The new 2006 Dodge Mega Cab is the cathedral of all pickup trucks; a steel Mecca for those who worship big numbers.

When Dodge redesigned the Ram for the 2002 model year, it morphed extended and crew cab configurations into the Quad Cab. It was three inches longer than a normal extended cab and featured forward-opening doors with outside handles. The strategy was to offer the extended cab customer "a little more."

Then the crew cab market exploded, jumping from 5 percent to more than 40 percent of pickup production in just a few years, according to Dodge officials. The Ford F-150 Super Crew and Super Duty crew cabs were big hits right away, and GM followed suit in both half-ton and heavy-duty models. Sometimes the crew cab came with regular sized beds, or a shorty bed was implemented to keep the wheelbase at a more maneuverable size. Either way, crew cab trucks drew thousands of utility, recreation and personal-use customers looking for more versatility than SUVs but still needing comfortable seating in the rear. Automakers also responded with luxury and convenience amenities, such as leather seating, moonroofs and rear-seat entertainment.

Expanding with the theme of offering its customers "a little more," the Dodge version of the crew cab is at least a foot longer than the competition. There's just over 143 cubic feet of interior space. Rear-seat passengers can enjoy 44.2 inches of legroom, 2.5 inches more than a Ford Super Duty. And in a first for any crew cab, the rear seatback is adjustable. And in another first, the cab is so big that it can support both a moonroof for the front passengers and roof-mounted DVD player for the rear seat occupants.

Dodge has limited experience in building crew cabs. If you ever saw a Dodge crew cab truck on the road, most likely it was a stock Ram that was cut up, stretched and rewelded by an experienced outfitter. One of the more popular options was to build a Dodge Ram 4-door crew cab with an extended cab back. That's the approach Dodge engineers took in designing the Mega Cab, but without torching the cab or frame.

The Mega Cab is based on a Quad Cab-long bed frame with a 160-inch wheelbase. Engineers then swapped on a short bed. That left about 20 inches of real estate for designers to stretch the cab out to 111 inches long. The bigger cab now has huge rear doors that are 34.5 inches wide and can open out to 85 degrees, making ingress and egress among the easiest of any vehicle on the road. The wide openings also allow for quick cargo loading and unloading. With the rear seat folded down to offer a flat load floor, there is 72.2 cubic feet of cargo volume. That's about 10 cubic feet more than the cargo space available behind the second seat of a Ford Expedition.

Engineers didn't mount the rear seat against the cab panel. It's forward enough to provide 7.7 cubic feet of cargo space behind the seat. Also, the 60/40 split rear seat reclines from 22 to 37 degrees for added comfort.

With rear-seat passengers so far in back of the cab, Dodge engineers had to quiet down the interior so normal conversations could be held. New cab mounts, extensive use of Polymer Constraint Layer (PCL) in the front dash area and laminated glass improved help isolate road and wind noise. In fact, Dodge claims the Mega Cab is 20 percent quieter than the previous Ram heavy-duty models. I rode about 35 miles in the back of a diesel-powered Mega Cab on a mixture of highways and road surfaces and had no problem talking to the driver. The seat bottom was a little new-truck stiff but the reclining back allowed for a comfortable position. And the leg room is a treat rarely enjoyed in any vehicle except a limo. Other features that caught my eye included a huge rear-door window that rolled all the way down, a nifty storage bin behind the seat, separate heating and A/C outlets and tie-down hooks on the rear cab wall.

Dodge also made changes up front. Bucket seats with a center console are now optional over the familiar 40/20/40 front seat. More upscale finishes are available, and a new instrument panel features white gauges. The center stack now has enough room for a navigation system and the audio controls are larger and easier to use. New air vents, plenty of storage options, cup holders that do a pretty good job of handling water bottles, redundant controls on a 4-spoke steering wheel and optional adjustable pedals are all welcome touches. The exterior also received a freshening with a new grille, angular headlights, one-piece body-colored fascia with chrome applique and hood with a more pronounced crown effect continue to manifest the Ram's traditional big-rig, in-your-face design.

But heavy-duty truck buyers also want performance and capability. Still working off a long-bed chassis, engineers retuned the suspension to handle the added weight. An independent front suspension is standard on 2-wheel-drive models while 4x4s get a solid front axle with a 5-link/coil spring suspension. Disc brakes measure nearly 14 inches front and rear. The standard ABS is enhanced with electronic variable brake proportioning to help balance front-to-rear brake effort under light cargo loads.

As with previous Dodge heavy-duty trucks, two engines are available: the 5.7-liter Hemi rated at 345 horsepower and 375 lb-ft of torque and the 5.9-liter Cummins diesel rated at 325 horsepower and 610 lb-ft of torque. The Cummins is no longer the torque king, having been displaced by an upgraded 2006 GM Duramax with 650 lb-ft, but it's still a workhorse. I towed 8,000 pounds easily in a 2500 Cummins model through the tight, rolling hills of Virginia with confidence and also pulled a a 4000-pound boat behind a Hemi-powered 1500 Mega Cab. Again, smooth and plenty of power when needed.

The Mega Cab will be offered in three models with a choice of the SLT or Laramie trim. Here's a quick overview:

Model GVWR Max Payload Max Trailer Wt. Max GCRW

Mega Cab 1500 8510 lbs. 2430 lbs. 8750 lbs. 15,000 lbs.

Mega Cab 2500 9000 lbs. 2650 lbs. 13,000 lbs. 20,000 lbs.

Mega Cab 3500 9900 lbs. 2970 lbs. 15,900 lbs. 23,000 lbs.

Remember, these are maximum numbers. Capacities may change due to engine/transmission choice, 2- or 4-wheel-drive and axle ratio.

The added sheetmetal and amenities have packed on a few extra pounds. A 2-wheel-drive 1500 model tips the scales at over 6000 pounds. Curb weight for a 4-wheel-drive Mega Cab 3500 with the 6-speed manual transmission is just under 7500 pounds. And that's with the single rear wheel as Dodge will not offer the Mega Cab in a dually configuration. Officials say the launch will focus only on single rear wheel even though Dodge does offer a Quad Cab 3500 on the 160-inch wheelbase with dual rear wheels, so the engineering is in place.

Our speculation for the future of a Mega Cab dually focuses on a few interesting possibilities. First, the Mega Cab now lends itself to a special edition that would serve those towing big RVs. This special model could feature captain's chairs n the back for added passenger comfort or a fold-down sofa bed in the rear for long-haul drivers or rodeo contestants who make long trips towing horse trailers. As we all know, there is a torque war going on between Detroit's truck makers. It won't be long before there's a more powerful, maybe even bigger Cummins engine that will be offered in the Ram. And what better way to introduce it than to bring out a dually with even higher towing and payload capacities to please the numbers worshipers.

Speaking of numbers, here are the MSRPs for the Mega Cab lineup:

Model SLT 4x2 SLT 4x4 Laramie 4x2 Laramie 4x4

Mega Cab 1500 $32,760 $35,980 $37,895 $41,075

Mega Cab 2500 $35,065 $38,180 $40,160 $43.275

Mega Cab 3500 $40,410 $43,500 $45,505 $48,595

The SLT trim includes air conditioning, CD player, power windows/locks and manual-shift on 4x4 models. Optional equipment includes bedliner, trailer tow mirrors, power sliding rear window, moonroof, adjustable pedals, 6-disc CD changer, navigation system, satellite radio, rear-seat DVD, power seats and electric-shift transfer case on 4x4 models.

Laramie trim includes dual-zone climate control, power-sliding rear window, 6-disc CD changer, Infinity speaker system, satellite radio, steering-wheel mounted audio controls, leather seating, power/heated front seats and power windows. Options include moonroof, navigation, side-curtain air bags, bucket seats and electric-shift transfer case.

The Mega Cab will be built at the Saltillo assembly plant in Saltillo, Mexico.