The Dodge Ram SRT-10 wears the title of the world’s fastest pickup truck. We travel to sunny nelson to sample a vehicle that drives like a NASCAR racer fitted with a load tray.
Variety is the spice of a motor-noter’s life. One day you’re extracting close to 1000km of travel out of the 42-litre tank of a humble Mitsubishi Colt, the next you’re laying waste to the world’s reserves of fossil fuel in an 8.3 litre Dodge Ram SRT-10. With its US-oriented instantaneous fuel-use readout hovering around the seven miles-per-gallon mark during urban driving, the hottest-performing pickup qualifies as a vehicle that OPEC could endorse. It’s drinks like a Bentley Arnage Turbo but wears workingman’s drag. And it drives like a Dodge Viper that has spent too much time cruising the drive-through lanes at Macca’s.
In coming close to replicating the Viper’s driving persona, the fastest Ram does so while weighing one tonne more and costing 100K less. Any comparison with the supercar, which donated the SRT-10’s powertrain, will confirm that the pickup represents both a more practical and a more affordable drive. At $155,000, the rambunctious Dodge is an amazing $102,000 cheaper than the Viper, yet it commands the same level of street-cred and is capable of hauling all your recreational ‘toys’ when required. No tow-friendly vehicle is likely to make a bigger impact when parked up in the pits of a motorsport or watersport event. The race team associated with this magazine is equipped with Holden and Chevy V8s, but rest assured that the use of a SRT-10 to tow a car (or two) to the track would be welcomed by the crew – forget ‘bow-tie’ brand loyalty.
Then take the SRT-10 to an inviting road, with turns aplenty to encourage sports driving, and it offers a close facsimile to the driving experience of a supercar. Used to its fullest potential, it becomes a far more wieldy thing than its heavyweight pickup truck origins would imply. Forget high-performance Aussie utes like the HSV Maloo and FPV Pursuit: this is a NASCAR with a ‘full metal jacket’ load tray fitted out back, a bullet with just one aim: to be the fastest load-hauler ever. It succeeds. When NASCAR pilot, Brendan Gaughan, took an SRT-10 to a two-way average speed of 248.76km/h, he officially entered the Guinness Book of Records as driver of the world’s quickest pickup truck. Had he remembered to fold in the industrial-sized side mirrors of the Ram during the attempt, he would have easily broken through the 250km/h barrier.
It takes Big Horsepower to take something with the aerodynamic efficiency of a barn door to such speeds, and the Viper’s 8.3 litre V10 is happy to provide it. The extra mass of the Ram hardly wearies Chrysler’s most powerful engine, judging by the acceleration on offer in the first four of its six forward gears. Once past the 3000rpm mark, the V10 really hits its stride, while emitting a soundtrack that recalls bumper-to-bumper battles at Bristol. The NASCAR analogy fits the SRT-10 like a tailored suit. Built by the Performance Vehicle Operations arm of Dodge, it is a road-going version of vehicles developed by PVO for NASCAR’s pickup truck series. It drives like PVO has taken a NASTRUCK, raised it slightly, removed the load-bay cover, and added creature comforts, lights and mirrors.
The real story of PVO’s development of its limited production run of 2000 Ram SRT-10s reads a little differently from this, however. The starting point was in fact the single-cab Ram 1500, which PVO lowered by 20mm and to which it added a rear stabiliser bar, along with a beefier sway bar up front. Suspension mods included Bilstein shocks, and firmer springs all round, while the 22-inch wheel/tyre package makes history as being the first of this size for a production pickup. The large, chromed ten-spokers really crown the SRT-10 as the King of Bling: by comparison, the 21-inchers fitted to the Rolls-Royce Phantom look inadequate. The wheels so dominate the side view of the Dodge that the rest of the truck looks almost minuscule by comparison. It isn’t, of course: like the rest of the Dodge Ram range, when parked alongside Aussie V8 utes, the SRT-10 dwarfs them like Matchbox toys.
Out back, the leaf-sprung live axle of the Ram remains, and the Dana M60 rear diff is a heavy-duty limited-slip item specially modded by PVO to tolerate the sort of abuse that might occur on a Saturday night in Main Street, USA. You can dump the clutch in the SRT-10 at will – provided you can afford the tyre bill – thanks to a trick horizontally-mounted shock absorber fitted to the top of the diff that completely eliminates axle tramp and wheel-hop. There’s nothing this truck likes better that reserving two of its tyres for turn’n’ and two for burn’n’. However, hazing the rear bags is an exercise that’s potentially expensive enough to be reserved for special occasions only. Replacement of the 305/40ZR22 Pirelli Scorpion Zero tyres will set you back $1100 a pop in New Zealand.
Driving the SRT-10 in Nelson – far from our favoured test road – gave us no opportunity for VBOX measurement. Had we been able to collect the data, we suspect the 0-100km/h time would have been pretty similar to that of the Maloo or Pursuit. The Viper engine, developing a neat 500bhp (372kW) at 5300rpm, might have the potential to outgun the smaller V8s of the two Hot Ocker utes, but the Ram has more mass to move, and the Tremec T56 six-speed manual gearbox doesn’t like to be hurried through an upshift. Despite the fitment of a snaky Hurst gear lever to give the driver more leverage in the shift, the Tremec prefers a slow, deliberate approach, and this would have hurt 0-100 performance, which we’d estimate at 5.9 seconds, given the right launch and an optimum shift into second. Motor Trend magazine were more optimistic with its guesswork, identifying a 5.2-second 0-60mph performance.
However, 80-120km/h overtaking performance is a different story altogether, as the ’box of the Ram appeared to optimise third gear for the bridging of these target speeds, and the time taken by the Dodge wouldn’t be extended by the shift action. Expect the SRT-10 to accumulate the extra 40km/h of open-road speed in three seconds flat – or less. It really feels as fast as any Evolution Lancer. Fourth is the last of the Tremec’s ratios that really lets the V10 sing in high notes. Fifth and sixth drop the revs so low that they should be considered fuel-saving overdrives. So much so, we stopped using top halfway through the SRT-10 test. It’s so tall that it’s best reserved for the German Autobahn, and we doubt that even Gaughan would have used it during his successful attempt at the speed record. Cruising along in the SRT-10 in fifth, with 100km/h equating to 2000rpm of engine speed, the fuel-use readout recorded a more respectable 18 miles per gallon.
After dispatching the flatter, more populous roads of Tasman Bay, we pointed the SRT-10 in the direction of Takaka Hill, one of the most serpentine roads in the world. After expecting the Dodge’s truck-like dimensions to be a handful on its tight twists, the agility the SRT-10 displayed was a real surprise. The wide Pirellis don’t want for bite and grip, and the front pair is directed by a sportily geared steering rack. A flick of the wrists is all that’s required to get the 2.3-tonne pickup targeting the corner apex with the same enthusiasm as a Mazda MX-5, and the rest of the truck faithfully follows the lead of the front tyres. The hill road was damp in patches, with spring sunshine finally melting winter’s permafrost in the shaded parts of the road, yet the Dodge doggedly resisted oversteer, despite the introduction of nearly 800Nm of torque to the rear wheels. There was the odd ‘chirp’ from the inside rear tyre on bumpier corner exits, but the Dodge made no demands on the driver for opposite lock. It was an impressive display of the idiot-proof cage Dodge has made for the potentially venomous Viper powertrain. An SS or XR8 ute would have been a much more demanding drive on this road in these conditions, and the SRT-10 gives every impression that it can generate the same 1.0G of lateral grip as the supercar that donated its powertrain.
Nonetheless, the SRT-10’s steering will be an acquired taste for many drivers. The PVO people certainly gave the gearing of the rack a big nudge towards sports-car-land, but we feel they went overboard on the power assistance. Steering effort is a tad too light in a rack that requires just 2.4 turns to go from lock to lock. The rack gearing also quickens as the outer extremes of the pinion travel is reached, creating an inconsistency for which the driver has to account.
Potential owners must also expect the SRT-10 to ride like a race car. Given its top-speed potential it would have been remiss of PVO to set up the suspension any other way. The result is a ride that feels at times like a massage from a Sumo wrestler. At highly illegal speeds, the SRT-10’s springs and dampers finally achieve a compliance that can be called comfortable, but those with bad backs should not apply.
Countering the suspension are comfy, power-adjustable seats. These are of Recaro quality for lateral and lumbar support. There are also fewer of Chrysler’s usual ergonomic glitches on display inside the SRT-10’s cabin, thanks in part to the superb right-hand-drive conversion done by Auckland’s Walton Special Vehicles. Whereas using the factory-fitted left footrest on a right-hook Cherokee requires you to amputate your leg just above the ankle, the Dodge’s is perfectly positioned. The pedal spacing is equally deserving of applause, and the alloy items are delightfully light to operate. The middle pedal accesses strong stopping power and the brakes steadfastly resist fade, though a little lessening of pedal travel would be nice.
The Dodge SRT-10 is a lot more than just the world’s fastest pickup truck. It’s a roomier, more practical alternative to a Viper that offers at least 90 per cent of that supercar’s performance. If you’re attracted to the Lamborghini-inspired V10 engine (and who isn’t?), the Ram SRT-10 version offers the draw card of another 300cc of engine capacity for a lot less dollars. And if this all really pushes your buttons, then you’d better move fast. Of the 2000-unit production run, New Zealand has been allocated just eight Ram SRT-10s, and the New Zealand importer, Houston Motors in Nelson, says four have already been sold.
|Model||2004 Dodge Ram SRT-10||Price||$155,000|
|Engine||8298cc, V10, EFI, 372kW/712Nm||Drivetrain||6-speed manual, RWD|