Nobody knows better than the engineers and designers at Dodge that its 2009 Ram needs to break the mold. It's not helping that huge hurdles are in the way-oil breaching $120 a barrel, economy cars flying of dealer lots, and that Ford's about to unleash an all-new F-150 (check out our next issue). It's also no secret that Chrysler is suffering from the backlash of foisting too many mediocre products onto the public.

Will the new Ram make a difference?

To begin, much of the Ram is not modified (the frame is largely carryover, there are three cab configurations, three engine choices-auto and manual gearboxes are the same-and three box lengths). Still there is plenty here to separate the new Dodge Ram from its other half-ton competitors, especially the two recently revamped trucks (from GM and Toyota).

Most notable, all new Rams now use a rear coil-spring suspension with trailing arms to locate the live axle, la Jeep Grand Cherokee and Dodge Durango. This change saves about 40 pounds in weight and allows frame engineers to better control many of the typical harsh ride frequencies and vague handling issues endemic to leaf-sprung pickup trucks. The front end remains similar in architecture, but does use a liberal amount of high-strength steel and aluminum to save another 10 pounds at each corner. All that weight saving came in handy as Dodge has finally created a true Crew Cab model for its Ram. This new cab length, which also requires a smaller bed box, allowed Dodge to incorporate two weatherproof, lockable storage bins into the bed's fender sides. The storage areas are easily accessed from either side of the truck and offer enough room for tools, sports gear, or camping supplies.

All three engines (3.7-liter V-6, 4.7-liter V-8, and 5.7-liter V-8) remain the same and oddly offer similar fuel-economy numbers. The V-6 is rated at 215 horsepower and 235 pound-feet of torque, is standard on two-wheel-drive Regular and Quad Cab models, and is rated at 15/20 mpg for the manual and 14/20 mpg for the automatic, with a flex-fuel version available for fleet sales. The 4.7-liter V-8 has 310 horsepower and 330 pound-feet of torque, is standard on all 4WD models and the Crew Cabs, and is rated at 13/19 mpg for 2WD and 13/18 for 4WD. All 4.7-liter V-8s are flex-fuel capable. The new-generation 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 has smarter variable valve timing, a two-stage intake, and a more aggressive MDS (multiple displacement system) calibration, all of which offers 13-percent-more power with four-percent-more fuel efficiency. The big V-8 is rated at 390 horsepower and 407 pound-feet of torque, is standard on all Sport and Laramie models (an option on all others), and is EPA-rated at 13/19 for 2WD, and 13/18 for 4WD models. It's worth noting 89-octane fuel is recommended.