Driving the Mopar Underground's Latest Dodge Ram Project in Moab

Mopar Underground Dodge Ram 1500
By John Stewart

Photos by John Stewart, Chrysler

Every year for the past few years, Mopar Performance has brought a brace of customized off-road vehicles to share with thousands of off-road enthusiasts that jam Moab, Utah, for the annual gathering known as Easter Jeep Safari. The engineers who build them like to call themselves the Mopar Underground.

Usually, Mopar Underground creations are proof-of-concept vehicles, having been built by enthusiastic Jeep and Mopar engineers to illustrate an idea or a plan in the works. Almost always, they are within a few months or a year of becoming available to enthusiasts in some way, shape or form. Vehicles such as the first-generation Dodge SRT4 are products of the Mopar Underground initiative.

Jim Sassorossi, director of Global Parts Sales and Marketing for Mopar Parts, told us the Mopar team gets valuable insights by talking to its core customers “about their unmet needs.”

“We’re also here to debut new off-road performance parts that are being considered for release,” he said.

Mopar Underground Dodge Ram 1500

Of the six custom vehicles that made the trip from Mopar headquarters this April, one in particular caught our eye. The engineers called it Big Red, a lifted Dodge Ram 1500 Quad Cab that had the latest in Mopar accessories and performance parts. Dodge allowed us to study, photograph and romp around in sand dunes near Moab with Big Red.

Big Red drives about the same as any new Ram 1500 equipped with relatively tall 3.55-to-1 rear axle gearing. In stock trim, the 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 is rated to produce 390 horsepower and 407 pounds-feet of torque. It’s likely Big Red's Hemi makes a little more top-end power, due to the cold air intake/dual cat-back exhaust modification. One thing is for sure — the truck really sings under full throttle, belting out a head-turning performance exhaust note. Our drive in the truck quickly attracted bystanders.

Full-size pickups are usually a little heavy to be considered natural dune runners. But in low range, and with a little momentum, we found ourselves ripping around bowls and powering up dune faces. As the dune surfaces got chewed up and the sand became loose, the value of the 4-inch suspension system and tires became apparent. It took more speed to stay on top of the choppy surfaces, but with 37-inch BFG 1250R20 tires and a longer shock, the more irregular surface dips were still absorbed by the suspension without undue bucking or bottoming.

Mopar Underground Dodge Ram 1500

The design of the suspension retains the best of the factory pieces, while adding clearance and damping control for taller tires. The hardware includes Bilstein monotube high-pressure gas replacement strut cylinders at the front to compensate for the heavier wheel/tire combination, and brackets that relocate the front control arms downward.

In the back, the four-link suspension becomes a clear performance advantage in off-road terrain, as it more easily travels from side to side and droops to keep tires on the ground. To add travel, the stock factory links are retained, but the attachment points are relocated using new brackets, and the coil springs are replaced with taller springs; no spring spacers are used.

Though there are always some tradeoffs when increasing tire size, steering effort and precision felt good for a full-size pickup. Front track width might be slightly increased due to the wider tires, but something very close to the factory turning radius is retained, and the suspension kit design seems to allow for good alignment. At Mopar's press conference in Moab, engineering manager Keith Montone said the new Mopar lift kits would be offered with a limited lifetime warranty.

Mopar Underground Dodge Ram 1500

The lift kit on this particular Ram 1500 requires a minimum of 18-inch wheels. The 37-by-12.5-inch tire size seemed about the maximum the suspension would support, and maybe a little more in terms of width. The setup allowed the tires to extend about an inch outboard of the wheel wells. That’s not a glaring problem, and it can easily be remedied by choosing a narrower tire or by adding fender flares. We noticed that the front fenders had been slightly trimmed for extra turning clearance, at the rear of the wheel well, but we had to look closely to see it. Beyond that, we didn’t see a lot of evidence that the tire had contacted the wheel well during use, which was surprising considering how heavily the suspension had been cycled during our dune running.

Another tradeoff that comes from taller tires has to do with gearing. By adding 37-inch tires, overall gearing gets taller, meaning there should be less available acceleration off the line, and highway cruising would move to a lower rpm. Our impression, with 3.55-to-1 rear ring and pinion and a 2.72-to-1 low range, is that the truck didn’t lack for power, even at an elevation of 5,000 feet. Throttle response seemed sufficient for all but the slowest trail work. Gears of 3.92-to-1 are available for those who plan to add taller tires and want the lowest gearing possible.

We didn’t get any time on the highway with the concept truck, but the five-speed automatic clearly has a low-enough 1st gear to get the 37s rolling. And we’ll wager that even with tires in that size range the 5.7-liter Hemi could still power the overdrive gear without hunting or downshifting, except maybe on the steepest highway passes. On flat ground, you’d probably see better highway mileage.

Mopar Underground Dodge Ram 1500

Other accessories included a tonneau cover for the bed and a front tow hook kit that attaches tow hooks to the frame. There's also a bed extender and a chrome bed gate. The transfer case is protected with a Mopar skid plate, and the hood has twin scoops.

Not all of Big Red's parts are shown on Mopar's website, but we were able to find many already listed in the current Mopar catalog.

Sassorossi told us that the Big Red concept is something Mopar dealers would be able to build for customers using all Mopar parts. According to product development manager P.T. Muldoon, more parts are coming online shortly as Mopar ramps up. “There will be another wave in Q2,” he told us.

Mopar Underground Dodge Ram 1500

Comments

the only answer I would like to know is : Why dodge has deleted their space cab or access cab instead of the ugly quad cab? this quad cab style is so unbeautiful and not disproportionate

Leave the off road trucks to ford and the raptor poor reply to fords raptor dodge.

Hm, seems like Dodge is going to continue the Ram PowerWagon. Big Red Express Truck...Underground! :)

You have to remember ther Raptor was specially designed for it's purpose. This is just a lift kit applied to a plain as day truck.

Don't care who you are...thats a good looking truck!

Dodge make a short bed reg cab and might be a winner for me. I love the 4.7 but put in a diesel hybrid system and I really would be the first in line.

Nice! Mike, did you get any video of Big Red romping in the dunes that you could put on YouTube? :)

i want

Leave the off road trucks to ford and the raptor poor reply to fords raptor dodge.
Posted by: Zach

-----

My thoughts exactly.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1ytCEuuW2_A

This truck is NOT a reply to Ford's Raptor. I can't believe some of you guys actually think that. It's just a new iteration of the Ram that fills a gap where there isn't a "more-serious" 1/2 ton off-road truck, like the 3/4 ton Power Wagon. Besides, the article states that the parts could potentially be available, and that DEALERS will be able to build the trucks. It isn't even (yet) a production vehicle. You Ford guys need to relax and stop being on the defense. If Dodge wanted to make a truck like the Raptor, they would. And you know what? This truck would be FAR more affordable for somebody who wants to taste a little bit of the off-road. I'm sure the Raptor SVT is something most of us wouldn't be able to afford without refinancing the mortgage!!

actually the ford raptor starts at 38,000 and im sure this truck is pushing 33,000..

Ok a fully loaded dodge ram for 33,000 or a base model raptor svt for 38000 doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that this ram would be alot more affordable for someone who wants a little taste of off-road but still wants a nice riding road truck, where as the ford raptor is wanting to be all off-road good for them, but the road quality will probally suck but we will wait til ford steps up and produces the raptor before you can say its going to be a good truck it could flop like other vehicles out there...

i like to have the dodge ram 1500 5.7l laramie in white and manuell can you tell me the price ( i don't want the navigation i'd like to have the dvd player inside) thanks

If Dodge were to "reply" to the Ford Raptor, Dodge would get with KORE suspension and then they'd have a truck that Ford COULD not touch.

Umm .. a reply to the Raptor?? That is funny. I'm assuming you FORD fanboi's have never heard of the Dodge RAM POWERWAGON?

Dodge was before Ford in developing an off-road optioned truck. Seems the the Raptor is actually the reply to the PowerWagon in halfton form.

Its ok, all manufacturers feed off each others ideas. Thank god Dodge brought out the Club Cab. :)

I believe the raptor will be a flop nothing but hype i believe that this is a way more practical truck and further more the z71 has been around way longer than the raptor and it is a half ton so ford is just replying to that because the f-150 fx4 or whatever there off-road package is is inadequate sorry ford but you'll never live up to real truck standards

I have always had a GMC Sierra 4 x 4 with a v-8 and love them, but I tried the new Dodge Ram 1500 4 x 4 in 2009. I have 13,000 miles on it and I enjoy it more than my GMCs. The ride is smoother, it is quieter (they put triple insulation on door trim for 2009 to address a road noise problem), and feels more powerful, although it is rated at less towing capability by 500 lbs. I got way more for my money in the amenities also! Chevy/GMC are just to proud, and Ford is just ridiculously priced (I know they received no bail out money, but that doesn't give me a better deal!) I really like my Dodge!

I have owned all 3 American made trucks. first a chevy then a ford now a dodge. my latest truck was going to be a raptor, but after seeing and riding in my friends I realized this truck is useless for a regular person. unless you drive down a horrific dirt road everyday or a least once in a wile there is no point in spending over $50,000 on a half ton truck that only cones in a supercab with a 5.5 ft box. Sure it looks awesome and ready for baja but lets get serious. My trx4 is awesome and with the 3" front and 2" rear coil spacer kit and 35" tires is can do anything i need it to. But i wouldn't enter it in the baja anytime soon



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