Versus the competiton:
One week it’s tooling around in a Chrysler Crossfire.
Another it’s scooting about in a Chevrolet SSR.
In between there’s the joy of a Mustang Mach 1, a Corvette coupe and a Viper SRT-10.
But then it comes time to pay the piper and a 2003 Dodge Ram 3500 Quad Cab 4×4 SLT fills the driveway–and that’s fill as in “to the brim.”
Oh, well, this too shall pass.
In fairness, the penance could have been worse. Not only has the heavy-duty Ram pickup been redesigned for ’03, it also has been tweaked to provide surprisingly good road manners for a blue-collar type craft.
The Ram 1500 was redesigned for ’02 and the heavy-duty models underwent surgery for ’03, though basically adopting much the same look as the light-duty because the 1500 looked tough enough for a bigger pickup.
The most noticeable appearance change is that the “horse-collar grille” is even bigger and bolder. The most noticeable performance change is the new standard V-8.
The heavy-duty Ram was the first beneficiary of the new 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 that develops 345 horsepower and delivers 375 foot-pounds of torque, a considerable increase from the 245 h.p. and 335 foot-pounds of torque from the 5.9-liter V-8 it replaces. The Hemi was added to the Ram 1500 after the 2500/3500.
The heavy-duty Ram is the workhorse in the lineup, and that means 75 percent are purchased with a diesel engine. For ’03 there’s a choice of a turbocharged 5.9-liter, inline 6 rated at 250 h.p. and 460 foot-pounds of torque or, for the first time, a high-output 5.9-liter turbo diesel rated at 305 h.p. and 555 foot-pounds of torque that gives the truck a 16,300-pound towing rating, up from 14,400 pounds in ’02 with the lower-output Cummins 5.9-liter turbo diesel.
We tested the Ram 3500 SLT 4×4 with the optional Cummins diesel that provides lots of the let’s-get-going low-end torque demanded from a heavy-duty pickup. Dodge boasts it also delivers 10 percent better mileage than the regular diesel last year but doesn’t say what that translates into because vehicles more than 8,500 pounds gross vehicle weight aren’t required to carry an EPA fuel-economy rating. The Ram 3500 weighs 9,900 pounds.
Suffice it to say you don’t buy a heavy-duty pickup as a high-mileage commuter; you buy it to have a heavy-duty workhorse capable of towing the trailers and boats without straining off the line or up the incline.
Final word on the diesel: Outside the cabin the combustion ping-ping-ping leaves no doubt there’s an oil burner under the hood–as your neighbors will readily vouch. However, the cabin is sufficiently insulated to keep the commotion within to a minimum.
The biggest surprise was the smooth ride. You’d expect a workhorse to bounce you around the cabin. The heavy-duty 3500 was very civil.
Another nice touch: For the first time the heavy-duty Ram sports power adjustable gas/brake pedals that motor to you so that you don’t have to slide the seat forward to reach them. Now if there were only power-operated running boards to help get you into those seats!
Quad cab means a four door, in this case four swing-open doors for access to front or rear seats. If you need even more cargo room or to carry items without exposing them to the elements, the rear seat bottom cushion flips up and folds against the seat back.
The heavy-duty line accounts for about one-third of all Ram sales, the same percentage of heavy-duty pickups to all truck sales.
Dodge is counting on the heavy-duty line to keep Ram moving up the sales charts. At the end of July, Ram was the third best-selling vehicle, truck or car, in the industry (218,301) behind the Ford F-150 (381,378) and Chevy Silverado (321,668) pickups.
Base price of the Quad Cab 4×4 SLT tested is $32,770. Options quickly run up the price, such as $5,225 for the turbo diesel and $1,095 for the optional 4-s d automatic. The preferred package, which adds the power pedals along with such other goodies as 17-inch all-season radial tires, dual zone air conditioning, power leather seats and shift-on-the-fly transfer case, runs $4,935.
2003 Dodge Ram 3500 Quad Cab 4×4 SLT
Wheelbase: 160.5 inches
Length: 249.7 inches
Engine: 5.9-liter, 305-h.p., 24-valve, turbocharged, 6-cylinder diesel
Transmission: 4-speed automatic
Fuel economy: Not available
Base price: $32,770
Price as tested: $44,768. Includes $4,935 for preferred package with leather seats with eight-way power in front, 60/40 split in back, 17-inch all-season radials, power adjustable pedals, shift-on-the-fly transfer case, fog lamps, rear sliding window, dualzone air conditioning, keyless entry and yadda, yadda, yadda; $275 for trailer hitch with wiring harness; $140 for heated front seats; $1,095 for 4-speed automatic; $5,225 for turbo diesel engine; $245 for lined cargo bed; and $83 for larger towing mirrors. Add $795 for freight.
Pluses: Redesign of the heavy-duty lineup for ’03. Powerful yet quiet (from inside the cabin) diesel. Pleasant ride and impressive handling for a vehicle meant for heavyduty performance.
Minuses: Nearly $12,000 in options yet no running boards? Diesel not as quiet outside the cabin.