2003 Dodge Ram Quad Cab 3500 Diesel
Have Diesel, Will Pull
Dodge’s 2003 Quad Cab 3500 with Cummins diesel power is as good as it gets.
In the movie Lethal Weapon 2, Mel Gibson tries to jerk a house down a hillside by attaching a cable to a support piling and attempting to snatch it away with a dually pickup. The camera shows him backing up the hill then barreling down the hillside full force, yanking on the cable and the support.
If he would have had Dodge’s new 3500 Quad Cab with its Cummins turbodiesel, all he would have had to do is put it in first gear and let out the clutch. The 3500 Quad Cab we tested, with a 5.9-liter Cummins turbodiesel, had enough horsepower and torque—305 and 555 foot-pounds, respectively—to tear down the house and drag the whole neighborhood with it.
With its mammoth towing capacity of 15,750 pounds, the Quad Cab 3500 is one of the strongest tow vehicles we’ve tested. Despite the massive torque and a wieldy six-speed manual transmission, it really is quite manageable.
That’s quite an accomplishment, given the sheer size of the truck and the mass of its running gear. The six-speed transmission comes with a long shifter, which makes it quite comfortable, ergonomically speaking. But, that tall stalk makes gear changes feel like you’re shifting a long chicken bone through a gate made of cartilage. Then again, trucks of this size aren’t known for precise gear boxes, so we can easily overlook that characteristic.
We can also overlook the ride, which was firm, if not a bit harsh. In fairness, if there’s a manufacturer out there that can build a truck that tows what the dually Dodge can and still offer a nice ride, we haven’t found it. A near 8-ton towing capacity has to come at a price, and if a stiff ride is all it costs, so be it.
Even with the added effort that comes with the manual transmission, Dodge’s 3500 Quad Cab with the high-output Cummins turbodiesel is perfectly suited for towing the big loads, so much so that we hated to give it back. A five-speed automatic transmission is available with the lower-horsepower diesel engine (235 hp in California, 250 hp everywhere else), but if you don’t mind shifting, you’ll probably find the extra 55 horsepower and the additional 95 foot-pounds of torque useful.
That added torque came in handy, especially at the launch ramp and stoplights on hilly terrain. Normally, it’s difficult to hold a hill with a manual transmission and boat in tow, but it’s a snap with this powertrain.
Just engage the clutch to the point that you see the tach needle dip a bit. When you release the brake with your right foot, the truck and trailer stay put and the engine isn’t even fazed. At the ramp, the low 5.63:1 first gear works great. Everywhere else, second gear is all you need to get the rig moving.
In fact, even with an 8,000-pound trailer in tow, you can let the hydraulically activated clutch out in second gear—without touching the accelerator—and this Dodge will go, with no stalling or jerking. Without a boat in tow, you can use the transmission as a four speed, starting off in third gear, if you so choose.
When climbing a 7-percent grade with a boat in tow, fifth was the gear of choice. In sixth gear, the truck would lose speed, but fifth kept it around 2,000 rpm, right where turbo boost began to kick in. And if needed, fifth gear actually allowed gradual acceleration up the hill. That’s pretty strong for a diesel engine, which often requires dropping down two gears to maintain speed and high rpm (relatively speaking).
Coming back down that same grade revealed perhaps the best part of the Dodge’s running gear: the brakes. Set up with four-wheel discs, the truck reacted within the first few centimeters of pedal travel. Like the 1500 Quad Cab we tested last June, these brakes are the best in the full-size, light-truck market. Feel is excellent. Power is top notch and the antilock system works well. The frequency of it’s pulsations in antilock mode were a bit low, but the system did its job in panic stops and with gradually increasing pedal pressure.
Another key benefit of the diesel was, of course, fuel mileage. No wonder, because at 60 mph, the tach showed only 1,950 rpm. During our week of testing, we logged more than 500 miles with and without a boat in tow—most of it with—and yielded better than 13 miles per gallon and more than 400 miles from its 35-gallon tank.
That tank of fuel cost only $51, which means this truck also is cheaper to operate than its gasoline-powered siblings. Factor in the lack of ignition wires, spark plugs, cap, rotor and other wear items, and Cummins diesels’ average overhaul interval of 350,000 miles and you can see this truck actually can save you money over the long haul.
Yes, the ride is a bit harsh, the A-pillars are still wide enough to create a blind spot and the cruise control switches could be a little more intuitive, but make no mistake: The 3500 Quad Cab equipped as we tested it is good enough to get diehard Ford and Chevy fans thinking twice about their next purchase. Clearly, Dodge has set a new precedent.
Towing... 13.1 mpg
Non-towing... 13.4 mpg
0-60 towing... 23.4 seconds
40-60 towing... 12.16 seconds
0-60 non-towing... 14.15 seconds
40-60 non-towing... 6.21 seconds
Engine… 5.9-liter 6-cylinder Cummins turbodiesel
Horsepower... 305 @ 2,900 rpm
Torque... 555 pound-feet @ 1,400 rpm
Compression ratio... 17.2:1
Transmission... six-speed manual
Axle ratio... 4.10:1
Fuel capacity... 35 gal.
Tire size... LT235-80R-17
Brakes... four-wheel disc with hydraulic assist and antilock
Suspension... Front: live axle with coil springs; Rear: live axle with six-leaf springs.
Tow rating... 15,750 lb.
Gross Vehicle Weight Rating... 9,000 lb.
Gross Combined Weight Rating... 20,000 lb.
Overall length... 249.7"
Maximum width... 96"
Curb weight... 6,195 lb.
Price as tested... $44,555
Formula 271 FasTech
Customer service... 800-423-6343