Friday, October 5, 2007

Dodge Ram has plenty of grunt factor

Graeme Fletcher, For CanWest News Service

It stands as tall as an elephant's eye and casts an imposing shadow across the urban landscape. It is the Dodge ram Mega Cab 2500. Aside from stretching a time zone or two from bumper to shiny bumper (it's 6,297 millimetres long and rides on a massive 4,077-mm wheelbase), it's the ride height that makes the pickup feel so large -- the hood line sits at shoulder height.

Clambering up to the driver's seat is a hike and a half; for those with shorter legs it takes a carefully planned two-stage climb -- one foot on the side step, grab the handle and swing up to the seat in one rather awkward motion.

Size, however, does have its advantages. It means those hogging the left lane scurry like roaches in the bright light of day whenever the oversized crosshair grille looms large in their rear-view mirror.

It also means a ton of space. With 1,123 mm of rear-seat legroom, plenty of width (2,022 mm) and reclining seatbacks, it transports three teens in unexpected comfort. There's also plenty of flexibility. With the rear seat in the upright position, there's 7.7 cubic feet of storage space in the cab.

Stowing the rear seat opens up 72.2 cu. ft. of cargo space. More importantly, all this space is easy to access and to load thanks to wide rear doors (876 mm) that open a full 85 degrees.

As for the box, the size of the cab limits length to six feet and four inches, although it does stretch out to a few inches more than eight feet when the tailgate is dropped down.

New for 2007 is a monster Cummins 6.7-litre turbodiesel that's married to a new six-speed automatic ($400) with a manual shift mode. With 350 horsepower and 650 pound-feet of torque on tap at 1,500 r.p.m., it has grunt to spare. It is an expensive option ($9,045), but if hauling a heavy load is the aim, it is the engine of choice. Mat the gas and the engine is transformed from a tough workhorse capable of pulling a 5,659-kilogram trailer to plain fast -- it hauls the pickup to 100 kilometres an hour in about nine seconds and does the 80-to-120-km/h passing move in eight seconds.

On the upside, the new engine is quieter than most large diesels when it's first started. That's to say it will only wake half the neighbourhood. On the flip side, it gets thirsty if most of your driving is around town -- the tester averaged 17.6 litres per 100 kilometres for the week.

The turbocharged power is relayed to the road through a part-time, shift-on-the-fly, four-wheel-drive system. I dislike the part-time design because of the constraints it puts on use. You can really only use it on a loose surface if you don't want to risk damage to the system. However, given the 2500's heavy-duty workhorse status, it is a compromise I understand.

As for ride and handling, both aspects are true to the heavy-duty truck. In order to support its payload, the suspension has to be on the stiff side.

The Mega Cab is firm but not to the point where it becomes a pain. Likewise, the pickup's size makes negotiating a faster corner a tiptoe affair, although the Mega Cab handles as well as many of its light-duty peers. The steering feels connected -- a bonus -- but the rear end and its live axle hop around too much when the road deteriorates.

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