The Dodge Ramcharger 4X4 is a big, brawny sport utility vehicle for outdoor activities and/or heavy duty towing which could also be used for long-distance traveling, grocery shopping or just impressing your friends with the sheer magnitude of all of it.

The first time you climb into a Ramcharger, you immediately know this is no ordinary vehicle. The driver’s seat is about three feet above the ground and, for most people, it takes a sort of heave and haul to get into it. Once in, however, a new world opens up to you from this high and wide vantage point. One thing is certain, you have a good command of the road.

The Ramcharger isn’t exactly a throwback in design but, with all the smaller four-wheel drive utility vehicles that have been introduced lately, it looks even bigger than ever. Although it has all the necessary equipment for a work vehicle it is a bit too dressed up for such mundane use.

Even so, it is a vehicle that should last a long, long time. Dodge feels strongly enough about its ability to hold up that it is offering the industry’s first 5-year/100,000-mile rust perforation limited warranty which applies to all outer panels, including door panels, roof, hood, front fenders, plenum assembly, A-pillars, quarter panels, B and C pillars and front and rear floor pans; a very strong warranty, especially when you consider that four- wheel drive vehicles are usually exposed to more rust-inducing situations than other vehicles.

The Ramcharger has a wheelbase of 106 inches, overall length of 184.6 inches, width of 79.5 inches, height of 73.6 inches and curb weight of 4,315 pounds. Driver and front passengers sit in spacious individual seats while the three rear passengers can stretch out on a large bench seat. With five people in place, there is still about 40-cubic-feet of storage room behind the rear seat. With the rear seat folded away, there is a space 70 inches long, 62.5 inches wide and 41.8inches high that has a volume of 105.8 cubic feet. Loading is made relatively easy by a one-piece liftgate.

Truck-type vehicles, whether they are used as a truck or not, have what is known as gross vehicle weight (GVW). The Ramcharger 4X4 has a rating of 5,850 pounds which means it can carry a payload of 1,535 pounds with standard suspension. There are suspension options available for trailering, off-road driving and snow plowing. With the trailering option, it is rated to carry a maximum trailer weight of 5,000 pounds and a maximum tongue weight of 750 pounds.

The test vehicle, with its automatic transmission, power steering and power brakes, was an easy vehicle to drive. The high seating and large all- around glass area gives the driver a good view. Although the 4X4 is quite roomy, it isn’t all that awesome in length. In fact, it is a little shorter than most compacts which means it is maneuverable and not very difficult to park.

Four-by-four operat ion is just a matter of slipping the transfer case to either four-wheel-high or four-wheel-low and driving away. The standard automatically locking hubs engage as soon as the driver shifts into four- wheel-drive and are released when the driver stops, shifts out of the 4X4 mode and then backs up a few feet. The purpose of four-wheel-drive, of course, is to provide more traction in adverse driving conditions but someone looking for towing capability instead of traction might want to consider the two- wheel-drive version of the Ramcharger. Chrysler notes that the two-wheel- drive Ramchargers account for 40 percent of Ramcharger sales nationwide, however, a check with local Dodge dealers revealed the two-wheel-drive version only accounts for about 5 percent of Ramcharger sales which seems to indicate that Lehigh Valley drivers like their four-wheelers.

The test vehicle had a very high level of interior trim and a number of creature comfort features. The test vehi le had the trailer towing options which, of course, meant a firmer ride which was most noticeable when traveling over concrete highways. Every crack in the road can be felt.

The test vehicle was powered by the venerable 318 V-8 which has been powering Chrysler vehicles for many a year and has earned a reputation for dependability and durability. Over the years there have been various versions of this engine ranging from mild to wild – one version even had two, four- barrel carburetors mounted on its intake manifold. The test vehicle’s engine was not quite that exotic but it provided plenty of power for all Lehigh Valley driving conditions.

The Ramcharger’s engine has a two-barrel carburetor and is rated at 130 horsepower at 4,000 rpm and 235 foot pounds of torque at 1,600 rpm. Even if you were led to this vehicle blindfolded you would know it was a Chrysler product because of the high speed starter’s whine; the starter, itself, is rated at 1.8 horsepower. The test vehicle had the optional three-speed automatic TorqueFlite transmission (a four-speed manual is standard) has also been around for a number of years and also has a good reputation.

The test vehicle’s engine and transmission proved to be a good combination for performance but a somewhat thirsty one. The Ramcharger averaged eight miles per gallon for city driving and 15 mpg over the highways including some four-wheel driving. Although figures like this would probably give an economy car driver apoplexy, they aren’t out of sight for this type of vehicle. No matter what the mileage, the Ramcharger, with a huge tank that holds 35 gallons will go a good distance between fillups. Filling up for the first time, however, can be a shocking experience as the pump keeps dinging away and you might have the tendency to look underneath to make sure the gasoline isn’t flowing out the bottom.

For those wanting more power, the Ramcharger also is available with a 360- cubic-inch V-8 with four-barrel carburetor rated at 175 horsepower at 4,000 rpm and 280 foot pounds of torque at 2,000 rpm.

Base price for the Ramcharger 4X4 is $10,960. The test vehicle, with a delivery charge of $525 and some $4,300 worth of options, had a list price of $15,774. Some of the higher-priced options included the Royal RE decor package, $1,091; automatic transmission, $492; air conditioning, $730; aluminum wheels, $447, and trailer towing package, $183.