If you think things are tough at Ford right now, imagine what it's like for the Dodge guys. They all have new owners.Most probably have new bosses. And now they have to make a new Dodge Ram. Not to belabor the point, but competition couldn't be more fierce, the economy couldn't be gloomier, and a home run couldn't be more needed. However, from what we've seen and heard from Ralph Gilles(famous for his Chrysler 300 and Dodge Charger designs) and the Dodge engineering team, this new Ram could be the first of many strong efforts to bring Chrysler back among the living.

Beauty is Skin Deep
From the outset, designers understood this couldn't be a moderate evolution of the existing Dodge Ram. It needed to be bolder, especially with the new F-150 hot on its trail. Most notably, Dodge focused on the grille, giving it a more "Charger-esque" stance by tilting it forward, giving it a leaning-into-you look or, as one designer put it, "We wanted to give it a 'finger-in-yourchest' feel when people see it go by." Look at it and squint--the new design looks more aggressive, like a charging ram with its head down.

Other, more subtle cues come in the form of a reshaped (now aluminum) hood, redesigned headlamps, meatier front bumpers, and more defined and larger wheel arches. The beltline has been raised to give the truck a more massive feel as well.

The cabin also has received a healthy dose of attention. There's been a huge push to get more of the truck's budget spent inside the cab on material choices and layout design. This is instantly apparent when you see the new gauge cluster and center stack. Gone are the angular chops and blocks from the previous gen, replaced with furniture-quality materials and a more integrated, organic look all around. A gated, center-console-mounted sport shifter replaces the column unit (except on work-truck models), and even front and rear seats are all new. However, as nice and thought out as the inside and outside design changes are, this truck will live or die by what the engineers have accomplished.

Where's the Beef?
Underhood, Dodge will offer three improved, but essentially carryover engines--the 3.7-liter V-6, only available on 4x2 regular cab and Quad Cab models; the 4.7-liter V-8, available across the board with a five-speed auto; and the 5.7-liter Hemi, also available across the board with the five-speed auto. Dodge is calling this the "new" Hemi because of several mechanical and software changes, yielding significant results. The new variable valve timing technology allowed Dodge tuners to use a higher compression rating and a more aggressive MDS (multidisplacement system) program. Additionally, they're usinga new cylinder head, an active intake manifold (with short and long runners), and a less restrictive exhaust. The results? 2009 Dodge Rams will get 10 percent more horsepower (380 from 345), eight percent more torque (404 from 375), and a predicted four-percent improvement in fuel economy (manufacturer estimates). Additionally, the five-speed automatic allows for an optional floor-mounted automatic shifter. There's no word yet on a new SRT version, but Dodge is offering a Sport package, and we've heard some grumblings that Dodge may try to make the 6.1 Hemi work. You can expect a baby Cummins to be available before the 2010 model (more specifics later).