1999 Dodge Ram 3500 Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
Great styling, a new interior and four doors.
The introduction of the Dodge Ram Quad Cab shocked the automotive industry last year as the first full-size extended cab pickup with four doors.
Dodge was first, but the rest of the world is catching up: All Ford F-Series SuperCab trucks come with four doors this year. Chevrolet and GMC are expected to offer four doors on their all-new line of trucks as soon as next year. All of this makes 1999 an interesting year in pickup trucks.
There are a host of significant changes to the Dodge Ram line for 1999. Interiors have been given a thorough makeover. A passenger-side air bag that can be switched off is now available. A removable storage container has been added under the rear seats of the Quad Cab. Four-wheel anti-lock brakes are now standard on all 3500 models. And, as if you couldn't tell by how high they ride, 4WD tailgate graphics have been added.
The Dodge Ram is available in three load ratings: 1500, 2500, and 3500. Five engines are offered: the standard 3.9-liter V6, 5.2-liter V8, 5.9-liter V8, 8.0-liter V10 and a new Cummins 5.9-liter diesel inline-6. Every engine comes with a choice of 5-speed manual or 4-speed automatic transmission. Rams come with either two- or four-wheel drive. Short and long beds are available.
Both of the popular V8 engines were upgraded last year. The 5.2-liter V8 produces 230 horsepower, the 5.9-liter V8 generates 245 horsepower and an impressive 335 pounds-feet of torque.
For 1999, buyers will be able to get either a V10 gasoline engine or the Cummins turbo diesel in a 2500 or a 3500 series truck.
The new 24-valve Cummins 6-cylinder diesel engine produces more power, gets better fuel economy and requires less maintenance. Fuel economy is up five percent and service intervals are down to 15,000 miles. Power was raised from 215 horsepower to 235 horsepower on 5-speed models, with 460 pounds-feet of torque versus 440 last year. Automatics now have 215 horsepower, up from 180 last year, with 420 pounds-feet of torque.
Standard, Club Cab and Quad Cab bodies are available in LT, Laramie SLT, and SST trim levels. Regular-length beds are 6 1/2 feet long, optional long beds are 8 feet long. Improvements include a new keyless remote entry system, an upgraded base sound system, a new cassette and CD sound system option. Leather seats are available on SLT versions. A new Sport Plus package comes with 17-inch wheels and tires, suspension upgrades and a 5.9-liter V8 with sport exhausts.
A number of under-the-skin upgrades have been made, including electrocoated frame paint, and new exterior and new interior colors are available. The Sport package comes with a body-colored grille and front and rear bumpers, decals, fog lamps, outline white letter tires, and cast aluminum wheels. This year there is an even bolder front end with a new grille design and clear-lens lamps on the Ram Sport, and a new color, Solar Yellow, is added to the palette.
The new Quad Cab design is alleged to be as strong as a conventional pickup body shell even though it does not have a pillar between the doors. To improve structural rigidity, Dodge engineers designed a beam that runs laterally under the truck, and reinforced both the A and C pillars. Side door guard beams were also added to improve protection from side impacts.
The Ram Quad Cab is about cavernous space. It offers buyers a roomy interior with conventional front doors and rear-hinged rear doors. The absence of a B-pillar makes it much easier to get in or out of the rear seat; it also makes it much easier to stick something behind the front seats. The door handles for the rear doors are integrated into the front interior face of the door, providing a more secure dual locking system for all four doors when the rear door is locked.
The Dodge Ram's big, wide instrument panel has a more modern layout than the original design. This includes a new steering wheel design, a big storage compartment, an extra power point, and new cupholders designed to handle any commercially available drink container. For 1999, the Ram comes with reduced-force air bags with a lockout for the passenger side.
In the wide-open Quad Cab doorway, the designers have integrated the front seat belts into the seats themselves. Among other things, this gets rid of a lot of messy hanging belts. The console has also been redesigned. Other interior features for 1999 include heated power mirrors, illuminated power door locks and window switches, and an optional security alarm system.
The front seat in all Rams is divided 40/20/40, with a huge fold-down center section that doubles as armrest and writing table. The cloth-covered seats in our test truck were nicely upholstered, plush, supportive and comfortable. When no one is sitting in it, the center position provides a large storage box, with divided spaces for coins, cassettes, maps or a laptop computer.
The Quad Cab rear seat is the same one used in other extended cab versions. It's handy for children, pets and petite adults, but it is not comfortable for adults on long trips. The rear seat is fitted with two shoulder belts and one lap belt. The bench portion of the seat flips up out of the way effortlessly from either side for hauling tools or cargo.
For 1999, the power window option comes with an express-down switch on the driver's side. Steering wheel mounted radio controls are optional. There are two new overhead console designs, one with and one without trip computer. On all models, a new rotary headlamp switch replaces the former pull switch design on the left side of the dash. The instrument pod features a new vacuum-fluorescent odometer and trip odometer that are tamperproof, and there are new driver-programmable keyless entry key fobs.
Our Ram 2500 was fitted with the 5.9-liter V8 and a 5-speed manual transmission. This engine has a ton of torque and a broad power band, which makes it a great deal of fun to drive. This is a great engine for heavy-duty use. It's the best choice if you need to pull a trailer, but don't want the diesel or the fuel bills generated by the V10.
A 5-speed V8 pickup truck may not be ideal for commuting, but it's great fun for cruising. Passing is effortless; a quick downshift and you're by. The manual adds flexibility in off-road situations. The low-end torque of the engine and the low gearing in first and second gears make it easy to get around in all dirt and rock driving situations, especially negotiating downhill gullies.
Front suspension on a Ram 4X4 is a coil spring setup with four leading arms, a track bar and a stabilizer bar to keep the front axle assembly located fore and aft and side to side. Rear suspension is a conventional live axle with leaf springs designed to carry heavy loads. The suspension in our 2500 model was smooth and quiet on the street, aided by big Goodyear RT/S tires.
But the body is so high off the ground that some passengers -- particularly females -- had a great deal of entry and exit difficulty even with a grab bar on the A-pillar. The high ground clearance also makes loading and unloading cargo more difficult. For these reasons, we would consider the two-wheel-drive models unless we thought we would really need four-wheel drive.
A new steering gear design along with new steering geometry make steering much more precise than earlier models. Steering in the earlier Rams was light and quick, but had a lot of dead space on-center and seemed to require constant left-right adjustments.
Braking, with discs in front, drums in rear, was exemplary. The Ram stops quickly with superb straight-line stability.
The other thing that may have improved is the build quality. Our truck was free of squeaks, rattles and shudders, and everything about it seemed a bit tighter, a bit smoother, a bit more high-quality than previous models we've driven.
This four-door Ram is so terrifically easy to use for a group of four or five people that trucks are no longer thought of solely as work vehicles. Four-door pickups make good sense for so many families that they'll be as common as minivans in a few years. Dodge was the first to offer four doors, but its success has forced Ford, Chevy and GMC to follow.
Dodge offers an excellent package. Improvements to the instrumentation, new powertrain and body combinations have made it better. There's plenty of room for family hauling, plenty of ground clearance for off-roading, plenty of power, and plenty of style for just cruising around town or going to the beach.
Options As Tested
Package 23G (SLT decor, air conditioning, power windows, power locks, cruise control, power mirrors, tilt steering wheel, forged alloy wheels), light group, travel convenience group, trailer tow group, anti-spin differential, 4-wheel ABS, radio upgrade, bedliner, sliding rear window.
2500 4X4 Quad Cab.
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