Many truck owners feel the only powerplant for a heavy-duty hauler is a diesel. In fact, much of this staff agrees. But after a year with our long-term Hemi-powered Ram 2500, we've come to realize it's time for the muscular diesel engine to share some of its well-deserved respect with its smaller gasoline counterpart.

After naming the Ram 2500 Motor Trend's 2003 Truck of the Year, we added one to our long-term fleet for an extensive 12-month test. Our truck was equipped with the 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 (rated at 345 horsepower and 375 pound-feet of torque) and was ordered with a bundle of amenities that included the full power package, heated leather seats, five-speed automatic, and the heavy-hauling 4.10:1 axle with limited-slip differential.

Our HD started its tour of duty in Southern California and headed to central Florida for some southern fun in the swamps. While there, it became familiar with job-site etiquette, as online-director Jeff Bartlett used the Ram to haul construction materials from his old home to a new one. Jeff also used the Dodge numerous times to tow his newly acquired 1981 Vette to the shop. Unfortunately, the Corvette had a strong penchant for shop visits, but the Ram was always up to the task, providing plenty of pulling power and fade-free braking.

Eventually, the Ram left Florida and headed north to our Detroit offices. Appropriately, the Detroit staff put the Ram through a thorough winter test evaluation and found it to be an excellent snowmobile. It never had a problem with its four-wheel-drive system. At several points during the frozen winter, one Detroit editor participated in the northern sport of ice racing. He e-mailed us photos of the Ram towing a mid-1980s Camry to a frozen lakebed in northern Michigan. Ice racer in tow, the Ram was stable, secure, and easy to manage on the snowy roads, and the big back seat provided a great place to stow tools and ice-racing gear, protecting them from the harsh elements. Of course, we should note that our total trailer weight fell far short of the Ram's 12,000-pound towing capacity. In fact, our trailer came in at just under 5000 pounds.

Aside from regularly scheduled maintenance, the only dealer visit the Ram had was a trip to fix a driver-side interior grab handle that came loose. The stance of the 3/4-ton 4x4 required most of our editors to rely on the grab handle and steering wheel to hoist themselves into the driver's seat during every entrance. While certainly not a problem for us, that could become an issue for larger and heavier regular users. In the time since we first noticed this, we've been told by DaimlerChrysler representatives that the torque specs have been changed for a tighter fit. We had no other mechanical problems with our Ram.

In general, our staff praised the Ram for its capable power, throaty exhaust tone, attractive big-rig styling, refined and tow-friendly five-speed transmission, and trouble-free service record. It would be a shame to see it go, if it weren't for the fact we know a bigger Hemi (at 6.1 liters) with over 400 horsepower is on the way for the next Ram HD. We expect that to be a pretty good hauler as well. TT

2003 Dodge Ram 2500 HD Hemi
Base price $30,305
Price as tested $38,895
Vehicle layout Front engine, RWD, 4-door, 5-pass
Engine 5.7L OHV 16-valve V-8
HP @ rpm 345 @ 5400
Torque @ rpm 375 @ 4400
Transmission 5-speed automatic
0-60 mph, sec 8.1
EPA mpg Not rated
Miles 19,487
Observed average, mpg 12.2
Observed worst, mpg 8.2
Observed best, mpg 14.0
Average distance per fill-up 344
Average cost per gallon $1.66
Average cost per fill-up $36.63
Number of services 3
Overall service cost $210.07
Problem areas Loose interior grab handle
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