DODGE HAS A LOT RIDING ON THE RAMBack in 1993, there was not much to lose. Ford and GM pickup truck sales were red-hot, but the ancient Dodge Ram looked and felt its age, and consequently was appealing to only the most loyal Dodge customers.So for the redesigned 1994 Dodge Ram, the company threw caution to the wind. The front end looked like a miniature Peterbilt, with prominent sculptured fenders and an innovative, well-packaged interior. It looked like nothing else.And it worked. Ram sales jumped from 14th in the overall automotive market, to fourth.So Dodge was faced with a problem when it came time to re-design that Ram. Now there was something to lose. With the '94 Ram, sales jumped from about 70,000 a year to a best of 350,000 a couple of years after introduction. It became the best-selling vehicle in the Chrysler family. Should they take the conservative approach, and keep it basically like it is, or should they toss the dice and go for another groundbreaker?Not surprisingly, they chose the conservative route. The marriage of Daimler and Chrysler has not gone as anyone planned. Dodge is not in a gambling mood. So if you were hoping the 2002 Ram pickup was another standard-setter, you are going to be disappointed.That said, this is indeed a new, and considerably improved, pickup truck. Two of the three engines are new (to the Ram, anyway), the automatic transmission is new, the (huge) disc brakes are new, the much improved rack-and-pinion steering system is new, and the frame is stiffer and stronger. While the body may resemble the 2001 model, it's new too.Most notable is the Quad Cab configuration, which now offers four actual doors, instead of the clamshell-type system it replaces, where the two small rear doors open front to back. It's like the system introduced last year on the smaller Dodge Dakota Quad cab.The test truck is a Quad Cab SLT Plus, pretty much loaded with everything but four-wheel-drive, and, at a sobering $33,075, priced like it. The engine is the holdover from the 2001 Ram, a 245-horsepower 5.9-liter V-8. For '02, the 3.9-liter V-6 has been replaced by a 210-horsepower 3.7-liter V-6, and the 5.2-liter V-8 has been replaced by a 235-horsepower 4.7-liter V-8. The new V-6 is also used in the 2002 Jeep Liberty, and the 4.7-liter V-8 has been around for a few years, having debuted in the Jeep Grand Cherokee. The 3.7-liter V-6 is, to oversimplify, the 4.7-liter V-8, less two cylinders.There's nothing wrong with the Mexico-built 5.9-liter V-8, but it is a genuine gas hog. Though the EPA rates it at 12 mpg in the city and 17 mpg on the highway, I could never get highway mileage better than 13.3 mpg. Colleagues have told me that they've been disappointed by mileage too. The 4.7-liter V-8 should do better -- it's a much newer design -- and while it doesn't have the pulling power of the 5.9, if you don't do a lot of towing, it'd be my choice.Complicating the m ileage matter is that when both the gas gauge and the onboard trip computer said the tank was very nearly dry, it would never take more than 20 gallons to fill it up. This Ram, according to the window sticker and the press information, has a 26-gallon tank. It's typical for gauges to be a little pessimistic, but six gallons? Especially when the trip computer is flashing, "24 miles to empty!"The interior of the Ram is not that much of an improvement over the 2001, but that's more because of the general excellence of the existing interior, than any shortcomings of the new one. The fold-down front seat console is huge -- big enough to hold a laptop computer -- and the power seats are comfortable, even for long stints behind the wheel. Cup holders can handle anything from a juice can to a Big Gulp. The test truck had power adjustable brake and accelerator pedals, improving the sitting position for both short and tall drivers. Side airbags are optional, at $490.The two rear d open at nearly a 90-degree angle to the body, making it very easy to get in and out. Once back there, three six-footers will fit, even with the front seats adjusted for six-footers too. Rear riding position is just slightly upright, but much more comfy than the current Ram.On the road, the Ram Quad Cab feels even larger than it is, but it's surprisingly nimble in tight turns, due in part to the great-looking 20-inch tires and aluminum wheels that were included as part of a $1,185 Sport package. The ride isn't bad on the highway, at least as good as a comparable Ford and GM pickup. Despite aerodynamics comparable to a Kleenex box, wind noise in minimal -- clearly, Dodge engineers spent a lot of time making the new Ram quieter. The big four-wheel disc brakes, long needed on the Ram, can't be faulted. Four-wheel antilock, unfortunately, is an option.The 2002 Ram raises the bar for pickups, but not to the degree the 1994 model did. It's priced competitively if you don't go overboard with options -- even at the base price of $22,150, the Quad Cab test truck came standard with air conditioning and a stereo -- add transportation, the automatic transmission and this V-8, and you're still under $25,000. At just over $33,000, the test truck had everything but a valet, including leather seat trim, a six-speaker Infinity stereo with CD player, side airbags, a bedliner, and -- at a bargain $465, a trailer towing package.But does it look different enough to attract new buyers? We'll know soon enough. The 2002 Ram is just now making an appearance at your local dealer. Base price: $22,150 Price as tested: $33,075 EPA rating: 12 mpg city, 17 mpg highway Details: Front-engine, rear-wheel-drive pickup powered by a 5.9-liter, 245-horsepower -8 engine with a four-speed automatic transmission.
Cars.com Expert Reviews
|Jim Flammang||Cars.com National||May 1, 2002|
|Anita And Paul Lienert||The Detroit News||February 13, 2002|
|Royal Ford||Boston.com||October 28, 2001|
|Steven Cole Smith||Orlando Sentinel||October 4, 2001|
|Warren Brown||washingtonpost.com||September 30, 2001|
|Tom Strongman||KansasCity.com||September 8, 2001|
|Jim Mateja||chicagotribune.com||August 12, 2001|
|Anita Lienert||The Detroit News||August 1, 2001|
|Paul Lienert||The Detroit News||February 7, 2001|
|Tom Strongman||KansasCity.com||February 7, 2001|
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