When Dodge debuted its all-new HD 3500 Ram pickup at the recent Chicago Auto Show, witnesses were moved by its outstanding display of torque. Literally moved, as the big truck pulled a platform of media folk and engine displays -- weighing an estimated 32,000 pounds -- yards across the floor using only enough throttle to keep the truck idling in first gear.

The stunt demonstrated the sheer strength of the Ram's new inline-six 5.9-liter High-Output Cummins Turbo Diesel engine, which delivers 305 horsepower at 2900 rpm and 555 lb-ft of torque at only 1400 rpm when shifted by its manual six-speed transmission. Dodge rightfully boasts that this is the most powerful turbo diesel available in the 2500/3500 truck market, offering a tow rating of 23,000 pounds (Gross Combined Weight Rating). It may also be the most durable, engineered to have an average major overhaul interval of 350,000 miles and oil-change intervals of 15,000 miles instead of the customary 7500. While their displacements and cylinder counts are larger, Ford's 7.3-liter V-8 Power Stroke and General Motors' 6.6-liter Duramax turbo diesels don't quite measure up to the output of the High-Output Cummins, producing 275 hp/520 lb-ft and 300 hp/520 lb-ft, respectively.

The High-Output Cummins engine is impressive enough on its own, but that's not the only surprise in Dodge's 2003 all-new heavy-duty lineup: all hail the return of the legendary Hemi, now standard power in the 2500/3500 series trucks. The new 5.7-liter V-8 Hemi Magnum produces 345 horsepower at 5600 rpm and 365 lb-ft of torque at 4400 rpm. The modern engine features cross-flow aluminum heads with hemispherical combustion chambers, two spark plugs per cylinder for fast, efficient combustion, and a direct ignition system for a complete, consistent fuel burn. Rounding out the high-horsepower engine offerings is the familiar 8.0-liter V-10 Magnum, already known for its 305 horsepower and 450 lb-ft of torque.

Dodge has modeled these heavy-duty trucks from the striking 2002 Ram 1500 redesign, sharing its bold body styling. The similarity stems from the truck being designed from the get-go as a workhorse, with even the enormous horse-collar grille engineered to be large enough to accommodate the extra cooling needs of the heavy-duty powertrains yet to come.

Underneath that familiar sheetmetal is a boxed frame with hydroformed rails, stiffened for HD service. The trucks wear standard 17-inch wheels and tires all around, with 13.9-inch vented front disc and 13.9-inch rear disc brakes, as well as front and rear ABS. A dual-rate vacuum booster that debuted in 2002 on the 1500 Ram bolsters stopping ability at high brake pedal loads. All models are built on two wheelbases - 140.5 and 160.5 inches - by using the same wheelbase for the short-box Quad Cab or long-box regular cab options. For the first time, the 3500 model will be offered in a single-rear-wheel version as an intermediate step in payload capacity.

Two-wheel-drive models feature a new rack-and-pinion-type steering system, while four-wheel-drive trucks benefit from a redesigned quick-ratio recirculating ball system. Both 2wd and 4wd models share a similar rear suspension with three-inch-longer leaf springs than on the 2002 trucks for reduced spring stress. Up front, four-wheel-drive trucks get a refined version of the five-link coil-spring suspension with beam axle from the previous-generation Heavy Duty, while two-wheel-drive models receive a new suspension geometry that delivers consistent camber, caster, and toe patterns throughout the full range of travel. A front link-type anti-roll bar and front and rear heavy-duty tubular shocks are standard.

The all-new 2003 Dodge Ram 2500 and 3500 Heavy Duty make a significant advance over the workhorses they replace. Ford and GM have had great success the last couple years with their heavy-duty pickups; Dodge will be back in the game, stronger than ever when production begins in the summer of 2002.

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