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The Dodge Ram 1500 light-duty lineup includes one V-6 and two V-8 power plants. Photo: Chrysler LLC

With dealers closing and eager to eliminate inventory, this may be the best time in more than a decade to buy new pickup trucks.

Because of economic uncertainty, dealers are willing to deal and manufacturers are supporting them with significant incentives. All are finding it better to trim profit margins rather than face the high costs of carrying inventory or idling factories.

This year, Dodge and Ford have brand-new pickups with fresh features and improved operating economy. This month we'll look at the Dodge Ram 1500.

Like its competitors, the Ram has ample capability for any task, depending on which of three engines is specified. There are one V-6 and two V-8s . All 1500s use gasoline. If you want diesel, you'll have to get the 2500 or 3500.

The smallest Ram engine, 3.7-liter V-6, has a chain-driven single overhead camshaft (SOHC) and two valves per cylinder. With 210 hp and 235 foot-pounds torque, there's enough for many operations but not four-wheel drive. Economy is estimated at 14 mpg city/20 mpg highway.

The most popular seller will be the SOHC 4.7-liter V-8. A few years ago, 250 hp was high power in a pickup, but this engine cranks out 310 hp and 330 foot-pounds, more than adequate for four-wheel drive and most service needs.

For off-road, carrying a full crew, hauling and towing lots of equipment, and operating in hilly terrain, consider the 390-hp “Hemi” (for hemispherical combustion chambers) with 407 foot-pounds. In two-wheel drive this 5.7-liter engine delivers an EPA-estimated 14 mph city/20 highway, the same as the V-6. It's capable of payloads up to 1,690 pounds and towing exceeding 8,500 pounds.

Tailgate height is a bit less than 35 inches. With 20 inches for pickup walls, lift-over height when loading from the side is 4 feet 7 inches. But load and capability are just part of the Ram 1500 story. Comfort and storage are what are really new. The Crew Cab has a larger rear door, with commensurate interior space; with the rear seats folded up, there's almost 64 cubic feet of storage.

The Quad Cab with standard hinged doors can hold three people in the rear, although not as comfortably as the Crew Cab. With seats folded, it can store up to 55.5 cubic feet.

In all models, wind and road noise have been reduced. That may also be due in part to the coil-spring rear suspension. The Ram is the only pickup to break from traditional leaf springs. It has a softer ride, with control and stability provided by a multilink suspension.

For those in northern states, a heated steering wheel comes with the optional package that includes heated seats.

Storage can be as important as capacity, especially for maintenance support trucks. The Ram Box storage system is a lockable, weatherproof, and drainable set of illuminated storage bins — one inside each cargo box side wall. It's part of a cargo management system that includes pickup-bed dividers; a cargo rail system with sliding, adjustable cleats; and a 2-foot bed extender. It also includes store-in-the-floor storage bins.

Safety features include side curtain air bags and an electronic stability program with all-speed traction control, trailer sway control, and hill start assist in addition to anti-lock brakes.

As pickups become more powerful and economical, features may make the difference. Dodge's unique features are ride and storage. They could be deciding factors.

— Paul Abelson (truckwriter@anet.com) is a former director of the Technology and Maintenance Council of the American Trucking Association, a board member of Truck Writers of North America, and active in the Society of Automotive Engineers.