EXPERT REVIEW

KansasCity.com's view

Back in 1994, Dodge redesigned its Ram pickup and invented the brute, over-the-road look that has become a signature for the entire brand. In no time, sales soared and it became the best-selling product in the Chrysler Group.

Today, at a time when DaimlerChrysler is struggling to reduce costs and return to profitability, Dodge unwrapped its 2002 Ram truck at the Chicago Auto Show. If it is as successful as its predecessor, the new truck could be a major jump-start for this company. It has been refined, the cab is bigger and there are two new engines.

The new model is evolutionary, not revolutionary, which is probably wise considering the success of the current model. The prominent nose is even larger and more imposing than the original. The famous ÒhorsecollarÓ grille comes in either chrome or body-color paint, and each model gets unique inserts.

The pickup comes in regular or Quad Cab versions in four trim levels: ST, SLT, Sport, and SLT Plus.

While the grille is dramatically larger, the rest of the vehicle has been smoothed and rounded for better fuel mileage and reduced wind noise. The cab is larger and the chassis is new, as well. Two new SOHC Magnum engines are offered: the 4.7-liter V-8 and a brand-new 3.7-liter V-6. The new engines are not only smaller and more powerful, but also more efficient. The V-6 is derived from the V-8, and it cranks out 210 horsepower, considerably more than the old 3.9-liter V-6 that had 175 horsepower.

The 4.7-liter V-8 has 235 horsepower and replaces the 230-horsepower, 5.2-liter V-8. The 245-horsepower, 5.9-liter V-8 will also be offered for those who need to haul a heavy payload or do serious towing.

Not ceding any portion of the truck market to its competitors, heavy-duty 2500 and 3500 models will follow in 2003.

All of the exterior changes were made with an eye toward improving aerodynamics, not to mention cooling and air conditioning. The windshield is rounder and reclined at a steeper angle and the extended edges of the doors are tapered to smooth out airflow and direct water over the roof instead of around the windows.

The hood slopes to the side more for better visibility.

Headlamps have dual lights behind clear lenses, which Dodge says are brighter than the previous units.

The Quad Cab has had three inches added to the cab, while a corresponding amount has been subtracted from the bed, which is now 6-feet 3-inches long. Overall vehicle length remains the same. The regular cab is also three inches longer.

The extra length gives back-seat passengers more legroom. The 60/40 split rear seat folds up to create a floor-to-ceiling cargo space. An optional steel section under the rear seats folds out to create a flat cargo floor so tools or other items can be locked away securely. Various storage compartments have been designed into the interior. The optional 40//20//40 front seat has a center section large enough for a laptop computer, cell phone and other bus iness items so handy for those who work out of their truck.

A dual-zone heating/cooling system is optional, as are heated leather seats on the SLT+. Adjustable pedals are available on the Ram 1500 with automatic transmission. Safety has been advanced with available side-impact airbag curtains. Three-point seat belts are used in all locations.

Brakes are critical on a truck capable of hauling heavy loads or pulling big trailers, and the 2002 has a four-wheel-disc setup that Dodge says is the biggest in its segment. Improving ride and handling was a major priority. Leaf springs are still used for the rear axle, but they have been lengthened 3 inches for a smoother ride.

Seventeen-inch wheels are standard, and massive 20-inch wheels are optional.

Actual sale dates and prices have not been announced.

To get in touch with Tom Strongman, send e-mail to tstrongman@kc.rr.com.

There is no At A Glance box because this is not a test drive.

SPECIFICATIONS:
Engine: 3.7-liter V-6
4.2-liter V-8
5.9-liter V-8
Transmission: manual or automatic
Two-wheel or four-wheel drive
Wheelbase: 120.5, 140.5 or 160.5 inches

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