Sporting a New Look By Kelly Stennick During the last decade, trucks have moved from being used as pure work machines to daily drivers, and during the past five years, Dodge has gone from being merely a second-rate player to a driving force in the truck world. With this year's redesign, Dodge has further refined its full-size Ram. With 20-inch wheels, rack and pinion steering and a smooth-riding suspension, those who are thinking about purchasing a pickup for use during their everyday commute may now find a Dodge Ram as appealing an option as a midsize sedan. With more and more people buying trucks for this use, Dodge may well continue to extend its market share, one that has grown considerably since the Ram's 1994 redesign. After test driving a 2002 Ram short-bed SLT for a week, it's clear that Dodge is truly going after more than just the work-truck buyers. Our test truck was surprisingly comfortable in the cab, with plenty of room, supportive seats and easy-to-use controls that made daily commutes a breeze. Unlike the first 2002 Ram we tested that came equipped with the top-of-the-line 5.9-liter V8 and an extended cab with four doors, our test vehicle was a 4.7-liter V8-equipped regular cab with the Ram sport appearance package. With 235 horsepower, this 4.7-liter engine is just 10 hp shy of the 5.9-liter version, although the larger engine offers a significant increase in peak torque. Folks who use their trucks for heavy towing or hauling might still find the 5.9-liter their engine of choice, but for most others, the 4.7-liter is all that's required. In everyday driving, we barely noticed the difference between the two engines. The 4.7-liter still manages to feel strong down low while providing plenty of midrange passing power at higher speeds. Performance tests indicated a 0-to-60 time of 9.2 seconds, so this Ram is certainly no slouch compared to other trucks in the acceleration department. Even with the smaller engine, our test truck still boasted a maximum tow rating of 6,700 pounds, which is more than enough to pull your average ski boat or a couple of jet skis. A five-speed manual is the standard transmission, but our test truck came with the optional four-speed automatic. With quick responses and nice smooth shifts, the automatic makes the 4.7-liter feel even more powerful than you would expect. As part of the sport appearance package, this Ram came equipped with 20-inch wheels and tires — the largest wheels and tires available. Although the wheels are huge, they didn't compromise ride quality, and the tires gave the Ram plenty of grip in the turns. The truck handled surprisingly well, largely due to the new rack and pinion steering system, which delivers quick responses and solid road feel that you wouldn't expect from a truck. The Ram also has four-wheel disc brakes — the largest in the class. The truck took only 127 feet to stop during our 60-to-0-mph brake test, a distance that's impressive for a full-size truck. Our test driver also noted the Ram exhibited excellent stability and minimal ABS system noise during the brake test runs. With such carlike road manners, it was no surprise to find that the interior was also very comfortable and all controls were conveniently placed. Even in the regular cab, there is still a very spacious feel. Knowing that owners are using these vehicles as much to move people as to transport substantial cargo, Dodge felt that it was more important to increase cabin space than to maximize bed length, and this year moved three inches from the bed to the cab. An eight-way power-adjustable driver seat, tilt steering and adjustable pedals — all optional Ram equipment — made even this average-size writer comfortable behind the wheel of this big truck. Gauges are very clear and readable, and the quality interior materials enhance the carlike feel. No rubber floor mats or vinyl seating in this pickup, this truck is all about comfort. There are also a lot of bonus features, like extra-large cupholders that will hold a super-sized soda, a cavernous center console and a handy tool storage bin that hangs like a shelf behind the rear seat. As surprised as we were by the Ram's carlike drivability, it's still a pickup truck. You're certainly going to have to climb into the cab, unlike the ease of stepping into a sedan. With no grab handles on our test model, scrambling up into the cab wasn't always an easy feat. While running errands around town, even a short bed can be a bear to park. The turning radius on this 4X2 short bed was 39.3 feet, which is almost six and a half feet less than the 4X2 long bed, but still a considerable difference from the 2003 Chevrolet Silverado equipped with the Quadrasteer four-wheel steering system. There are generously sized sideview mirrors that fold out to help increase vision, but that still may not be enough to prevent drivers from occasionally scraping up a bumper or two. There's also the continuing grumble over poor fuel economy. Dodge reports EPA fuel figures of 14 mpg in the city and 19 mpg on the highway. During our test we barely reached 10 mpg, and if you're planning to use your big, comfortable truck during even a hop, skip and a jump commute, you'll certainly find yourself on a first-name basis with the attendant at your local gas station. But let's face it — full-size trucks are the best-selling vehicles in the United States by a long shot, so poor gas mileage and parking concerns aren't preventing consumers from being attracted to big vehicles, especially multifunctional large trucks that give you added command over the road. Dodge has certainly scored a home run with making its Ram line so versatile. If consumers are going to buy a truck mostly just to drive around town, they might as well buy one that's comfortable and sporty. After all, trucks aren't just for construction workers anymore.