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2003 Dodge Ram Heavy Duty Review - First Look

Posted in Vehicle Reviews on November 1, 2002
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Photographers: Daimler Chrysler Corporation
Visually, the new Dodge Ram Heavy Duty pickups aren't much different from the standard Ram 1500, when in reality they're quite different. The frame of the Heavy Duty is unique to the model, and two new engine options, the Hemi V-8 and the high-output Cummins diesel, offer gobs of horsepower and torque for towing and hauling.

The winding rural road west of Chelsea, Michigan was narrow and sporadically potholed as we zipped along in a prototype '03 Dodge Ram Heavy Duty dualie pickup. The rearview mirrors of the truck were filled with the image of the long gooseneck trailer and big strapped-down pickup we were towing-not to mention an aggressive tailgating gravel truck. We were clearly engaged in what seemed like real work-truck stuff, yet inside the Ram Heavy Duty, things were very untrucklike as the suspension soaked up the rough road and the Cummins diesel easily put some distance between us and the annoying gravel truck.

Our sneak peek at the new '03 Dodge Ram Heavy Duty pickups actually began at the DaimlerChrysler Chelsea Proving Grounds, which sits surrounded by a 10-foot-tall security fence that leaves no room for debate about the fact that the vehicle research and development going on inside is none of anybody's business, at least until the vehicle involved is formally unveiled. Once inside the Fortress of Fun we got our first look at the truck that DaimlerChrysler hopes will thrust the company squarely into the heavy-duty truck market. Visually, it doesn't look a whole lot different than the Dodge Ram 1500, but hidden beneath the sheetmetal are a number of brand-new upgrades designed to increase durability and allow for increased towing and hauling.

The foundation for the new Heavy Duty pickups is the completely new frame, which is more robust, and features thicker-gauge construction and larger box sections than the Ram 1500. The new frame gets a beefy new rear axle (10 1/2-inch ring gears on 2500 models and 11 1/2-inch ring on 3500 models) with helical-gear limited-slip differential and a new front axle (with 9 1/4-inch ring gear). The standard axle ratio is 3.73:1 with a 4.10:1 ratio available. Each axle sports large 13.9-inch-diameter disc brakes, which allow the Ram Heavy Duty to claim the largest brakes in the heavy-duty segment. The four-wheel-drive Heavy Duty pickups benefit from an all-new recirculating-ball steering system that improves on-center steering feel. This system also creates the quickest steering ratio in the industry-2.75 turns lock-to-lock. The rear suspension is equipped with leaf springs that are 3 inches longer than those of the old heavy-duty Dodges. The 2500 model uses two-stage springs with three leaves, while the 3500 model has a three-stage spring design with three leaves. Up front, both the 2500 and 3500 models feature a five-link, coil-spring suspension that offers 7 1/2 inches of wheel travel.

Two new engines make their debut in the Ram Heavy Duty. The all-new 5.7L Hemi Magnum is the standard engine. It produces 345 hp at 5,400 rpm and 375 lb-ft of torque at 4,200 rpm. Its features include aluminum cylinder heads with hemispherical combustion chambers, two spark plugs per cylinder for fast, efficient combustion, and a direct-ignition system with high-power coils. For you diesel fans, the all-new, high-pressure common-rail injection, high-output Cummins turbodiesel engine allows the Dodge Ram to claim "most powerful diesel engine on the market" in its class. The 5.9L inline-six engine produces 305 hp at 2,900 rpm and 555 lb-ft of torque at 1,400 rpm, and boasts a claimed major-overhaul interval of 350,000 miles. This engine contributes to the Ram Heavy Duty's class-leading towing capacity of 23,000 pounds (GCWR).

During testing, the Ram Heavy Duty dualie-powered by the new 5.9L Cummins yanked the 10,000-pound truck and trailer around almost effortlessly, and the engine's thick flow of power allowed us to briskly pass semi tractor-trailers on a long grade on Michigan's I-94 without holding up the fast-moving passing-lane traffic. Interestingly, the Ram Heavy Duty seemed to take on a whole different persona when we drove a new Hemi-powered model. Maybe it's the throaty grumble from the tuned exhaust, the conservative yet eye-grabbing Hemi badging, or the engine's growl and seat-of-the-pants pull at 5,000 rpm, but the engine seemed to transform the truck from work truck to play truck.

The bottom line is that the new Ram Heavy Duty sports a significant quantity of new items that set it apart from the Ram 1500, and these changes seem to guarantee it a position as a front-line soldier in the heavy-duty truck wars.

A Pair Of Purpose-Built Ram 1500s
Taking The 1/2-Ton Further
Not to be outdone by its big brothers, the Dodge '03 Ram 1500 Series sees the introduction of two new trim levels, "Work Special" and "Off Road." Besides the requisite new badging, these models get loads of extras that give them unique market appeal.

Folks looking for a light-duty truck with the ability to work hard may consider the '03 Ram 1500 "Work Special" package. It features a steel rear bumper, color-coded front fascia, gray grille surround and steel wheels. The Work Special package is offered in two- and four-wheel-drive versions, regular and quad-cab models, and can be ordered with either the 215hp 3.7L Magnum V-6 or the 240hp 4.7L Magnum V-8.

The Ram's "Off Road" package takes an already capable 4x4 to the next level with several important additions, starting at the contact patch. The package adds 17x8 aluminum wheels and LT275/70R17 Goodyear Wrangler AT/S tires. The Off Road package also features a 3.92:1 final-drive ratio and a limited-slip differential. Skidplates protect the transfer case and the front and rear axles. Further additions for the trail include tow hooks, foglamps and a heavy-duty cooling system. This package is offered in regular or quad-cab models. Available powertrains include the 4.7L Magnum V-8 and the 5.9L Magnum V-8.-Gabriel Sheffer

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Vehicle model ’03 Dodge Ram 2500/3500
Estimated price N/A
Type, base 5.7L OHV Hemi V-8
Horsepower @ rpm 345 @ 5,400
Torque @ rpm 375 lb.-ft. @ 4,200 rpm
EPA city/freeway mpg N/A
Transmissions NV4500 manual five-speed
overdrive (standard with all engines except
Cummins diesel engines);
NV4500 HD manual six-speed overdrive
(standard with Cummins diesel engine)
NV5600 manual six-speed overdrive
(standard with high-output Cummins diesel)
Axle ratio 3.73 (standard, all models),
4.10:1 (optional, all models)
Transfer case NV271 (standard, all models),
NV 273 (optional, all models)
Low-range ratio 2:72:1
Front Live axle, four-link, track bar, coil springs,
antiroll bar, gas-charged shock absorbers
Rear Live axle, leaf springs, gas-charged
shock absorbers, (auxiliary springs added
on 3500 series
Front 13.9 x 1.26-inch vented disc with
twin-piston sliding caliper, ABS
Rear 13.9 x 1.18-inch solid disc with
twin-piston sliding caliper
Wheels (in.) 17x7.7
Tires P245/70R17E
Weight (lbs.) 8,650
Wheelbase (in.) 140.5
Overall length (in.) 227.7
Overall width (in.) 79.9
Height (in.) 74.4
Minimum ground clearance (in.) 8.0
Maximum towing capacity (lbs.) 8,650
Seating 3
Fuel capacity (gal.) 34

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