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Dodge Ram MegaCab pickup truck review

Truck Review Notes: Dodge Ram Mega Cab Laramie 1500 - Hemi Automatic
Personality Big rig looks ring true despite the cavernous interior and kids-video system
Unusual features Biggest interior of any pickup
Above Average: Power (standard Hemi), style, interior space
Needs Work In: As you'd expect... gas mileage and parkability
EPA gas mileage We experienced about 10-11 mpg in city driving with the towing/power gear ratio; the EPA does not rate trucks of this capacity.

When it first appeared, the Dodge Ram 1500 was far and away the biggest, baddest pickup in America. When Chevy and Ford caught up, Dodge brought out the Hemi engine, with 345 horsepower matched by loads of torque. The latest step in the ongoing pickup wars is the Ram 2500-based Mega Cab, with the largest interior of any pickup, period — providing more cab space than anyone can reasonably need or expect (145.2 cubic feet). Even with long-legged front passengers, the rear passengers have loads of space to stretch their legs - and carry briefcases, to boot. This vehicle is the next best thing to a stretched limousine, with a cab a full foot longer than the Ford F250 Crew Cab; and it still has a six foot bed behind it, suitable for carrying PT Cruisers in for quick shopping trips. (Well, perhaps not.)

The truck we tested, a 1500 Laramie Mega Cab 4x4 with a 4.10 axle ratio, can tow an incredible 8,300 pounds (without the tow package and axle, it can tow 7,300). The curb weight is over three tons.

With the Hemi, the ordinary RAM can practically ignore most loads, tow more (more comfortably), and impress and intimidate everyone who knows what that nameplate implies; though with the Mega Cab, over three tons of steel and such, the Hemi has its work cut out for it. Because of the weight, the Hemi is standard on the Mega Cab, with the legendary Cummins turbodiesel as a desirable option; and the Mega Cab is available in both 1500 and 2500 levels. (The Cummins provides far more torque than the Hemi, reportedly with nearly double the gas mileage.)

Under normal running, the Hemi is now fairly quiet; once it revs over 3,000 rpm, you get a loud muscle-car sound from the exhaust. While it has good torque throughout its range, the Hemi seems happiest in that band of 3,000 and over; and it gets its best mileage under 2,000 rpm and on long trips (or at least well warmed up). Acceleration is on tap at any engine speed, and the transmission now downshifts rapidly, resulting in 0-60 times well under ten seconds despite the massive size and capacity. In sprints and all other driving, the drivetrain shifts properly, and is quite well-behaved for an automatic.

A press of a button brings tow-haul mode, which provides firmer shifts to make life easier on the transmission and prefers lower gears to make life easier on the engine; it resets to normal mode each time the engine is restarted, which may annoy frequent towers. You can lock the transmission into first or second, and "overdrive off" mode comes with two pushes of the tow-haul button (three goes back to normal mode). Putting the transmission into second when starting will not limit it to second gear, but actually start it out in second, for use on snow or other slippery surfaces (equivalent to the "winter mode" on other automatics).

The automatic transmission tones down the feel of the Hemi's raw power by absorbing sudden changes, but acceleration times are admirable, and trailer towing is eased by the high torque available throughout its range. Heavy loads are barely noticed.

Visibility is good in all directions. The large outside mirrors fold in for those tight parking spaces; our test Laramie model included outside mirror defrosters as well. Headlights are controlled from a convenient, traditional large switch on the instrument panel, with a pushbutton fog light switch that defaults to "off" - a safety feature which prevents the unnecessary glare of those who always drive with fog lights on. The bed light is now a pushbutton control that has been separated from the rheostat, and all three are in the same area; but at night, the cargo light button is not lit (in general, night backlighting is applied sparingly).

Brakes have been substantially upgraded, following Chevy's lead with its first Silverado remake. The big, heavy Ram now stops faster than a Ford Police Interceptor, and in roughly the same distance as an Intrepid. That's quite an achievement.

Seating has been adjusted from the last Ram we drove so that front-seat passengers are farther away from the corners are generally more comfortable; rear-seat passengers have lots of space in all three positions, so you really can seat five full-sized adults in comfort. Sun visors are large; while the Ram does not have dual visors a la Silverado, they do slide out on their supports so they can cover the center of the windshield.

The rear seats are comfortable, and more flexible than most pickups' rear seats - they can tilt back. Installing child seat tether straps is easier, because there's room behind the seat and you can find and use the hook easily. Rear passengers have 44.2 inches of legroom; or the seats can fold flat for a class-leading 24.9 square feet of loading room.

Cornering is good considering the immense bulk and height of the truck, providing a decent feel while keeping its grip, though due to the size and suspension ratings wheel hop comes up both in cornering and in rapid acceleration. The suspension could easily handle sudden applications of power in normal situations (excluding the usual suicidal moves such as flooring the gas in the middle of a turn), though it was accompanied by some squealing and wheel hop. Under load, of course, the wheel hop disappears.

The ride is good for a high-capacity pickup; there is some jouncing with an empty bed, and the suspension is fairly firm, but it is considerably gentler than one would expect with this gross weight rating. Adding a heavy load to the bed dampens the suspension and makes the ride better, albeit at the cost of gas mileage (which is already about as poor as one would expect from a high-capacity, full-sized pickup - driving gently, we could get nearly 11 mpg in mixed driving with a warm engine, and stayed over 9 mpg when driving normally on shorter trips. The Hemi is considerably more efficient when warm and when kept to low rpms.)

Styling combines a mean Peterbilt look outside and a luxury-car look inside. The white-faced gauges have sharp backlighting at night, making them easy to see day or night; drivers get the usual temperature, voltage, and gas level, along with oil pressure and tachometer (unlike GM, there is no transmission temperature gauge). A bold sans-serif typeface and large letters keep the gauges clear and easy to read. Wind noise was low except for a moderate rushing sound by the front window, as though it was a little open, while the climate control vents could be somewhat noisy when pushing air around at higher fan speeds.

For the most part, controls seemed sensible and standard for the course; a column shifter for the automatic, wheel-mounted cruise control with audio controls behind the wheel as well as on the dash, door-mounted window, lock and mirror controls,and a traditional climate control console designed to be operated with gloves on, and featuring dual-zone (driver and passenger) heat sliders. The hood release has been moved to avoid confusion with the emergency brake, even in the dark. Oddball controls, such as the heated seats and the control for the small sliding back window, are in their own little section in the center stack. The basic look and feel is sensible, integrated, and purposeful; there is no pretense to luxury here.

The unusual feature in our truck was the optional navigation system, identical to those featured in other Chrysler vehicles, which is a bit slow to start up but otherwise is very satisfactory (see full detail in our Jeep Commander review). This unit is unusual in that it does not hinder use of the stereo; audio features can all be accessed using the standard knobs, so the driver isn't distracted.

Visibility is aided by larger than usual windows and large side rearview mirrors (our vehicle had special towing mirrors as well; these are extra-large, with mini convex mirrors in the corners, and can be manually folded in.) When the optional DVD player is installed and is hanging down from the ceiling, much of the rear window is obstructed; and in any case, the rear quarter has a decent blind spot from a wide pillar, though the pickup form factor means that the blind spot is not in the same place as in most cars and SUVs. The sheer height of the pickup blocks off some areas, and backing up must be done with considerable caution; an optional reverse assist would be quite handy. The headlights are very large and bright.

Storage spaces abound, including large map pockets in all four doors, three "spring loaded" cupholders up front and two in a console in back, two large bins in the center console, a small opening in the center stack, a large glove compartment, and a two-level center closed bin - each level being quite large.

The seats in our test vehicle were very adjustable, but they are part of the Laramie option package (also including a chrome center stack bezel, bright grille, chrome mouldings, interior lighting package, underhood light, leather folding seats, four wheel antilock disc brakes, fog lights, part-time shift-on-the-fly transfer case, Infinity CD/cassette player, wheel-mounted audio controls, trip computer, fold-flat rear floor storage, sliding rear window, auto-dimming rear view mirror, dual zone air, and a security system). A simple switch on the dashboard makes it possible to bring the pedals up to your feet, or down to a comfortable depth, while switches at the base of the seat (within easy reach; no squeezing here) move the seat up and down, forward and back, and tilt back and forth.

Rear seats are surprisingly comfortable, thanks partly to the ability to recline the back. Lifting a clearly marked lever brings the seaback down immediately; there's no need for the headrest to fold in, given how much room there is in the back seat - even with the rear seatbacks folded down, there's room behind the front seats. This is one big cab.

There are little places to put coins, highway passes, and such in the dashboard, along with large map pockets in the front doors. Our model had an overhead console with a trip computer showing the usual gas mileage, compass heading, temperature, remaining fuel, distance to empty, and elapsed time. The center console/seat provides underseat room but can also function as a standard center console, with pop-up subdividers so that you can either store large things in it, or lots of small things in separate compartments. It also has an internal power outlet and a sensibly designed, removable coin holder with no room for pennies. The console can actually hold our laptop along with the charger, so that we can charge it up while driving (we don't really recommend this because some laptops and chargers generate heat in the process.) The best-in-class-beyond-all-doubt ratcheting cup holders can hold large or small containers tightly.

One of the good reasons for buying a Mega Cab is the fact that the massive interior can be used to hold large objects - the seats fold down and provide a good load surface. The rear doors open wide to make the cab accessible; indeed, they open wider than any truck doors we've seen, nearly a full 90 degrees. Thus, the oversized cab can actually have utility as well as luxury.

Gauges were all sensibly placed, as were most of the controls. The 4x4 control uses a simple knob, with three positions: all wheel drive, four wheel drive high, and four wheel drive low. Most of the time, the average driver will use AWD. An LED indicates when the differential is in neutral. Door controls are no longer illuminated, but can be discerned by touch; other controls are illuminated well at night, though shedding some light on the little storage nooks would also have been helpful. Headlights are placed on the dashboard, with a large, traditional switch. However, the ignition key was high up on the steering wheel, a moderately inconvenient place. Oddly, while the cargo and interior lights go on when you unlock the doors, there is no power memory - when you take out the key, the radio and power windows suddenly stop working.

The climate control is easy to operate, with a traditional rotary vent control, and, in our Laramie, separate driver and passenger sliders for heat mix. Separate buttons activate the air conditioner compressor, recirculation, and rear defroster. A console below the climate control includes seat warmers and the four wheel drive control, while the stereo sits in the top pod. The usual Chrysler unit with Infinity speakers, it provides excellent sound with a deep bass that can sometimes rattle the door panels; knobs control balance and fade, while sliders control bass and treble, which makes it easy to adjust quickly without distraction. Separate buttons switch modes (tape, CD, AM/FM).

The six foot, three inch bed is guarded by a rather heavy liftgate. Getting into the bed is easier than in some other trucks, thanks to a step in the bumper. Our test model had a Mopar bedliner, a $245 option which protects the bed from inevitable scratches and then rust. The towing package runs $335, which includes a bigger battery, with a hitch and wiring harness (the large foldaway side mirrors we mentioned earlier are a $100 option); the anti-spin differential rear axle is $285, and worth the price, as is the $90 engine block heater. Our truck also came with the 4.10 axle ratio, at $50.

On a more frivolous note, our test truck had the $490 leather bucket seat option - something which those who seriously need the huge cab might choose to bypass, but those who combine pickup truck and minivan might like - and the navigation system is priced rather steeply at $1,600; the rear seat video weighs in at $1,200.

We also recommend the $490 side curtain airbags, the $285 anti-spin rear differential, $70 rear window defroster and $90 engine block heater (for those in cold climates), and $90 front hood protection shield - the latter looks like a natural part of the truck and isn't obviously an add-on, though we do have to wonder about leaves and dirt that gets wedged between the shield and the hood.

The base price of the Laramie Mega Cab is $40,175, by no means cheap, but it is certainly well equipped and a desired and exclusive vehicle. Standard features on the Laramie include the Hemi V8, five-speed automatic, four-wheel antilock brakes, SentryKey antitheft, electronic shift on the fly four wheel drive, overhead trip computer/compass/thermometer, variable intermittent wipers, power rear sliding window, power adjusting pedals, power windows, locks, and mirrors, dual-zone air, tilt-wheel, cruise, remote, wheel-mounted audio (with six-disc CD Infinity player), Sirius satellite radio, heated power front seats, folding rear seats, fog lights, full-sized spare, and lighting package. As ours was equipped, it ran to a full $47,170, including destination.

The Mega Cab is a lot of truck - both in terms of capacity and in terms of sheer size. While gas mileage is predictably dismal- par for the class - the interior is unmatched in size, and rather comfortable given what this truck can do. Whether you actually need the space is another story, but the Mega Cab is certainly enjoyable - and as big as its name.

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