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Story by Jack Baruth

“Ram Box”. What the heck is it? Well, it’s not a particularly offensive rap song, although it could be. Instead, it’s a rather bizarre secure-storage system built into the 2009 Dodge Ram truck. In this third generation of “big rig” styling Dodge trucks, it appears that Chrysler has decided that it’s not enough to have a new HEMI engine, a completely new frame and body, a new 1500 CrewCab form factor, and a quality regiment that includes 6.5 million miles of testing: they’re actually throwing in the kitchen sink. A pair of kitchen sinks.

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According to our friends at Chrysler:

“RamBox is a unique, segment-exclusive cargo management system that includes four key elements:

  • Two weatherproof, lockable, drainable, lighted storage bins that run the length of the 5-foot-7-inch pickup bed, and are as wide as the wheel well, creating a total of 8.6 cubic feet of space;
  • Configurable bed dividers;
  • An adjustable bed extender that fits on the lowered tailgate that adds 2 feet of additional length to secure loads up to 7 feet long;
  • And a cargo rail system with sliding, adjustable cleats for tie-down versatility

Truck buyers want dry, lockable storage, and Rambox not only meets that need, it takes it a step further with the addition of built-in lights and drains. And there’s still enough room between each bin to lay a sheet of plywood flat in the pickup bed.” So there you have it. Actual kitchen sinks in a truck.

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The rest of the 2009 Ram, which debuts at the 2008 NAIAS (“Detroit Auto Show” for people who aren’t scared of the word “Detroit”), appears to be similarly impressive. The debut of the GMT900 pickup trucks in 2006 made the previous-generation Ram look a little rough around the edges, so every effort has been made to improve refinement, including triple-sealed doors, a variety of structural NVH reduction measures in the cab, and most interestingly, a coil-spring rear suspension. This feature, more than any other, shows Dodge is deadly serious about pursuing suburban (with a small “s”) truck buyers. A claimed payload of over 1,800 lbs and a max towing capacity of 9,100 indicate that Dodge hasn’t given up much work-truck ability to make this happen; still, in a market where Toyota is clogging televisions with ads for the Tundra’s 10,000-pound tow capacity, it’s a very considered and calculated decision to choose passenger comfort over a shocking tow-capacity number.

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The interior is chock-full of soft-touch materials, “six-ring instrumentation”, and two-tone upholstery. Side-curtain airbags are standard for front and rear passengers. There’s a MyGIG hard-drive music system and Sirius Backseat TV to keep the little cowboys occupied. If the previous Ram seemed a little short on soccer-mom features, the 2009 is making up the mommy gap with a vengeance.

There was no engine gap in the old Ram; it featured two of the industry’s best-loved trucking engines in the fuel-efficient MDS Hemi and iconic Cummins turbodiesel. That didn’t stop Dodge from adding variable valve timing to push the 5.7 HEMI to 380 horsepower and 404 pound-feet of torque, which is considerably better than Ford’s 5.4 Triton, equal to Toyota’s best truck V8, and only slightly behind the six-liter V8 in the GMC Sierra Denali. The Multi-Displacement System (MDS) has been revised to expand the range of conditions under which the engine will operate in four-cylinder mode. Presumably, Rammers who are towing 9,100 pounds won’t see much of that four-cylinder mode, but for the vast majority of drivers, MDS is a useful addition.

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This is an important vehicle for Chrysler. As fuel prices rise and the economy tightens, the full-size truck market is looking less like the pleasant money-maker of years past and more like a bare-knuckles brawl for every last possible sale. To succeed in this market, the Ram has to please a very wide range of customers – from urban cowboys who Armor-All their tires to construction-site foremen. We’ll be looking forward to seeing for ourselves if the ’09 has legs to match its coil springs; we already know it has a kitchen sink.

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Jack Baruth

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