First Look: 2013 Ram Heavy Duty Pickups

As the saying goes, judge not a book by its cover. The same apparently applies to heavy-duty pickups: the new 2013 Ram 2500 and 3500 Heavy Duty models don't look radically different than the outgoing 2012 models, but there's quite a bit of new content lurking beneath the skin.

GROWING SOME BACKBONE

Consider these 2013 models the yin to the present Ram Heavy Duty's yang. When the current rash of Ram HD trucks launched in 2010, Chrysler essentially wrapped its existing chassis hardware in all-new sheetmetal. For 2013, that sheetmetal doesn't change very much, but the hardware beneath it certainly does - at least on Ram 3500 trucks.

2013 Ram 3500s boast all-new ladder frames, which include eight cross-members, hydroformed main rails, and fully-boxed rear rails. When compared to the previous truck, the 2013 Ram 3500's front frame rails are an inch wider -- not only does this add additional strength to the truck's nose, but it also allows the suspension to be mounted further outboard, increasing roll stability. Ram 3500 models still utilize coil springs and a live axle up front, but a new, beefier three-link suspension design replaces the outgoing truck's five-link arrangement. 2013 3500 models also gain a new steering rack, steering knuckles, and ball joints that allegedly improve on-center steering feel, despite the truck's massive heft.

There's news at the opposite end of the Ram 3500's frame. Leaf springs still support the rear axle, though Ram says they've been tweaked to increase payload capacity and improve ride quality. If you pull a trailer, chances are you'll appreciate some of the Ram 3500's hardware. Not only has the receiver hitch been upgraded to a sturdy class V unit, but the rear frame cross members also boast mounting points for either a 5th wheel hitch or a gooseneck ball. Access points within the bed allow owners to quickly install either form of hitch, and a seven-way trailer harness connector can be installed within the bed ex-works.


BIG MUSCLE

As was the case in 2012, buyers can order either gasoline or diesel power in a 2013 Ram heavy duty, but a number of the details have changed ever so slightly for the new model year.

On the gas side of the spectrum, Ram Heavy Duty models are available with the ubiquitous 5.7-liter Hemi V-8. Previously available only on the Ram 2500 range, the Hemi is now the standard engine on both the 2013 2500 and 3500 single-rear-wheel models. In HD guise, Chrysler rates the 5.7-liter at 383 hp and 400 lb-ft of torque, and is paired only with the 66RFE six-speed automatic transmission.

As has been the case since 1989, Cummins diesel engines remain a hallmark of the Ram Heavy Duty lineup. Power still comes from the familiar 6.7-liter turbo-diesel I-6, and customers can order it in one of three ways. In its base configuration, Ram pairs the Cummins with a Daimler-built six-speed manual transmission. Here, the Cummins is rated at 350 hp at 2800 rpm, and 660 lb-ft of torque at 1500 rpm -- 60 lb-ft more than a comparable 2012 model.

Want an automatic? A Chrysler-built six-speed is optional, and also allows the Cummins' potential to be further unwound. According to Ram, trucks so equipped yield 370 horsepower and 800 lb-ft of torque at 1600 rpm.

We've no idea how that level of power wouldn't be enough, but a high-output version of the Cummins is once again an option. Horsepower jumps another 15 ponies to 385 hp, while torque rises to a foundation-twisting 850 lb-ft at 1600 rpm. High-output Cummins models are paired once more with an Aisin-sourced six-speed automatic; though it shares its casing with last year's model, its innards are all new. Ram claims its wider gearing span helps improve fuel economy by one percent.

Regardless of the engine choice, 2013 Ram Heavy Duty trucks receive a new cooling package, complete with twin radiators stacked back-to-back, and a pair of transmission coolers. Diesel-powered Rams receive a few other novelties, including a low-mounted charge-air cooler, and a dual-mode air intake. In normal operation, the airbox draws air from within the passenger-side fender, but on steep grades in hot climates, the airbox will draw cooler air from the front of the grille. That cooler, denser air yields more oxygen and, subsequently, more power from the Cummins. Diesel-powered models also receive a new two-mode exhaust brake, which can either function as a standard exhaust brake, or work in concert with the cruise control to maintain a certain speed while traveling downhill.

Arguably, the biggest change for Ram diesels lies with emission treatment systems. While Ram 2500 and 3500 pickups previously met nitrous oxide (NOx) standards with a trick dual catalyst system, 2013 models make use of a selective catalyst reduction system, which in turn uses a urea-based diesel emission fluid. Although some customers may balk at this system and the need to potentially refill the fluid every 5-6000 miles, Ram engineering head Mike Cairns says the system does improve fuel economy by roughly 10 percent.

FAMILIAR SKIN, NEW TECH TRICKS

Cosmetically, the 2013 Ram 2500 and 3500 aren't radical departures from last year's truck, but like the 2013 Ram 1500, both models do receive a few minor revisions both inside and out. Heavy Duty models continue to use taller grilles and more aggressive hood stampings than their light-duty counterparts, but many of the details -- notably the grille inserts; projector headlamps; and LED turn, marker, and taillamps -- are carried over from the smaller trucks.

So are most interior details, for that matter. By implementing Chrysler's new Powernet electrical multiplexing architecture, 2013 Ram 2500 and 3500 models can make use of the same 8.4-inch touchscreen infotainment interface and 7-inch TFT gauge cluster found in the 1500. A switch bank below the climate controls provides room for both the trailer brake controller and a number of optional features. We've praised Ram's interiors time and again, but the 2013 models take luxury to a new level, especially on Laramie Longhorn and Laramie Limited models -- both of which boast leather-trimmed interiors rivaling many contemporary luxury cars.

2013 Ram 2500 and 3500 models are once again available in regular, crew, and mega cab forms. The Rambox in-bed storage compartments, which joined the HD lineup in 2012, are again available on single-rear-wheel trucks ordered with the 6'4" bed , but now include power locks that work in concert with the truck's central locking system. Rear-view cameras are rather old hat in this segment, but a option moves the lens to the center-mounted stop lamp on the roof, providing the perfect perspective for hooking up a fifth-wheel trailer. We think the cut-down tailgate shown in some press photos is a nifty idea for users who pull those sorts of trailers, but we're told it's not a production option at this point in time.

Those concerned with off-road capability will be happy to know the Power Wagon package -- which adds Bilstein shocks, electrically-locking differentials, an electronically-disconnecting front sway bar, and underbody skid plates -- will continue to be offered on the 2013 Ram 2500. An ST trim grade, added to the 2012 Power Wagon, allows fleets and budget-oriented customers to purchase the Power Wagon's capabilities without being forced into additional (and costly) content.


COMMERCIAL-DUTY

Consumer-oriented pickups aren't the only Ram Heavy Duty models receiving an update for the 2013 model year. The Ram 4500 and 5500 chassis cab models receive a number of upgrades, including C-channel rear frame rail sections, new steering geometry, upgraded front and rear springs, and the aforementioned powertrain upgrades. 4x2 models can be ordered with a PTO on the left or right-hand side of the truck, while all models receive a new upfitter connection port, which provides simplified networking with the truck's electrical architecture.

Presently, Ram 4500 and 5500 models are only available in chassis-cab configurations with either a regular or standard cab, but Ram's Long Hauler concept - which paired a 5500 frame with a Mega Cab and a super-stretched pickup bed -- has created considerable buzz. Is such a vehicle slated for production? Ram CEO Fred Diaz says dealer and public response to the concept has been overwhelmingly positive, but at this point, the Long Hauler remains a concept vehicle.


STAY TUNED FOR MORE

Although Ram's proud of its work, officials shied away from two very important areas: payload and towing. These figures are the cornerstone of heavy truck marketing, but Ram won't disclose these figures until January, when HD production kicks off in Mexico. Officials have promised best-in-class tow ratings, and Bob Hegbloom, director of the Ram Truck brand, believes those figures are "going to shock the world." Another official suggested payload and towing "are to the 2500/3500 trucks what fuel economy is to the 2013 Ram 1500." In other words, they should be surprisingly good.

Those are big promises for big trucks, especially considering neither GM or Ford have perpetually matched competitors' efforts move-for-move. At this point, only time will tell how the 2013 Ram Heavy Duty trucks will fare in the never-ending pickup truck wars.

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