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2500 Heavy Duty Dodge Ram HEMI

By Mike Cohn

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On To The Test Truck!
The truck we got for our road tests was a 2500HD Quad Cab, 4 Wheel Drive, Short Box, in Laramie trim and Patriot Blue paint with the standard 5.7L HEMI engine. Base price was $29,830 but the Dodge website now shows it to be $30,305. Options included a limited slip differential in the rear, 4.10 gear upgrade ($50), and 5-45RFE five-speed automatic ($1170.00).

When our pickup was delivered, it's massive size was immediately apparent. Standing 78.5 inches tall, our truck measured 227.7 inches long and 79.9 inches wide, with a 140.5 inch wheelbase. All this added up to about 6,000 pounds.

2003 Dodge Ram Heavy Duty HEMI
2003 Dodge Ram Heavy Duty HEMI

Climbing up into the very roomy Quad Cab, we knew this truck meant business. With a very commanding view of the world around us, the Ram sits high - really high - and there's plenty of room for even the biggest hoss on the ranch. Adjust the electric seats and you can make yourself sit even higher - even with a 30X Stetson on your noggin.

The Laramie Ram has leather seating for six and has four full doors - the rear doors opening nearly a full 90 degrees. The front seat is a 40/20/40 split bench with hidden storage underneath and a massive center armrest that's big enough to house a laptop computer. Appointments include a factory bedliner, first-in-class side curtain airbags ($490), in-dash single CD/cassette player, sporty white-face guages, seat heaters ($140), adjustable pedals, and fake wood dash accents. Once configured, the truck as tested was $37,470.

Where Dodge has always fallen short in our eyes is their interior trim. The leather does not cover the whole seat (one side is fuzzy cloth), and it just seems to be lower-grade leather. For the price, a finer leather would be in order. Compare the Ram interior to the GMC/Chevy and you'll understand. In addition, the very flat and plasticy dash and trim pieces of the Dodges are always a minus in our book.

OK, so the interior isn't as luxurious as the competition, perhaps, but the name of the game at Dodge is more focused on work than play. So let's see what this new Ram is really about.

That thing got a Hemi?
We know why he's grinning

A quick turn of the key and the HEMI came to life. Vrooom! We knew this wasn't an ordinary pickup and we hadn't even seen the television commercials yet.

Even without seeing the commercials, we knew the HEMI would score high on the ol' fun meter. Leaving the parking lot, we gave a quick jab to the accelerator pedal. The pedal was heavy - real heavy. It was as if the truck knew something we didn't - something big.

Rounding a corner to a long straight-away, we stomped the pedal to the floor. The truck inched forward for a split second as the transmission kicked down, then the bed torqued over to the right side just a bit before pinning us to the back of our seats. Hold on! The HEMI roared like a caged lion and the huge tailpipe rumbled like an earthquake as we shot like a rocket down the straightaway. WOW! They weren't kidding! This was going to be a very fun week.

The following week really was a lot of fun. We found ourselves racing unsuspecting cars from stoplights and pushing the Ram to its outer edges every chance we had. The big truck drew a lot of attention to itself. I mean, how could anyone ignore it, right?

What was so interesting about this big Ram was how much better it drove than it's little brother, the 1500, which we had for a week earlier in the year. The 1500 we had was also a Quad Cab and ran on giant 20" wheels. The difference in how the two trucks drove was astounding. Typically, people tend to prefer the ride of a 1/2 ton truck over the 3/4 ton and one ton varieties. The ride of the bigger trucks is usually a lot harsher and trucky. This, however, wasn't the case with the Ram HD - not at all. The 1500 had a real tendency to dive during long turns. The steering was twitchy and over-sensitive. Coupled with the tall wheels, the truck felt like it was constantly on the edge of losing control.

2003 Dodge Ram Heavy Duty HEMI
2003 Dodge Ram Heavy Duty HEMI

The 2500, on the other hand, was a beautifully solid, well-tracking pickup - perhaps one of the best we've driven. Coming from a long-time Chevy man, this was the last thing I expected to say. Acceleration was smooth during normal driving (as opposed to our stomping the gas pedal) and we found the five-speed automatic to be a very nice driver. Steering was tight and the truck stayed on-track and went exactly where we wanted it to go and only when we wanted it to go there. This combined with the fact that we could fly through long curves while accelerating and not lose our lane gave the 2500 two very-certain thumbs up in the handling department.

The great handling when empty was a perfect starting point for a truck that was built to carry heavy loads. Earlier, we mentioned the change to the suspension and how the new setup makes the truck much more stable. Our particular test truck was rated to tow 10,900 pounds, so having a steady tow rig when towing a load like that is a huge win for the Dodge boys.

Despite our dislike for the materials, the cavernous interior of the Ram proved to be quite comfortable. During the week, the truck was used for general commuting to the office, picking up stuff at the store and also taken on a two-day road trip. During the road trip, the seats proved to be comfortable once you fiddled with the adjustments for a while and got them just right. The electrically-adjustable pedals proved to be a nice touch when switching drivers, as well.

During the several hundred mile trip, the truck drove wonderfully. Wind noise was minimal and the stereo did a great job of drowning out the roar of the HEMI - if you really wanted to turn off the truck's own music, that is. Extended periods of 80-90mph in the truck on the Interstate were no problem. The truck tracked excellently and drove very smoothly, other than a bit of driveline vibration in the 80-85mph range.

Another nice aspect was the fold-flat floor in the rear of the cab. When you flip the rear seats up, the floor deck smoothly folds out, providing a flat surface.We had a ton of luggage with us and this feature really helped us pack in our stuff while keeping it level - especially nice with open boxes.

2003 Dodge Ram Heavy Duty HEMI
2003 Dodge Ram Heavy Duty HEMI

Around town, the Ram proved to be quite nimble for its size. Stomp the gas and the HEMI would jump to attention on the on-ramps and while dashing through traffic. Turning, changing lanes, and even parking were made easy by excellent response and gigantic mirrors. Besides, who in their right mind wouldn't get out of the way of a truck this size roaring behind them?

There was one time and one time when the Ram let us down, and that was at the mall parking deck, where it was simply too tall to enter. It did make it in another deck, though, earlier, but do keep it's height in mind if you need to park in a garage or deck. If so, you'd be smart to get measurements before test-driving this truck. It's a bigg'n.

So does it sound like we enjoyed the HEMI? OH YEAH! So much so that we really didn't want to give it back when the folks from the fleet service came to pick it back up.

If you're in the market for a full-size (and we do mean full-size) pickup, you owe it to yourself to have a look at the Dodge 2500HD HEMI. The combination of the new exterior styling of the Ram and the new motor are a real hit with us and the way the truck drives was its crowning glory. If you do a lot of towing, you should, perhaps, have a look at the diesel model, but if you want to run on gasoline and you want a nimble, agile truck, than the HEMI should be at the top of your short list.

Say it with me again.

"HEMI"

Sweeet.