Stringent testing, real-world application, and good, old-fashioned fun make up the testing procedures during a 4x4 road test. As automotive journalists, we have an obligation to the readers of OFF-ROAD magazine to formulate and tally up all the information, then make an assessment about how well the truck actually performs.
This year, we will be including more in-depth evaluation procedures that include realistic, everyday applications from street to serious off-road excursions. Road trips are key for such evaluations as demonstrated in this issue, and in our trip to Pismo Beach, California, in a 2000 Dodge Ram 1500 4x4 SLT.
Factory 4x4 Suspension
New from Dodge this year is a factory-designed and equipped off-road package for the Ram 1500. This package is only available on the Ram 1500 4x4 and Quad Cab short wheelbase models. The off-road package features a solid axle in the front with a four-arm link coil suspension system with 11 inches of wheel travel. The rear suspension is designed around a four-leaf longitudinal spring pack with a limited-slip differential in the rear to provide improved traction. All of this equates into more ground clearance and the capabilities to facilitate a larger tire and wheel size of LT275/70R17. Dodge improved on the steering as well. The low-speed steering agility is augmented through the use of a newly designed steering gear. This makes full-lock turns easier than ever.
Magnum Power - Yeah, Baby!
With 230 hp and 300 lb-ft of torque, Dodge's V-8 Magnum offers loads of usable power for on and off-road situations. Magnum engines are known for their power and performance. Equipped with Sequential Multiport Fuel Injection (SMPI), the Magnum engine responds immediately to throttle response. The 318 ci powerplant also provides a flat torque curve that delivers awesome out-of-the-hole-power. Just as important as the intake system is the continuation of exiting the spent gases through a set of high-flow exhaust manifolds, combined with a tuned port exhaust configuration to complete a better breathing package.
In The Cockpit
Our test truck was equipped with the SLT package, which provides function and comfort with a 40/20/40 split bench seat with a center armrest console and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. The SLT's trim and interior consists of a cloth headliner, carpet and floor mats, door trim panels, a cup holder that retracts into the dash, climate control, a passenger assist handle, coat hooks, digital displays and gauges, an extra power outlet for accessories, and an AM/FM stereo CD with a tape player.
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.
|General manufacturer: ||Dodge |
|Model: ||Ram 1500 4x4 SLT |
|Base price: ||$20,435 |
|Price as tested: ||$27,185 |
|Options as tested: ||Off-road group LT275/ 70/17 tires; 136-amp alternator; 750-amp battery;transfer case and fuel skidplating; foglamps; 17x8-inch aluminum wheels; anti-spin differential; tow hooks; trailer tow group; travel conveniencegroup; auto day and night rearview mirror; illuminatedvisor vanity mirrors; overhead trip console with computer; rear sliding window; securityalarm with keyless entry; six-way power driver seat; AM/FM/ cassette/CD player with equalizer and six speakers; steering wheel- mounted audio controls; and bedliner |
|Engine: ||V-8 Magnum |
|(lit/cu in): ||5.2/318 |
|Bore & stroke (in): ||3.91x3.31 |
|Compression ratio: ||9.1:1 |
|Induction type: ||Sequential multiport electronic fuel injection |
|Fuel requirement/ |
|capacity (gal): ||87 octane/26 |
|SAE peak horsepower: ||230 at 4,400 rpm |
|SAE peak torque (lb-ft): ||300 at 3,200 rpm |
|Transmission type: ||Five-speed manual with overdrive |
|Model: ||NV3500 |
| First: ||4.02:1 |
| Second: ||2.32:1 |
| Third: ||1.40:1 |
| Fourth: ||1.00:1 |
| Fifth: ||0.73:1 |
| Reverse: ||2.29:1 |
|Transfer case type: ||Two-speed, part time |
|Model: ||NV231 HD |
|Low-range ratio: ||2.72:1 |
| Front: ||Dana 44 |
| Rear: ||Chrysler 9-1/4 with anti-spin differential |
|Hubs: ||None |
|Ratio: ||4.10:1 |
| Front: ||Quadra-link leading arms; track bar, coil springs |
| Rear: ||Four-leaf longitudinal springs |
| Type: ||Power recirculating ball |
| Turns lock-to-lock: ||3.0 |
| Size (in): ||17x8 |
|Material: ||Aluminum alloy |
| Size: ||LT275/70R17 |
| Brand: ||Goodyear Wrangler GS/A |
|Brake system |
| Front: ||12-inch discs |
| Rear: ||11-inch drums with ABS |
| Advertised GVWR (lbs): ||6,400 |
| As tested: ||10.43 |
|Dimensions (in) |
| Wheelbase: ||119.0 |
| Overall length: ||204.5 |
| Overall width: ||91.75 |
| Overall height: ||77.0 |
| Minimum front |
| ground clearance: ||9.5 |