Engine: The Power And The Glory
DaimlerChrysler supplied us with a 5.7L Hemi V-8-powered Ram. Many enthusiasts familiar with high-performance automotive history know the name Hemi comes from the combustion chamber design used on performance and racing engines in Chrysler's past. By using a hemispherical-shape combustion chamber, the spark plug can be optimally positioned between the intake and exhaust valves, which serves to ignite the compressed air and fuel mixture in a manner that optimizes the burning of the mix, thus increasing horsepower. Good as the original Hemi design was, ever-tightening emission standards forced the Hemi engine into retirement in 1971. The all-new 5.7L Hemi is the first use of hemispherical technology on a production Chrysler V-8 in more than 30 years.
By developing Hemi-head technology for the 21st century, Chrysler has been able to meet today's emission standards while creating an engine with impressive operating traits and maximum performance potential. The proof is in the Hemi's output: 345 peak hp, 375 peak lb-ft of torque, and a wonderfully smooth, rpm-friendly feel.
Dodge officials claim an 8 to 10 percent advantage in fuel efficiency compared with competitive (non-Hemi) offerings. Advanced features, such as a multi-point electronic fuel injection system, a direct ignition system with high-power coils, and electronic throttle control, contribute to the new Hemi's clean and efficient nature.
Paired with our Ram's Hemi was the optional five-speed automatic transmission. In use, the five-speed was faultless, exhibiting smooth, well-placed shifts. And with five forward gears, the Hemi is always in the fat part of its powerband, no matter if the truck is on the highway, in the city, or on the trail. Our Laramie model Ram was equipped with the optional electronic, shift-on-the-fly, two-speed transfer case. With a Low range of 2.72:1, the truck had excellent low-speed pulling power. When locked into 4-Hi, easier obstacles and higher-speed running was effortless. The only limitation in 4WD was the OE tires' all-terrain tread. With an aggressive tread design, the combination of Hemi power, 4-Lo, and a supple suspension would make the Rammer nearly unstoppable on a wide variety of off-road surfaces.
Chassis And Suspension:Rugged And Well Tuned
The new Ram boasts an all-new chassis that uses a hydroformed frame to provide chassis stiffness while reducing the number of weld points. A reduction in weld points means fewer variations in the manufacturing process and an improvement in overall quality control. Hydro-forming the framerails actually creates a boxed frame structure that's much stiffer torsionally than if the frame was boxed in the traditional manner with welded-in steel plates. In use, the Ram is extremely rigid, with that rigidity showing up as a solid feel when traveling over rough terrain or diagonally placed obstacles such as speed bumps and railroad tracks. There is also a noticeable lack of shake at the cowl during rough off-road conditions.
Four-wheel-drive 2500 Ram models use a redesigned, recirculating ball steering system that offers the quickest steering ratio in the industry (13.4:1), meaning that only 2.75 turns of the steering wheel are required to go from lock to lock. The feel of the steering is excellent; it's nicely weighted on-center and isn't over-boosted off-center. The stiffness of the chassis is also at work here, as the steering feels precise and accurate.
Braking power is high, as you would expect from a four-wheel disc system with antilock. Brake pedal feel was firm, not mushy, although the usual problems associated with ABS brakes is present on dirt surfaces - longer-than-average stopping distances as the ABS computer reduces brake line pressure, sensing the wheels' slip on the dirt.