I know why the brawny Dodge Ram pickup is the best-selling truck in the company's history. This high-quality, macho-looking, beefy machine has style, personality and charisma. It is a civilized beast that you can love. For 1998, the engineers at
Dodge gave the Ram its first major upgrades since it was rebuilt in 1994. Now the Ram is very close to being the best full-size pickup truck on the planet. In my view, Ford's F-150 edges it out by the thinnest of margins. PERFORMANCE, HANDLING Our
test truck, an SLT sport model, came with a muscular 318-cubic-inch V-8 engine and a computer-controlled, four-speed automatic transmission. Horsepower is rated at 230. If that's not enough motor for you, you can opt for the 360-cubic-inch V-8 that
delivers 245 horsepower or a monster-sized 488-cubic-inch V-10 that cranks out a stump-pulling 300 horsepower. There is even a teeth-chattering Cummins turbo diesel on the menu for those who pull very heavy loads. But if you use a truck for commuting
and light hauling, you'll probably be very pleased with the power, acceleration and economy that the 318-cubic-inch (5.2-liter) engine delivers. Performance is excellent at all speeds. The truck is quick from a stop, and it's fast once it gets
rolling. This is no wimpy machine. I love the Darth Vader-like breathing sounds the engine makes when you floor the accelerator. You can hear the smooth-running V-8 working, but the noise isn't intrusive or bothersome. Instead, the engine gives you
confidence as you hear it revving up and sending power to the wheels. Chrysler engineers have done a great job smoothing out the automatic transmission's shifts. Unless you mash the gas pedal into the carpet, you can't feel the gears change. Our
test truck delivered 15 mpg in combined city/highway driving with the air conditioner running. The refined drivetrain is complemented by the suspension system, which I think is the best you'll find in any full-size truck. The Ram's suspension
system erases bumps as it delivers a smooth, quiet - almost luxury-car - ride. But veer onto a dirt road or bad terrain and the Ram shows you another side. When the going gets rough, the suspension system firms up. The vehicle remains easy to control and
the ride is outstanding. The Ram has excellent front disc/rear drum anti-lock brakes. At first the brake pedal feels a bit heavy. But in emergency stops, the brakes bite hard and fast and the Ram comes to a halt with little fuss. Superb is the
only way to describe the power-assisted steering. The wheel takes a bit of muscle, but it turns smoothly and the truck responds beautifully. FIT AND FINISH For 1998, you can buy the Ram Quad Cab, which is essentially a supercab truck with two
rear-opening half-doors. The Ram is the only pickup truck on the market with four doors; Ford's F-150 and General Motors' Chevrolet and GMC pickup trucks have only thre
e. Dodge has a good idea here. But it doesn't quite work out. The problem? There's not enough room for adult passengers in the rear seat. However, the rear bench seat folds against the back of the cab, leaving ample space for cargo. Our
test truck came fully loaded. Attractive mag wheels; a sliding rear window; powerful AM/FM cassette and CD player; cruise control; power door locks, windows and mirrors; and leather upholstery in the SLT package. In fact, the electrically adjustable
leather 60/40 seats were fabulous, maybe the most comfortable seats I've ever tested in a truck. They are somewhat soft but provide excellent support. A big, fold-down center armrest is large enough to store a laptop computer. The dash has
nice-looking faux wood trim, but at night glare from the instrument panel reflecting off the wood panel can distract the driver. I'm often asked which truck I think is best. Until General Motors rolls out its revamped trucks next year, i
's really only a two-horse race between the F-150 and the Dodge Ram. And right now it's the F-150 by a grille - but only because of its high-tech overhead-cam engine. The Ram is better-looking and offers a better ride and equally excellent quality.
Specifications: 1998 Dodge Ram Base price: $26,410. Safety: Dual air bags, anti-lock brakes, side-impact protection. Price as tested: $28,885. EPA rating: 13 mpg city/18 mpg highway.
Incentives: None. Truett's tip: The Ram Quad Cab is a well-made truck that is powerful, comfortable and easy to drive. Despite easy access to the rear bench seat, there is not much room for adults.