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2009 Dodge Ram

Fake cowboys helped Dodge prove that a big sheep--the brand-new 2009 Dodge Ram--can help herd longhorn cattle in their, uh, natural downtown Detroit habitat. The presence of the big truck didn't keep the bulls from getting frisky at the 2008 Detroit auto show, however, as members of the large herd took turns humping each other.

In addition to its full redesign and cowboy cred, the 2009 Ram employs lots of clever gimmickry in an attempt to claw away sales from the perennial darlings of hard-working, hard-playing American consumers, the Ford F-150 and the Chevrolet Silverado/GMC Sierra.

If you need lots of cold beer in order to shoot a solid round of golf, the Ram is your best bet, because the crew-cab Ram 1500's optional dual RamBox compartments can contain a set of clubs alongside one bedrail and up to five cases of beer (or fewer cases with lots of ice) along the other bedrail. These bins are lockable, drainable, lighted, and weather-protected (a la Honda Ridgeline, but these don't cover your spare tire). The RamBox basically squares off the wheel-well protrusions in the bed, and its storage compartment is wide enough to hold a basketball. The RamBox will also hold non-recreational equipment, but Dodge didn't show us any pictures of the Ram doing actual work. Plywood-haulers, don't fret, though, because Dodge claims that your four-by-eight sheets can still lie flat in the bed, flanked on either side by the RamBox.

The RamBox can even hold a few new annoying industry buzzwords such as "mandate," "quantum leap," "voltage," and "game-changer." Says Scott Kunselman, VP of Chrysler's Body-on-Frame team: "Our mandate was to make a quantum leap and add even more voltage to Ram. Our all-new 2009 Dodge Ram is a game-changer in terms of capability, convenience, craftsmanship and safety."

If you run out of room out back, you can store ten more twelve-ounce beverages in the in-floor compartments/coolers for rear-seat passengers. And if you need space for some snacks, the Ram's thirty-eight "storage locations" should do the trick nicely.

All that cargo is heavy, so the Ram's V-8s have more power for '09. The 5.7-liter Hemi again tops the choices, but this time it produces 380 hp and 404 lb-ft of torque (versus 335 hp and 375 lb-ft last year), thanks to a higher compression ratio, variable valve timing, and an active intake manifold. The hot-rod of the Ram fleet is the new regular-cab, short-bed R/T model, which is said to thunder from 0 to 60 mph in less than seven seconds, a best-in-class figure, according to Dodge. A 3.7-liter V-6 and a 4.7-liter V-8 will also be available at the Ram's launch. A new Cummins turbo-diesel will debut in half-ton models sometime after launch, and a hybrid powertrain will be appear for the 2010 model year.

Handling should be a little less trucky than most trucks, since the Ram utilizes a multilink suspension in the back, with coil springs that save a claimed forty pounds over the traditional leaf springs. A solid rear axle is retained, ensuring that the half-ton truck can haul up to 1850 pounds and tow between 3000 pounds and 9000 pounds, depending on powertrain and layout.

The interior is greatly improved from the outgoing Ram's, and according to Chrysler exec Jim Press, it's the first example of Chrysler interiors that will feature a "renewed emphasis on sophistication." Still, the interior doesn't beat the likes of the General Motors and Toyota benchmarks. Helping the Ram stand out from those competitors are heated and cooled front seats (a first-in-class feature), heated rear seats, and a heated steering wheel--a must-have option for those cold winter mornings. Your construction crew will surely appreciate the available MyGig multimedia system, navigation, rear-seat DVD entertainment, Sirius Backseat TV (nothin' like a little SpongeBob to psych up a dude to hang some drywall!), and surround-sound audio.

The exterior of the Ram is an attractive rethink on Dodge's burly look that shocked the marketplace in 1994. The "big-rig" front end has been refreshed, capped by a bulging aluminum hood. Not to be outdone by Cadillac, Ford, and other companies who are supersizing the badges on their big trucks, the ram on the Ram's tailgate has grown by 250 percent. Ooooh. Aaaaaah.

In addition all of the new factory features, Mopar, Chrysler's aftermarket division, has already announced more than a dozen custom touches, including a body kit, twenty-inch wheels, and decals, so that Ram buyers can make their trucks stand out even more.

No matter who wins the election, how much the economy slips, or how green the automotive industry becomes, Real Work and Real Play still need doing from time to time. That's why full-size pickup trucks are still relevant to a number of folks (even if those numbers are diminishing). They'll be able to buy the next-generation Ram in the fall of 2008.

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