Each year we choose a winner in our annual 4x4 of the Year competition, and every year we wonder if the chosen one will prove its mettle over the course of the long-term test. The 2007 winner ofour test was the Dodge Ram 1500 TRX4 (Feb. '07), and we thoroughly flogged it in 4-Wheel & Off-Road style for more than 35,000 miles of on- and off-road abuse in less than a year. Of course, there were a few incidents/items/complaints/whinings that any vehicle will generate, but overall Big Red has been a stellar performer for us, and we're sure that we aren't the only ones who appreciate a truck like this.
Powered by the 5.7L Hemi engine hooked to a super-aggressive limited-slip rear axle, the truck can break loose the rear tires with ease for spirited on- and off-road driving without the annoying electronic nannies most new rigs are saddled with. Of course that means being a bit more careful in the rain as it's relatively easy to swap ends and directions if you don't pay attention, or don't know how to drive. Cops tend to look askew as well when the tires light up leaving a light, and the mileage figures suffer accordingly from the average of 15 mpg. In 4WD, especially low range, the Hemi provides all the power needed-we'd just rather have a stick tranny for better compression braking and control. Of course we'd rather have a solid front axle instead of the IFS design, but with the new coilover setup we've been able to attempt far tougher trails than the previous floppy front end afforded.
We don't test towing capability in our 4x4 of the Year test, but our real-world usage of these rigs dictates that we tow a lot. Easily a quarter of the miles racked up on the Dodge were while pulling our Carson trailer overloaded with whatever assortment of broken junk we had to transport-most of the time far exceeding the GVWR of the truck. However, the truck pulled every load without a whimper, even in the sand and mud without getting stuck. It must be magic, as some of the predicaments we managed to put ourselves into should have meant calling AAA or a helicopter recovery service, but we're still here to tell the story.
But of course there were complaints with the truck, ranging from how stupid the nav screen is to use (jumping from 1/2-mile to 2-mile increments) to searching the manual for instructions on how to change the clock (good luck) or turn off the horn when locking the doors (dealer only). Much of this comes from focus groups telling design guys how they want to make the trucks carlike. Maybe if we convince the same designers to make the cars more trucklike, we'd get real trucks again? Our front brakes have also started to pulsate a bit on hard stops with the trailer, but we didn't have a brake controller on the rig for 20,000 miles, so we figure that's mostly our fault.
However, our biggest complaint has to be the new CANbus wiring system common on most new vehicles. This state-of-the-art system allows one wire to do the work of 10 through multiplexing, providing less wires, weight, cost, and complexity. Supposedly. The issue starts when you modify anything electrical on the vehicle, such as removing the radio for an aftermarket unit. While we didn't try it, the theory is that if done as we normally would, some other system would fail to function, such as the power windows. In our case we kept losing our left turn signal on the truck after pulling a trailer with marginal wiring. Of course if you have a short in the trailer, you blow a fuse in the truck. Simply replace fuse, fix wiring, continue trip, right? Wrong. The load induced by the short makes the central control unit on the truck hack up a furball and mandate a computer reflash at the dealer, or outright replacement. Yeah, a fuse sure was easier, wasn't it? Get used to these systems in all new vehicles, not just our Dodge.
The bottom line on the Dodge Ram 1500 TRX4 truck in our book is simply bitchin'. We could whine all day about this little thing or that, but at the end of the day the Dodge hasn't let us down, and has endured more abuse than a regular owner would give it. While we never took it up Sledgehammer, we have taken it over tough rock trails, slogged it through mud, blasted across sand dunes, and chugged along mountain trails. We've slept in it, lived out of it, and grown quite fond of it, for a floppy front-end pickup. We've even entertained the idea of keeping it and doing some mods on it, unlike most 4x4 of the Year rigs we've had. We'll see what DaimlerChrysler thinks about that, and maybe you'll see it for another 35,000 miles as we try to keep it in our stables.