"In torque school, diesels rule," and the Dodge folks don't disappoint. Three variations of the venerable 5.9-liter I-6 Cummins turbodiesel motivate the HD. A standard output model produces 250 horsepower/460 lb-ft of torque through an NV4500 HD five-speed manual or 47RE or 48RE four-speed automatic. Next up is the High Output, common-rail-injected 305-horsepower packing 555 lb-ft of mammoth torque. It boasts a 350K miles-to-overhaul interval. To harness that much power, Dodge pairs this engine with the NV5600 six-speed manual, replete with a 5.71:1 granny first gear (a heavy-duty version of the four-speed automatic will see its way to the HO diesel by mid-2003). With California's stricter diesel-emission requirements, residents of the Golden State have a right to feel neglected, as they're offered only the leftovers from last year: the 235-horse 460 lb-ft version of the low-pressure turbodiesel.

The High Output Cummins definitely sounds mean and pulls hard when put to the test, posting a 12.3-second time to 60 and an 18.5-second/74.4-mph pass through the quarter mile. It was awesome to witness the second-gear burnout as all four rear tires spun at launch. "If you look up 'torque' in Webster's," commented Road Test Editor Chirico, "you'd see a picture of the High Output Cummins next to the definition."

Both three-quarter and one-ton Rams are available in 2WD and 4WD variants, in standard or Quad Cab configurations, with a manual transfer case for ST trim or electronically controlled cases for SLT and Laramie packages. We're especially fond of the latter system, which allows the driver to choose from 2HI, 4HI Locked, and 4LOW Locked, depending upon road conditions or terrain, all by rotating a single dial on the dash. The system also affords a neutral position, allowing it to be slung behind an RV. Off the beaten path, the non-dually Ram easily tackles soft sand, scales shale-covered trails, and is a formidable rock crawler.

Since the majority of Ram Heavy Duty pickups are ordered with four-wheel drive, the truckmaker aimed its sights on that segment. A revised version of the five-link, coil-sprung live axle handles the front, and longitudinal dual-stage leaf springs (three inches longer than last year's) reduce spring stress, while providing a comfortable ride on-road, yet fully supporting cargo when loaded. The 3500-series trucks receive reduced spring rates for better rough-pavement ride, and auxiliary leaf springs support their full-rated load of 23,000 pounds (including trailer).

Both variants offer relatively compliant rides, although the 3500 is a bit jouncy over harsh road surfaces when unladen. Adding a grand worth of weight to the bed smoothes it right out. The 2500 HD, demonstrating a distinct lack of axle hop normally found in this class of pickup, surprised even our resident truck experts. "The hydroformed frame is stiff enough to let me feel what the tires are doing, but it doesn't seem unnecessarily harsh," noted photog Newhardt.

Vented front (13.9-inch) and solid rear (also 13.9-inch) disc brakes with ABS provide powerful, linear emergency stops from 60 mph in both models: 159 feet for the half-ton and 160 feet in the three-quarter-ton.