Until the late 1980s, pickup-truck styling was pretty vanilla. Remove the grille and cover the badging, and you could virtually hold a blind half-ton comparison test with the Big Three. That all changed in 1994, when Dodge borrowed visual cues from a Kenworth big-rig for its new Ram. Pickups finally took on a bold and brazen look.

For 2002, the Ram 1500 was new from the frame up, and instead of a brief encounter with Dodge's new rig, we asked for a year's worth of seat time. The folks at DaimlerChrysler liked the plan, and we pulled out the order sheet.

We wasted no time checking off the $25,710, 1500 Club Cab SLT 4WD shortbed, then added the 5.9-liter Magnum V-8 ($595), 46RE automatic tranny ($975), trailer tow group ($465), 3.92:1 axle ratio ($50), and limited-slip differential ($285). We also added power folding trailer-tow mirrors ($80), AM/FM/CD/cassette stereo ($100), under-rail bedliner ($245), Sport Appearance package (body-color accents for $170), and the $7085 preferred package 26H (adds eight-way-adjustable power and heated leather front bucket seats, four-wheel ABS, power adjustable pedals, power locks, center console, dual-zone HVAC, and audio/cruise controls in the wheel). Total MSRP for our one-year tester: $35,950.

While we'd hoped for the new 5.7-liter Hemi, it was unfortunately delayed until the 2003 model year and the introduction of the new heavy-duty Ram. However, a torquey new 4.7-liter Magnum V-8 engine replaced the 5.2-liter, and, while smaller in displacement, it boasts an increase to 235 horsepower. The second new offering--the 215-horsepower, 3.7-liter Magnum V-6--replaced the 3.9-liter V-6 and provides 35 more horsepower and about 1-mpg-better fuel economy than its predecessor.