A wonderful roadtripper, a middling daily driver
The motor heats up far too easily when idling with the A/C on; a cooling system flush should fix it.
One cupholder in the side door has broken, but this was a piece installed by the van conversion company, not Dodge.
The Dodge Ram Wagon 1500 van I purchased three months ago is a conversion van model from Legend Conversions in Texas. I will try to focus on the points that relate to what Dodge did on the vehicle, not Legend Conversions.
There's not much to say about the exterior. It is, after all, a big box, not meant to have killer good looks, but details like the nicely integrated taillights, chrome wheels, and more aerodynamic front fascia make it mildly handsome anyway.
The interior is generally very good. The dash, though lacking any kind of flair or personality, is nicely laid out and exceptionally easy to use.
The AM/FM/CD/Cassette deck works nicely and is easy to use, provides pretty good sound for a stock unit, and has a nice, simple, easy to read display, much easier to read than today's LCD units. The cassette deck also makes it easier, through use of a tape deck adapter, to play devices such as iPods and the like.
Lackluster quality materials detract from the experience, however. Room in the back two rows of seats is beyond reproach; there's more than enough room for anybody to stretch out and be comfortable. But, the foot wells for the front seats are notably cramped, since they're wedged between the wheel wells and the engine housing (or "Dog House"). The front passenger has less room than the driver owing to Dodge's decision to bias the engine to that side for more driver foot room.
Another curious omission was a tachometer; instrumentation is otherwise commendably complete with oil pressure, volt meter, fuel, and engine temperature gauges in addition to the speedometer, but Dodge unfortunately left a tach out, even as an option.
Still, the seats are comfortable, the multitude of cupholders up front is convenient, even if they can't be sized up or down, and the visibility is superb, as this van sits higher even than most SUV's. The step-in height is quite adventurous, but you get used to it in no time.
Probably the biggest disappointment, however, is the lack of vent windows. Having spent a considerable amount of time in vehicles that had them (actually, this is my first vehicle without them), their value cannot be overstated. They can keep a car cool on warm days without using A/C. It's a curious happening that automakers have abandoned such a fine, simple, and useful device. Despite its flaws, it's not a bad place to spend your time.
Driving the vehicle is an exercise in patience, but once you get used to it, it's no biggie, and is rewarding for those who like their vehicles comfortable.
Niggling factors here: the steering is overly heavy for a vehicle of this type, and with an otherwise slow steering ratio by today's standards, the heavy steering is even more out of place. The turning radius is a massive 56 feet, making it one of the largest I have ever heard of; parking and U-turns are definitely an acquired skill. Handling is, not surprisingly, on the top-heavy and ungainly side, and despite surprisingly good lateral grip, this is not a vehicle to be hustled around.
The venerable 360ci (5.9l) Magnum V8 supplies a healthy 245hp @ 4000rpm and 335lb-ft of torque at 3200rpm, yet it doesn't feel overly powerful during normal driving. However, it is pretty quick if more pedal is applied and the revs are brought north of 2500 or 3000, and can break the tires loose quite easily. I myself would trade some of that higher RPM fun for more torque lower in the rev range, but it is acceptable as is. It's also not the smoothest runner, but it is noted for its excellent longevity.
Another good point is that up to around 3000rpm, it has nearly identical torque to Dodge's replacement for the 360, the Hemi, still making the 360 a fine towing engine. The 4-speed automatic is thoroughly average, neither excelling nor failing in any regard; but having been based on MoPar's legendary TorqueFlite 727 transmission, it should be extremely strong and durable.
But all this goes away when you get it on the highway: it was born to be here. The wonderfully comfortable ride, quiet, under-stressed V8, good seats, and excellent visibility make this a real pleasure anytime you have open road. The ride, in fact, is rivalled only by the best of Cadillac, Lincoln, et. al.
Body integrity and stiffness are also impressive for a basic design that dates back to 1971, and there are very few rattles and no squeaks; even the rattles that are there may in fact be due to conversion equipment.
The V8, not completely compelling in town, is also in its element out here, using its higher cruising revs to easily reach a gear down straight into the thick of its powerband if need be - but it rarely needs to downshift, since it starts to crank out plenty of torque at these higher cruising RPM's.
Fuel economy is thoroughly unimpressive, falling in the mid-12mpg range on a daily commute of rolling hills, country roads and stop-and-go traffic. A high of just over 14.25mpg was reached on a longer trip with mixed freeway and stop/go driving. Long freeway-only trips should yield in the neighborhood of 17mpg. But with sequential port fuel injection and a roller-tappet cam, it could and should do better.
Other things worth mentioning are that the A/C unit is a nice, strong, cold unit, and using the rear vents can cool the considerable volume of air inside down to a comfortable temperature in short order. But, since this vehicle uses newer OBD level II computerization, modification and maintenance are not easy, and the OBDII system also has a "spy" function that can monitor and store how you drive - a disconcerting idea at best.
Being a newer vehicle, the unfortunate advent of smog laws especially since the 1970's also may make this harder to modify. Speaking of maintenance, the location of the engine means that maintenance in general is not easy, so DIY'ers beware - bring patience and plenty of beer.
Overall, though I harped on a lot of faults, this is a pleasant vehicle to drive, though much more so on long trips than on the daily commute. For those vacationers with families and/or those who have to tow, nothing beats a full-size van, and the Dodge serves this market very well with this vehicle.
Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? Yes
Review Date: 10th October, 2006