2003 Dodge Ram 2500 Quad Cab 4X4 5.7 litre HEMI
2003 Dodge Ram 2500 Quad Cab 4X4 5.7 litre HEMI.
Click image to enlarge.

Story and photos by Grant Yoxon

Santa Barbara, California – ‘All new’ is an over-used term, but with respect to the 2003 Ram heavy duty trucks, it is completely appropriate. How new is ‘all new’? For starters, there are two new engines – a 5.7 litre HEMI gas engine and a new 5.9 litre High Output Cummins Turbo Diesel engine – providing more torque, horsepower and towing capability than previous models.

A new stiffer frame, new steering systems, improved front and rear suspensions and new front and rear axles contribute to better handling and a more comfortable ride on all trucks and a 2,132 kg (4,700 lb) payload rating (12,000 lb GVWR) on 3500 Diesel 4X4s with dual rear wheels.

Two new transfer cases, larger standard wheels, tires and larger four-wheel disc brakes complete the technological overhaul, while available power-adjustable pedals (on both manual and automatic trucks) and side curtain air bags improve safety. Visually, the 2500 and 3500 series trucks borrow extensively from the 1500 series, which was redesigned for 2002.

2003 Dodge Ram 2500 ST 4X2 5.7 L HEMI
2003 Dodge Ram 2500 ST 4X2 5.7 L HEMI. Click image to enlarge

Dodge Ram 2500 and 3500 series trucks are available in regular cab and quad (four-door) cab formats. Quad cab models are available with both a short (6 ft. 3 in.) or long (8 ft.) box, while regular cab models have the long box. All are available with either two-wheel drive or four-wheel drive systems and manual or automatic transmissions. A six-speed manual is the only available transmission on trucks equipped with the high output Cummins Diesel. Engine choices include the standard 5.7 litre Hemi gas engine, an 8.0 litre V-10 (305 hp @ 4000 rpm/440 lb-ft of torque @ 2800 rpm) and two 5.9 litre Cummins turbo diesels, standard and high output.

Trim levels include ST, SLT and top-of-the-line Laramie. Standard comfort and convenience features on the ST include tinted windows, air conditioning and AM/FM cassette with four speakers. This is your basic working truck with heavy-duty vinyl split bench seating and vinyl flooring. The upper front facia and grille are dark gray, while body side molding and mirrors are black.

2003 Dodge Ram 2500 Quad Cab 4X4 5.7 litre HEMI. Click image to enlarge.

In contrast, Laramie models have body colour front facia, body side molding and mirrors and chrome grilles. Standard comfort and convenience features include sliding rear window, dual zone climate control, woodgrain instrument panel, premium overhead console (compass, outside temperature, mini trip computer, reading lamps and Homelink remote), automatic dimming rear view mirror, power, heated, foldaway side mirrors, power adjustable pedals, leather seating with 8-way power adjustable driver and passenger seat and centre cushion storage, and power windows.

Base prices range from $28,950 for the Dodge Ram 2500 regular cab 4×2 to $42,580 for the Dodge Ram 3500 Quad Cab 4×4, with standard 5.7 litre HEMI engine.

During our day in the mountains east of Santa Barbara, we drove a 2500 Quad Cab 4×4 with the new 5.7 litre HEMI engine and five-speed automatic transmission, a 3500 Quad Cab with the standard Cummins Diesel and four-speed automatic transmission, a 3500 dual wheel Quad Cab 4×4 with the new Cummins high output diesel and six speed manual transmission and loaded with 3500 pounds of weight, a similarly equipped 3500 with optional towing package hooked to a trailer with a combined weight – truck, trailer and cargo – of 11,794 kg (26,000 lbs) and a base 2500 regular cab LT 4×2 with the standard 5.7 litre engine and five-speed manual transmission.

2003 Dodge Ram 3500 Quad Cab 4x4 5.9 L HO Cummins Diesel
2003 Dodge Ram 3500 Quad Cab 4×4 5.9 L HO Cummins Diesel. Click image to enlarge

While many people would associate the HEMI with Dodge and Plymouth muscle cars of the late sixties, the original HEMI engine was a truck engine. Dodge debuted its original HEMI in 1953 and, in 1954, offered the 241 cubic inch HEMI V-8 in its two-and-a-half ton K model.

The only similarity with the old HEMI are the hemispherical combustion chambers, which are housed in cross-flow aluminum cylinder heads. The hemispherical head design allows the use of larger valves and provides better air flow to the combustion chambers. This is a thoroughly modern design with two spark plugs per cylinder, a direct ignition system with high power coils, a composite integrated air fuel module and electronic throttle control.

5.7 Litre HEMI
5.7 Litre HEMI. Click to enlarge

The block is cast-iron with cross-bolted main bearing caps. DaimlerChrysler says the new standard engine, which produces 345 horsepower at 5,400 rpm and 375 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,200 rpm, provides best-in-class acceleration and towing capability with improved emissions and fuel efficiency over the previous 5.9 litre V-8.

While we did not tow or carry heavy loads with the HEMI gas engine, it certainly felt strong, providing excellent acceleration, particularly in the base LT regular cab model we tested. This three-quarter ton truck felt more like a half-ton with a potent V-8 under the hood and with its rack-and-pinion steering provided the most car-like driving experience of any of the trucks we tested. A tuned exhaust on both trucks provides a healthy roar that is bound to be popular with younger drivers.

2003 Dodge Ram 3500 Quad Cab 4x4 5.9L Cummins Diesel
2003 Dodge Ram 3500 Quad Cab 4×4 5.9L Cummins Diesel. Click image to enlarge

But most heavy-duty truck customers – nearly 75% – opt for diesel power. This is the engine of choice for hauling and towing heavy loads. For 2003, the 5.9 litre in-line six cylinder engine has been completely redesigned with improvements ranging from an all-new block to a new high-pressure, common rail fuel-injection and is now available in regular and high-output versions.

The new high-pressure common rail fuel injection system uses pilot injection – the injection of a small amount of fuel to start combustion – before the main, power-producing fuel charge is injected. This has the effect of smoothing out combustion pressure in the cylinder, which can be the primary source of low- and mid-range speed noise in diesel engines. In fact, from inside the cab, the Cummins diesel is quieter than the 5.7 litre HEMI.

2003 Dodge Ram 3500 Quad Cab 4x4 5.9 L HO Cummins Diesel
2003 Dodge Ram 3500 Quad Cab 4×4 5.9 L HO Cummins Diesel. click image to enlarge

The standard Cummins Turbo Diesel has 250 horsepower at 2,900 rpm (up from 235 horsepower at 2,700 rpm) and produces 460 lb.-ft. of torque at 1,400 rpm, while the high-output version has an incredible 555 lb.-ft. of torque at 1,400 rpm and 305 horsepower at 2,900 rpm. It is the most powerful turbo diesel engine in the heavy duty market and delivers a class-leading trailer towing rating (GCWR)of 10,433 kg (23,000 lbs). This truck can pull trailers (GTWR) weighing as much as 7,121 kg (15,700 lbs).

We tested two 3500 series trucks with the high-output Cummins diesel, one loaded with 1588 kg (3500 lbs) of weight, the other hitched to a trailer carrying two heavy duty trucks from the competition with a combined total weight – including the Ram – of 11,794 kg (26,000 lbs).

2003 Dodge Ram 3500 Quad Cab 4x4 5.9 L HO Cummins Diesel
2003 Dodge Ram 3500 Quad Cab 4×4 5.9 L HO Cummins Diesel. Click image to enlarge

Getting underway is a snap, as the engine will accelerate from a stop without pressing the gas pedal (the new Cummins has 10 percent higher clutch engagement torque than its predecessor). With loads like this, a six speed transmission is an asset and makes best use of the engine’s power. Once underway, it is easy to forget there is a serious load out back as the truck motors along comfortably and will cruise up hills without problem. Suspension and steering improvements are also noticeable as the trucks feel well-balanced, with little of the wander and imprecision normally associated with heavy-duty truck steering. But braking quickly brings you back to reality as a loaded 3500 needs a fair bit of distance to stop despite huge 353 mm (13.9 in.) vented discs with twin-piston calipers and ABS at all four wheels.

Heavy duty trucks account for a growing proportion of the truck market. In Canada, the heavy-duty segment has grown 37.5% since 1997, while the entire truck industry has only grown 7.2%. In 2001, about 45% of all Dodge Ram pickup sales were heavy-duty models. It is an important market for DaimlerChrysler and one it hopes to dominate with its new Dodge Ram heavy duty trucks. With more powerful and fuel-efficient engines and much improved ride and handling, the new Dodge Ram 2500 and 3500 will certainly give the competition a run.

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