On the surface, the '06 Ram appears much the same as the '05 version that was launched in 2002. But subtle as the differences might appear, they're important. Physically, the latest Ram has been treated to a new front fascia, including headlamps, fenders and a tasteful new chrome grille. To the casual observer, the already over-the-top look now conveys added brute force and toughness, not bad attributes considering the predominantly male target audience that ultimately buys pickup trucks.
The Ram's body and pickup bed are now attached to a stiffer frame that, according to Dodge, helps improve both ride refinement and handling characteristics. Four-wheel-drive models now share the same double-wishbone front suspension as 4x2 models, replacing last year's torsion-bar setup with coil springs. In addition, steering modifications are intended to make the Ram go where it's pointed in a more precise manner.
The overhauled interior features redesigned seats, instrument panel, floor console along with measures to reduce infiltration of road and wind noise.
Lurking beneath the Ram's massive hood is one of a trio of familiar motivators. Light-duty pickup buyers can go with a modest 215-horsepower 3.7-liter V-6, while anyone requiring extra thrust can select either the 235-horse 4.7-liter V-8 or top-grunt 345-horsepower 5.7-liter V-8. The latter, dubbed the "Hemi,"deactivates half its cylinders under light-load and coast situations. The system is claimed to reduce fuel consumption by up to 20 percent.
A six-speed manual transmission is the basis for the 3.7 V-6 and 4.7 V-8 , with a four-speed automatic optional on the 3.7 and a five speed automatic available with the 4.7. Hemi-equipped models, the choice of nearly 50 percent of all Ram buyers, can only be ordered with the five-speed automatic.
Of course, four-wheel-drive is an option on V-8 Rams, but this year the system is of the "on-demand" variety and can be activated by simply turning a knob on the instrument panel.
As if to underscore its serious attack on the light pickup category, Dodge has created the "Mega Cab" body style, which features significantly larger rear doors that provide access to a living-room-like rear seat that reclines up to 37 degrees, in addition to regular and four-door Quad Cab units. The back seats on Mega-Cab and Quad-Cab models can also be folded for use as a storage/transportation platform.
As with the Ford and General Motors competitors, the Ram is a rolling platform of constant change, new ideas and improvements. All the serious tinkering, tweaking and stretching that has gone into the 2006 offering will no doubt make more heads tilt in Dodge's direction in its battle of one-upmanship with heavy-hitting domestic competitors.
Copyright 2006, Wheelbase Communications