Limo seating for six with solid-axle performance
Dodge just introduced its biggest cab ever in a pickup truck-four monster doors and an interior spacious enough to throw a party. Dodge achieved this colossal 4x4 (and available two-wheel-driveversions) by taking the dimensions of the 160.5-inch wheelbase Quad Cab with an 8-foot bed, and stretching the cab by nearly 2 feet and slapping on a 6-foot 3-inch bed, along with a new frame and suspension and of course the redesigned sheetmetal the entire Dodge truck line received this year.
Dodge based the Mega Cab series on the 3/4-ton (2500 series) for the 1/2-, 3/4-, and 1-ton models; yes, you get a real, solid-axle, eight-lug axle for the front of the 1/2-ton (1500) series. That's right, an eight-lug 1/2-ton pickup, subsequently making your registration fees less (in California a 3/4-ton is considered a commercial vehicle), but you can still tow 8,400 pounds of trailer.
Overall the look of the new sheetmetal is full-on Dodge big-truck styling, but with a bit better flair and shape, and the interior abounds with new amenities and a fresh look. In fact, the 60/40 seating availability and the load-folding features in the rear seat make this a truly functional pickup. We even snatched some quality ZZZs on the reclining rear seats while trundling around the windy roads of Virginia, and found it just right for our 5-foot 9-inch sleeping position.
But underneath is the big news that even the Dodge marketing types completely missed, while the engineers knew full well what they could get away with without raising corporate ire about a "rough riding" solid-axle front suspension. Dodge was the last OE manufacturer to wimp out and slap the relatively worthless, yet "smooth riding, carlike" independent front suspension into its 1/2-ton trucks back in 2001 when Version II of the big-truck body style debuted. Dodge aficionados around the globe bemoaned the change to IFS on the 1500 series, as they wanted their trucks to ride like a truck, not a car. However, we found this Version III Ram 1500/2500/3500 Mega Cab to have a very smooth and compliant solid-axle feel, with the stability of a real truck already built in. The 3/4- and 1-ton versions are a bit more robust than the 1/2-ton in the suspension department, but they can haul substantially heavier loads as well. Fitted with the 5.7L Hemi only on the 1500, Hemi or Cummins diesel on the 2500, and the Cummins only on the 3500 (1-ton), these trucks can tow and play hard. In fact (although the NV273 transfer case is electrically shifted), these trucks are built plenty tough and are only limited by the mongo wheelbase, which sort of destroys any ramp breakover angle needed for recreational four-wheeling. We couldn't take them off road on this first introduction, even though they provided us with a 1/2-ton solid-axle truck. Instead, we had to spend our days cruising high-end horsey places and towing horse trailers, which makes marketing sense for the spacious cabin of this limo-like work truck. But just before press time we snagged a 3500 for the weekend, and used it as the Dodge engineers intended: as a real truck that has real room for six adults in comfort, a real engine, a real axle in a 1/2-ton, and that can tow real 4x4s to the trail head in class and comfort. Really.
Real Important Stuff
2006 Dodge Ram Mega Cab 4x4 1500/2500/3500 Pickup
Real solid front axle
Real five-link coil suspension (front)
Real recirculating ball steering
Real Hemi or Cummins engine
Real auto or stick tranny
Real 3.73 or 4.10 axle ratios
Real four-wheel disc brakes
Really expensive ($35-$55K)
Another new offering from Dodge is the all-new 1500 Ram 4x4 (non-mega cab), with revised and refined (so they say) IFS front and solid-axle rear, but monotube shocks and a new NV243 part-time transfer case or an NV246 on-demand part-/full-time transfer case, which features a 2 Hi and an auto position for full-time 4WD. More importantly, the 5.7L Hemi now features the MDS cylinder deactivation system, which is touted to be more fuel efficient than the regular Hemi. We did note that the noise level inside the 1500 was as quiet as the Mega Cab, as they both use Polymer Constraint Layer (PCL) steel which deadens road noise, as well as better body mounts, door seals, and laminated front door glass for a quieter ride.
But the real big news is almost a secret for lack of a marketing blitz so far, as the photo from Dodge clearly shows the TRX4 Off-Road decal, yet we've seen no associated advertising. Strange. Hopefully we'll soon see how the off-road package of a limited slip, modified suspension, skidplates, and tow hooks actually work. Our 4x4 of the Year test (scheduled for next month's issue) is slated to have the Dodge Ram 1500 TRX4 Off-Road package truck included, so we'll fill you in on the details as we delve into the test.