2006 4x4 of the Year
And the winner is ... not who you'd think!
Photography by Frank Kaisler, The 4-Wheel & Off-Road Staff
Dodge Ram 1500 SLT Quad Cab
We know a lot of you were expecting to find a very different Chrysler product on this page. Surprise! This year versatility and utility trumped everything. Yes, the vehicles with selectable lockers, antilock-brake-based traction control, and all-wheel drive were very impressive. And we fully expected one of the heavyweights to come home with the award. But in the end none of them offered the overall package and adaptability that Dodge gave us with this four-door shortbed Ram 1500 SLT Quad Cab pickup.
It started with the 5.7L Hemi's 345 hp and five-speed 545RFE automatic transmission that let us power out of any situation. Dodge engineers then went on to add unique engine and transmission calibrations (100 rpm higher idle speed, unique shift points, and a desensitized throttle pedal) that are tuned for off-road use in low-range. For 2006 the Ram's Hemi benefits from the car Hemi's modern cylinder deactivation system (MDS) that's supposed to fuel by running the engine as a four-cylinder under light load. Either our judges never had the truck under light load, or the system works transparently. We're guessing the former more than the latter because we only managed to get 10 1/2 mpg out of our test Ram. Still, we appreciate the attempt.
That world-class drivetrain then found a home in Dodge's all-new boxed frame chassis that feels solid everywhere. Our judges appreciated the new coilover-shock front suspension that gives controlled movement through every inch of front suspension travel. And the rear leaf-spring setup has evolved to give a great ride with very little wheelhop for an unloaded pickup truck. Bottom line: The new suspension literally puts the old torsion-bar truck to shame.The word from Dodge was this new Ram 1500 SLT Quad Cab was all about refinement. We'll buy that 'cause while we had the new Dodge on the lift we noticed a lot of new sound- and vibration-canceling hardware. Dodge even fixed our biggest pet peeve on these trucks, the front doors no longer tear the weather-stripping when you open and close them.
We'd love to tell you that the TRX4 Off Road package our test truck had made the Dodge an off-road animal. The truth is the new limited-slip rear axle, red shocks, and LT275/70R17 Goodyear tires only added to what at its core is a very capable platform. What we'd really like to see is a limited slip in the front, and the Power Wagon's electric locker in the rear. How about it Dodge? Want to try for a repeat next year?
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