MIDDLEBURG, Va. -- Stone walls hemming lanes like Halfway Road leading out of Middleburg in Virginia Horse Country make a tight fit on the road for a sizeable vehicle like Dodge's big Ram truck with its new super-size cabin.
But big-ness is the point behind the design of this pickup, which carries the largest cab ever bolted onto the chassis of a truck and brings best-in-class interior room plus clever arrangements for utility stow space as well as luxurious appointments. Dodge calls this variation of the full-size Ram truck the Mega Cab.
The 2006 Ram Mega Cab begins with a heavy-duty long-box truck chassis out of the Ram 2500 Quad Cab with a wheelbase length of 160.5 inches. However, that 95-inch long-length box is replaced by a 76.3-inch regular-length box, leaving 18.7 inches of space to extend the rear wall of the cab.
This stretching of the cab creates so much space inside that backs of the rear seats can recline from 22 to 37 degrees for extra comfort, forging the first-ever adjustable back seats in a truck. The back seats also split in sections of 60/40 percent and each side folds down flat to convert the area into a vast cargo compartment with 72.2 cubic feet of space.
Even with both seatbacks upright, there's 7.7 cubic feet of stow space remaining behind the seat. The Ram Mega Cab also has the greatest flat-floor load area (16.8 square feet) and the biggest rear-door portals (34.5 inches wide by 35.5 inches tall).
And legroom for rear passengers resembles the space of a limousine -- it's more than 44 inches. The collection of Ram Mega Cab trucks consists of three different weight designations with 1500 (one-half-ton), 2500 (three-quarter-ton) and 3500 (one-ton) series plus trim tags of SLT and Laramie. Styled with a bold exterior form for the chin-forward face, the Ram Mega Cab trucks look strong and assertive -- and impossible to miss, should the image of one suddenly appear in your rearview mirror. A massive get-out-of-my-way prow dominates the design with the stair-step hood of a big-rig Peterbilt and a flat-faced horse-collar grille thrust forward and marked in cross-hair chrome.
More chrome underscores the grille on a fat-lip bumper etched with round foglamps at both ends. Passive safety equipment on the Ram Mega Cab trucks reaches beyond two frontal air bags to three-point safety belts for all seats, plus sets of tether anchors in the rear of the four-door for installing a child's safety seat.
Also, side curtain-style air bags -- the largest ever in the heavy-duty pickup truck class -- extend to all outboard seats, front and rear. The structural system is a ladder-type chassis that contains boxed rail sections shaped through hydroforming, a process which creates a strong and rigid platform.
Suspension and steering systems vary, depending on applications for rear-wheel two-wheel-drive (2WD) or four-wheel-drive (4WD) mechanisms. For 4WD the front suspension consists of a live axle with five-link arms and track bar plus coil springs and gas-charged monotube shock absorbers.
For 2WD, the independent short-and-long arm arrangement has suspension geometry dialed for greater movement, and there are links to coil springs and gas-charged shocks. The rear suspension, common to both 2WD and 4WD Rams, consists of longitudinal leaf springs with gas shocks and an auxiliary leaf added to the 3500 for heavier payloads and increased towing demands. Steering system for the 2WD Ram is a rack and pinion mechanism, rarely seen under the hood of a big truck. It produces quick and predictable turns with direct response from the steering wheel.
For a 4WD Ram, the recirculating ball system yields precise tolerances. As a result, it brings a keen on-center feel and responds fast due to a quick steering ratio. Brakes use huge discs at all wheel posts, with ties to a computerized anti-lock brake system (ABS). Regarding powertrains, the Ram Mega Cab trucks pack more than one punch.
Choices begin with a heavy-duty rendition of a fabled Chrysler HEMI engine design. The HEMI Magnum 5.7-liter V8 develops 345 hp at 5400 rpm and 375 lb-ft of torque at 4200 rpm. That muscle is distributed through an electronically controlled automatic five-speed transmission, the 545RFE. Dodge also offers awesome diesel power as an option on the 2500 Ram or the standard for the 3500 model.
The 5.9-liter in-line-six Cummins turbo-diesel delivers up to 325 hp at 2900 rpm and 610 lb-ft of torque at only 1600 rpm for maximum power and payload capability. It connects to a six-speed manual (G56-6) or four-speed automatic (48RE) shifter. With the diesel engine aboard a Ram 3500, the towing capacity climbs of 15900 pounds and the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) rises to 9900 pounds.
We drive the new Ram Mega Cab trucks in all three weight series and both engine options following a series of pavement and off-road routes wound through the Virginia Horse Country. Our seat-time experience reveals trucks equipped with more than enough muscle to power through any type of truck-tough chore, plus they seem smooth in suspension ride and downright easy to operate despite that big-ness in scale.
Trimmings for the trucks with upgraded SLT and deluxe Laramie editions show preferred standard equipment such as air conditioning, power controls for windows and door locks, a keyless entry device, overhead console and a four-speaker AM/FM/CD audio kit.
The Laramie edition carries premium gear such as leather upholstery, six-way power for the driver's seat plus heated front seats and dual-zone climate control, power controls for the sliding rear window, and upgraded audio gear with a six-disc CD changer. Optional equipment ranges from a navigation system to a power sunroof, adjustable foot pedals, a premium seven-speaker Infinity sound system and a rear seat DVD video entertainment system. The MSRP for a Ram Mega Cab 1500 begins at $31,860.