD. All 4.7-liter V-8s are flex-fuel capable. The new-generation 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 has smarter variable valve timing, a two-stage intake, and a more aggressive MDS (multiple displacement system) calibration, all of which offers 13-percent-more power with four-percent-more fuel efficiency. The big V-8 is rated at 390 horsepower and 407 pound-feet of torque, is standard on all Sport and Laramie models (an option on all others), and is EPA-rated at 13/19 for 2WD, and 13/18 for 4WD models. It's worth noting 89-octane fuel is recommended.

2009 Dodge Ram Sport RT Front Three Quarter View

Maybe the most dramatic change to the new Ram is inside the cabin. Dodge interiors have long been at the bottom of the segment; however, material upgrades, design layout, and convenience details are sure to make the new Ram a stronger player. The base ST cloth bench seats, as well as the top-grade Laramie leather buckets, have a sportier, well-supported character, with firmer seat bolsters in all the seatback and seat-bottom choices. Dash surrounds look more like furniture-grade choice, and gauge clusters and backings are well organized and clean. Seating configurations allow for a bucket seat/center console option on upper trim levels, as well as a more work-truck bench-seat option (it has bucket-type 40/20/40 seats) with a traditional column shifter that includes a convenient manual thumb shifter. Storage cubbies and slots abound, including two hidden six-pack floor doors at the rear passenger's feet in Quad Cab and Crew Cab models.

Still, outside is where many will feel the new Ram takes its most significant risk. Dodge designers have throttled back the "big-rig" look that so defined the revolutionary 1994 model. Now the Ram has a more polished and styled appearance, more balance between front and rear wheels (with none of that "butt in the air" look). Ralph Gilles, newly appointed vice president of Design for Chrysler and lead designer on the new Ram, worked with his team for more than two years to make the new truck look modern, yet still appealing to a typically traditional buyer.

The resulting slant-forward, head-tilted look of the new hood and grille gives the impression the truck is leaning toward you, as if it were putting a finger in your chest during an argument. This look, along with the smooth lines, wider wheel arches, and higher window heights (while keeping the bed height reasonable for an average man to reach into the bed) combine to give the new Ram a more sophisticated look, setting itself apart from the other competitors in the field. But does it work? We had the new Regular Cab 2WD R/T for a few days around Southern California, and if the reaction from the guys on the road is any indication, Dodge may have something here.

Our Inferno Red R/T had body-color bumpers with a few light chrome accents. Our test unit weighed only 4779 pounds, which gives it a strong power-to-weight ratio of 12.3 pounds per horsepower. The 4.10:1 axle gears and sticky Goodyear Wrangler HP tires don't hurt, either. At the track, this translated to 5.7 seconds 0-to-60 mph, and gave us a nice thrill ride around the streets of L.A. Dodge didn't ignore the stopping tech, either. Although essentially carryover technology from the previous gen, the stopping distance from 60 mph was a respectable 135 feet-10 feet shorter than a comparably equipped Tundra. We found it easy to get 19 mpg on the instant computer fuel-economy readout and took note of when the MDS kicked into fuel-saving mode.


The R/T's cornering abilities are especially impressive. Its figure-eight performance of 28.2 seconds at 0.61 g is among the best of this ilk, topping even the Range Rover Sport (no doubt a result of the new rear suspension and big motor). Additionally, when under hard cornering loads, the Ram proved exceptional at absorbing and dissipating harsh inputs, with the coil springs performing far better than the previous leaf-sprung setup. We ran with a 1000 pounds in the Ram's bed, and aside from small amount of body roll, the truck held its ground. Manufacturer payloads range from 1400 to 1900 pounds, with maximum trailer weights ranging from 2950 (V-6) to 9100 (Hemi) pounds. Dodge says it has as many as a dozen different single-stage coil springs that can be selected in just about any combination to set at either rear corner to compensate for the varying forces that depend on cab configuration, axle ratios, option packages, wheel and tire choices, and many other variables.

New Rams will offer five trim levels-ST, SLT (which will include the popular Lone Star and Big Horn Editions), Sport (which includes the R/T), TRX-4 Off Road, and topline Laramie-and pricing will be aggressive, starting at $22,170 (ST regular cab, shortbed, 2WD), but moving close to $45,000 with all the options (Crew Cab, Laramie, RamBox, Nav, DVD, moonroof, 4x4). We'll have more in the month to come as we pit the new Ram against other new trucks for Motor Trend's 2009 Truck of the Year.



Anonymous September 7, 2008 at 1:27 PM  

Looks like a good truck, we’ll have take a closer look into it.