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NextGen Dodge Ram

Written by PFM Staff

The Ram-brand truck dates back to 1981. However, it was the drastic redesign for 1994 that put the Dodge Ram on the map. Sales tripled that year and quadrupled within two years. This second generation pickup still used the 318ci and 360ci V8s, which date back to 1967. It is quite a feat to quadruple sales with a truck powered by a 40-year-old engine.

The third generation Ram was introduced in 2002. It had a new frame, suspension, interior and exterior sheet metal. These models got the 4.7L Single Overhead Cam (SOHC) V8, which replaced the 318ci (5.2L) V8. The big news, however, came in 2003: “Yeah, it’s got a HEMI®.” The 5.7L HEMI V8 replaced the 360ci (5.9L) V8. For every two Ford or Chevy pickups sold, Dodge was selling one Ram.

For the 2009 model year, during the biggest downturn in decades in pickup sales for all makes, Dodge introduced its fourth generation Ram 1500. The 4-door cab was restyled, as were the front end fascia, headlights and grille. The fleet-oriented Ram 1500 is available as a Regular Cab, Quad Cab or Crew Cab. The only difference between the Quad Cab and Crew Cab is rear seat leg room. There is 34.7 inches of rear seat leg room in the Quad Cab (the police Heavy Service truck) and 40.3 inches in the Crew Cab. The police Charger has rear leg room measuring 40.2 inches.

The pickup is available in 5.5-foot, 6.3-foot and 8-foot bed lengths. The Ram comes standard with Electronic Stability control. This includes all-wheel ABS and all-speed traction control. All-speed traction control is part of electronic stability control, but some low speed wheelspin is allowed. The Ram has front air bags and full side curtain (front seat/rear seat) air bags.

The 2010 fleet versions of the Ram 1500 are available with a 215 hp 3.7L V6, a 310 hp 4.7L V8 and a 390 hp 5.7L V8. Like the police Charger, the Ram has a 5-year, 100,000 mile powertrain warranty.

New Eagle HEMI

The new Eagle version of the HEMI now has Variable Valve Timing (VVT). This increases the peak horsepower at higher rpm and increases the peak torque at lower rpm. Importantly, this also “flattens” the torque curve, resulting in more usable power than the peak horsepower and torque would suggest. The horsepower was bumped from 345 hp to 390 hp, a 13 percent increase. The torque was increased to 407 lb-ft, a 9 percent increase. The 5.7L HEMI runs on 87 octane unleaded regular gas.

The new version of the HEMI continues to use Chrysler’s Multiple Displacement System (MDS). For 2009, the parameters under which MDS would deactivate four of the cylinders were widened. Cylinder deactivation now kicks in sooner, and the cylinders remain shut down longer.

On a reasonably level road, at an approximately steady speed between 55 mph and 65 mph, the “ECO on” light is illuminated in the driver information center of the dash, showing that MDS is engaged. In fact, any light throttle acceleration while driving around town (less than 1800 rpm) also engages the MDS. Of course, the 5.7L HEMI goes from a fuel efficient V4 to a stump pulling V8 faster than the driver can press the gas pedal.

Decel Fuel Shutoff

The new HEMI also uses another method to achieve better fuel economy in actual driving. Dodge calls it Interactive Deceleration Fuel Shut Off (iDFSO). With iDFSO, the engine controller shuts off the flow of fuel during vehicle deceleration. The fuel is shut off completely under two basic scenarios. First, the fuel is shut off if you lift your foot off the gas pedal while the engine is running at higher rpms, for example, 3500 rpm. The fuel is cut to prevent high catalyst temperatures, and the fuel will resume as the rpm drops to about 1200 rpm.

Second, fuel is shut off during a normal lift foot from a steady state where the transmission torque convertor is in slip control. The fuel is completely cut off after a short delay after the gas pedal is lifted. The transmission will downshift with the fuel off as the vehicle speed decreases. The fuel turns back on as the rpm approaches 950 rpm and/or the torque convertor unlocks.

In typical drive cycles, the fuel will be off approximately 5 percent to 8 percent of the time the vehicle is moving with improvements to both fuel economy and brake pad life. The vehicle may feel like it is not “coasting” as far on decel as the previous model years did because fuel is not being used to propel the vehicle at closed pedal.

As the pedal is lifted to coast to a stop on an MDS-equipped engine, the iDFSO (fuel shutoff) and the MDS (cylinder deactivation) work in combination with one another. The fuel will shut off or turn on in either MDS mode (8 cylinder or 4 cylinder). MDS may also activate during a fuel shut off, but the activations will not happen at the same time. The vehicle deceleration will be milder while in 4 cylinder mode. Light pedal tip-ins will stay in 4 cylinder mode as the fuel is turned back on. When coasting to a stop, 8 cylinder mode is re-enabled after the fuel turns on.

So, “ECO on” illuminated on the dash means either iDFSO or MDS is activated. However, the two ECO methods (MDS, iDFSO) are disabled at idle in both Park and Drive. As the truck coasts to a stop, as soon as the gas pedal is backed off, the ECO is activated. As the truck nears a full stop and as the engine speed gets below 950 rpm, the ECO is off and MDS/iDFSO are disengaged. Most V8 engines do not idle smoothly enough for cylinder deactivation at idle.

The goal for the design team with the new truck was to hit 20 mpg Highway with the 5.7L V8 2WD. Using advanced engine controllers (iDFSO), weight saving designs (rear coil springs) and materials (aluminum hood), and improved aerodynamics, that is exactly what they achieved. With the 4x4, compared to the earlier HEMI, the new 5.7L “Eagle” version has the same 13 mpg/City (4x4) but has 18 mpg/Highway versus the 17 mpg with the HEMI.

The 4.7L V8 is the only Ram engine that is E85 Flex Fuel capable. No other reason whatsoever exists to pick the smaller 4.7L V8 instead of the larger 5.7L V8. Both engines have exactly the same EPA rating: 13 mpg City, 18 mpg Highway. If you need a 4WD pickup or a 4-door pickup, the 4.7L V8 will have to work too hard to get the same job done.

Of course, if you need real performance, the 4.7L V8 is simply not capable of that. The 5.7L V8 is an extra cost option, but one every police truck should have. In the 2WD version, the 5.7L V8 even has a 1 mpg advantage over the 4.7L V8 in the Highway rating. Don’t even think about the 4.7L V8. It has no future.

The 4.7L and 5.7L V8 engines both use the bulletproof 5-speed automatic. The 545-RFE (Rear-wheel drive Full Electronic) 5-speed trans is a truck transmission. This is, of course, very different from the NAG-1 (New Automatic Gearbox) 5-speed in the police Charger—the W5A580 trans. The Ram 4x4 has electronic shift-on-the-fly part-time transfer case. The 2-speed NVG 243 Part-Time transfer case can operate in 2WD, 4WD LOCK (high) and 4WD LOW (locked).

New Rear Suspension

The Ram has a totally new rear suspension. The leaf springs have been replaced with coil springs and a 5-link rear suspension. With a leaf spring suspension, the springs do two jobs: suspend the truck and position the axle. With a coil spring suspension, the springs do just one job: suspend the truck. The multi-links do the job of positioning the axle. The coil spring design is 40 pounds lighter than the leaf spring setup.

The coil spring rear suspension does not give up any haul-tow capability. In fact, the Gross Combined Weight Rating (GCWR) for the 5.7L V8, 3.92 axle, 140-inch wheelbase Ram (the test truck) has been increased from 14,000 pounds to 15,500 pounds.

Fuel Economy

During the course of 1,500 miles, we drove the Ram on a wide variety of roads, from the rutted and pot-holed gravel roads of rural Indiana to the interstates in northern Illinois. We ran three days of pure traffic enforcement in the Ram in both rural and interstate scenarios. We did some routine calls-for-service driving in suburban settings. We braved Chicago’s brutal rush hour traffic from the far north side to the far south side…four times.

The combined gas mileage from the HEMI Ram was 14.9 mpg. During dedicated traffic enforcement with highway driving, acceleration past 100 mph then idling, we averaged 14.4 mpg. We averaged 14.9 mpg running between 70 and 80 mph on the interstate. However, we averaged 15.9 mpg when we were running between 55 mph and 60 mph on state highways during calls for service. The ECO light was almost never on at the higher (interstate) speeds and almost always on at the lower (highway) speeds. The lesson is that the MDS and iDFSO really do improve mileage if given a chance.

The EPA “combined” fuel economy rating for the Ram 4x4 HEMI is 15 mpg. In 1,500 miles of mixed driving, we averaged 14.9 mpg. In our experience with the Dodge Charger, which uses this same 5.7L VVT and MDS engine, expect a full 2 mpg improvement over whatever you were getting with the previous 5.7L HEMI. The Ram has an optional 32-gallon tank. For the kind of rural use that these police Rams get, the bigger tank pushes the range well past 450 miles.

Performance

The 390 hp HEMI Ram is, of course, fast. The older 345 hp HEMI Ram 4x4 Quad Cab hit 60 mph in 8.1 seconds and 100 mph in 25.0 seconds. The new 390 hp HEMI Ram 4x4 Quad Cab reaches 60 mph in 7.3 seconds and 100 mph in 19.1 seconds. To put this in perspective, the Ford CVPI reaches 60 mph in 8.6 seconds and 100 mph in 23.0 seconds.

All the Ram pickups are speed limited to 108 mph. During the week of traffic enforcement in the Ram, we were constantly butting into that limiter. A top speed of 115 mph would be much more police-oriented.
In police use, the Ram had very responsive handling. In accident avoidance and evasive maneuvers, the big truck gave the driver confidence. There was a bit of understeer, of course, but it was not sluggish, and it had minimal body roll. It felt as good at 100 mph as it did at 55 mph. For a 4x4, 4-door pickup, it handled impressively well.
The Heavy Service package uses P265/ 70R17 all-season tires, while LT275/70R17 all-terrain tires are optional. We have no tolerance for poor tires on police vehicles. These standard equipment Goodyear Wrangler SR-A all-season tires are excellent. During our two weeks with the Ram, it rained every other day. Under dry conditions, traction during hard acceleration and hard braking was excellent. The tires were responsive in all aspects of cornering. Under wet conditions, the Wrangler SR-A tires also had good traction. At highway speeds, the tires were quiet.

When it came to mud, the Wrangler SR-A tires did their part. Somehow the grassy center medians became muddy and very soft. Yes, we nearly got stuck while crossing them in 2WD. But after a quick flick of the transfer box from 2WD to 4WD LOCK, we were right out of there with grass clumps and mud flinging everywhere.

Interior Room

Entry into and exit from the truck was easy, even without sideboards. As a full-size pickup, the Ram has tons of headroom, shoulder room, elbow room, hip room, knee room and leg room. The Ram has maximum driver and passenger room, period. Getting out of cramped and crowded, tight-fitting little sedans and into the Ram is a dream. You can actually fasten your seat belt without disarming yourself.

The Ram also allows maximum visibility, including through the space between the A-pillars and the outside mirrors. Speaking of the mirrors, they provide excellent coverage. Dodge worked to get the mirrors aerodynamic but did not give up function. In fact, these mirrors allow a better view than earlier Rams.

Now, about the seats. Well, it is, after all, an ST level truck. Behind the driveline components, the seats are the most expensive items in the vehicle. So that is the first place to reduce costs in the low trim levels. The seats are only acceptable, only functional, but no more. The seats are manual adjust (not power), which is okay, but they at least need a lumbar adjustment. The seats are cloth, but cloth is an option. Vinyl is standard. The seats are not uncomfortable, but the 1/2-ton truck market is too competitive for “only okay” seats, even in a police truck.

Lockable Storage

The number one “unmet need” of retail and commercial fleet customers with Ram pickups, and probably all pickups, is the lack of dry, lockable storage. The result is the Ram Box® storage built into the wheel well on both sides of the box. Each side is large enough to hold a golf bag for a total of 7.4 cubic feet of lockable storage. The Ram Box is only available on the Ram Crew Cab and is not available on the ST trim level. While the Ram Box is available, it is not a part of this Heavy Service package.

The new Ram is an improvement in a dozen areas over the previous generation Ram: more power, more safety features as standard equipment, more interior features as standard equipment, more refined suspension, better fuel economy, and better matched interiors. But it is still a Ram, and that is good.

Three Goals for NextGen Truck

Dodge had three goals for the new generation Ram:
1) Improve the quality of the interior,
2) Improve the ride while maintaining the same haul-tow capability, and
3) Improve aerodynamics for both noise control and fuel efficiency.

1. Upgraded Interiors

The interior is the first “graduate” of Chrysler’s new Advanced Interior Design Studio. The Ram uses two-tone dash, upholstery and interior trim. As for the improvements, it is a tough call to make when you are looking at the low trim level ST work truck. All the controls for the radio, HVAC, transfer case and lights are large in diameter and use “soft-feel” materials, which really do give a better tactile feel than the earlier generation truck.

The interior panels have a tight, precise fit. The entire interior (dash, seats, door trim) consists of blends and matched combinations of gray and charcoal. Part of the improved interiors includes power windows and power locks as standard equipment on all Rams with 4 doors.

The improvements are more noticeable on the SLT, TRX, Sport and Laramie versions than the base ST trim level. Dodge gave a lot of attention to the seats, but again this is only evident on the higher trim levels. The company’s goal was to match Ford and Chevy trim level for trim level, and they did that.

2. Improved Ride

As for the ride and handling, the new multi-link coil spring rear suspension had a small effect on handling and ride comfort. It also improved Noise, Vibration and Harshness (NVH) levels. The leaf spring to leaf spring rubbing is gone. Also, the suspension now has five grommet-softened links with the durometer specific for the function of each link, instead of the brutish grommets holding the leaves to the chassis.

We have put 80K miles on the previous generation Ram 4x4 in combinations of rural and suburban driving and a bit of off-road use. We understand the suspension geometry and handling dynamics differences that should be part of the change from leaf to coil springs. But we just can’t tell much of a difference. Sure, there is a clear technical superiority. However, when driving the new Ram and the old Ram under the same rural enforcement conditions, we just don’t see it. Possibly the stiffer suspension of all 4x4 trucks masks some of the felt improvement. In a way, the new Ram being both different and the same is good. It still has to work like a 4x4 truck. No, it doesn’t ride like a Lincoln Mark LT. It rides like a 4x4 Ram and does everything we want a 4x4 Ram to do.

After 1,500 miles in the Ram, we can best describe it as a bit more refined—improved a little bit everywhere. The new Ram crosses medians at highway speeds confidently, gets down washboard gravel roads just fine and has perfectly acceptable high-speed responsiveness during evasive maneuvers and accident avoidance drills. But it’s not like the rear suspension has gone from a live (solid) axle to fully independent in terms of ride quality and improved handling.

3. Less Air Drag, Wind Noise

The third area of focus was less aero drag and wind noise. About 60 percent of the power needed to cruise at highway speeds is used to overcome air drag. The rest is powertrain, driveline and brake pad friction and tire rolling resistance. Aerodynamics is the key to fuel economy, even in a pickup truck.

The Ram spent 200 hours in the wind tunnel working to reduce drag and wind noise. The front fascia is more aerodynamic. It was also lowered a bit for less drag. The wheel well openings were greatly tightened, and the side sill was extended to reduce drag and wind noise.

A lot of testing led to the new outside mirror design. A hood bulge that protects the windshield wipers from wind drag was added. The shape of the windshield frame leading edge was tweaked for low wind noise. The tailgate now has a bit of a built-in spoiler to smooth the airflow over the rear of the truck.

At a drag coefficient of .387 Cd, the new Ram has the sleekest front aerodynamics of any full-size truck. The new Ram also has the best rear truck (flow over tailgate) air drag of any full-size truck. As a result, the new Ram is much quieter than the earlier versions. Our test truck was a slicktop, and it was extremely quiet even at high interstate speeds.

Lights and Sirens

The 160 amp alternator in the 2009 and newer Ram is a big improvement over the 136 amp alternator used in the older Rams. The 160 amp alternator is the same one used on the police Charger. The 600 CCA battery has been upgraded to 700 CCA.

The Heavy Service Ram driven for this review was upfitted by Chicagoland’s PDS Police Systems. Whelen Linz6 LEDs were used on the outside mirrors while FedSig Viper VPX LEDs were used behind the grille. A slicktop police vehicle simply must have outside mirror lights for side coverage. A Fed Sig Viper S2 dual head LED mounted in front of the inside mirror was the primary forward signal. 

Whelen Vertex LEDs (one red, one blue) were mounted in the headlight lenses. Wig-wag headlights were not used because separate wiring needs to be run for wig-wags on the Ram. Given the choice of just one option, some sort of wig-wag function, even white grille LEDs, would have given a warning signal under a wider variety of conditions than the headlight LEDs.

A Code 3/PSE Light and Siren controller and FedSig Signal Master controller were mounted in a Lund Industries short console with arm rest. A FedSig Dyna Max 100 watt siren was tucked behind the grille. The primary rear signal is from a FedSig Cuda TriOpTic™ LED Signal Master bar. This was set up with red and blue LEDs on the outsides and amber directional LEDs in the center. FedSig Impaxx LEDs were used around the rear license plate. Whelen Vertex LEDs were mounted in the backup light lenses to complete the rear signal.

The interior really needs a forward-mounted overhead light. The retail-oriented center-mounted headliner light is no help at all for nighttime police use. The combination red/white oversize light, mounted as far forward as possible, will now be standard equipment on any Heavy Service package for the Ram.

MORE INFORMATION: www.policedepartmentsystems.com

Heavy Service Package

Our test & evaluation truck was a Heavy Service package Ram, courtesy of Thomas Dodge. Chrysler Group is also in the process of developing such a Special Service package. The Heavy Service package is based on the 4x4 version of the 4-door Quad Cab. This Ram, with a 6-foot, 4-inch bed, is based on the base level ST trim package. The Quad Cab has the smaller 24-inch door opening. 

The Heavy Service package comes standard with the 4.7L V8. The 5.7L V8 is a $1,250 option. The Heavy Service package includes front tow hooks, a transfer case skid plate and a front suspension skid plate. A Class IV receiver is an available option. The ST trim Ram uses a 3.55 axle ratio, while the Heavy Service package uses a 3.92 ratio, limited slip rear axle.

Importantly, this low trim level uses vinyl seat covering and a full rubber floor mat. Cloth seats, carpet and floor mats are an option. The chrome bumpers and chrome wheels on the test truck were also options. Importantly, the chrome package also includes 8-inch (wider) chrome wheels. The standard 7-inch argent wheels are especially plain. Expect to pay around $21,000 for the base Heavy Service package 2010 Ram Quad Cab 4x4.

MORE INFORMATION: www.highlanddodge.com

Published in Police Fleet Manager, Mar/Apr 2010

Rating : 9.0


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