1998 Dodge Ram
Dodge has been playing the pickup game beautifully ever since it introduced the Ram in 1994. With this year’s introduction of a 4-door extended-cab pickup truck, Dodge has fired yet another shot across the bow of Ford, Chevy and GMC, which offer only three doors on their extended-cabs. The new Dodge Quad Cab, as it is called, is an option on all 1500 and 2500 extended cab trucks and it’s standard on the big 3500 models.
That one major product advantage is backed up by a host of other significant changes for 1998 from one end of the Ram family to the other. Interiors have been given a thorough makeover for the new year. A passenger-side air bag that can be switched off is now available.
For 1998, buyers will be able to get either a V10 gasoline engine or the Cummins turbodiesel in a 2500 series truck.
Dodge continues to offer an impressive list of powertrains. Like all of the domestic pickups, the Dodge Ram is available in three load ratings: 1500, 2500, and 3500. Three engines are available: a 3.9-liter V6, 5.2-liter V8, 5.9-liter V8 engines, 8.0-liter V10 and a Cummins 5.9-liter inline 6-cylinder diesel. Every engine comes with a choice of 5-speed manual or 4-speed automatic transmission. Rams come with either two- or four-wheel drive.
Most people opt for the V8 engines and both have been upgraded for 1998. Output from the 5.2-liter V8 has been raised from 220 to 230 horsepower and it earns an EPA city/highway rating of 14/19 mpg when fitted with the 5-speed manual and two-wheel drive. Power from the 5.9-liter V8 has been increased from 235 to 245 horsepower, with a jump in torque to 335 pound-feet; a two-wheel-drive automatic gets 13/17 mpg.
The Cummins turbodiesel puts out 215 horsepower and 440 pound-feet of trailer-pulling torque. The V10 gasoline engine is rated at 300 tire-smoking horsepower and 400 pound-feet of torque. The 3.9-liter V6 is unchanged with 175 horsepower and 225 pound-feet of torque and fuel economy ratings of 15/19.
Standard, Club Cab and Quad Cab bodies are available in LT, Laramie SLT, and SST trim levels. Regular-length beds are 6 1/2 feet long, optional long beds are 8 feet long.
Improvements for 1998 include a new keyless remote entry system, an upgraded base sound system, a new cassette and CD sound system option, leather seat availability on SLT versions, and a new Sport Plus package with 17-inch wheels and tires, suspension upgrades and 5.9-liter V8 with sport exhausts. A number of under-the-skin upgrades have been made, including electrocoated frame paint, and new exterior and new interior colors are available.
Dodge says the new Quad Cab design is as strong as a conventional pickup body shell even though it does not have a pillar between the doors. To improve structural rigidity, Dodge engineers designed a beam that runs crossways under the truck and strengthened the A and C pillars. Side door guard beams in the doors were also added.
The Sport package comes with a body-colored grille and front and rear bumpers, sport decals, fog lamps, outline white letter tires, and cast aluminum wheels.
The Ram Quad Cab offers owners a cavernous interior with conventional front doors and rear-hinged rear doors. The absence of a B-pillar makes it much easier to get in or out of the rear seat; it also makes it much easier to stick something behind the front seats. The door handles for the rear doors are integrated into the front interior face of the rear door, and this setup provides a more secure dual locking system for all four doors when the rear door is locked.
The instrument panel of all Dodge Rams has been changed for 1998 to a much more modern layout. This includes a new steering wheel design, a new set of reduced-force air bags, with a lockout for the passenger bag, a gaping storage hole, an extra power point, and new cupholders that will handle anything.
In order to get rid of a potentially messy array of dangling seat belts in the wide-open Quad Cab doorway, the designers have integrated the front seat belts into the seats themselves on all Rams. The console has also been redesigned. Other new interior features for 1998 include heated power mirrors, illuminated power door locks and window switches, and an optional security alarm system.
The cloth-covered seats in our test truck were plush, supportive and comfortable, not to mention nicely upholstered in a multicolored speckle-and-gray material. The front seat in all Rams is divided 40/20/40, with a huge fold-down central section that doubles as armrest and writing table. There’s a substantial storage box inside the armrest portion with divided spaces for coins, cassettes, maps or even a laptop computer.
The rear seat in the Quad Cab is the same seat used in the conventional extended cab version of the truck. It’s handy for children, pets and petite adults, but it is not comfortable for adults on long trips. The rear seat is fitted with two shoulder belts and one lap belt. The bench portion of the seat flips up out of the way effortlessly from either side for hauling tools or cargo.
Our Ram 1500 was fitted with the 5.2-liter V8 and a 5-speed manual. Driving it made us think of the old muscle car drag racing days on Woodward Avenue in Detroit. It’s that powerful and that much fun to drive.
It may not be ideally suited for a commuting situation where a lot of shifting would be involved, but it’s great fun on the boulevards. It’s also a really flexible, driveable combination in off-road situations, much more so than the automatic. The low-end torque of the engine and the low gearing in first and second gears make it easy to get around in most driving situations.
Front suspension on a Ram 4X4 is a coil spring setup with four leading arms, a track bar and a stabilizer bar to keep the front axle assembly located fore and aft and side to side. Rear suspension is a conventional live axle with leaf springs designed to carry heavy loads. We found the suspension delightfully smooth and supple on the street, aided by those big fat Goodyear RT/S tires. But the body is so high off the ground that some passengers–particularly females–had a great deal of entry/exit difficulty even with a grab bar on the A-pillar.
One thing we didn’t like about the Ram’s dynamics last year was the steering, which was light enough and quick enough, but had an enormous dead space on center, and seemed to require constant left-right adjustments to stay straight ahead. That has been fixed this year with a new steering gear setup and new steering geometry, and the feel of the truck is much more precise than earlier models.
Braking, with discs in front, drums in rear, was exemplary. The Ram stops quickly with superb straightline stability. Our truck was free of squeaks, rattles and shudders, and everything about it seemed a bit tighter, a bit smoother, a bit more high-quality than previous models we’ve driven.
This four-door Ram is so terrifically easy to use for a group of four or five people that it may lead the other three truck brands to offer four-door body styles in the very near future.
With the new dashboard, the new powertrain and body combinations for 1998, and all the basic goodness and style of the Ram, Dodge has an excellent package here.
There’s plenty of room for family hauling, plenty of ground clearance for off-roading, plenty of power, and plenty of style for just cruising around town or going to the beach.