SPECIAL REPORT

HEMI REINCARNATED

2003 Dodge Ram 2500 Regular Cab 4x4 Strong Performer

When we first cranked up the new HEMI-powered Dodge Ram Heavy Duty 4x4, the deep-throated exhaust tone that rolled out from underneath the floor brought an instant flashback of the Muscle-Car era.

Back in the heyday of the late-60s and early ‘70s, Mopar ruled both street and strip with its HEMI-powered ‘Cudas, Chargers, GTXs, Road Runners and Super Bees.

Dodges and Plymouths running the venerable 425hp, 426-cubic-inch HEMI consistently pulled down quarter-mile times in the low-13s and 0-60mph dashes under six-seconds, literally leaving Ford and Chevy big-block contenders in the dust. Their numbers are still impressive today.

In a nutshell, the HEMI established Dodge/Plymouth as the dominating force among the high-performance street crowd and die-hard drag racers in that era. If you were lucky enough to own one during that time, you were the coolest dude in town.

That is why the “reintroduction” of the HEMI Magnum V8 as the standard engine in the ‘03 Heavy Duty Dodge Rams, has created such a stir among the pickup crowd; a stir that is well justified.

 “We liked the elegance and simplicity of the HEMI design,” says Rick Schaum,  Executive Vice President, Product Development and Quality for Dodge Truck, “and it beats a dual overhead camshaft design in terms of torque and power for a heavy-duty truck.”

Granted, the reincarnated 5.7-liter HEMI Magnum is smaller than its 30-year-old namesake, displacing 345 cubic inches instead of 426. Understandably, it’s also less brutish in both torque and horsepower, producing 375 lb/ft of torque at 4,200rpm and 345 horsepower at 5,400rpm.

Yet those very numbers place the new HEMI as best-in-class among the small-block V8s currently offered in heavy-duty pickups. It is also the fastest accelerating and strongest towing of the lot. (That was the same status Dodge had when the 241cid HEMI was introduced into its 2-1/2-ton K-Model truck back in 1954.)

Pound-for-pound, the new HEMI Magnum generates the same muscle per-cubic-inch as its predecessor—and it does so with nearly double the fuel economy and only a fraction of the pollutants. State-of-the-art technology has brought the best of both worlds under the hood of the new Rams.

“This is one of the most technologically advanced engines ever engineered by the Chrysler Group,” says Floyd Allen, Vice President, Product Powertrain Team.

“Durability and power were key points for this engine, but the new 5.7L HEMI Magnum has such advances as a composite integrated air-fuel module and electronic throttle control. Its hemispherical head design allows the use of larger valves and provides better airflow to the combustion chambers.”

The HEMI Magnum also features direct coil-on-plug ignition system for each cylinders twin-sparkplugs, cross-flow aluminum heads, splayed valves, an off-set radiator with separate radiator for the AC, and, of course, the deep-throated exhaust.

BY THE NUMBERS

Our Ram Country test of the HEMI Magnum under the hood of a Dodge Ram Heavy Duty 2500 4x4 Regular Cab Long Bed proved the combination is worthy of note. The pickup we tested was optioned with the 5-45RFE five-speed automatic and standard 3.73 axle ratio. Compared to the 5.9L Magnum V8, the high-tech Hemi is a lot stronger while being more fuel-efficient.

(Outdoorsmen will find the 4.10:1 axle ratio a better choice for towing and overall performance.)

 “We were able to reduce emissions and gain approximately a 10-percent fuel-efficiency improvement [over the current 5.9-liter V8],” says Allen.

Our Ram managed 17.1mpg on the open road at 60mph, 15.6 at 65mph, and 14.8 at 70mph. City driving registered 12.4mpg.  (Dodge equips the long-bed Rams with 35-gallon fuel tanks so trips to the gas station are no more frequent than the family commuter car.) Being a little heavy footed, which you tend to do driving this Ram, or hauling a heavy load, drops the fuel numbers almost as rapidly as it accelerates from 30-60

Speaking of accelerating, a trip to the Gulfport Dragway, near our Long Beach, Mississippi, editorial office, revealed the HEMI definitely hasn’t lost its drag-racing heritage. Our Racelogic VBOX data-gathering equipment showed 0-60 times averaging 9.1 seconds and a ¼-mile time of 17.1 sec @ 82 mph.

That performance places the big Ram as one of the quickest 4x4 pickups on the road. The HEMI in the Heavy Duty Ram really shines at speeds between 30-70mph, where the transmission’s gearing maximizes its torque and horsepower.

ON THE ROAD

We spent more than a week driving the new Ram 2500 on back roads, city streets, and the open highway. What we found is the throttle control is very smooth, the steering light and quick, and the brakes the best we’ve seen in a full-size pickup.

“With the new Dodge Rams, we have designed trucks that take handling and braking to new levels for heavy-duty trucks,” explains Michael Berube, Senior Manger, Safety Planning and Programs.

“They are equipped with standard ABS braking systems, the largest standard brakes and tires in the heavy-duty segment, and all-new steering systems to provide the driver feedback and handling ability to avoid crashes. The adjustable pedals are also an important feature, as they allow drivers of all statures to optimize their seating position.”

Unburdened ride quality is what one would expect from a heavy-duty ¾-ton 4x4 with solid axles front and rear: jittery over rough sections, but not harsh. Put a 10-foot Lance camper or a cord of oak in the bed, or drop a 30-foot travel trailer on the hitch, and the heavy duty Ram 2500 4x4 turns into a luxury sedan.

We found the split 40/20/40 bench/bucket seat is very comfortable, and the interior the roomiest of any standard-cab pickup. The center seatback/fold-down center storage compartment is big enough to hold binoculars, cell phone, GPS and other small items one might bring on a hunting trip.

The dash is clean and instrumentation easy to read. The cup holders are large enough to handle the super-sized soft drink cups, and if more storage space is needed, there’s room in the door panel’s molded-in pockets.

Space behind the seat is also abundant; the elevated plastic storage shelf is a great place to keep items such as muddy hunting boots and small backpacks. It’s also wide enough to handle a gun in a hard case.

Overall, the Ram 2500 Heavy Duty Standard Cab 4x4 is a remarkable pickup. This particular model is a work truck that is designed to haul ass and haul a load at the same time. Not only does it have an abundant amount of power on tap, it is built to last as one can see when you look at the design of the frame rails and suspension.

At the same time, The Ram offers the type of roominess and creature comforts on the inside that make every trip enjoyable—especially when you step into the throttle and hear that exhaust sing. — Bruce W. Smith

Dodge Ram 2500 Standard Cab Long Bed 4x4 SLT

Base Price: $27,700

Price As Tested: $28,925

Engine:  5.7L HEMI V8

Horsepower: 345 @ 5,400rpm

Torque: 375 lb.-ft. @ 4,200rpm

Axle Ratio: 3.73:1

Transmission: 5-4RFE 5-speed automatic

Towing Capacity: 9,150 lbs.

Payload: 5,716 lbs.

Fuel Capacity: 35 gals.

Fuel Economy (observed): City 12.4/Hwy 17.1 (60mph)

0-60mph:  9.1 sec.

¼-mile:  17.1 secs @ 82mph

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