Dodge Ups The Fullsize Ante Again ... But With $3 Gas,Will Consumers Embrace It?
When it debuted last spring at the Chicago Auto Show, the Dodge Ram Mega Cab wowed pundits and public alike with its mind-boggling array of tough-truck parts and towncar amenities. With fullsize pickup sales on the rise for five years running, and extended-cab four-doors the hottest-selling item in the segment, the Mega Cab seemed perfectly positioned to capture consumers looking for a monster tow rig and a luxury SUV in one rugged package.
Built at Dodge's Saltillo, Mexico, assembly plant, the Mega Cab shares most of the same mechanicals and underpinnings as the Ram 2500 pickup: 160-inch wheelbase on a steel ladder frame, solid AAM-sourced axles with coil springs and links up front and leaf springs in back, and either the 5.7L Hemi V-8 or Cummins 5.9L turbodiesel I-6 as available engines. Transmission choices include either the 48RE four-speed or 5-45RE five-speed automatics, or the G56 six-speed manual with 6.29:1 First gear. Four-wheel drive comes via an electric-shift NVG 273 transfer case with 2.72:1 low-range. The 1/2-, 3/4-, and 1-ton models are offered in two trim levels, with towing capacities ranging from 7,500 to almost 16,000 pounds and GVWs ranging from 8,500 to nearly 5 tons. In other words, pretty much like a Ram pickup.
Where the Mega Cab differs radically from its Ram brethren is in its capacious interior-all 143.2 cubic feet of it. To call the interior "huge" doesn't do this thing justice. It's 20 inches longer inside than a Ram Quad Cab, with 44 inches of rear-seat legroom and the first-ever reclining rear seats to be found in a pickup truck. The rear doors open to near-perpendicular (88 degrees), and with the rear seats folded down, 72.2 cubic feet of rear cargo space is on tap for passengers and gear.
We had a chance recently to spend a day driving (and riding in) a new MC. Wanting to make the most of our time, we hopped into the manliest Mega we could get our hands on-a 9,900-pound-GVW Cummins 3500 in Laramie trim-for a leisurely jaunt through the Virginia countryside. We were immediately impressed by the road manners evinced by the MC's reengineered suspension. The coil-spring/five-link front remained noticeably firmer and upright when tracking in corners than what we'd experienced with previous 1-ton Rams (even with our stiff,E-rated Michelin LTX tires), and rack-and-pinion steering feel was nicely balanced, with only traces of detectable understeer. The unladen AAM 1050 rearend barked a bit under severe throttle-mash, but the retuned rear leaves, working in accord with new-for-'06 monotube shocks, delivered a smoother ride and much less feedback through the cab than we'd have normally expected from an unladen 1-ton. Brake feel was a tad sluggish at first, but then again, we were driving a 7,400-pound truck-and a hydro-assisted diesel at that-so our stopping distances tended to improve as the Cummins (and the vacuum booster) warmed up throughout the morning. Long story short, our Mega Cab rode and handled like a much lighter vehicle.
We also managed to get in a bit of towing, using our MC to pull a 24-foot horse trailer (sans glue fodder) down rural two-lanes and small-town streets. Neither the Cummins nor the 48RE had any trouble giddying up and maintaining road speeds under the 4,000-pound load, but braking distances increased somewhat, and some discernible dive-and-wobble was felt when stopping on downgrades. (Note to self: Don't brake so hard next time.) We'd love to see some sort of factory-issue brake controller on the MC, such as the TowCommand system found on Ford Super Dutys, but all told, the Mega Cab handled the towed load acceptably.
The Mega is much quieter than previous Rams too, thanks to extensive use of laminated window glass-which cuts out a lot of road noise, particularly for back-seat riders-as well as sound-deadening polymers in the A-pillar, and thicker external weatherstripping. So what didn't we like? Well, the onboard navigation system is not the most intuitive we've ever used; our tester's highback buckets were on the stiff side (though not nearly as bad as the Durango SUV); and there's no backup warning system when engaging Reverse-vehicles this big should have them as standard equipment.
As our time was short, we didn't get a chance to take the Mega Cab off-pavement-which was fine with us, really, since dedicated trail use is not what this truck is designed for. That's not to say you couldn't 'wheel an MC, and fairly hard-with stout solid axles and a sweet 70:1 creeper gear (with the six-speed and 4.10s in the pigs), we imagine the big Dodge would fare pretty well on any trail it would fit on. But this truck is built to work hard and play elegant, to haul heavy loads, tow a fifth wheel, and transport passengers in DVD style.
Still, we have to wonder: With fuel prices now nearing $3 per gallon, will consumers be so quick to embrace such a big (read: gas-hungry) truck? Common sense would tend to argue against it-but while fullsize SUV sales have slowed of late, fullsize pickup sales have shown no signs of flagging. DaimlerChrysler has confounded the skeptics before-and if there's an OE manufacturer that's proven that it can transform a sleeper into a runaway hit, it's the brain trust at DCX. Keep an eye on these pages-we'll trail-test a Mega Cab in an upcoming issue.
Vehicle/model: 2006 Dodge Ram Mega Cab
Base price (4x4 models): $32,760-$40,410
Engine(s): 5.7L Hemi V-8/5.9L Cummins TD I-6
Transmission(s): 5-45RE five-speed auto/48RE four-speed auto/G56 six-speed manual
Transfer case: NVG 273
4WD system: Part-time two-speed electric shift
Low-range ratio: 2.72:1
Frame type: Steel ladder
Suspension, f/r: Five-link, coil springs/leaf springs with overload leaf; monotube Shocks.
Axles (2500/3500): AAM 9.25-inch/AAM 10.50-inch
Axle ratio: 3.73:1-4.10:1
Max crawl ratio: 70.15:1 (with six-speed and 4.10s)
Steering: Power rack-and-pinion
Brakes: 13.9-inch discs; four-wheel ABS
Wheels: 17x6.0 steel
Tires: LT235/80R17E Michelin LTX M+S
Wheelbase (in.): 160.5
Length (in.): 247.7
Height (in.): 78.7
Base curb weight (lb.): 6,082-7,520
Approach/departure angles (deg.): 26.5/27.9
Minimum ground clearance (in.): 7.7
GVWR (lb.): 8,510-9,900
Interior cargo volume (cu. ft.): 72.2
Bed dimensions, l/w/h: 76.3/51.0/20.2
Max towing capacity (lb.): 7,400-15,900
EPA mileage figures, city/hwy (mpg): N/A
Fuel capacity (gal.): 35