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2003 Dodge 2500 Quad Cab 4 x 4

Retro Power

Dodge uses its newest power plant to hearken days of old.

Mention the Hemi engine and people old enough to remember it will smile and nod knowingly. The very name stirs a vivid memory in each of us, as if we could actually hear a ’70 Hemi Cuda blasting down the drag strip, leaving two thick ribbons of rubber on the asphalt and a dense cloud of tire smoke.

The new Hemi boasts 375 pound-feet of torque and 345 horsepower. That’s one pony per cubic inch, and it marks a technological leap from when the engine design first appeared in Dodge’s lineup—when Harry Truman was president.

Smooth and powerful, the new engine went through Dodge’s reliability program in which it accumulated the equivalent of more than 10 million miles. It features the same hemispherical combustion chambers, which provide better air flow and allow the use of larger valves. Unlike previous models, the new fuel-injected Hemi comes with electronic throttle control, two spark plugs per cylinder and a coil atop each plug lead for more complete combustion and better idle quality. The crankshaft is made of nodular iron, comes fully balanced and rests in an iron block in cross-bolted steel main bearing caps.

Seems like a pretty beefy setup, which is good because this engine loves to rev. It makes peak horsepower at 5,400 rpm and the tachometer-indicated redline is 5,600 rpm. It also makes lots of torque—375 pound-feet to be exact—which should be good news for towing trailers, but because peak torque comes in at a lofty 4,200 rpm, it’s too high in the power band to really be helpful.

For example, when towing a 27-foot Formula powerboat up a 7 percent grade at 55 mph, the transmission kicked down to second gear, which left the tach hovering at, you guessed it, 5,400 rpm. Torque should come in sooner, when you can use it. Oddly enough, using smaller valves likely would lower the peak torque in the rpm range.

However, that’s about the only complaint we had with the engine in its current form.

On flat terrain, the Hemi more than held its own with a boat in tow. At 60 mph, 1,800 rpm was all it took to maintain speed. Bumping the cruise control up to 65 mph yielded 1,950 rpm. Despite the low rpm, the Hemi isn’t what we’d call miserly. Around town without the boat, we never did get better than 11 mpg with it because, well, we drive like you do. And with a boat in tow, it was single digits. Chevron here we come.

On the highway, the ride was surprisingly good for a three-quarter-ton truck with four-wheel drive. It is firm, without a doubt, but not harsh, and certainly better than you’d expect. It also was stable, due in part to the truck’s four-wheel-drive running gear and significant curb weight: 5,954 pounds. When the truck and boat weights are as close as possible, it helps keep the boat from tugging around the rear of the vehicle. In this case, there was only about a 2,000-pound differential.

Even with more than 13,000 pounds to stop, the four-wheel disc brakes were fantastic, which came as no surprise. We’ve praised the Ram for its brakes before and this one is no different. Power is awesome and the feel is precise because the truck reacts within the first quarter inch of pedal travel. You always know where you are with this system. Antilock works as it should, but during one panic stop on dry pavement, it chirped the tires pretty hard and the truck ended up a little askew in the lane when it came to rest.

The five-speed automatic transmission it came with is good, but could use a bit of tweaking to make it as good as it can be. For example, shifts were fine for daily use, but a little mushy with a trailer in tow and second gear seemed to hang in there forever, even when you lifted off the throttle. But all those traits were not too bothersome and could be cleaned up with a little ECM remapping and some valve work in the transmission—something to hope for in future models.

We did try the four-wheel drive system in low and high range and it worked well, with a nice tight feel to the powertrain and substantial grip.

Dodge engineers and designers also left little to be picky about in the interior. In short, this truck works. From the cavernous center armrest that has fold-down dividers and a 12-volt power outlet to the comfortable heated leather-wrapped seats, and steering wheel. We’re still not wild about the unlighted cruise-control switches, but we love the giant cupholders that flip out of their own hatch in dash, the white-face gauges and the HVAC controls for right and left front-seat passengers. They’re electronic with the right amount of manual control.

The interior shows a lot of attention to how people acutally use trucks. The interior is comfortable for tall and short alike, with virtually infinite electric adjustment of the eight-way driver’s seat. It’s enough to make a Ford or a Chevy fan think twice about their next truck. It’s that good.

In fact, in 20 years, the Dodge Hemi Ram might prove to be good enough to trigger fond memories thick black stripes of rubber on the pavement and smoky burnouts—which it does just fine. Honest.

SPECIFICATIONS

PERFORMANCE
Fuel Consumption:
Towing...        >10 mpg
Non-towing...      11 mpg

Acceleration:
0-60 towing...   18.80 seconds
40-60 towing...   9.67 seconds
0-60 non-towing...    8.27 seconds
40-60 non-towing... 4.54 seconds

POWERTRAIN
Engine... 5.7-liter (345 c.i.d.) hemi V-8
Horsepower...   345 @   5400 rpm
Torque...  375 ft./lbs. @ 4,200 rpm
Compression ratio... 9.6:1
Transmission... electronically controlled five-speed with overdrive

CHASSIS
Axle ratio... 4.10:1
Fuel capacity... 34 gal.
Tire size... LT265-70-R17
Brakes... four-wheel disc with antilock
Suspension... Front: live axle with coil springs and trailing arms; Rear: five leaf with live axle
Tow rating... 10,900 lb.
Gross Vehicle Weight Rating... 8,800 lbs.
Gross Combined Weight Rating... 17,000 lb.

DIMENSIONS
Overall length... 227.7"
Maximum width... 79.9"
Wheelbase... 140.5"
Curb weight... 5,954 lb.
Base price...$29,830
Price as tested... $38,075

TRAILER TOWED
8,000 lbs.

INFORMATION
Customer service... 800-423-6343

Web site... www.dodge.com

 

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