2004 Dodge Ram 2500 Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
Hemi V8 and all-wheel drive available.
The Dodge Ram represents an excellent choice among full-size light-duty pickups. That's saying something considering the renaissance of all-new pickups from Ford and Nissan for 2004, along with strong entries from Chevrolet and GMC, and a new Toyota Double Cab. It would not be an overstatement to call 2004 the best model year for full-size pickups in the history of the automobile. The competition is better than ever, but so is the Ram, which stands tall among its competitors.
Completely redesigned and re-engineered for the 2002 model year, this latest-generation Dodge Ram boasts high levels of refinement and comfort. It's smoother and more comfortable than the previous-generation models. Its interior is more convenient than before and the bold exterior styling looks terrific. Changes for 2004 only improve the Ram's impressive towing and hauling capabilities.
A new Hemi V8 engine brings more power and efficiency to the Dodge Ram line of pickups. Added late during the 2003 model year, the 5.7-liter Hemi replaces the old 5.9-liter V8, increasing power by 100 horsepower and 40 pounds-feet of torque while improving fuel economy by 10 percent. Dodge claims the Hemi makes the Ram 1500 lineup the most powerful mass-production light-duty pickup on the market. More important than claims, it is an exceptionally good engine, smooth and very responsive. Adding to the responsiveness of this engine is a new five-speed automatic transmission. A Tow/Haul transmission mode has been added for 2004.
A new full-time four-wheel-drive (all-wheel-drive) system is available for 2004 that improves traction in slippery conditions. The Laramie trim package has been upgraded for 2004, and new options have been added, including a Bluetooth-enabled cellular telephone.
Dodge Ram is available with two cab configurations, Regular Cab and Quad Cab (no extended cab). Quad Cab models ride on a wheelbase that's 20 inches longer than comparable Regular Cab models. Quad Cab adds $4,200 to $5,200 to the retail price.
Two bed lengths are available, a 6-foot, 3-inch standard bed and an 8-foot long-bed. Ordering the long bed adds 20 inches to the wheelbase. Therefore, a long-bed Quad Cab is a long truck, long on roominess and utility, but not the easiest to turn around. Long-bed Rams also get a bigger fuel tank, 35 gallons in place of the standard 26-gallon tank. Long beds add $300-$350 to the price.
Three engines are offered: Most popular is the 4.7-liter V8, a modern overhead-cam engine. The most powerful engine in the line is the new 5.7-liter Hemi V8, which uses with hemispherical combustion chambers for improved airflow and burn. The new Hemi produces 345 horsepower and 375 foot-pounds of torque. When properly equipped, that increases the towing capacity to 9200 pounds and payload by an additional 500 pounds. The 5.7-liter Hemi adds $795 to the price. For those who want maximum economy, there's a 3.7-liter V6 available, but only with two-wheel drive.
A five-speed manual transmission is standard with the 3.7-liter V6 and 4.7-liter V8. Optional is a five-speed automatic ($1,170) that includes an alternate second gear for hill-climbing and towing. The five-speed automatic is more responsive than four-speed automatics.
Three trim levels are available: ST, SLT, and Laramie. ST is the base level, starting at $19,420. It comes standard with air conditioning, but is equipped with wind-up windows, manual door locks, and vinyl upholstery. This is the trim grade you buy for other people.
SLT adds $1,700-$3,200, depending on cab style and driveline. It comes standard with the 4.7-liter V8, and adds cloth upholstery, nicer interior trim, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a host of convenience items, and wider tires. This is the grade you buy for yourself.
Laramie, the luxury package, brings leather seating surfaces, dual-zone air conditioning, a premium stereo, 17-inch cast aluminum wheels, and a long, long list of luxury features. For 2004, the Laramie package adds an all-chrome grille surround and chrome billet grill center. Laramie retails for $7,800-$8,900 more than the base level.
Sport trim features body-colored grille, bumpers and side moldings, and includes fog lights and 17-inch aluminum wheels, and is available for most models. Aggressive street-rodder 20-inch wheels and tires are also available.
Option packages include an Off-Road package ($870-$1,405) 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 shocks, tow hooks, fog lamps, and a heavy-duty cooling system. A Work Special package is designed to deliver affordability with gray bumpers, grille, and 17x7 steel wheels. A new hands-free cellular telephone system is available for 2004 that uses Bluetooth technology. There's also a new integrated radio/navigation system available.
New for 2004 is the Dodge Ram SRT-10, an outrageous pickup with 500 horsepower and 525 lbs.-ft. of torque. Its V10 engine, a new bored and stroked aluminum engine block taken from the Dodge Viper, displaces 505 cubic inches. The Ram SRT-10 boasts a custom-tuned suspension that drops the ride height 1 inch in front and 2.5 inches in the rear. New front and rear strut assemblies and a rear sway bar were added to handle the increased cornering loads. Bilstein mono-tube shock absorbers, performance-tuned springs, and unique aerodynamic aids are designed to keep the Ram SRT-10 planted at high speeds, along with 22-inch wheels fitted with 305/40 R22 Pirelli Scorpion tires for extra adhesion. The brakes are modified with new 15-inch rotors in front and Ram Heavy Duty 14-inch rotors in the rear; front and rear brakes fea.
The Dodge Ram presents a bold, distinctive appearance with its big horse-collar grille and Freightliner fenders. The basic look goes back 10 years, but received a major redesign for 2002. Modern and contemporary, the current design improved on the best of the previous, ground-breaking design. We think it looks terrific. The Dodge Ram is arguably the best-looking pickup in an increasingly spiffy field. Deep Molten Red has been added to the pallet of exterior colors for 2004.
Few grilles are as instantly recognizable as the massive horse collar grille of the Ram. The color of the grille provides some trim-level identification: The outside rim is all chrome on the SLT model, with a gray honeycomb center. 2004 Laramie models boast a new chrome grille and are further distinguished by chrome bodyside moldings. Sport trim includes a body-color surround and cross hairs with unique chrome billets in the center.
Moving rearward, the Ram presents robust appearance. The broad, sloping hood has a pronounced crown that falls over the sides to the prominent front fenders. A fast, raked-back windshield enhances aerodynamics and water management, and gives the Ram a modern appearance. 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 reduce wind noise, and a channel has been specially designed to keep water off of the mirrors. An integrated air dam aids engine cooling and air conditioner performance.
The standard bed length is 6 feet, 3 inches, but an 8-foot bed is available for both Quad Cab and Regular Cab models. The longest model is the Quad Cab with 8-foor bed, which rides on a 160.5-inch wheelbase; that's 20 inches longer than short-bed Quad Cab or long-bed regular cab models, which increases the turning diameter by 6 feet; but it's just 3 inches longer than Ford and Chevy long-bed extended-cab models. Regardless, Ram beds are fitted with boat cleats designed to handle 1,000 pounds each.
Rams sit relatively high off the ground, particularly the four-wheel-drive models. Tailgate load height is 35 inches on four-wheel-drive models, 33.6 inches on two-wheel-drive Rams. That's seems high when trying to heave heavy gear aboard.
The most noticeable exterior feature of the new 2004 Dodge Ram SRT-10 is a unique hood that features a wide power bulge and scoop sitting atop the signature cross-hair grille.
The Dodge Ram is among the roomiest of the full-size pickups and its cab is a pleasant place to be. Dodge added 3 inches to the cab's total length when the Ram was redesigned for 2002, stealing that space from the bed. 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 comes 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, though they could use more support on the side bolsters. Laramie models get an updated interior for 2004, with silver trim adorning the door panels and instrument bezels. Laramie comes with distinctive leather trim, with new, higher contrast color seat inserts.
We've found the interior materials in Rams to be good quality overall, though all is not perfect in Truckville. The faux wood trim on the center stack reminds us of plastic. On leather-trimmed models, cloth is used on the inboard seat-bottom trim where leather would have offered a cleaner appearance. The cup holders can be fussy. However, the Ram interior is quite nice and 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 grocery bag or anything else with suitable handles. A new steering wheel with a four-spoke design has been added for 2004. 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. At night, the instruments are nicely illuminated in green.
Three-point shoulder belts are used at all locations, including the rear center seat. The 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 and is a smart option for two-driver families. Big mirrors on the Ram make it easier to see what's behind.
Side-curtain airbags are a $390 option on Regular Cabs, $490 on Quad Cabs. Curtain-style airbags are designed to provide head protection in a side impact along with protection in the event of a rollover. We highly recommend them. The Ram was recently awarded the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's highest possible rating in its off-set frontal crash test.
The design of the audio system could be improved for ease of use. Sometimes you have to search for the right button to press. Setting a button for a station, for example, requires pressing a separate Set button, rather than just holding the station button down. Small, sliding bass and treble controls are harder to adjust than knobs when bouncing around in a pickup truck. Optional steering wheel audio controls ($75) improve this situation with brilliantly designed buttons behind the steering wheel that are easy to use. Likewise, cruise controls ($390, including tilt steering) on the steering wheel are easy to operate.
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 fabric is used for trim around the audio and HVAC controls that gives the center dash a nice look and feel. Just below the HVAC controls is a slot lined with a rubber mat that's perfect for a wallet. A big panel below that folds down with adjustable cup holders. Overhead is a console with an effective pair of map lights, a trip computer, a compartment for sunglasses, and a compass, which every self-respecting truck should have.
Regular Cab models come fitted with a tray behind the seats big enough to hold a large bucket. Dodge even supplies the bucket, a tray designed to carry tools and such. Big hooks behind the seats.
The new 5.7-liter Hemi V8 gives the Dodge Ram responsive performance. Fire up the Hemi, let it idle, and it burbles like a good old American V8, sounding like an engine in a cabin cruiser or '60s muscle car. In spite of the hot-rod term 'Hemi,' there's nothing old or outdated about this engine. It does, indeed, have hemispherical combustion chambers, but this is a thoroughly modern engine. Apparently, Dodge was researching ways to gain power and fuel efficiency and reduce emissions, objectives that often run counter to one another. While studying some of the older powertrain designs, Dodge engineers rediscovered that swirling the fuel-air mixture around a hemispherical combustion chamber achieves a clean, efficient burn. Though it's an overhead-valve design, the Hemi features twin spark plugs, direct ignition, and electronic throttle control. It achieves the holy grail of engine improvement, increasing power while improving fuel economy at the same time. Power is up by 100 horsepower over the 5.9-liter, torque is up by 40 foot-pounds, and fuel efficiency is improved by 10 percent. The Hemi generates 345 hp at 5400 rpm and 375 lbs.-ft. of torque at 4200 rpm. It comes with a new five-speed automatic that adds to its responsiveness and flexibility. Punch it and you know you've got a Hemi under the hood.
The popular 4.7-liter V8 delivers responsive performance as well, though it doesn't offer the trailer-towing torque of the 5.7-liter. With the 4.7, the Ram feels eager around town and on winding roads. It accelerates quickly onto freeways and has no trouble powering up grades. It's a smooth, sophisticated engine that always feels ready to go. The 4.7-liter V8 and 3.7-liter V6 are overhead-cam designs, smaller and more efficient than the overhead-valve engines they replace. The 4.7-liter V8 achieves good fuel efficiency (13/17 mpg City/Highway for a 4WD automatic). It revs higher than an overhead valve engine and generates 240 hp and 295 lbs.-ft. of torque. The 4.7-liter V8 feels smooth and refined, emitting a pleasant American burble while underway. We really liked it. An optional five-speed automatic improves the responsiveness of the 4.7-liter engine.
The 3.7-liter V6 is smooth and works well with the manual five-speed gearbox. If you don't live in the mountains where long grades and high altitudes conspire against you, then it may offer enough power as a light-duty truck. It's not the best choice for pulling trailers or heavy loads, however.
The Ram has a pleasant ride quality, important on long days. It's much smoother than the previous-generation Ram. A rigid new chassis reduced vibration dramatically. Dodge uses hydroforming to fashion the frame. Instead of having to weld a bunch of straight pieces together, hydroforming uses ultra-high water pressure to force the metal into any shape needed. 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 to tune it precisely, without having to work around a lot of chassis flex. A new rack-and-pinion steering gear sharpens handling, though we've noticed some on-center vagueness. 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 like one. It feels big and tall, and its fenders 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, 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 Toyota Tundra, which feels smaller and nimbler by comparison. 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.
The Dodge Ram offers big power and big capabilities. It's responsive and comfortable as an every day driver and it's ready to do some serious work when called upon. Ram's distinctive styling makes it stand out in a rapidly improving field.
Ram Quad Cab models offer a brilliant combination of comfort and utility. Regular Cab versions are far roomier than they used to be, 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 new five-speed automatic that's smooth and responsive. The new 5.7-liter Hemi delivers strong acceleration performance and is an excellent choice for towing.
Dodge Ram 1500 4x2 Reg ST SWB ($19,420); 4x2 Reg ST LWB ($19,705); 4x2 Reg SLT SWB ($22,425); 4x2 Reg SLT LWB ($22,710); 4x2 Quad ST SWB ($23,580); 4x2 Quad ST LWB ($24,450); 4x2 Quad SLT SWB ($26,185); 4x2 Quad SLT LWB ($26,465); 4X4 Reg ST SWB ($23,330); Dodge Ram 1500 4X4 Reg ST LWB ($23,670); 4X4 Reg SLT SWB ($25,845); 4X4 Reg SLT LWB ($26,185); 4X4 Quad ST SWB ($27,370); 4X4 Quad ST LWB ($27,700); 4X4 Quad SLT SWB ($29,255); 4X4 Quad SLT LWB ($29,585).
St. Louis, Missouri; Warren, Michigan; Mexico.
Options As Tested
5.7-liter V8 ($795); 5-speed automatic ($1,170); anti-spin differential ($285); Package 29 H ($4,775) includes leather-trimmed seats, split rear seats, dual-zone air conditioning, keyless remote entry, security alarm, power adjustable pedals, AM/FM/CD/cassette w 7 Infinity speakers, steering-wheel audio controls, deluxe overhead console, folding cargo load floor, sliding rear window, auto-dimming rearview mirror, woodgrain instrument panel trim, P265/70R17 tires on 17x8-inch cast-aluminum wheels, four-wheel ABS, 4WD electric transfer case, tow hooks, fog lamps, bright/body color grille, skid plates; Sport appearance group ($170) includes body-color trim; trailer tow package ($465); heated front seats ($140); tonneau cover ($290); under-rail bed liner ($245).
Dodge Ram 1500 4x4 Quad Cab SLT ($29,255).
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