We chose the returning 5.9-liter Magnum V-8, rated at 245 horsepower and 335 pound-feet of torque. This 360-cubic-inch powerplant would be the center of a love/hate relationship for our 12-month test. All agreed that off-line power wasn't this truck's strong point, but once the tach topped three grand, the mighty 5.9 was in the sweet spot of the powerband, and it felt as though it could move mountains. With a 3000-pound trailer attached to the back, the Ram's a little wheezy at first, but the torque really comes on at around 3200 rpm. "Steep highway onramps are challenging with semis barreling down at you." At the track, our red Ram made the run to 60 mph in 9.7 seconds and ran the quarter mile in 17.4 at 79.2 mph--certainly not fast, but respectable for what has become a smaller V-8.

Mated to a more responsive, efficient, and smoother-shifting 45RFE electronically controlled automatic transmission, this five-speed deserves a platinum medal for excellence. It features a dual second-gear ratio; the transmission chooses the proper ratio for the load situation, and, unlike the Ford and GM offerings in the same class, the Ram's tranny doesn't continually hunt for the proper gear when crossing steep grades. It confidently selects the correct gear at the right time to maximize power output.

The foundation for the Ram is an all-new frame that, at its introduction, featured the highest use of hydroforming on any full-size pickup. Torsional stiffness was improved by 400 percent and lateral bending by 150 percent over the previous model. We found the new rack-and-pinion steering responsive and able to provide a precise steering feel, compared to the recirculating-ball system it replaced.

A new torsion-bar independent front suspension on our four-wheel-drive model maximized ride quality and capability, and, although the new Ram didn't suffer as much rear axle hop as before (unless a good 800-plus pounds were loaded in the bed), the ride was still bouncy. "Found a few expansion-joint sections at 65 mph. The Ram's ride is a bit surprising. The harmonic vibrations shook my belly 'til it hurt," says Editor Mark Williams.