Dodge completely redesigned the Ram for the 1994 model year, and in a very short time the Ram became a major player in the light-truck market. Now, in an effort to take an even bigger chunk of that market, the engineers at Dodge once again have completely redesigned the Dodge Ram--or at least its 1/2-ton version.
The new Ram's exterior is not a radical departure from the previous generation but rather looks like a more aerodynamic version of it. Most of our judges liked the new look of the Ram, and it was near the top of exterior scoring.
Our judges also liked what they saw when they moved inside the Ram 1500. The new interior is cleverly designed, and is very functional. An instrument panel with white-faced gauges is very easy to read and pleasing to the eye. Seating in the front was found to be a bit on the firm side but still comfortable, with plenty of adjustment. In the rear, taking three inches off of the bed and adding them to the cab created three inches of additional cab space. Access to the rear comes through nearly-fullsize doors, and the rear seating area of the Quad Cab is much bigger than that of other extended-cab pickups.
But how does the new Ram actually perform? Under the massive hood of our Ram was found the 4.7L V-8 that produces 235 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque. While this engine makes the Dodge Dakota and Jeep Grand Cherokee feel like hot rods, it wasn't up to the task of moving the big Ram around. All of our judges felt that it was underpowered, and each of them cringed at the thought of towing or hauling anything substantial with it. However, the rest of the drivetrain did receive high marks. The new-for-Ram 45RFE automatic had the right ratios, and behaved well. Our judges also enjoyed the easy-to-shift lever of the NV241 transfer case.
Out on the highway, the Ram made for a nice cruiser. Its soft suspension soaked up most road ripples and irregularities without any problems.
The Ram continued to impress us out on the trails. On our high-speed dirt course, the Ram's soft suspension absorbed everything well until the truck got into the whoops, where it was simply too soft to absorb the biggest impacts. In the dunes, the 4.7L V-8 was a bit overtaxed but the big Ram was still fun to sling sand with, as the massive wheelhop of the previous generation was greatly moderated. On slow-speed trails and in low-range the Dodge was truly in its element.
The soft suspension let the Ram float over obstacles without jarring the driver, and its well-working rear limited-slip never had the Dodge hunting for traction.The new Ram is definitely more refined and improved when compared to the previous generation. Its Achilles heel is the 4.7L V-8 engine, but the 5.9L V-8 is still available as an option. However, the rest of the truck is good enough to push it ahead of the competition and make it Four Wheeler's 2002 Pickup Truck of the Year.