Road Test: 2004.5 Dodge Ram and 2004 Ford SuperDuty

Tool Boxes: Two alternatives in working pickups

G.R. Whale
Mar 28, 2005
Photographers: James Brown
Put a group of writers in two large pickups with various loads in the bed, and what word litters the notebooks? Torque was high on the list, as were references to power gearing and barely manageable girth. Surprisingly, however, tools popped up most frequently.

These trucks are tools to be used for carrying gear and towing. They might be trimmed rather opulently for grimy work, but that's just because truck enthusiasts use tools as much or more for recreation as they do for work. The examples herein are two of the largest tools available.
Photo 2/12   |   2005 Ford F-350 V8
How large? Filled with fuel, the big red Ram 4x4 tips the scales at more than four tons, has a cast-iron gearbox best serviced with a floor jack, and more pistons in the brakes than in the engine. The 4x2 Ford is lighter--but not lean--at almost 7300 pounds, will leave almost two feet sticking out of a 20-foot-long garage, and has more rear-seat legroom than the front of either truck.
As you know, diesels are selling well. In fact, they're such hot items it was hard to get pickups with the exact same configurations. In addition, these trucks aren't representative of most: Roughly 70 percent of Rams and two-thirds of Super Duties have layouts different from the ones we tested. With so many variables among the trucks and no available Duramax, consider this more a study of configurations.
Photo 3/12   |   2004.5 Dodge Ram I-6
Although both are dualies with the biggest cabs available, important differences nullify an apples-to-apples comparison. Our sister publication, Motor Trend, has a more direct engine-comparison test in production, but variables in vehicle mileage, transmissions, and tires, not to mention production-line tolerances, won't provide the data gleaned from an engine dyno.
Six thousand odometer miles separated these tools, and if you're familiar with truck diesel engines you know that, regardless of what the owner's manual might say, a half-ton iron Cummins ISB engine isn't broken in at 2000 miles. Our Power Stroke friends suggested the 6.0 might be getting close at the 8000 miles it had on the clock, and a little more wouldn't hurt.
Performance
The Ford was delivered with a default-spec 3.73:1 axle ratio, while the Dodge had 4.10:1 gearsets. This alone suggests an advantage in pulling and acceleration for the Dodge on paper, but, since the tires also are larger, the true effective difference is lower. Given a reasonable expectation of 4/10-second quicker to 60 mph using 4.10:1 instead of 3.50:1, we'd anticipate the Dodge's gearing advantage to be worth a bit over 1/10, all other things being equal.

Granted, in our semifutile attempts to create a comparison test, all other things aren't equal. In addition to everything noted so far, the Dodge probably has more aerodynamic drag, driveline parasitic losses, and a clutch pedal.
Photo 4/12   |   2004.5 Dodge Ram 3500
At this point, you might think the Ford has the potential performance advantage. Being lighter is normally a plus, but if these trucks swung single rear wheels, some weight over the rear tires would be a bonus--it's not unusual for the extra traction to make a loaded version take off faster than an empty one. Were the Dodge a 2WD, for instance, our calculations suggest it would be just 10 pounds heavier than the Ford (a longer truck), but a 4WD Ford still would weigh a few hundred pounds less than the Dodge we tested.
In most cars that offer a choice, even those with force-fed induction, the car with a clutch is quicker than one with an automatic. However, turbodiesel trucks tend to work the other way--for a number of reasons. First, truck clutch pedals and shifters are designed to handle substantially more torque than most cars, so you can't slam them through the gears quickly; plan on losing a bit of time while you row that shifter. Second, turbochargers larger than car exhaust pipes take longer to spool up--even variable-geometry units--and it's difficult to speed-shift a diesel truck and keep it on boost, so you lose more time at every shift. Last, diesels never have been as responsive as gas engines.
Photo 5/12   |   2005 Ford F-350
It was for all of these reasons that the Dodge's best empty times were recorded launching in third gear--it saved two shifts. In typical "it's not our truck" fashion, we found that getting the revs to 3000 rpm and feathering the clutch and accelerator to stay between 2000 and 3000 until we were done with third was quickest. True, we may have gone faster by engaging the parking brake and slipping the clutch to make some boost, but who would tow it home if we broke it?
Although it was a bit easier, the Ford had its own set of concerns. Like the Dodge, it has an electronic throttle, which is frequently harder to modulate when the system gets confused, such as when there's heavy pressure put on the brake and accelerator pedals. No boost, and you bog off the line. Too much, and the wheels spin, easing the load on the engine, which then revs higher and makes more boost. Soon, you're going nowhere with lots of tire smoke and heat. You'll know when you find the balance between too much and too little by the indentation you leave in the seat and four hazy lines left on the pavement.

As a result, the Ford accelerated faster, its loaded times bettering the Dodge's empty times, but a reminder: This isn't a fair comparison. Despite the Dodge starting in first gear and making many shifts, the Ford's times increased by a higher percentage than the Dodge's did towing a hefty boat, and you can't contribute all that to the Ford being 700 pounds lighter. The percentage increase was much closer when adding a smaller load (3340 pounds of concrete, bringing the Ford very close to its GVWR) in the beds. The heavier things got, the closer the Dodge moved; on a long hillclimb near full load, we wouldn't expect either one to be the runaway winner.
Photo 6/12   |   Dodge Ram Instrument Cluster
The Ford had the edge in fuel economy on our loops, by about 20 percent when empty, but only by 0.1 mpg when towing. Assuming that the Ford's lower aerodynamic profile, slightly taller gearing, and less-tight engine offered a big benefit when empty, the Dodge appears to be the more fuel-efficient package when towing; various tests have produced a one- to two-mpg advantage either way, and driving style may well end up being the defining factor. Based on numerous test drives, and with lock-up torque converters making automatics and manuals closer matched on highway mileage, it appears the Cummins has the edge in efficiency.
In terms of braking performance, the Ford stopped better from 60 mph empty by about a bed length, but the increase with weight on board was double the Dodge's increase, so a bumper separated the two at that point. The test pilot noted that it felt like the Ford's front-end bushings deflected more under heavy braking. While both trucks' brakes performed admirably, the notebooks favored the Dodge for pedal feel and daily use.
Photo 7/12   |   Ford F-350 Instrument Cluster
However, there was one objective measurement we made where weight, height, transmission, and drive system were inconsequential: noise level. The Ford was quieter inside by just one decibel at 65 mph (69 versus 70 dBA), where engine noise was secondary to road and wind noise, and a significant four dBA quieter at idle. We're surmising that the meter is sensitive to different frequencies and that the soundproofing may be better in the Ford, because measured outside at idle--both in front and to the side--the Dodge was six dBA (66 versus 72) quieter than the Ford. Your own ears will be the best indicator of relative racket rating.
2004.5 DODGE RAM
The Dodge is one of those trucks you could accurately label as pavement-rippling. All that weight on relatively narrow tires means the front end may indeed sink a fraction of an inch in sun-drenched blacktop. At the other end, if you could load it up enough to get full boost in second-gear low-range, torque to the axle shafts would be more than 22,000 pound-feet, certainly enough to move that paint stripe at the crosswalk.

Rumbling away underhood, the Cummins 600 will run from below 500 rpm, clattering more like a diesel of old until it reaches normal idle speed. At 1200 rpm, it starts to work, puffs full-steam by 1600, and runs out as you near 3000; going beyond only brings more noise. It has an air of imperviousness to it, perhaps justifiably so: Its water temperature stayed below 200 degrees F, regardless of what we did to it.
Photo 8/12
A deep first and decent low-range give a crawl ratio of 63:1 that'll embarrass anything this side of a Wrangler Rubicon. The shifter gates are relatively narrow for such a heavy box, making patience the preferred method for the 4-5 upshift. Drivers labeled the transmission slow and clunky around town empty, immediately reversing those thoughts when the truck was called on to work.
The brakes are all twin-piston vented discs the size of Hyundai wheels and have swept area approaching that of some windshield wipers. Notebook commentary found the recirculating-ball steering nicely quick and, overall, perhaps a tad better than the Ford--no small feat for a solid drive axle.
Photo 9/12
The business end of the Dodge uses staggered shocks and a two-leaf overload pack on top of the main spring pack, and that huge axle, brakes, and wheels represent an unsprung mass easily in excess of 600 pounds. Most thought it rode more firmly, but it also felt more controlled than the Ford, although none of us could decide if this was related specifically to the tires, shocks, wheelbase, or weight. At these dimensions, a few inches of wheelbase could make all the difference.
Roughly a third of the Ram SLT's options went to cosmetic and interior pieces, including a power driver's seat (rated highly for support) and leather upholstery. As utilitarian as the Ford was, it seemed more attractive--one tester went so far as to call it elegant--and the materials and fit and finish were all well done. Per Cummins' demand, the ancillary instruments on diesel Rams are numbered.
Storage abounds in a multitude of cubbies of various sizes, coat hooks were above the rear window, and the 40/60-split rear seat folds flat for secured cargo. The optional tow mirrors tilt up and include a fixed wide-angle lens, and at this altitude, the view forward is distant.
Among the Ram's options were a pair of cheap ones--$10 for a block heater and $50 for the 4.10 gears, plus $950 for the high-grade six-disc in-dash Infinity sound system and $490 for side-curtain airbags. Both of those helped make the Dodge the favored cabin.
Photo 10/12
2005 FORD SUPER DUTY
Luxury and work truck seem an incongruous mix, but nearly a third of all Super Duties are delivered in Lariat guise like this one. An embroidered Lariat logo adorns the upper backrest of each front seat. The seats provide commendable back support with a power-adjusted, heated cushion like the Dodge has. Observers opined that, despite the high-line trim with leather and woodgrain panels, the Ford looked plain and unrefined inside, perhaps too commercial, yet impressively large. They wanted F-150 trim, but didn't specify which version.

Double door pockets and a dedicated space for a brake controller are just a few of the storage shapes inside, yet the center console was considered an inefficient use of space. We tried sliding a small spiral-bound notebook under the clip on top of the console, and our apparently-too-large notebook was summarily fired onto the rear seat floor each time.
Gauges include transmission temperature in lieu of a voltmeter and a 4200-rpm redlined tach to reinforce the notion that this is no old-fashioned diesel. A six-disc in-dash sound system, individual armrests, and a great outward view highlight the front cabin. The dash panel below the steering column can be completely removed with a coin for excellent access, unlike the underhood clutter that one tester compared with the junk drawer in his garage.
Photo 11/12
In back, a sliding window is standard and can be powered, the 60/40 bench folds flat, and the coat hooks over the doors contain big plastic hangers and heavy dusters. Every outboard seating position gets an adjustable headrest and two assist handles.
Two aspects everyone appreciated were the mirrors and the transmission. The mirrors extend to about rear-fender width so you can see beyond trailers, the upper element is vertical, powered, and heated, and the wide-angle element below can be adjusted separately. A side-marker light and turn signal on the outer edge can be seen from anywhere on that side.
The gearbox was described as impressive, though it would be more accurate to include all of the powertrain programming. Gear ratios and selection are top-flight, equally so in tow/haul mode, powering uphill, or compression-braking down. Dodge's automatic may mirror the performance, but it's still a gear short.

We've no complaints on ride quality, but would like a bit more steering feel and a faster steering box. The Ford takes a full four cranks of the wheel lock-to-lock and needs four lanes for a U-turn; the Dodge turns slightly better for its wheelbase, and it takes 30-percent-less arm work.
At the back, both shocks are angled aft behind the axle--a valid location, as you don't need them much in reverse--with an overload leaf on the bottom of the spring pack. Taller sidewalls, slightly lower tire pressures, less weight, and less payload were all factors in the slightly softer ride, and the odd motions we detected towing on one road we attribute to an unfortunate mix of wheelbase and expansion joints the Dodge may find elsewhere.
A glance at rpm-versus-speed graphs tells a lot: The towing-oriented Dodge gets to peak torque a little past 50 mph in top gear, while the Ford hits it near 70 mph. Either of them will easily pull a big trailer or handle your cargo with competence unheard of a decade ago, and both can be configured to your liking.
Which leaves only one question. Why are the tow hooks standard on the 2WD Ford and an extra-cost option on the 4WD Dodge?
Photo 12/12
 2004 1/2 {{{Dodge Ram 3500}}} Quad Cab SLT {{{2004 Ford F-350}}} Crew Cab Lariat
General
Location of final assemblySaltillo, MexicoFlint, Michigan
Body style4-door {{{pickup}}}4-door pickup
EPA size classFull-size pickupFull-size pickup
Drivetrain layoutFront engine/4WDFront engine/RWD
AirbagsFrontFront
Powertrain
Engine typeI-6, iron block and headV-8, iron block and heads
Bore x stroke, in4.02 x 4.72 3.74 x 4.13
Displacement, ci/L 359/5.9 363/6.0
Compression ratio17.2:1 18.0:1
Valve gear {{{OHV}}}, 4 valves/cyl OHV, 4 valves/cyl
Fuel induction Common rail, turbocharged Common rail, turbocharged
SAE horsepower, hp @ rpm 325 @ 2900 325 @ 3300
SAE torque, lb-ft @ rpm{{{600}}} @ 1600 560 @ 2000
Transmission typeNVG5600 6-speed manual TorqShift 5-speed auto
1st5.63:1 3.09:1
2nd3.38:1 2.20:1
3rd2.04:1 1.54:1
4th1.39:1 1.00:1
5th1.00:1 0.71:1
6th0.73:1 N/A
Reverse 5.63:12.88:1
Axle ratiov4.10:1 3.73:1
Final drive ratio 2.99:1 2.65:1
Rpm @ 60 mph 1800 1750
Recommended fuel #1 or #2 diesel #1 or #2 diesel
Dimensions/Capacities
Wheelbase, in 160.5172.4
Length, in 249.7262.0
Width, in 96.095.5
Height, in 78.478.6
Track, f/r, in69.7 / 75.8 68.3 / 74.0
Headroom f/r, in40.8 / 40.0 41.4 / 41.0
Legroom f/r, in 1.0 / 36.4 40.7 / 41.3
Shoulder room f/r, in 67.0 / 66.7 68.0 / 68.0
Rear cargo area volume, cu ft 56.260.0 (est)
Ground clearance, in 7.0 7.8v
Approach/departure angle, deg 24.3 / 26.720.8 / 10.5
Breakover angle, deg 18.816.5 (est)
Load lift height, in 36.134.3
Box dimensions (L x W x H), in 97.9 x 66.4 x 20.298.6 x 60.8 x 20.0
Weight as tested, lb 80507280
Payload capacity, lb 39503720
GAWR f/r, lb 5200/93504850/8250
GVWR, lb12,00011,000
GCWR, lb23,00020,000
Max towing capacity, lb 15,35013,700
Fuel capacity, gal 35.038.0
Chassis
Suspension, frontSolid axle, coil springs, anti-roll barIFS, coil springs, anti-roll bar
Suspension, rearLive axle, leaf springsLive axle, leaf springs
Steering typeRecirculating ball Recirculating ball
Ratio13.4:1 19.6:1
Turns, lock to lock2.8 4.0
Turning circle, ft 52.0 58.4
Brakes, front13.9-in vented disc, ABS 13.0-in vented disc, ABS
Brakes, rear13.9-in vented disc, ABS 12.8-in vented disc, ABS
Wheels 17 x 6.0 steel 16 x 6.0 aluminum (4)
TiresGoodyear {{{Wrangler}}} LT235/80R17E 120/117R General Ameritrac LT235/85R16E 120/116Q
Performance
Acceleration, sec Empty/3340-lb loadEmpty/3340-lb load
0-303.48 / 4.132.59 / 2.78
0-405.68 / 7.06 4.09 / 4.87
0-508.21 / 10.485.84 / 7.24
0-6011.18 / 14.65 8.25 /10.60
0-7015.42 / 20.50 11.07 / 14.61
0-{{{80}}}20.91 / N/A 14.35 / 19.30
Standing 1/4 mile, sec@mph18.02 @ 76.4/19.45 @ 70.016.08 @ 85.8/17.30 @ 77.6
Braking, 60-0, ft156/{{{164}}}147/163
Price
Base price $33,490 $34,{{{825}}}
Price as tested$45,060 $43,025

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