2003 Dodge Ram 2500/3500 Duty Bound By Karl Brauer Dodge doesn't typically lead when it comes to the consumer truck market. Sure, the company has been making Ram trucks for decades, but in terms of market share and total sales, it's traditionally been a Ford-versus-Chevy battle, with Dodge playing the quintessential "distant third" role. However, a curious phenomenon has occurred over the last decade: the heavy-duty truck market has been rapidly growing — up 34 percent since 1996. Even more curious is the market share Dodge holds within the current heavy-duty segment: 31 percent. You can point to the availability of a Cummins diesel power plant (starting in the late 1980s) and "heavy-duty-appropriate" styling (part of the Ram's redesign in 1994) as likely catalysts in the Ram's growing popularity among heavy-duty buyers. That same 1994 redesign bolstered Dodge's position in the light-duty truck market as well, though Ram 1500 sales still lag behind Ford and Chevy models. While one-third of total heavy-duty truck sales is commendable, the Dodge boys want to ensure the Ram's place in a market that is expected to continue growing. The orders from the top were simple: Create the boldest, most capable and most durable heavy-duty truck ever. After a day of driving multiple iterations of the 2003 Ram 2500 and 3500, we can confirm that Dodge takes its executive orders seriously. In this world of increasingly luxurious utility vehicles (LUVs?), the centerpiece of a successful heavy-duty truck remains the same: powertrain. Unlike SUVs and light-duty trucks that can get away with average pulling power, the very nature of a heavy-duty truck customer is one of high-performance expectations. These buyers need a vehicle that can tow, haul or climb (sometimes all three) at a level beyond standard truck capabilities. Dodge claims that 75 percent of its heavy-duty customers opt for the diesel engine, and 70 percent want four-wheel drive. Obviously, these people have serious truck needs. Dodge has responded with a serious lineup of engines for the 2003 Ram 2500 and 3500. The most exciting engine offering is also the standard heavy-duty truck power plant, a 5.7-liter Hemi V8. Anyone familiar with automotive history knows the name "Hemi." It comes from the combustion chamber design used on performance and truck engines in Chrysler's past. By utilizing a "hemispherical"-shape chamber, the spark plug could be optimally positioned between the intake and exhaust valves to increase airflow and horsepower. Forced out of production in 1971 by tightening emission standards, this all-new 5.7-liter Hemi is the first use of the technology on a production Chrysler V8 in over 30 years. The legendary Chrysler Hemi engine returns The excitement tied to this engine stems from more than its historic name. By developing this technology for the 21st century, Chrysler has been able to meet today's emission standards while creating an engine with unparalleled potential. For example, without any use of variable valve timing or variable intake length, this engine makes 345 peak horsepower and 375 peak pound-feet of torque. Chrysler officials told us they were originally shooting for 325 peak horsepower, as that would have been sufficient to beat the competitions' base heavy-duty truck engines. But as the Hemi neared final development, it was surpassing even the engineers' expectations in terms of power and efficiency. Rather than try to handicap the Hemi with a last-minute design change, officials decided to move forward as planned (knowing they'd have that much more to brag about when the 2003 Heavy Duty trucks came to market). With the Ram Heavy Duty models hitting showrooms, how does the lineup compare in terms of standard engine performance? The numbers speak for themselves: Horsepower Torque Dodge Ram 2500 345 @ 5,400 rpm 375 @ 4,200 rpm Ford F-250 260 @ 4,500 rpm 350 @ 2,500 rpm GMC Sierra 2500HD 300 @ 4,400 rpm 360 @ 4,000 rpm Additionally, Dodge officials claim an eight to 10 percent advantage in fuel efficiency over competitive offerings. Advanced features, such as two spark plugs per cylinder, a direct ignition system with high-power coils and electronic throttle control contribute to the new Hemi's clean and efficient nature. Paired to this engine is a five-speed manual transmission, but a five-speed automatic is optional. The Gross Combined Vehicle Weight Rating (GCVWR) for this engine is 18,000 pounds with the standard 3.73 rear axle ratio, that's better than equivalent Ford or Chevy models. As advanced as the base Hemi engine is, the majority of Ram Heavy Duty buyers prefer the Cummins diesel engine. To support this majority Cummins developed an all-new high-pressure, common-rail High Output Cummins Turbo Diesel. This 5.9-liter inline six uses an all-new block and has approximately 30 percent fewer moving parts than a typical V8 diesel — meaning reduced maintenance and improved reliability. The average major overhaul for the Cummins engine is 350,000 miles and the oil and filter service schedule has been doubled (every 15,000 miles or 7,500 miles, depending on driving conditions). The Cummins diesel is better than ever, and still the most powerful diesel engine offered in the heavy duty truck market But don't assume a reduction in parts or maintenance costs means a reduction in performance. At 555 pound-feet of torque (available at 1,400 rpm), the High Output Cummins surpasses the competition in terms of twisting force and horsepower (305 peak horsepower at 2,900 rpm). It also beats them in trailer towing with a GCVWR of 23,000 pounds. With higher torque delivered at a lower rpm, the Cummins diesel is easier to drive smoothly, especially when pulling away from a stop. We drove all three domestic brands of diesel truck, back to back, with each carrying a 3,500-pound payload. The Ram was clearly more powerful, easily climbing grades and doing much of the test loop with no downshifting from top gear required. Beyond its pure pulling power, the Dodge was amazing for its lack of diesel clatter when compared to the Ford or Chevrolet examples. A Cummins representative explained that the High Output engine uses the new high-pressure fuel rail to deliver a small amount of fuel, called the "pilot injection" to initiate the burn cycle. The pilot injection occurs a fraction of a second before the main fuel charge is injected into the cylinder to smooth out the combustion pressure in the cylinder. It's this process that reduces diesel clatter across the entire rev range while improving low-speed (and cold-weather) throttle response. The Dodge representatives told us that, compared with the previous model, the new Cummins is 80 percent quieter at idle and 60 percent quieter while cruising. We can confirm that when comparing it to either the current Ford or Chevrolet, it's difficult to tell a diesel engine is under the Ram's quiet hood. This engine can only be paired with a six-speed manual transmission. Beyond the Hemi and High Output Cummins Turbo Diesel, the Ram Heavy Duty can be had with the standard Cummins Diesel engine or the tried-and-true 8.0-liter V10 gasoline engine. The V10 still offers 310 peak horsepower and 440 pound-feet of maximum torque at 2,800 rpm, while the standard Cummins engine also benefits from the new high-pressure, common rail fuel injection technology and gains 15 peak horsepower (now 250 at 2,700 rpm). This Cummins continues to make a peak torque of 460 pound-feet at 1,400 rpm. Both engines are available with either a four-speed automatic or five-speed manual transmission. Carrying any of these drivetrain combinations is 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. The gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of the new Ram Heavy Duty is a segment-leading 12,000 pounds. Underneath the frame is an all-new rack and pinion steering system and independent front suspension system on two-wheel-drive models. Four-wheel-drive 2500 and 3500 models use a redesigned recirculating ball steering system and a beam front and rear axle design. Both steering systems are designed to improve feel and precision over the previous generation, and both offer greater feedback than the competition. Ride quality is among the best we've experienced in a truck, heavy-duty or not. Four-wheel-drive versions offer the quickest steering ratio in the industry at 13.4:1 and 2.75 turns lock to lock. We tested this aspect during our time with the Ram Heavy Duty when a miscalculation on a driving loop resulted in a wrong turn. With a horse trailer rolling behind us, we didn't relish the idea of turning around. However, after locating a wide stretch of road with relatively flat ground on either side we simply steered right and then cranked the wheel left, effectively pulling a U-turn in a Ram 3500 4x4 dual-real wheel model — towing a 6,000-pound horse trailer. Even the Dodge folks admitted that they held their breath when we started the maneuver, but they were raising their hands and cheering as the Ram calmly pulled away in the opposite direction. With 70 percent of heavy-duty Rams being ordered with four-wheel drive, Dodge wanted to keep its off-roading customers happy. The reworked five-link front suspension now offers up to 9.9 inches of ground clearance. The rear suspension uses three-inch longer leaf springs and gas-charged shock absorbers on 2500 models with auxiliary springs added to 3500 models. Two transfer cases, a conventional manual shift and a new electronic unit, are available on both the 2500 and 3500. The manual version is standard on ST and SLT models with the electronic transfer case standard on Laramie trim. Also of interest to off-road customers who travel through tight confines is the first-ever availability of a standard-width, single rear wheel Ram 3500. Approach angles range from 24.3 to 25.3 degrees on four-wheel-drive models. Departure angles start at 26.7 degrees on long-bed models and go up to 29.1 on short-bed Ram 3500s with the single rear wheel configuration. Anyone familiar with the redesigned 2002 Ram 1500 will find the 2500 and 3500 Ram interiors quite familiar. Both feature best-in-class interior space and unique storage options that include hidden "boxes" under the rear seat (in Quad Cab models) and an optional steel load floor that can form a flat load surface when desired. All four doors on the new heavy-duty models are now full-size and open forward to 85 degrees. Bed length has been slightly reduced on Quad Cab Rams, but remains at 6 foot, 3 inches. A long-bed option is available on regular and Quad Cab Rams, offering an 8-foot bed on either model[/B]. Dodge has been hyping the cutting-edge safety of its Ram ever since the first airbag-equipped model appeared in 1994. For 2003, the company has equipped all heavy-duty models with side curtain airbags, next-generation front airbags and standard antilock brakes that feature the largest rotors in the heavy-duty segment. Power adjustable pedals are also available on all models, and we love the highly effective exterior mirrors that can be folded flat for standard use or flipped upright and out for trailer towing. Child-seat anchors are standard on all models, and on regular cab models, the passenger-side front airbag can be turned off. The '03 Ram 2500 and 3500 will be available in three trim levels. The base ST includes air conditioning, an AM/FM cassette player, vinyl seats and 17-inch steel wheels. Midlevel SLTs get a body colored upper front fascia; chrome grille; power, heated fold-away exterior mirrors; an overhead console (with outside temperature, compass, and trip computer); power windows with a one-touch-down driver window; front seat area carpeting; cloth seats; sun visors; a CD player; and chrome-clad 17-inch wheels. Premium-trim Laramie models add foglamps; a chrome and body-colored grille; body-colored side molding; a sliding rear window; dual-zone climate control; wood grain trim around the instrument panel; HomeLink; an auto-dimming rearview mirror; power adjustable pedals; a 240-watt Infinity sound system and a six-disc in-dash CD changer; leather covered seats and steering wheel, and cast-aluminum 17-inch wheels. To back up the Ram's "big rig" styling and tough image, Dodge has given every model a 7-year/70,000-mile powertrain warranty. The company insists that its 2500 and 3500 models were put through the harshest duty cycle they could dream up, including minus 40-degree testing in the Arctic Circle and 130-degree running in Death Valley over the equivalent of 150,000 miles. These tests included maximum payload and towing tests under both on- and off-road conditions. With claims to the most powerful standard engine, most powerful diesel engine, class-leading tow ratings, plus the largest brakes and biggest wheel-and-tire combination in the heavy duty segment, Dodge has clearly grabbed the heavy-duty market by the horns, so to speak. We don't see them letting go anytime soon. Epitome of the "Don't mess with this." look.