Continuing the trend of separating light- and heavy-duty (over 8500 GVW) pickups, Dodge rolls out the Ram Heavy Duty a year after its 1/2-ton brethren. However, unlike the competition, the Ram Heavy Duty has the same sheetmetal and outward appearance as the 1500.

Given the similar bodywork, only careful looks underneath, different wheels, the standard "Heavy Duty" label on the tailgate, the optional Cummins "C turbodiesel" badge just aft of the headlamp cluster, or dual rear wheels, will distinguish HDs from 1/2-tons. Sharing the same body panels undoubtedly helps brand identity and production costs, and Dodge is quick to point out the 1500 bodywork already renders an image of strength and reliability.

Exterior details aside, the Ram Heavy Duty is all-new underneath with respect to both the previous HDs and the current 1/2-ton. The frame is roll- and hydroformed and boxed from one end to the other, increasing torsional stiffness by a factor of four. It also means that, with less frame and body motion, the suspension can be better tuned for ride control.

Offering only two wheelbases further simplifies the process, and Ram HDs are regular-cab long box, Quad Cab long, or short box. The short box is a few inches shorter than before, but it shouldn't make any difference if the 2x4 hangs off the bed by 18 in. or 21. Despite just two wheelbases, the new Ram HD has a variant not seen from Dodge for a while: a single-rear-wheel 1-ton. Gross vehicle weight ratings range from 8650 lb (2500) to 12,000 lb (3500 DRW), and since the new trucks are slightly heavier, the rated payload of a 2500 should be lower than last year's. However, an SRW 3500 will be 9900 GVWR, for a stouter alternative to last year's 2500, and the higher GVWR on dualies means top payload should be at least equal to previous 3500 DRWs. The 3500 single-rear may be offered only as a Quad Cab short box and should prove popular with recreational trailer pullers; those with ultra-large RVs will be pleased to hear that top gross combined is now 23,000 lb.

Pulling all this weight are two new engines and the carryover 8.0L V-10 (we'd be surprised if some derivative of the 8.3L Viper engine in the SRT doesn't show up in this truck in the next year or two).

The Hemi name Mopar made famous is back for '03, and it's the standard engine for the Heavy Duty. Using a 5.7L pushrod V-8, it generates 345 hp (at 5400 rpm) and 375 lb-ft of torque (at 4200 rpm), although a fair percentage of that is available at more truck-appropriate engine speeds. The Hemi uses aluminum crossflow heads, electronic throttle, and twin spark plugs for each cylinder. The plugs fire simultaneously, with a coil-on-plug for one and a short wire for the other. The Hemi is teamed with a five-speed manual or five-speed automatic transmission. In early drives, it proved more than capable and provided an exhaust note even the aftermarket will like. Maximum GCWR with the Hemi is 18,000 lb (max tow 11,600), we expect it'd handle that, but we'd opt for the V-10 or diesel if covering many miles or western states hills with that load.