Sunday, August 27

The American auto industry - in 2007, still producing trucks that get 7 mpg

2007 Dodge Ram SRT10: Overpriced, Overpowered and Proud of It


this truck doesn’t care about mileage, or about refinement, or about not scaring children. This truck could be more politically incorrect only if it ran on whale oil and panda tears. And that’s why I like it, sort of. The SRT10 is not a truck of half-measures — it’s gleefully over-the-top in just about every way. Its 510-horsepower engine, borrowed from the Dodge Viper, is a callous brute, rocking the truck on its suspension even at idle.

At full throttle, the four-speed automatic shifts so hard that you expect to see it in the rearview mirror, scattered about the pavement. Twin tailpipes emit a guttural roar pretty much constantly, but you can drown them out with the 508-watt Infinity stereo. There’s a deep air dam in the front, a hood scoop that wears a “Viper Powered” badge and a spoiler perched atop the tailgate. The tailgate spoiler gets my vote as the new reference to complete the phrase “As American as ...”

We are a people who create downforce-producing aerodynamic devices for pickup trucks, because our pickup trucks go so fast that they’d otherwise fly right into the air like the magic car in “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.” You listening, Al Qaeda? You may as well just give up right now.

From a practical standpoint, this thing is a tough proposition. On one hand, it has four practical doors, and it can tow up to 8,150 pounds. Wonderfully unburdened by a speed limiter, the two-door version does 150 miles an hour, and this one probably also approaches that distinctly untrucklike velocity. So it’s potentially useful if you like to tow boats down the autobahn.

On the other hand, the sticker on my test truck totaled $57,460, which included a $1,595 navigation system and a $1,200 rear-seat DVD entertainment system, among other niceties. For that stack of cash, you could have a Hemi-powered regular-cab Ram 1500 and a Mercedes-Benz C230 sedan.

Or — I just looked this up — you could buy 20 acres of ranch land in Montalba, Tex. But I have a feeling that if you’re really interested in buying a $57,000 pickup truck, you might already own Montalba, Tex.

The SRT10’s ride-handling balance is tilted in favor of comfort, probably in deference to the fact that an object this immense is never going to give a Lotus a run for its money in the twisties, no matter how stiff the suspension, and like a classic muscle car it gets confused by corners.

I’ll wager that if the truck had merely gargantuan wheels (say, 20-inchers), it would keep its tires in better contact with the pavement. As it is, the springs and dampers struggle to control the weight of the huge 22-inch wheels at each corner. Trying to make a suspension work properly with 22-inch wheels is like fashioning a yo-yo out of a bowling ball and some string. They do look nice, though.

Now, I know that thrifty fuel economy isn’t a priority here. I also know that your garden-variety 4x4 pickup will probably never see 20 m.p.g. But the Ram SRT10 rivals a torched oil well for sheer profligacy — and, oh yes, it demands premium.

I managed mileage in the double digits only because I made a highway-heavy road trip. Around town, I was getting 7 or 8 m.p.g. With more than a quarter-tank of fuel remaining, I gassed up to the tune of $74.28. If I’d come close to running the 34-gallon tank dry, the big red truck would have had the dubious distinction of being my first $100 fill-up.

One advantage of the Ram’s pavement-crushing weight and cinder-block aerodynamics is that those are two identifying characteristics of a truck, and trucks are not subject to the federal gas-guzzler tax. So while the Viper and its 20 m.p.g. highway rating get hit with the guzzler label, a Ram SRT10 with the same engine but much worse fuel economy does not. But nobody ever said life was fair for Viper owners.

The Ram SRT10 Quad Cab may not make fiscal or ecological sense, but I appreciate the chutzpah it represents. Nobody else was making a four-door truck with 510 horsepower, so the Dodge people took it upon themselves to fill the void.

Mission accomplished, it seems: after a three-year run, 2006 is the last year for the Viper-powered pickup. The SRT10 Quad Cab is the truck to end all trucks, including itself.