In the '80s and into the early '90s, pickups were somewhat vanilla in the styling department. Sure, you knew a Ford from a Dodge from a Chevy, but none stood out much from a crowd. That all changed in '94 when Dodge morphed the looks of a Kenworth onto the Ram, creating a true phenomenon in the truck world. For the first time, a pickup took on a bold and brash look, one that meant business on the construction site and, when seen in the rearview mirror, bode fear in the hearts of subcompact-car drivers.

With a near total makeover (only the powertrains remain unchanged), we figured it was time for us to put the Ram to the test--or better yet, a year's worth of testing in our long-term fleet. Pulling out the order sheet, we checked off the 1500 Club Cab SLT 4WD short bed, then added the 5.9-liter Magnum V-8 ($595), 46RE automatic tranny ($975), trailer tow group ($465), 3.92 axle ratio ($50), limited-slip differential ($285), power, folding trailer-tow mirrors ($80), AM/FM/CD/cassette radio ($100), under-rail bed liner ($245), Sport Appearance package (body-color accents for $170), and $7085 preferred package 26H (that adds power eight-way and heated leather front bucket seats, ABS, power-adjustable pedals, power locks, center console, dual-zone HVAC, and audio/cruise controls on the steering wheel). Total out-the-door-price: $35,950. While we came close to choosing the optional 20-inch wheels, we thought better of it, as we're planning some serious off-roading adventures with this latest long-termer.

With mere break-in miles on the clock (3091, to be exact), we're already impressed with the new Ram: The interior is commodious compared to the previous generation's, and the quality of interior materials is a marked improvement over last year's offering. Driving long distances won't tax your back, as the captain's chairs offer plenty of lumbar and thigh support.

Rated at 245 horsepower and 335 lb-ft of torque, our 360-cubic-inch Magnum does a good job pulling a 3000-pound trailer, but nearing its 8100-pound trailer-towing capacity (our test trailer was a tad over 6000 pound), it's a bit overburdened by the weight. With the rear loaded, the ride is velvet smooth. When unloaded, the only axle hop we've experienced is in semi-abused lanes.

To date, the Dodge has been trouble free, and though we haven't had a chance to take our Sport off the pavement yet, we have some rock crawling plans in the works for our Ram in the following months. In the meantime, it's a favorite weekend vehicle and a real head-turner at the local home-improvement center. TT