I never imagined myself a pickup kind of guy — particularly a heavy-duty pickup kind of guy. I am not from Texas. I'm not a general contractor or a park ranger. I have no Airstream or horse trailer or cabin cruiser to haul. And yet, despite all of that, the heavy-duty Ram pickup I sampled this week made a believer of me.
Dodge's new-for-2010 Ram 3500 Laramie Mega Cab 4x4 is a ginormous pickup with a suitably ginormous name. Okay, the name's not quite so ginormous this year. Technically, the Ram's no longer a Dodge, since Chrysler LLC's new Italian owners decided to make Ram a brand unto itself. Too bad for that, really, as I'd planned to write that this Ram 3500 is without question the most sensational Dodge I've driven yet, a real ray of light for a brand with a dark cloud over its head. Oh well, no matter: There's still an angry sheep staring at you from the steering wheel hub and you'll still be getting oil changes next to Chargers and Calibers. And it's still pretty sensational.
It wasn't all that long ago that pickup trucks started crossing the $40,000 mark — chrome-clad beauties from GMC and Lincoln and Cadillac that were loaded to their headliners with such un-pickuplike goodies as leather seats and glossy wood trim. It was practically scandalous. Pickup trucks were supposed to have vinyl seats and one-speaker AM radios and metal dashboards painted the same color as the body, right? Not so much these days.
The Laramie model I drove is the top sheep among four trim levels, above the SLT, Lone Star, and Big Horn. And my example, with an eye-widening $56,420 sticker price, was about as loaded with niceties as a Mercedes-Benz S550, suggesting the American company took more from its German former parents than a taste for Swabian beer. From the Penthouse expanse (and altitude) of the 3500's Mega Cab, I enjoyed about $5,000 in optional amenities, including heated and cooled front seats, heated rear seats, and a heated steering wheel, plus a power moonroof, navigation, a hard-disk-equipped audio system with Sirius, a rear-seat entertainment system, and a tailgate-mounted camera. Ram 3500s are usually dualies, but my test vehicle had the Single Rear Wheel Group which, when selected, drops the gross vehicle weight rating from 10,500 pounds to 10,100 pounds and lops $995 off the price. It also makes for a generally quieter, more civil pickup that's easier to drive around town and that (almost) fits in a normal parking spot — well, side-to-side, at any rate.
In addition to its sybaritic delights, the big Ram's passenger compartment is remarkably quiet — startlingly so, in fact; road, wind and engine noise don't seem far off what a Greyhound bus passenger experiences. The engine — in my test truck's case a 6.7-liter Cummins turbodiesel with 350 horsepower and 650 pound-feet of torque — delivers little to the occupants' ears at full throttle beyond a muffled (yet still satisfyingly robust) whistle and roar. The ride is what it has to be, really — as smooth on the highway as you'd expect an 8,000-pound vehicle to be, but unapologetically Conestoga-like over railroad crossings and broken pavement. The steering effort and feel are better than they have a right to be. Ditto the brakes (four-wheel discs). All in all, the driving experience is just right, really: the best parts of "carlike" and the best parts of "trucklike." Nothing feels numb or overboosted, but nothing demands too much muscle, either.
Fuel economy is better than expected, particularly for a vehicle with "N/A" on the Monroney sticker where its EPA numbers might go. On my long, long daily commute, I recorded about 16 mpg, according to the truck's trip computer. Whether you consider that acceptable for an unladen-but-for-the-driver heavy duty pickup is your business (I did), but it does mean you can expect to log about 500 miles before you reach the bottom of the Ram's 34-gallon tank.
Nobody buys a big pickup for the fuel economy, though, any more than they buy a Prius for its trailering ability. If I did hail from Texas, or work in the construction biz or some national park, or if I did have eight or so tons of trailer to tow, I'd be hard-pressed to find a nicer place from which to watch the miles roll by. No, I'm not the Ram 3500's target buyer. But hey, a guy can dream, can't he?