As far as Dodge is concerned, we've reached the point of diminishing returns in making half-ton pickups bigger and increasing load capacities at every redesign. However, that doesn't mean the new Ram isn't ready for hard labor: the 2009 model retains the work capabilities of the previous version. What it does mean is that for this year, the primary focus is on refinement and economy.

The new Ram is not an all-new truck. It remains on the existing 120- and 140-inch wheelbases. In addition, the base 3.7- and recently upgraded 4.7-liter engines and brake system fell into the if-it-ain't-broke category, as did the automatic transmissions; manual gearboxes are gone, so expect a higher base price on V-6 and 4.7-liter V-8 trucks. The forward third of the frame has similar architecture but more high-strength steel for weight reduction, and current front suspension geometry gets aluminum uppers and knuckles that take 10 pounds off each front corner.

The rear coil/link arrangement knocks off 40 pounds, reduces stiction by 60 percent, and provides 10 inches of travel and better articulation. Every model uses a rear anti-roll bar and the 12 spring rates--up from three--are all linear with a variance only near the attachment points. The 9.75-inch corporate rear axle and 215mm front keep the same differentials, but rear axle tubes are upgraded to 6.5mm wall thickness. Packaging allows three different exhaust systems among the two V-8 engines, and fuel capacity in the optional larger tank is now 32 gallons, a loss of two gallons of space. Standard tank size didn't change.

Variable cam timing has been added to the nose of the Hemi, as have a two-stage intake, almost a point in compression, less-restrictive ports and plumbing, and a wider operating range for the MDS. Peak power is up by 45 horsepower and torque by 32 pound-feet, but the intake and cam timing add 400 rpm to the spread between peaks. In conjunction with the improved aero package, MDS can be used more often, so highway economy is up by four percent--plus or minus one mpg. The EPA's testing may show the same fuel-economy numbers for the 4.7 and 5.7, but trust us, you won't use the Hemi's extra 80 horses and 77 pound-feet for free.

The two-mode hybrid--likely only available in the Quad or Crew Cab since the battery pack goes under the rear seat--and a diesel model are well along in development, but no one's saying if the truck will use a Cummins V-6, V-8, or both. Dodge also is toying with the 545RFE on a V-6 for economy, but the 90-degree V-6 has some resonance issues with the transmission that backs the V-8.

Both 4WD systems are 48/52 nominal torque split, 2.72:1 low, and electrically shifted on the fly; the optional NVG246 has an Auto mode for on-highway all-wheel drive, a feature we didn't get to experience--it didn't rain or show during our test.