We loaded up our Ram with mountain bikes, luggage, and a lot of camera gear and headed on our way. Our truck came equipped with a NV3500 manual five-speed transmission. This wasn't the most pleasant transmission during our time spent on Interstate 5 through Los Angles, but once we were heading out of the heavy bumper to bumper freeway congestion, the clutch foot got a break. Out on the open road, the Ram purred as it effortlessly cruised the highways. The next challenge came through a twisty mountain road that serves as a short cut for us. It was a great opportunity to see how the Ram would handle the twisties.
Driving the Dodge 4x4 on the various twists and turns of a paved mountain road was misleading. The big Mopar actually handles quite stably and can be driven in an aggressive manner, if that's to your liking. The Ram held its line into and exiting the turns. It was so much fun we actually laughed hysterically as we passed numerous vehicles, including a couple of so-called sports cars.
We arrived early at our test area and couldn't check into our hotel, so we headed for a well-known local downhill run for mountain bikes. Great! A perfect test to see how the Ram would react loaded up in the dirt. So far, the Ram was a wolf in sheep's clothing; nothing we threw at it made a difference.
But the test of tests was still to come. Once we hooked up with some local off-road enthusiasts who knew the real test trails, we headed out to the big kids' playground in the sand dunes of Pismo Beach.
We drove onto the sand and slowly caravaned to the speed zone 'til we got to no man's land. This is where the fun began. There were loads of 4x4s sitting a top of 35s and 39s. The Ram was almost dwarfed by these monster sand toys, but once again, the Dodge Ram proved to be mild-mannered yet dominant. Almost instantly, the Ram accelerated past all the big toys into the lead position, flying through sand bowls. Up and over, the faster we drove, the better the suspension system seemed to work. It had a smooth yet confident feel to it.
The Final Word
The Dodge Ram 4x4 SLT off-road package is a hard-to-beat bundle out of the box. It performs extremely well on and off-road. It shined in every situation we threw at it... a real off-roader's dream machine.
Are there issues we'd like to see DaimlerChrysler improve on? Sure, more ground clearance and bigger tires would be welcome. Maybe even a better flowing intake and exhaust system to bump out a few more ponies; also, a lower ring-and-pinion gear would be great. But dollar for dollar, the Ram is a hard to beat package. There, we've said it again.