For many years, Dodge's pickup line was considered Number Three in a two-horse race. That all ended with the introduction of the trendsetting '94 models, with their in-your-face, mini-freighter styling. In the '02 model year, Dodge introduced the Ram, with fresh styling that was clearly trendsetting, and for '03, it introduced a 1500-series version, with the 5.7L Hemi putting it at the forefront of the category, encouraging more aftermarket manufacturers to provide new go-fast parts and a wide range of appearance upgrades.

All this increased popularity (Dodge sells about 400,000 Rams annually) means that by the time you read this, some early '02 Rams will be coming off lease and will start flooding the used vehicle market at attractive prices, making them attractive platforms for all sorts of aftermarket modifications.

Up front, the styling of the second-generation Ram's dash is clean yet traditional and is home to the rounded-edge, Chrysler-style 1.5-DIN radio that it shares with the Jeep Grand Cherokee and several other late-model DaimlerChrysler products. While many Rams come equipped with a versatile AM/FM/CD/cassette receiver, often paired with an Infinity premium audio system, early versions of this head unit will lack MP3 capability, which are increasingly important; the '04 model head units add this capability. Since most Rams will come equipped with a full-featured receiver, for an OEM head unit, we're going to take a closer look at components at the mid- to high-end part of the marketplace.

When it comes to 2004's most comprehensive head unit, Pioneer's AVIC-N1($2,200 MSRP) now stands at the pinnacle. It is what many observers are calling a paradigm shift in head unit design, fitting in a single-DIN in-dash component, a retractable 6.5-inch screen, a DVD transport, an AM/FM tuner, and a Memory GPS navigation system using onboard flash memory. What this means is that with just a single component, you can put complete system control at your fingertips, eliminating the need to purchase a separate navigation system, all at last year's price of a comparable stand-alone navigation system. After navigation data is loaded from the navigation DVD to the onboard flash memory, the disc can be removed and the unit can then be used to play entertainment CDs or DVDs, including DVD-Audio discs, eliminating the need for a second costly DVD transport. Ingenious! In addition, Pioneer has included in the AVIC-N1 the ability to monitor several vehicle performance parameters (speed, acceleration, lateral g-force, angular velocity, slope, angle), making this the Swiss Army Knife of head units.

If you want navigation capability but don't require DVD playback, MOPAR has the solution with its RB1 AM/FM/CD/GPS navigation receiver ($1,500 MSRP). This unit, available at your local Dodge dealer, is configured in the Ram's factory-fit 1.5-DIN face and provides voice navigation along with a large display that provides visual cues to direct you to your destination. If you want to keep your Ram's dash looking stock, this is the unit to select, and it's compatible with the factory Infinity premium amplifier/speaker package.