It didn't take Ward's editors long to decide which of 2003's 10 Best Engines winners should be the subject of a year-long test: No engine launched for the '03 model year had the singular impact of the 5.7L Hemi Magnum V-8 from DaimlerChrysler AG'sGroup.
The all-new Hemi, as everyone now knows, borrows from the renowned Hemi V-8 of the 1950s and 1960s that burned rubber into the public consciousness thanks to impressive performance on the stock-car circuits of the era — and impressive performance in several of's most memorable roadgoing muscle cars.
The 5.7L Hemi Magnum V-8 was launched in the Dodge Ram Heavy Duty pickup, but Chrysler late last year made it available in the light-duty Ram. Power and torque are what the Hemi is all about. The light-duty Ram enjoys the Hemi in the same specification as the Heavy Duty pickups: 345 hp at 5,400 rpm and a snappy 375 lb.-ft. (509 Nm) of torque peaking at 4,200 rpm.
The Ward's Hemi-packing long-term Ram 1500, which we believe sports an average list of options, roared in with a rather jarring bottom line of $36,125 for a 4-wheel-drive, Quad Cab.
Our admittedly handsome Ram Quad Cab has a base price of $28,625 and hauls no less than 16 individually priced options, of which the Hemi ($895) is not the priciest. That honor is reserved for the 5-45RFE 5-speed automatic transmission ($1,170), which is the only transmission available for the Hemi.
Once over the price shock, the next thing editors discovered was fillup shock: the Hemi slurps gasoline — regular unleaded, thankfully — with spectacular gusto. With not quite 4,000 miles (6,437 km) of use, the to-date fuel economy of 11.9 mpg (19.8L/100 km) makes the Ram a likely candidate to be torched by the Environmental Liberation Front.
There's a flip side, of course. First, this is a no-nonsense V-8: There's power whenever you want, combined with low-rpm cruising and the sort of torque that reminds us why high-horsepower V-6s have yet to conquer the States.
Second, the Hemi sounds superb. The full-throttle bellow is one of the best we've ever experienced, full of the bass and thunder for which the best V-8s always have been appreciated.
Aside from the wallet-flaming fuel economy, the Hemi is a V-8 anyone who appreciates power and torque — intertwined with a touch of nostalgia — should be required to experience.
2003 Dodge Ram 1500
Engine: 5.7L (5,654 cc) 90-deg. OHV V-8; iron block/aluminum heads
Horsepower (SAE net): 345 @ 5,400 rpm
Torque: 375 lb.-ft. (509 Nm) @ 4,200 rpm
Compression ratio: 9.5:1
Specific output: 61 hp/L
Date delivered: 4-30-03
Total miles/miles covered in this report: 3,961/3,588
Overall fuel economy: 11.9 mpg (19.8L/100 km)
Total maintenance cost: $0
Non-scheduled maintenance cost (total): $0