2006 Dodge Ram 1500
2006 Dodge Ram 1500 Expert Review: New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
Re-engineered with new frame and fresh styling.New design features giant cab.
The Dodge Ram has been extensively re-engineered for 2006. It has also been modestly restyled and the interior has been upgraded.
The bumper fascia, grille, headlamps, fenders and wheels are all new, but far more significant are less visible improvements, including a new hydroformed frame that's boxed its full length to provide more strength than in any previous Ram. You can't see the new suspension and body mounts, either, but they improve ride, handling, and quietness.
Inside the '06 Ram, the instrument panel, center console and seats have been redesigned for more car-like comfort, while new radios and entertainment features help the miles roll on by.
Those miles will roll quicker still when you order the Hemi engine, which has drawn much attention for its power and efficiency as well as the heritage its name evokes. It is an exceptionally good engine, smooth and very responsive. For 2006, the Hemi features the new Multi-Displacement System (MDS), which shuts down four of the Hemi's eight cylinders when they are not needed. Dodge claims the switchover is seamless, and that fuel economy is improved by as much as 20 percent. Step on the gas, however, and the cylinders reawaken, ready to deliver the 345 peak ponies that make the Hemi-powered Ram the most potent mass-production light-duty pickup on the market. Adding to the Hemi's responsiveness is a five-speed automatic transmission.
As if the Hemi wasn't enough, enthusiasts can choose the SRT-10, which looks like a NASCAR Craftsman Truck and runs like a race car, with stunning performance from its Viper V10 engine. Super-duty brakes and suspension help keep it on the road. The Guinness Book of World Records called the SRT-10 the world's fastest production pickup. Like other Rams, the SRT-10 is offered in either Quad Cab or Regular Cab configurations.
Ram's popular 4.7-liter V8, while not as powerful as the Hemi or SRT-10, delivers responsive performance and is smooth and sophisticated, benefiting from a modern overhead-cam design. Full-time four-wheel drive (all-wheel drive) is available with the 4.7-liter for improved stability in slippery conditions.
The light-duty Ram 1500 models are smooth and refined. Their cabs are comfortable and convenient, among the roomiest in their respective classes. The Quad Cab is handy for hauling friends and family but even the Regular Cab is roomy. Arguably, the Ram is the best-looking truck on the market. Its styling is bold and handsome, even more so in its latest incarnation.
This may indeed be the golden age of the full-size pickup. The Ford F-150 and Nissan Titan made headlines with their engineering. Coming soon are all-new versions of the Chevrolet Silverado, GMC Sierra, and Toyota Tundra. In spite of all this, the Dodge Ram remains an excellent choice. Re-engineered for 2006, it may be the best choice, depending on what you want from a truck. Pickup trucks are America's ultimate raw material. Generic in concept, the lowly pickup truck can be configured in dozens, even hundreds of ways to specifically suit any need, and practically any price point. The fastest-growing segment is full-size crew cab pickups. Crew cabs combine exceptional seating comfort, personal use features and unlimited hauling potential to create an extremely versatile vehicle.
Dodge has addressed that by creating the largest crew cab pickup available, the Ram Mega Cab. The extra-large cab has been created by re-proportioning the relationship between cab and bed, adding 20 inches to the cab and shortening the bed to 6 feet, three inches.
The result is acres of cab space. The Mega Cab seats six, with plenty of head, shoulder, leg and hip room. The back seats are roomy and comfortable with reclining seatbacks, separate rear heating and air conditioning outlets, reading lights and a center armrest with cup holders, and available DVD entertainment. And there's space behind the back seats for cargo.
Folding down the back seats reveals a huge cargo area (72.2 cubic feet) with a flat load floor. The rear doors open big and wide, making it easy to load stuff inside. Covered bins are provided back there for storing gear and smaller items, and hooks are provided for hanging things.
Mega Cab pickups can be ordered in 1500, 2500 and 3500 configurations, but all are built on the Dodge Ram Heavy Duty platform. They ride and drive like heavy duty pickups and don't make much sense if you're not towing and hauling heavy loads.
Mega Cabs make a lot of sense if you're towing. All boast big towing capacities, up to 15,900 pounds, with payloads of up to 2,970 pounds. The available Cummins Turbo Diesel puts out 610 pound-feet of torque, and the 5.7-liter Hemi V8 that comes on the 1500 and 2500 models isn't exactly a slouch.
These trucks are best on long trips where, once you get under way, you don't want to stop. And with the Mega Cab, there will be no need. It's a low-effort cruiser, relaxed and efficient under load. It's not the ideal commuter, being more comfortable in the wide-open spaces of big roads and big driveways. Driving a Mega Cab much with empty seats would be a waste.
Dodge Ram is available as a Regular Cab or four-door Quad Cab. (There is no in-between, extended-cab version.) Dodge now offers what you might call an extended Quad Cab, which it calls the Mega Cab. However, the Ram Mega Cab is different enough from other Rams to be considered a distinct model, and we have reviewed it separately.
Two bed lengths are available: a 6-foot, 3-inch short bed and an 8-foot long bed. Ordering the long bed adds 20 inches to the wheelbase. And a Quad Cab wheelbase is 20 inches longer than a Regular Cab. So a Quad Cab long bed has 40 more inches of wheelbase than a Regular Cab short bed. Long-bed Rams also get a bigger fuel tank, 35 gallons in place of the standard 26.
Regular Cabs start at $20,800 with rear-wheel drive (2WD), $25,055 with four-wheel drive (4WD). Quad Cabs, which ride on a wheelbase 20 inches longer than comparable Regular Cab models, start at $24,870 with 2WD, $29,005 with 4WD.
Several engines are offered: The most economical choice, one that can actually break 20 mpg on the highway, is the 3.7-liter overhead-cam V6, rated 215 horsepower. It's the base engine in 2WD Regular Cabs and 2WD Quad Cabs with the short box. The available 4.7-liter V8 uses modern overhead-cam heads to generate 235 horsepower. The popular 5.7-liter Hemi produces 345 horsepower. At the top end of the scale is the 8.3-liter pushrod V10 in the SRT-10, rated 500 horsepower and 525 pound-feet of torque.
A six-speed manual transmission is standard equipment with the 3.7-liter V6 and 4.7-liter V8. A four-speed automatic is optional with the V6. A five-speed automatic is optional with the 4.7-liter V8 and standard with the Hemi. The SRT-10 Regular Cab comes only with a six-speed manual gearbox; the SRT-10 Quad Cab comes only with a four-speed automatic.
ST is the base trim level. It comes standard with air conditioning, AM/FM/CD stereo, rear-wheel ABS, 17-inch steel wheels and a full-size spare tire. Upholstery is vinyl, and the windows wind up manually. Options include a bed liner, trailer tow mirrors, speed control, four-wheel ABS, 17-inch chrome-clad steel wheels, and a power sliding rear window for the Quad Cab.
SLT comes standard with the 4.7-liter V8, and adds power windows and door locks, keyless entry, an overhead console with mini-trip computer and compass, speed control, and 17-inch aluminum wheels. Options expand to include a power sunroof, power adjustable pedals, six-disc CD changer and Infinity speaker system, navigation system, Sirius Satellite Radio, UConnect Bluetooth hands-free wireless communication, bucket seats with leather upholstery, six-way power driver seat and 20-inch aluminum wheels.
Sport, which was an option package last year, has been promoted to a trim level for '06. It comes with the Hemi engine and five-speed automatic transmission, unique bucket seats, body-color fascia and grille, fog lamps, and 20-inch chrome-clad aluminum wheels. Sport adds $7,256-$8,410 to price of an ST. Options are the same as for the SLT, but the long bed is not available.
Laramie is the luxury level, with dual-zone climate control, steering-wheel mounted audio controls, four-wheel ABS, security alarm, and Sentry Key engine immobilizer. Leather seats are standard, with a split 40/20/40 bench up front and power adjustment for the driver. Laramie retails for $6,600-$7,800 more than the base (ST) trim level, and offers a nice selection of luxury options.
SRT-10 is its own trim level, available in both regular cab ($47,605) and Quad Cab ($51,810) models. In addition to its go-fast equipment, SRT-10 also comes with most Laramie-level luxuries, plus heated sport bucket seats up front and a lot of unique, performance-oriented trim inside and out.
The TRX4 Off-Road package ($1,250) comes with unique 17-inch aluminum wheels on LT275/70R17 off-road tires, 3.92 rear axle, limited-slip differential, skid plates for the transfer case and front suspension, special red-painted shocks, tow. The 2006 Dodge Ram Mega Cab comes in two trim levels, SLT and Laramie, with a range of engine choices, payloads and towing capacities.
The Mega Cab 1500 is the light-duty configuration, but it still can still haul payloads of up to 2,430 pounds and trailers of up to 8,750 pounds when equipped with 4.10 axle gears. The Mega Cab 1500 comes with the 5.7-liter Hemi V8 and a five-speed automatic transmission. The 1500 Mega Cab ranges from SLT 4x2 ($31,860) to the Laramie 4x4 ($40,175).
The Mega Cab 2500 ($34,165) comes standard with the Hemi V8, optional with the Cummins 5.9-liter Turbo Diesel and a six speed manual ($4,385) or four-speed automatic ($5,555). The 2500 SLT is available with 4WD ($37,280). Laramie trim is available with 2WD ($39,260) or 4WD ($42,375) 2500 models.
The 3500 Mega Cab ($39,510) comes with the Cummins diesel mated to the six-speed manual transmission or optional four-speed automatic ($1,095). It's also available with 4WD ($42,600) and is available as a Laramie 2WD ($44,605) or 4WD ($47,695).
SLT is the standard trim on 2006 Mega Cabs, and includes cloth upholstery, air conditioning, AM/FM stereo with CD player and four speakers, an overhead console with mini trip computer and compass, speed control, power windows and door locks, keyless entry, four-wheel disc brakes with four-wheel ABS. On 4x4 models, a part-time manual shift transfer case is standard. A full-size spare tire is standard.
Options for SLT trim includes a power-sliding rear window ($295), a bed liner, trailer tow mirrors, power sun roof ($850), power adjustable pedals ($120), AM/FM/6CD/MP3 with Infinity speakers ($950), cassette ($100), navigation radio ($2,545), Sirius Satellite Radio ($195), DVD rear-seat entertainment system ($1,200), UConnect Bluetooth hands-free wireless communication system ($325), bucket seats ($850), and 17-inch forged aluminum wheels ($345). A part-time electric shift transfer case is available on 4WD models.
Laramie adds leather upholstery, dual-zone climate control, steering-wheel-mounted audio controls, heated front seats, security alarm, auto-dimming rearview mirror, and Sentry Key engine immobilizer. Options on the Laramie package include a power sun roof, bucket seats, Bluetooth, and the navigation radio.
Safety features include dual front multi-stage airbags, three-point belts in all seating positions with constant-force retractors, LATCH child-seat anchors, child-protection rear door locks, and four-wheel anti-lock brakes. Side-curtain airbags for front and rear seats are optional ($490).
The Dodge Ram presents a bold, distinctive appearance with its big horse-collar grille and Freightliner fenders. The basic look dates back a dozen years, but it received a major redesign for 2002, and now a more subtle makeover for '06. New headlamps cut back deeper into the fenders, and a flattened front bumper on Sport and Laramie looks even more big-rig-like than before. Dodge claims the new lights are improved 22 percent in intensity and 40 percent in beam spectrum. A slot in the front bumper aids engine cooling and air conditioner performance.
Ram's trademark front grille has been recontoured slightly to fit the new bumper, but it remains one of the most instantly recognizable front ends on the road. A thick band of chrome surrounds the grille on ST, SLT and Laramie; the band is body color on Sport models and grey on Work Specials. The broad, sloping hood has a pronounced crown that falls over the sides to the prominent front fenders.
Moving rearward, the Ram continues to present a robust appearance. A fast, raked-back windshield enhances aerodynamics and water management, while gracefully blending modern sleekness with Ram's retro lower body. The leading edge of the front door overlaps the A-pillar, creating a smooth transition from the front of the cab to the side. Everything is smooth and integrated. The big side mirrors, great for visibility, are mounted on platforms to minimize wind noise, and a channel has been specially designed to keep water off of the mirrors. A small spoiler at the top of the tailgate, new for '06, is said to improve fuel efficiency.
Rams sit relatively high off the ground, particularly the four-wheel-drive models. Tailgate load height is 34-1/2 inches on four-wheel-drive models, 33 inches with two-wheel-drive. That seems high when trying to heave heavy gear aboard. All beds are fitted with boat cleats designed to handle 1,000 pounds each.
SRT-10 features a body-color grille surround surmounted by a hungry-looking hood scoop. Additionally, SRT-10 boasts its own front bumper, which looks lighter and less truckish than the standard unit and features its own gaping, air-gulping opening. A body-color aluminum tonneau cover for the pickup bed, outfitted with a unique spoiler for aerodynamic efficiency, is standard for 2006. Gas struts help in raising and lowering the tonneau cover for easy access to the pickup bed, which features a bed tray for protecting bed and cargo. The Dodge Ram Mega Cab offers a striking presence, taking the Big Rig look to another level. From the front, a more refined crosshair grille with strong, full-chrome collar remains instantly recognizable as a strong Dodge Ram signature. New, angular headlamps are distinctive, and deliver 22 percent more light intensity by use of halogen bulbs. The front bumper is massive, integrated with the equally bold hood and fender combination. The ram's head emblem is moved to the center of the grille for 2006. Chrome accents add to the bold, metallic design.
From the side, the Mega Cab makes an even more dramatic impression. Very wide rear doors are unique to the immense Mega Cab, with a very large proportion of window glass to door. The second-row window glass is tinted, suggesting a limousine. Behind this huge cab, the bed looks small, but it remains significantly large: 6 feet, 3 inches in length and 51 inches wide between the wheel wells. Wheels are sparkling 17-inch chrome units, with tires nicely proportioned to the Ram's physical size.
The front grilles of the SLT and Laramie trim levels are differently styled, providing an external visual cue.
The Dodge Ram is among the roomiest of the full-size pickups and its cab is a pleasant place to be. Its short pickup box is more than three inches shorter than a Ford F-150's or Chevrolet Silverado's because Dodge put that extra three inches into the cab. So you sacrifice a little bed space for a lot more wiggle room. Regular Cab and Quad Cab versions offer identical roominess in the front seats.
The Ram is available with a front bench seat split 40/20/40. The narrow center section features a large fold-down armrest with a compartment big enough to hold a laptop. We've found both the cloth and the leather seats comfortable, and the previously flabby side bolsters have been beefed up in the '06 redesign. The driving position is good, with good visibility in all directions, though the aerodynamic front end makes it impossible to see the front corners. Big mirrors on the Ram make it easy to see what's behind.
The seats, along with the dashboard and a lot of interior trim, have been redesigned for 2006. We found the bucket seats in a 2006 Sport model we drove very comfortable and supportive. We really liked the sporty fabric, which looks durable. Laramie models get silver trim adorning the door panels and instrument bezels. Laramie comes with distinctive leather trim, with higher-contrast color seat inserts.
The Ram interior shows attention to details that add utility and convenience. The big fold-down center armrest/console comes with adjustable dividers and a power outlet. A hook on the passenger-side floor well is provided for securing a plastic grocery bag or anything else with suitable handles. Premium amenities such as the full-screen GPS navigation radio, Bluetooth hands-free communications are available, along with a rear-seat DVD system for Quad Cabs. We found the navigation radio to be a nice design and relatively easy to operate; these systems are getting better all the time and the latest Chrysler Group's systems work quite well.
We found most of the Ram's interior materials to be of good quality, and Dodge is clearly working to improve the few that aren't. The available faux wood surface on the center stack has been upgraded this year; it looks okay, though it's clearly not wood, partly because of the way it's molded around the nooks and crannies. White-faced instruments with turquoise numbers look sporty and trendy, but don't offer the legibility of traditional white-on-black designs, particularly at dusk. The top brow of the instrument panel has been extended for '06 to provide better glare protection in bright sunlight. At night, the instruments are nicely illuminated in green.
Three-point shoulder belts are provided at all locations, including the rear center seat. Power adjustable pedals let shorter drivers adjust their seating position better so they aren't sitting so close to the airbag. This improves comfort, safety, and drivability. Power adjustable pedals are optional on ST, SLT, and Sport; standard on Laramie and SRT-10; they're a smart choice for two-driver families because they allow shorter drivers to move farther away from the airbag-armed steering wheel, reducing the chance of airbag injuries.
Side-curtain airbags are optional and we strongly recommend getting them. These curtain-style airbags are designed to provide head protection in a side impact along with protection in the event of a rollover; head injuries are the leading cause of death in side impacts. The Ram was awarded the highest possible rating in the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's offset frontal crash test. The SRT-10 does not offer side-curtain airbags, but instead offers door-mounted side-impact airbags on the Quad Cab version designed to provide torso protection in a side impact.
Overall, the center dash is a paradigm of convenience. Large heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) buttons can be operated while wearing gloves. A textured fa. All Ram pickups offer unusually wide, roomy cabs with lots of storage. The Mega Cab's interior space is nearly identical to that of a Quad Cab with the exception of rear legroom. The Mega Cab adds some 22 inches of cab length to the already-wide interior, taking second-row spaciousness beyond any previous concept. The Mega Cab's rear seats offer 44.2 inches of legroom, compared with 36.7 for a Quad Cab. And there is room for the rear seats to recline, tilting up to 37-degrees for added comfort. The rear seats also have their own separate rear air conditioning and heat outlets, reading lights and a center armrest with cup holders.
DVD entertainment for rear seat passengers is available, with wireless headsets and integrated game ports. Behind the passengers is a power sliding rear window for flow-through ventilation. Because of the added length of the second-row seating area, the air bag system had to be redesigned with larger side curtain air bags. Each side air bag has its own impact sensor in order to trigger the air bag on the side where impact occurs.
From the driver's seat, the view is of a wide center stack with large knobs and buttons, precisely finished with consistent angles and cut lines throughout. The instrument panel cluster, revised for 2006, is located under a more prominent dash brow to reduce glare and improve visibility of six white-faced gauges. A substantial four-spoke steering wheel houses cruise control buttons and available stereo controls. Rectangular, slat-type air vents close flush.
There is a marked distinction between the SLT and Laramie trim levels. In SLT trim, the dash is textured plastic. The Laramie package makes extensive use of wood trim inside, with less use of plastic, for a more distinctive appearance.
The seats are generously padded and proved to be comfortable, especially the six-way driver's seat in the Laramie, which can be shifted around as any particular position becomes tiresome on long trips. The leather upholstery adds a rich appearance to the interior of Laramie models. With the optional front bucket seats, a new center console extends from the dashboard.
Everything about the Ram screams full size. Even those of us used to operating domestic pickups and tow vehicles will be taken aback by the Ram's imposing size. Inside the cabin, it is a long reach to hand something across the console to a passenger, and there would be no hope of leaning across to open the passenger door, or grab something from the opposite door pocket. Interior door handles are large and heavily built, consistent with the large size of the Ram doors.
The cabin is loaded with nicely sized trays, slots and pockets. It seemed there was always a safe place to put something down, yet keep it within easy reach. The center console is big enough for a laptop, and is designed with fold-down dividers.
The optional 5.8-inch navigation screen is surrounded by buttons and knobs. With the standard front bench seat, a very wide center console flips up to allow makeshift center seating. There is additional storage under the front seat.
Several power outlets are provided for the front seats. The dash power outlet is ignition switched, while the cigar lighter is always on, so we used it to charge a cell phone. A third outlet is available in the center console.
Testing the rear seat was a defining moment. One passenger, six-feet, three-inches tall, had no problem stretching out completely with the rear seats reclined. A rear-seat passenger spent an entire day with us, and declined to move up front at the halfway point.
Getting in the Mega Cab requires a big step up, but the rear doors swing open almost 90 degrees, so access is easier for people or cargo. Behind the rear seats is even more storage, in the form of bins that are designed to accommodate tools or sports equipment.
We found the optional seven-speaker, 384-watt Infinity sound system to be remarkably good for a truck.
The Dodge Ram has a pleasant ride quality, even when empty. Like all full-size pickups, it rides better with a some weight in the bed. New shear-type body mounts on 2006 models isolate the passenger compartment from vibrations that reach the frame. (These mounts consist of two concentric tubes: one bolted to the frame, the other bolted to the body structure, with internal steel reinforcements and rubber bonded in between. Dodge claims they provide direction-specific response, as well as a quiet cabin and comfortable ride.) Also new for '06 are laminated front-door glass, improved door seals, and extensive use of Polymer Constraint Layer (PCL) sound insulation. Dodge says this all results in a significant 5 decibel reduction in sound level in the cabin. Our impressions of a 2006 Sport model support this claim.
Ram's rigid chassis minimizes road vibration. The new frame on 2006 models is fully boxed and, like the old one, is hydroformed. (Instead of having to weld a bunch of straight pieces together, hydroforming uses ultra-high water pressure to force the metal into shape.) This highly rigid frame is a key component to the ride and handling of the Ram. It allowed Dodge engineers to redesign the Ram suspension and tune it precisely, without having to work around a lot of chassis flex. Rack-and-pinion steering sharpens handling, and a new steering rack for '06 provides more precise steering feel. Big 17-inch wheels are standard. The result overall is that the Ram offers responsive handling, a comfortable ride, and a general feeling of tightness.
The Ram is a big truck and on narrow roads it feels big and tall, with broad fenders that seem to fill small country roads. The ride height of the Ram adds to this sensation. It's sometimes difficult to be sure exactly where your fenders are because you can't see them, so it's not the best vehicle for the timid. In this regard, the Ram is at the opposite end of the spectrum from the 2006 Toyota Tundra, which feels small and nimble by comparison. Quad Cab models add 20 inches to the wheelbase and a long bed adds another 20 inches, so a Quad Cab long bed is a long truck, riding on a 160.5-inch wheelbase. It's long on roominess and utility, but not the easiest to turn around.
That said, the Ram handles reasonably well and powers through or over just about anything, even when the tires aren't always precisely where you intended to place them. Springs, jounce bumpers, and bushings are all re-tuned to provide better handling for '06, and all models now feature monotube shocks for more precise control of body motions. Additionally, 4WD Rams now ride on a new coil-over-shock front suspension, replacing last year's torsion bars. (In general, torsion bars absorb hard impacts better than coil springs, but are harder to tune for smooth, progressive action.)
All Rams come standard with big four-wheel disc brakes that are smooth and easy to modulate.
As mentioned, a choice of engines is available for the Ram. The 4.7-liter V8 was until recently the most popular choice among Ram customers, but in 2005 it was surpassed in sales by the 5.7-liter Hemi V8, which is now ordered in nearly half the Rams that Dodge makes. In the three years since its debut, Chrysler has produced more than 1 million Hemi-powered vehicles and it's no wonder that the 5.7-liter Hemi V8 has become the Ram's most popular engine choice. Fire up the Hemi, let it idle, and it burbles like the good old American V8 it is, recollecting the sound of a mid-'60s muscle car. Yet in spite of the Hemi name's long heritage, there's nothing old or outdated about this engine. The first Chrysler Hemi was decades ahead of its time in 1951; half a century later, most state-of-the-art, multi-valve, multi-camshaft engines use some variation on its hemispherical combustion chamber. Chrysler totally reengineered the Hemi in 1964, stretched it to 7.0 liters, and saw its legend soar. The Dodge Ram Mega Cab feels like a big, heavy duty pickup because it is a big, heavy duty pickup. All Rams are wide, and on small, rural roads oncoming traffic sometimes required us to edge away from the center line to create comfortable passing for both parties.
Parking a truck as big as a Mega Cab requires some care, and some experience. We found it necessary to execute three-point turns into most parking spaces and sometimes to get out and look to check our final position. This, even with a very quick 2.75-turn steering ratio that helps maneuvering at low speeds.
The steering has been improved on all the Rams. The 2WD Mega Cab comes with rack-and-pinion steering, while 4WD models come with a recirculating ball system. We found a minimum of bump steer and relatively precise tracking, not easy to engineer on a tall 4x4.
We noticed right away that the use of laminated window glass and re-designed door seals has cut down on wind noise, inherent in big pickups with wide mirrors. The interior is remarkably quiet, even as we ran the air conditioning, which offers minimal fan noise on the lower settings. With any pickup, especially a 4x4, a certain amount of noise and vibration is to be expected.
We were quite comfortable in an all-day drive in a Laramie model through historic Civil War towns of Virginia. We drove on state roads and byways, through Leesburg and Manassas, Delaplane and Carpathian. We passed gracious historic estates, with rolling hills, grazing horses and green grass. There were quaint towns and the occasional churchyard, with continuous split-rail fencing following the two-lane roadways.
With the heavier spring package that comes on 3500 models, we noticed some vibration leaking through to the cabin as we passed over rough railroad tracks and bridged creek crossings, but overall, found the chassis to be well damped, with a nice balance between the opposing priorities of comfort, control, and load-bearing capability. As a general rule, the more weight a heavy-duty pickup carries, the more the ride improves.
The 5.7-liter Hemi V8 is rated at 13/17 city/highway mpg in the 1500 with the automatic transmission. The Hemi is a heavily built overhead-valve, pushrod V8, with a cast-iron block and hemispherical combustion chambers. It develops 345 horsepower at 5400 rpm. Like any good truck engine, it makes more torque than horsepower, delivering 375 pound-feet at 4200 rpm. The redline is set at 5800 rpm. In 4x4 trim, the 5.7-liter gets a 13/17 mpg EPA rating, when matched with the automatic. The Ram 2500 and 3500 models aren't subject to EPA testing.
The vaunted 5.9-liter Cummins Turbo Diesel is a straight six-cylinder fitted with an intercooled, turbocharged induction system, with fuel delivered via an electronic high-pressure common rail system. The advantage is additional torque, 610 pound-feet that comes on at just 1600 rpm. This engine has a reputation for reliability. The Cummins is not EPA rated, but it has been known to deliver around 20 mpg on the highway, give or take a few, when driven steadily, as in use with a tow vehicle.
The Cummins responds extremely well to part-throttle acceleration at low speeds. It's a remarkable engine, more like a medium-duty motor home power plant. The gas V8 is quieter, but the Cummins is the heavy-duty king. There is so much extra torque available; we never really needed engine speeds above 2000 rpm with just three people in the truck. Hauling heavy loads, or jumping onto a crowded freeway are the only times we would expect the Cummins to need full throttle. And it responds well in this situation. We stood on it to merge into some fast traffic in Michigan and were surprised and impressed by its responsiveness.
The Mega Cab is designed to tow and haul, so we tested the Cummins 3500 Mega Cab (single rear wheel with trailer brakes) by hauling an 11,200-pound horse trailer using a gooseneck hitch. The truck itself weighed 7200 pounds, for a Gross C.
The Dodge Ram offers big power and big capabilities. It's responsive and comfortable as an everyday driver and it's ready to do some serious work when called upon. Ram's distinctive styling, tweaked for 2006, makes it stand out in a rapidly improving field. Ram Quad Cab models offer a brilliant combination of comfort and utility. Even Regular Cabs are generously roomy and are thoughtfully set up to accommodate gear behind the seat. The responsive 4.7-liter V8 delivers good acceleration and gets the job done; it's paired well with a five-speed automatic transmission that's smooth and responsive. The 5.7-liter Hemi delivers strong acceleration performance and is an excellent choice for towing; its real-world fuel economy should improve with the new MDS system. The V10-powered SRT-10 makes you feel like you're qualifying for a NASCAR Craftsman Truck race.
New Car Test Drive editor Mitch McCullough reported from Los Angeles, with Sam Moses in San Antonio. John Katz contributed to this report. The Dodge Ram Mega Cab is designed to be the flagship of the heavy haulers. The Ram Quad Cab may be big, but the Mega Cab is bigger. It has the power and weight to tow heavy loads for long distances. And there is comfort for passengers in the process. For better ride and handling, the 2WD 1500 Mega Cab will be the choice. For best control handling heavy loads, the 3500 Mega Cab 2WD with Cummins would do the job. For heavy hauling, and accessing rough terrain when you get there, the 4x4 Mega Cab 3500 would be just the ticket.
New Car Test Drive correspondent John Stewart filed this report from Manassas, Virginia. NCTD.com editor Mitch McCullough contributed to this report.
Dodge Ram 1500 Regular Cab ST 2WD SWB ($20,800), Regular Cab ST 4WD SWB ($25,055); Quad Cab SLT 2WD LWB ($27,920); Regular Cab Sport 2WD SWB ($29,210); Regular Cab Laramie 2WD SWB ($29,220); Quad Cab Laramie 4WD LWB ($35,970); Regular Cab SRT-10 ($47,605); Quad Cab SRT-10 ($51,810). Dodge Ram Mega Cab 1500 SLT 2WD ($31,860); 4WD ($35,080); Laramie 2WD ($36,995); 4WD ($40,175); 2500 SLT 2WD ($34,165); 4WD ($37,280); 2500 Laramie 2WD ($39,260); 4WD ($42,375); 3500 SLT 2WD ($39,510); 4WD ($42,600); 3500 Laramie 2WD ($44,605); 4WD ($47,695).
St. Louis, Missouri; Warren, Michigan; Saltillo, Mexico. Saltillo, Coahuila, Mexico.
Options As Tested
5.7-liter V8 ($995); anti-spin differential ($285); 3.92 axle ratio ($50); H Package ($960) includes seven-speaker Infinity audio, 6-CD changer, MP3, and Sirius; Protection Group ($140) includes tow hooks, skid plates; trailer tow package ($335); heated front seats ($140); under-rail bed liner ($245). side airbags ($490); 4-speed automatic transmission ($1,095); bucket seats ($490); navigation radio ($1,595); anti-spin differential; clearance lamps ($80); tow hooks ($50); skid plate for transfer case ($45); trailer mirrors ($100).
Dodge Ram 1500 Quad Cab Laramie 4WD SWB ($35,640). Dodge Ram Mega Cab 3500 Laramie 4x4 ($47,695).
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