MRO Magazine

Quiet storms on the highway

2002 Dodge Ram 1500If you like a tough truck look and want smooth handling, with huge cargo-hauling torque, then you'll definitely want to check out the all-new 2002 Dodge Ram half-ton pickup. However...


April 1, 2002
By Bill Roebuck

2002 Dodge Ram 1500

If you like a tough truck look and want smooth handling, with huge cargo-hauling torque, then you’ll definitely want to check out the all-new 2002 Dodge Ram half-ton pickup. However, it’s not just the outside appearance that’s changed in the Ram — there’s plenty of redesigned components underneath the body and inside the passenger compartment that make it a much more refined vehicle than its predecessors.

The most noticeable change for this full-size pickup for 2002 is the tough, almost menacing appearance of its huge front end. A massive grille dominates the head-on view and truly causes other drivers to get out of the way when you close up behind them on the highway.

The ride is surprisingly smooth for a truck this size, and the handling is superb. It’s aided by a rack and pinion steering system, which is new to this model. The Ram feels very manoeuvrable, even around the city.

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Our test model was equipped with 20-in. polished aluminum wheels, which give the truck a sharp appearance (17-in. wheels are standard). The new suspension allows for off-road tires up to 34-in. in diameter, the largest in the full-size pickup segment.

Inside, the passenger space is expansive. There’s even room for three rear seat passengers in the Quad Cab version we tested — and although headroom is adequate front and rear, it’s still a bit cramped in the rear, like in most crew cab pickups. All three rear-seating positions come with tether anchors for child safety seats, and they also are fitted for both the centre and passenger front seats on the Regular Cab model (where a passenger air bag cutoff switch is standard).

Dodge reports the interior of the regular cab model is the largest of any similar full-size pickup. A huge console — even larger than ever — features folding storage compartments and a power plug. It’s simply cavernous.

Controls for the radio and ventilation system are large and easy to use, and instruments are clear and easy to read.

One big advantage of the Quad Cab is its four full-size doors, with the rear doors hinged at the front so they open normally, making it easier to get in and out. Good thing, too, as it’s a big step up into the cab. You need to use the grab handles or grab the steering to haul yourself into the front seat. The rear doors open 85 degrees and their windows go down all the way, something that’s uncommon to see.

Although the rear seat backs force you into an upright position, they split and fold for extra storage space, and an optional steel section under the seat folds out to form a flat, sturdy load floor.

Despite the large hood and grille, the hood slopes enough to provide a clear view of the road ahead. Aerodynamics have been improved over the previous design to reduce wind noise, improve engine cooling and help channel water over the roof rather than around the side windows. It works, as noise inside the cabin is minimal when driving.

An option that is novel for a pickup is power adjustable accelerator and brake pedals, which allow shorter drivers to maintain a safe driving position, not too close to the steering wheel airbag. It’s ideal for a truck driven by several drivers. For the long-legged, the Ram claims to offer the longest front seat track travel in the industry.

The Ram is the first full-size pickup to offer optional side air bag curtains for front passengers in the Regular Cab model and front and rear passengers in the Quad Cab.

Extra space designed inside the passenger compartment in both regular and quad cab models results in a slightly shorter bed than before, at 6 ft 3 in. A long box at 8 ft is available on regular cab models. Payload capacity, depending on the configuration, can be up to 1750 lb. while the GVWR is 6650 lb. Towing capacity is up to 7400 lb. The cargo box features boat-cleat style tie-downs that are easy to use.

The base engine in the Ram is a 3.7-litre V6 producing 215 hp and 235 lb-ft of torque at 4000 rpm. A 4.7-litre V8 is available, providing 235 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque at just 3200 rpm. There’s also a huge 5.9-litre V8 generating 245 hp and 335 lb-ft of torque at 3200 rpm in the order books.

The four-speed automatic transmission has an alternate second gear that kicks in for towing and climbing situations. A five-speed manual is offered as well.

The Ram 1500 comes in three equipment levels, from the base ST to the SLT and SLT Plus. A sport appearance group is available on the SLT models. Both two- and four-wheel drive versions are available in both regular and Quad Cab bodies.

For those who need even more carrying capacity than the 1500 offers, Ram 2500 three-quarter ton and Ram 3500 one-ton models will adopt the configuration of the 1500 when the newly designed heavy duty models are introduced for the 2003 model year this fall.

The base price for a Ram ST Regular Cab is $23,255, The Quad Cab in 4X4 trim with various option packages can rise to over $40,000. Still, when you compare prices with the competition, the Ram seems to be great value, is highly practical as a workhorse pickup, and is very nice to drive.

2002 Toyota Tundra

Many truck enthusiasts may not think that a Toyota could rank with the full-size pickup heavyweights from GMC, Ford and Dodge, but its new Tundra is right up there with the big boys in both payload and power.

The first thing you’ll notice if you drive a Tundra is the exceptionally smooth, very quiet ride. It’s the quietest pickup I’ve ever tested. Its ride is like a luxury SUV, not a cargo-hauling, high-capacity, half-ton pickup.

The front passenger seating is very comfortable, especially for a bench seat. The rear bench splits 60/40 and folds forward for carrying cargo inside. The rear seatback forces you into an uncomfortable upright position, however.

The instruments and controls raised no complaints, being both clear to read and easy to use.

Like its competitors, the Tundra comes in V6 and V8 models, in regular and extended cab versions, with two- or four-wheel drive transfer cases. One drawback of the extended Access Cab model is that the rear doors are hinged at the back and require the front doors to be opened first before they are released. However, they open wide and access is good.

The V6 is a 3.4-litre unit producing 190 hp and 220 lb-ft of torque at 3,600 rpm. An optional V8 generates 245 hp and a generous 315 lb-ft of torque at 3,400 rpm. Both are smooth-operating double overhead cam designs. The V8 I tested was quick and responsive.

Towing capacity can be as much as 7200 lb, almost matching the Dodge Ram. Its payload capacity is up to 1900 lb, depending on the configuration, more than the Ram offers. The Tundra’s capabilities in the cargo-hauling category are similar to its competitors, although the Big Three offer larger V8 options for applications where more torque and horsepower are required.

If you like the control of a standard transmission, you’ll have to look elsewhere, as the Tundra comes only with a four-speed automatic. However, it’s smooth shifting for those who don’t want to think about gearing. A floor-shifter is used to engage the part-time four-wheel drive system on models so equipped.

The short box is 6.4-ft long and the extended is 8 ft, as to be expected in this pickup category. There are four tie-down hooks in the box, but they are recessed and awkward to get rope through easily.

Prices range from $23,915 to over $40,000, depending on the configuration, which is reasonable for a vehicle you’d be happy to use for a comfortable weekend drive with the family and that also has the capabilities to tackle tough hauling jobs at work through the week.