SANTA BARBARA, Calif., -- I was walking down a path to dinner here with an executive from Dodge. In a lament that was almost palpable, he said "the new Dodge is the best truck we've ever made but it's the wrong time."
Indeed, the bottom has fallen out of the full-size light truck market in the wake of gasoline which sells for more than $4.00 a gallon for regular here. This is no time to be launching a pickup truck. But once you get so far in developing a product, there's no choice but to go ahead and launch it lest billions of development dollars are lost.
Thus, we get a new Dodge Ram pickup that will be followed shortly by a new pickup truck from Ford. But first let's talk about the Ram. Its better, a lot better than the truck it replaces. The 2009 Dodge Ram uses a coil-spring rear suspension with a solid axle which Dodge said provides improved ride and handling with no loss of capability.
During my drive here, the Ram rode smoothly even when I traversed rough pavement. Don't get it twisted, the Ram is a truck but it has been refined. Indeed, Dodge engineers and designers spent more than a year researching the new Ram before they actually did anything.
The truck was really quiet. We had a Laramie Crew Cab model. I was impressed that both front seats were powered. The truck had the clearest, most readable instrument panel I had run across in a long time. The steering was responsive, the new Ram had French stitching and the front seats were really comfortable. An engineer said they spent a lot of time working on the seats and it showed.
The new Ram was equipped with satellite radio, a hands free phone system, USB jack and auxiliary jack and a rear seat entertainment system with satellite TV. But since I was in the front seat I never got in the back seat to check out the system.
The new Ram can tote up to 1,850 pounds and tow up to 9,100 pounds. But that's just the beginning. To understand pickup trucks is to understand variety. First, the Ram can come in either two-wheel-drive or four-wheel-drive models.
There are three cabs: regular, quad and crew. Three engines: a 5.7 HEMI that makes 390 horsepower, a 4.7-liter V8 that makes 310 horsepower and a V6 engine that makes 215 horsepower. And two transmission choices: a four speed and a five speed automatic.
The five trim levels – ST, SLT, TRX, Sport and Laramie – can be outfitted with three different sized truck beds: 5'7", 6'4" and 8'. Four gear ratios are also available: 3.21, 3.55, 3.92 and 4.10. But most of this stuff consumers do not see.
The folks from Dodge realize that the market for full size pickup trucks is shrinking. What they hope to do is get a bigger chunk of a smaller piece of pie. In other words, they want to and plan to conquest buyers from other pickup truck models. To do that, they've given the Ram some creature comforts and some features that consumers can't find anywhere else.
The HEMI powered Ram will get from zero to 60 mph in less than six seconds. Rams can be equipped with what Dodge calls RamBoxes. These are lockable storage compartments each rear fender that can hold 7.4 cubic feet of stuff.
Rams have triple-seal weather stripping, an electronic stability program, hill start assist, factory installed dual exhausts, heated steering wheel, a 30 gigabyte hard drive, 17-inch and 20-inch wheels and a wireless ignition node.
What's more, like most pickup trucks, the Dodge Ram can fit almost any size wallet. Starting prices begin at $22,170 for a 4X2 Dodge Ram ST.