Pickup trucks are America's ultimate raw material. Generic in concept, the lowly pickup truck can be configured in dozens, even hundreds of ways to specifically suit any need, and practically any price point. The fastest-growing segment is full-size crew cab pickups. Crew cabs combine exceptional seating comfort, personal use features and unlimited hauling potential to create an extremely versatile vehicle.
Dodge has addressed that by creating the largest crew cab pickup available, the Ram Mega Cab. The extra-large cab has been created by re-proportioning the relationship between cab and bed, adding 20 inches to the cab and shortening the bed to 6 feet, three inches.
The result is acres of cab space. The Mega Cab seats six, with plenty of head, shoulder, leg and hip room. The back seats are roomy and comfortable with reclining seatbacks, separate rear heating and air conditioning outlets, reading lights and a center armrest with cup holders, and available DVD entertainment. And there's space behind the back seats for cargo.
Folding down the back seats reveals a huge cargo area (72.2 cubic feet) with a flat load floor. The rear doors open big and wide, making it easy to load stuff inside. Covered bins are provided back there for storing gear and smaller items, and hooks are provided for hanging things.
Mega Cab pickups can be ordered in 1500, 2500 and 3500 configurations, but all are built on the Dodge Ram Heavy Duty platform. They ride and drive like heavy duty pickups and don't make much sense if you're not towing and hauling heavy loads.
Mega Cabs make a lot of sense if you're towing. All boast big towing capacities, up to 15,900 pounds, with payloads of up to 2,970 pounds. The available Cummins Turbo Diesel puts out 610 pound-feet of torque, and the 5.7-liter Hemi V8 that comes on the 1500 and 2500 models isn't exactly a slouch.
These trucks are best on long trips where, once you get under way, you don't want to stop. And with the Mega Cab, there will be no need. It's a low-effort cruiser, relaxed and efficient under load. It's not the ideal commuter, being more comfortable in the wide-open spaces of big roads and big driveways. Driving a Mega Cab much with empty seats would be a waste.
The 2006 Dodge Ram Mega Cab comes in two trim levels, SLT and Laramie, with a range of engine choices, payloads and towing capacities.
The Mega Cab 1500 is the light-duty configuration, but it still can still haul payloads of up to 2,430 pounds and trailers of up to 8,750 pounds when equipped with 4.10 axle gears. The Mega Cab 1500 comes with the 5.7-liter Hemi V8 and a five-speed automatic transmission. The 1500 Mega Cab ranges from SLT 4x2 ($31,860) to the Laramie 4x4 ($40,175).
The Mega Cab 2500 ($34,165) comes standard with the Hemi V8, optional with the Cummins 5.9-liter Turbo Diesel and a six speed manual ($4,385) or four-speed automatic ($5,555). The 2500 SLT is available with 4WD ($37,280). Laramie trim is available with 2WD ($39,260) or 4WD ($42,375) 2500 models.
The 3500 Mega Cab ($39,510) comes with the Cummins diesel mated to the six-speed manual transmission or optional four-speed automatic ($1,095). It's also available with 4WD ($42,600) and is available as a Laramie 2WD ($44,605) or 4WD ($47,695).
SLT is the standard trim on 2006 Mega Cabs, and includes cloth upholstery, air conditioning, AM/FM stereo with CD player and four speakers, an overhead console with mini trip computer and compass, speed control, power windows and door locks, keyless entry, four-wheel disc brakes with four-wheel ABS. On 4x4 models, a part-time manual shift transfer case is standard. A full-size spare tire is standard.
Options for SLT trim includes a power-sliding rear window ($295), a bed liner, trailer tow mirrors, power sun roof ($850), power adjustable pedals ($120), AM/FM/6CD/MP3 with Infinity speakers ($950), cassette ($100), navigation radio ($2,545), Sirius Satellite Radio ($195), DVD rear-seat entertainment system ($1,200), UConnect Bluetooth hands-free wireless communication system ($325), bucket seats ($850), and 17-inch forged aluminum wheels ($345). A part-time electric shift transfer case is available on 4WD models.
Laramie adds leather upholstery, dual-zone climate control, steering-wheel-mounted audio controls, heated front seats, security alarm, auto-dimming rearview mirror, and Sentry Key engine immobilizer. Options on the Laramie package include a power sun roof, bucket seats, Bluetooth, and the navigation radio.
Safety features include dual front multi-stage airbags, three-point belts in all seating positions with constant-force retractors, LATCH child-seat anchors, child-protection rear door locks, and four-wheel anti-lock brakes. Side-curtain airbags for front and rear seats are optional ($490).
The Dodge Ram Mega Cab offers a striking presence, taking the Big Rig look to another level. From the front, a more refined crosshair grille with strong, full-chrome collar remains instantly recognizable as a strong Dodge Ram signature. New, angular headlamps are distinctive, and deliver 22 percent more light intensity by use of halogen bulbs. The front bumper is massive, integrated with the equally bold hood and fender combination. The ram's head emblem is moved to the center of the grille for 2006. Chrome accents add to the bold, metallic design.
From the side, the Mega Cab makes an even more dramatic impression. Very wide rear doors are unique to the immense Mega Cab, with a very large proportion of window glass to door. The second-row window glass is tinted, suggesting a limousine. Behind this huge cab, the bed looks small, but it remains significantly large: 6 feet, 3 inches in length and 51 inches wide between the wheel wells. Wheels are sparkling 17-inch chrome units, with tires nicely proportioned to the Ram's physical size.
The front grilles of the SLT and Laramie trim levels are differently styled, providing an external visual cue.
All Ram pickups offer unusually wide, roomy cabs with lots of storage. The Mega Cab's interior space is nearly identical to that of a Quad Cab with the exception of rear legroom. The Mega Cab adds some 22 inches of cab length to the already-wide interior, taking second-row spaciousness beyond any previous concept. The Mega Cab's rear seats offer 44.2 inches of legroom, compared with 36.7 for a Quad Cab. And there is room for the rear seats to recline, tilting up to 37-degrees for added comfort. The rear seats also have their own separate rear air conditioning and heat outlets, reading lights and a center armrest with cup holders.
DVD entertainment for rear seat passengers is available, with wireless headsets and integrated game ports. Behind the passengers is a power sliding rear window for flow-through ventilation. Because of the added length of the second-row seating area, the air bag system had to be redesigned with larger side curtain air bags. Each side air bag has its own impact sensor in order to trigger the air bag on the side where impact occurs.
From the driver's seat, the view is of a wide center stack with large knobs and buttons, precisely finished with consistent angles and cut lines throughout. The instrument panel cluster, revised for 2006, is located under a more prominent dash brow to reduce glare and improve visibility of six white-faced gauges. A substantial four-spoke steering wheel houses cruise control buttons and available stereo controls. Rectangular, slat-type air vents close flush.
There is a marked distinction between the SLT and Laramie trim levels. In SLT trim, the dash is textured plastic. The Laramie package makes extensive use of wood trim inside, with less use of plastic, for a more distinctive appearance.
The seats are generously padded and proved to be comfortable, especially the six-way driver's seat in the Laramie, which can be shifted around as any particular position becomes tiresome on long trips. The leather upholstery adds a rich appearance to the interior of Laramie models. With the optional front bucket seats, a new center console extends from the dashboard.
Everything about the Ram screams full size. Even those of us used to operating domestic pickups and tow vehicles will be taken aback by the Ram's imposing size. Inside the cabin, it is a long reach to hand something across the console to a passenger, and there would be no hope of leaning across to open the passenger door, or grab something from the opposite door pocket. Interior door handles are large and heavily built, consistent with the large size of the Ram doors.
The cabin is loaded with nicely sized trays, slots and pockets. It seemed there was always a safe place to put something down, yet keep it within easy reach. The center console is big enough for a laptop, and is designed with fold-down dividers.
The optional 5.8-inch navigation screen is surrounded by buttons and knobs. With the standard front bench seat, a very wide center console flips up to allow makeshift center seating. There is additional storage under the front seat.
Several power outlets are provided for the front seats. The dash power outlet is ignition switched, while the cigar lighter is always on, so we used it to charge a cell phone. A third outlet is available in the center console.
Testing the rear seat was a defining moment. One passenger, six-feet, three-inches tall, had no problem stretching out completely with the rear seats reclined. A rear-seat passenger spent an entire day with us, and declined to move up front at the halfway point.
Getting in the Mega Cab requires a big step up, but the rear doors swing open almost 90 degrees, so access is easier for people or cargo. Behind the rear seats is even more storage, in the form of bins that are designed to accommodate tools or sports equipment.
We found the optional seven-speaker, 384-watt Infinity sound system to be remarkably good for a truck
The Dodge Ram Mega Cab feels like a big, heavy duty pickup because it is a big, heavy duty pickup. All Rams are wide, and on small, rural roads oncoming traffic sometimes required us to edge away from the center line to create comfortable passing for both parties.
Parking a truck as big as a Mega Cab requires some care, and some experience. We found it necessary to execute three-point turns into most parking spaces and sometimes to get out and look to check our final position. This, even with a very quick 2.75-turn steering ratio that helps maneuvering at low speeds.
The steering has been improved on all the Rams. The 2WD Mega Cab comes with rack-and-pinion steering, while 4WD models come with a recirculating ball system. We found a minimum of bump steer and relatively precise tracking, not easy to engineer on a tall 4x4.
We noticed right away that the use of laminated window glass and re-designed door seals has cut down on wind noise, inherent in big pickups with wide mirrors. The interior is remarkably quiet, even as we ran the air conditioning, which offers minimal fan noise on the lower settings. With any pickup, especially a 4x4, a certain amount of noise and vibration is to be expected.
We were quite comfortable in an all-day drive in a Laramie model through historic Civil War towns of Virginia. We drove on state roads and byways, through Leesburg and Manassas, Delaplane and Carpathian. We passed gracious historic estates, with rolling hills, grazing horses and green grass. There were quaint towns and the occasional churchyard, with continuous split-rail fencing following the two-lane roadways.
With the heavier spring package that comes on 3500 models, we noticed some vibration leaking through to the cabin as we passed over rough railroad tracks and bridged creek crossings, but overall, found the chassis to be well damped, with a nice balance between the opposing priorities of comfort, control, and load-bearing capability. As a general rule, the more weight a heavy-duty pickup carries, the more the ride improves.
The 5.7-liter Hemi V8 is rated at 13/17 city/highway mpg in the 1500 with the automatic transmission. The Hemi is a heavily built overhead-valve, pushrod V8, with a cast-iron block and hemispherical combustion chambers. It develops 345 horsepower at 5400 rpm. Like any good truck engine, it makes more torque than horsepower, delivering 375 pound-feet at 4200 rpm. The redline is set at 5800 rpm. In 4x4 trim, the 5.7-liter gets a 13/17 mpg EPA rating, when matched with the automatic. The Ram 2500 and 3500 models aren't subject to EPA testing.
The vaunted 5.9-liter Cummins Turbo Diesel is a straight six-cylinder fitted with an intercooled, turbocharged induction system, with fuel delivered via an electronic high-pressure common rail system. The advantage is additional torque, 610 pound-feet that comes on at just 1600 rpm. This engine has a reputation for reliability. The Cummins is not EPA rated, but it has been known to deliver around 20 mpg on the highway, give or take a few, when driven steadily, as in use with a tow vehicle.
The Cummins responds extremely well to part-throttle acceleration at low speeds. It's a remarkable engine, more like a medium-duty motor home power plant. The gas V8 is quieter, but the Cummins is the heavy-duty king. There is so much extra torque available; we never really needed engine speeds above 2000 rpm with just three people in the truck. Hauling heavy loads, or jumping onto a crowded freeway are the only times we would expect the Cummins to need full throttle. And it responds well in this situation. We stood on it to merge into some fast traffic in Michigan and were surprised and impressed by its responsiveness.
The Mega Cab is designed to tow and haul, so we tested the Cummins 3500 Mega Cab (single rear wheel with trailer brakes) by hauling an 11,200-pound horse trailer using a gooseneck hitch. The truck itself weighed 7200 pounds, for a Gross C
The Dodge Ram Mega Cab is designed to be the flagship of the heavy haulers. The Ram Quad Cab may be big, but the Mega Cab is bigger. It has the power and weight to tow heavy loads for long distances. And there is comfort for passengers in the process. For better ride and handling, the 2WD 1500 Mega Cab will be the choice. For best control handling heavy loads, the 3500 Mega Cab 2WD with Cummins would do the job. For heavy hauling, and accessing rough terrain when you get there, the 4x4 Mega Cab 3500 would be just the ticket.
New Car Test Drive correspondent John Stewart filed this report from Manassas, Virginia. NCTD.com editor Mitch McCullough contributed to this report.
|Model Line Overview|
|Base Price (MSRP)|
|Dodge Ram Mega Cab 1500 SLT 2WD ($31,860); 4WD ($35,080); Laramie 2WD ($36,995); 4WD ($40,175); 2500 SLT 2WD ($34,165); 4WD ($37,280); 2500 Laramie 2WD ($39,260); 4WD ($42,375); 3500 SLT 2WD ($39,510); 4WD ($42,600); 3500 Laramie 2WD ($44,605); 4WD ($47,695)|
|345-hp 5.7-liter ohv 16-valve V8; 5.9-liter Cummins Turbo Diesel|
|5-speed automatic; 6-speed manual; 4-speed automatic|
|Safety equipment (Standard):|
|dual front multi-stage airbags, three-point belts in all seating positions with constant-force retractors, LATCH child-seat anchors, child-protection rear door locks; four-wheel ABS|
|Safety equipment (Optional):|
|side-curtain airbags for front and rear seats|
|3 years/50,000 miles|
|Saltillo, Coahuila, Mexico|
|Specifications As Tested|
|Model tested (MSRP):|
|Dodge Ram Mega Cab 3500 Laramie 4x4 ($47,695)|
|leather upholstery, dual-zone climate control, steering-wheel-mounted audio controls, heated front seats, security alarm, auto-dimming rearview mirror, Sentry Key engine immobilizer; overhead console with mini trip computer and compass, cruise control, power windows and door locks, keyless entry, four-wheel disc brakes with four-wheel ABS; part-time manual shift transfer case|
|Options as tested:|
|side airbags ($490); 4-speed automatic transmission ($1,095); bucket seats ($490); navigation radio ($1,595); anti-spin differential; clearance lamps ($80); tow hooks ($50); skid plate for transfer case ($45); trailer mirrors ($100)|
|Gas Guzzler Tax:|
|Price as tested (MSRP)|
|5.9-Liter High Output Cummins Turbo Diesel I-6|
|Horsepower (hp @ rpm):|
|325 @ 2900|
|Torque (lb.-ft. @ rpm):|
|610 @ 1600|
|EPA fuel economy, city/hwy:|
|Head/hip/leg room, f:|
|Head/hip/leg room, m:|
|Head/hip/leg room, r:|
|live axle, five-link track bar, coil springs, stabilizer bar, gas-charged mono-tube shock absorbers|
|live axle, longitudinal leaf springs, gas-charged monotube shock absorbers|
|disc/disc with four-wheel ABS in.|