RAM RUNNER

We'd seen and heard about Ram's answer to the Ford Raptor, but this was the first time we had the chance to really flog the thing. Our initial impression is that this hits the real and imagined desert racer square between the eyes. The completed package allows you to throw the truck at nasty terrain and violent obstacles far beyond what your instincts likely will allow. That means you can haul butt through any dry wash or over any desert course you want at speeds at least as fast, if not faster, than a Raptor. But the fully outfitted Ram Runner falls just short of its main competition in the not-full-throttle usage zone. You can drive the Raptor around town, but the Ram Runner has more single-purpose duty in mind. Still, for about $19,000 for the full kit (a completely high-tech suspension setup, front and rear replacement fiberglass fenders, a new front bumper, and rear tire carrier), you can set up a relatively inexpensive regular cab Ram 1500 4x4 for about $10,000 less than a Raptor (assuming you can do all the install work yourself).

Of course, you'll still need to buy new wheels and tires to get the full potential out of the desert racer. Look for a new Ram Runner to be the official vehicle of the TORC series, pacing each and every dirt-track racecourse. Can't wait for the Raptor versus 'Runner faceoff.