Peeking Underneath
Even bigger news than the engine updates is actually found underneath the new Dodge Ram. The 2009 Ram will be the first full-size dedicated pickup-truck platform to use coil springs for its rear suspension (although you could argue the Avalanche or Ridge-line are full-size). The live-axle design and more tuneable coil springs are designed to offer a better empty/aroundtown feel for truck owners. As a consequence, Dodge isn't trying to compete with Toyota, Ford, and Chevy for the max-payload or max-towing crown. Instead, it's content to offer its buyers-- some of which will be first-time truck guys--a smoother daily-driving experience. There are certain models that'll be capable of carrying up to 1800 pounds and towing a 9000-pound trailer. We're told the coil-spring suspension weighs about 40 pounds less than a comparably sized leaf-spring setup and helped when Dodge integrated some new bed features.

Bed Tech
Dodge is now offering a real four-fullsize-door Crew Cab in its half-ton models to better compete with every other half-ton truck manufacturer, which already offers them. It's about time, especially considering almost half the pickup trucks sold are four-doors. But Dodge knew it had to be different. Different, in this case, is called the RamBox.

The RamBox has two integrated, lit storage bins that run the length of the 5.6-foot bed. These lockable storage areas have more cubic feet of storage than some small car trunks. And it's a segment exclusive. The bed also has a sliding cargo-management system with adjustable cleats. This puts them on par with everyone else. There's a collapsible bed extender that folds into the tailgate--we haven't seen that before. And there are configurable bed dividers to help control and store loads. The RamBox inner bedwalls are narrower than non-RamBox beds, due to the use of the wheelwell space for the storage bins. It loses some bed-storage volume as well.

What's Next?
As clever as many of these segment-new solutions are, to stay competitive, the new Ram can't just work and play like the old model--it needs to be quantum leaps ahead just to stay even. And from what we've seen so far, Dodge seems to be on the right track. Let the Ram HDs take care of those who need the bigger hauling and towing capacities.Nodoubtthemorepowerfuldesign will play well for them when the HD trucks get their redesign late next year. Certainly the Chrysler (and Cerberus) and Dodge loyalists know that this vehicle--the largest-selling product they have--could make or break the company if this isn't done right (in many ways just like Ford with its F-150). Can't wait to see who blinks first.

Quick Look

Engines (3): 3.7L (210/235) V-6, 4.7L (310/330) V-8, 5.7L (380/404) V-8 (baby Cummins in 2010)

Trim levels (5): ST, SLT, TRX, Sport, Laramie

Bed lengths (3): 5.7-ft, 6.3-ft, 8.0-ft

Cabs (3): Regular, Quad Cab, Crew Cab

Models (4): Reg Cab Shortbox, Reg cab longbox, Quad Cab Shortbox, Crew Cab Shortbox

Axle choices (4): 3.21:1, 3.55:1, 3.92:1, 4.10:1

Coolest features (4): Floormounted tranny shifter, in-floor storage for Crew Cab, RamBox, aviation-grip shifter.