Just as smaller passenger cars and practical-sized sport-utility vehicles are making a comeback, Chrysler Group brings forth the Dodge Ram Mega Cab, a pickup truck that's the approximate size of a hotel lobby.

Maybe the Chrysler crew has it figured out. Lately, it has been making money while American rivals General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co. have been shedding jobs and manufacturing plants.

The all-new 2006 Mega Cab's bread-and-butter is a back seat area where even three huge adults can spread out in open space one normally associates with a stretch limo - a whopping 68.9 of the nearly 134 cubic feet in the tested Ram's interior cabin was dedicated to back-seat comfort.

But the Mega Cab is so much more than its back seat; it's big everywhere.

Consider these monster dimensions in the tested, rear-drive Ram 2500 Laramie Mega Cab: 247.7 inches long, a wheelbase of 160.5 inches, 80 inches wide, 74.7 inches high and weighing in at a tractor-traileresque 7,352 pounds.

Mega, indeed.

Climbing up into the driver's seat of the Mega Cab - not the easiest feat - I had a magnificent view of my surroundings, including far horizons.

As for that Mega Cab TV commercial where everybody wants to ride in the back and the frustrated driver appears to lean over from his seat and push open the passenger-side front door: Give me a break!

I couldn't have reached the passenger door from the driver's seat if I had Shaquille O'Neal's right arm and a tennis racket.

Big torque was evident in the tester, equipped with a 5.9-liter Cummins turbodiesel in-line 6. (The Mega Cab also can be had with a 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 with 345 horsepower.) The diesel power plant is rated at a respectable 325 horses, but torque is a mind-blowing 610 foot-pounds, coming in at mere 1,600 revolutions per minute.

That's a rock-grinding level of torque, and the muscle was particularly felt when getting up to speed from near-standing starts on freeway entrance ramps. Yet when the truck reached highway cruising speed, the ride was remarkably smooth and quiet - especially for a diesel. There was no need to scream at passengers to be heard.

With the smooth ride, lots of interior cabin space, easy-to-use comfort/convenience controls and a high ride height providing a good look at the road ahead, the tester was a pleasant, secure environment on the open road.

On city streets, however, it was another ballgame.

Getting comfortable with the Mega Cab's bulk in close quarters takes time. Even after a week, I never felt entirely secure. I was constantly checking clearance on either side of the pickup. Its surprisingly light steering made me wary of drifting out of my lane.

Tight parking lots are the Mega Cab's enemy, something to be feared. Turn your head for one moment and roll over a bump, and you're never quite sure if you've just hit a pothole or crushed a Mini Cooper flat as a dime.

The Mega Cab's extreme mass excludes it from federal fuel economy estimates, but Dodge estimates it gets 15 miles per gallon in city driving and 19 mpg on the highway. Suffice it to say that a Mega Cab buyer should set aside serious funds for fuel. The truck's tank is a 35-gallon indoor pool, a pricey well to fill up at today's pump rates - diesel or gas.

So, who wants this truck?

Suburban commuters and soccer moms are likely out of the mix, but the Mega Cab might be the prototypical vehicle for a big ranch or construction site.

In what else can you haul building materials and tools and still have enough space in the back seats for three guys with shoulders as wide as a Pontiac Solstice?

Oh, there's a bonus: Tilting/folding features in the back seats enable Mega Cab owners to take advantage of multiple configurations to carry plentiful, odd-shaped cargo inside the pickup.

Want to carry some more stuff behind your Mega Cab? No problem; the tester listed a heavyweight towing capacity of 12,500 pounds.

Please note, the Mega Cab can be had in either cheaper or more expensive versions, including those with the aforementioned Hemi V-8 and four-wheel drive.

The tester started at a somewhat lofty $39,260 and was dressed up with another $10,000 or so in extras. If you just want the big-interior part of the Mega Cab, think in terms of $40,000 ... and expansive parking lots with extra-wide parking spaces.

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Make/model: 2006 Dodge Ram 2500 Laramie Mega Cab

Vehicle type: Six-passenger, four-door, rear-drive, full-size pickup truck

Base price: $39,260 (as tested, $50,765)

Engine: 5.9-liter Cummins turbodiesel in-line 6 with 325 horsepower at 2,900 revolutions per minute and 610 foot-pounds of torque at 1,600 rpm.

Fuel economy: 15 miles per gallon city; 19 mpg highway (estimated).

Transmission: Four-speed automatic with overdrive.

Steering: Power-assisted rack and pinion.

Brakes: Power-assisted four-wheel discs with anti-lock and other braking enhancement features.

Suspension: Short-and long-arm independent on front; live-axle type on rear. Fuel tank: 35 gallons.

Passenger volume: 133.8 cubic feet

Cargo box dimensions: 76.3 inches long, 51 inches wide (between rear wheels), 20.2 inches high.

Curb weight: 7,352 pounds

Track: 68.6 inches on front; 68.2 inches on rear.

Ground clearance: 7.1 inches

Height: 74.7 inches

Length: 247.7 inches

Wheelbase: 160.5 inches

Width: 80 inches

Towing capacity: 12,500 pounds

Tires: LT265/70R17E all-season radials

Assembly point: Saltillo, Mexico

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About the writer: The Bee's Mark Glover can be reached at (916) 321-1184 or mglover@sacbee.com.