Philip Reed, Senior Consumer Advice Editor
The guys from Dodge were having fun introducing the 2004 Dodge Ram 1500 SRT-10, using colorful phrases and lively language to describe what could only be thought of as an extreme truck. The typical references to safety, practicality and fuel mileage were missing.
One of the reps from Chrysler Groups Performance Vehicle Operations (PVO) observed that the SRT-10 wasn't afraid of bad weather, "not cyclones, typhoons or lightning." The gathered journalists laughed knowingly, realizing this was a reference to GMC's Syclone and Typhoon and the Ford SVT Lightning. Then, opening the hood, we all had a good laugh when we saw they had put a can of the energy drink "Whoop Ass" in the spare battery holder. By now, we were, as they say, chomping at the bit to drive it.
The best part of the introduction, though, was when they were about to turn us loose on the twisting roads around Austin, Texas, where the press event was being held. They told us that there would only be about 3,000 of the SRT-10s built and that the trucks we were about to drive were the only ones like it in the state. As we drove off, it occurred to us we were driving the meanest truck in Texas.
As the SRT-10 began gobbling up the road, we realized it would be very hard to obey the road signs that reminded motorists to "Drive Friendly." How do you do that in a truck that has a 500-horsepower Viper engine and a six-speed Hurst shifter? We found slower traffic pulled to the side as soon as we came up behind them. Was this a local custom? Or was it because of the Dodge's imposing "get out of the way" grille? Whatever, it was nice to have nothing but clear road ahead so we could test the retina-detaching acceleration produced by 525 pound-feet of torque which propels the Ram from a standstill to 60 mph in just over 5 seconds.
We know it's hard, but you have to remember that the SRT-10 is about more than its acceleration and road-clearing appearance. It also seems to be a solidly built truck that could tow a lot of stuff around at least that's our impression from a four-hour test-drive.
Let's start with the looks. It only comes in three colors black, red and silver and it looks good in all of them. It's a stocky truck with a short bed and from the front it does have a real mean appearance. From the side you'll notice it has a spoiler on the back end of the bed unusual for a truck, but not bad-looking, really. For those times when you actually need to load something into the truck, the spoiler unbolts and stores in the bed. From the rear, the twin chrome exhausts catch the eye and provide a nice contrast to the bold colors.
Inside the cab, the appearance is somewhat bare bones, which matches the performance style of the SRT-10; too many niceties would be out of place here. The seats, with suede facing and loads of lateral support, are wonderfully comfortable. But be warned, the stiff ride transmits road feel to the driver and passenger with jarring intensity. This isn't a vehicle for people who want to pamper themselves.
The dashboard is hard plastic and the radio looks standard issue. However, it comes with a 518-watt amp to match the 500 horsepower. Crank the sound system while you row through the gears and the result could be a giddy overload of your pleasure sensors. Racing pedals match the Hurst shifter angled to fall conveniently under the driver's hand. White-faced gauges abound, including an oil temperature gauge mounted on the A-pillar. A wide center armrest/storage bin doubles as a seat for a third person (in a pinch).
When you have 500 hp on tap, hurtling a 5,000-pound truck forward at high speeds, you better have the brakes to control all this energy. The SRT-10 comes with front and rear ventilated disc brakes and four-wheel ABS that grab this bad boy and haul down the speed. Somehow, the guys from PVO have set up the brakes so they feel strong and sensitive at the same time. Add good brakes to 22-inch wheels with Pirelli 305/40 Scorpion Zeros and the scene is set for great handling and driving fun.
The oddest thing about the way the SRT-10 handles is that you are glued to the road yet you are way up in the air. A sports car feels like it should handle well because it's low to the ground, but pickup trucks are or, they used to be basically for chugging along with a load of junk in the back. The SRT-10 changes that with quick steering response, performance-stiff suspension and dragster-style thrust. Needless to say, the tires are easy to break loose, even though there's a lot of rubber on the road. Around a tight corner, the rear-wheel drive and lots of torque mean you rotate the truck if you have the nerve to give it a lot of gas. Remember, traction control is not available.
Much of the fun factor driving the SRT-10 comes via a new Hurst linkage system and a modified version of the Viper's T56 six-speed transmission. A 4.10 rear axle ratio assures quick starts no matter what gear you're in and a custom dual-exhaust makes sure you sound just right as you blow the doors off the competition. Speaking of which, later in the event we drove a 2004 Ford F-150 SVT Lightning and, while it was also a lively steed, by comparison it felt soft and the automatic transmission was less exciting than the Dodge's Hurst-shifted six-speed manual. Shoppers in this rather narrow niche might also want to look at that 2004 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 SS.
You've probably gathered by now that the SRT-10 isn't designed as a daily driver or even a work truck. It's a toy for performance enthusiasts who can justify an indulgence with a $45,795 sticker price (including destination). So, criticisms about its lack of practicality and dismal gas mileage will probably fall on deaf ears. There is no quad cab version of the SRT-10 so you'll never squeeze more than three people into the cab two if you want to keep everyone happy. Fuel specs haven't been released yet but obviously a 500-hp engine is a thirsty beast.
While the SRT-10 may at first glance seem like a funny car oddity, its chiseled features and uncompromising devotion to performance make it worth a second look. Even a sports car enthusiast who is seeking something different may find that the combination of a Viper engine, a stiff chassis and lots of rubber on the highway will provide plenty of kicks at a relatively affordable price. Just remember, there is no traction control on this monster.
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