2013 Ram Heavy Duty First Drive
If the towing wars between Detroit's heavy-duty pickups are an automotive cold war, the 2013 Ram 3500 is the Tsar Bomba. The Tsar Bomba was the largest nuclear bomb ever detonated. It had a theoretical yield of 100 megatons of power but had to be reduced to 50 megatons for testing purposes. Unleashing the full potential of the Tsar Bomba during a test would have yielded too much fallout, much like trying to tow 30,000 pounds without a commercial driver's license on public roads.
In order to test the full 30,000-pound towing capacity claim, Ram invited us to visit Chrysler's Chelsea Proving Grounds, where we wouldn't have to worry about the pesky regulation that requires vehicles with a GCWR over 26,001 pounds towing a trailer to be operated by a CDL holder. We were expecting the towing test to be an ordeal. After all, the 30,000-pound trailer absolutely dwarfs the tow vehicle's comparatively diminutive 7421-pound curb weight. We certainly noticed the added weight while accelerating from a stop and under braking, but once the Ram 3500 was up to speed, one could almost forget there was a trailer in tow.
What can one possibly tow that weighs 30,000 pounds? Enormous quantities of pretty much anything you can think of. Odds are you'll be limited by the capacity of your trailer long before you approach the capabilities of this truck. Ram hasn't just given RV owners more towing capacity than they ever dreamt of, it's also given ambitious Hot Shot drivers the potential to move heavier loads. Hot Shot drivers typically own one-ton, dually, diesel trucks and pull 40' gooseneck trailers that accommodate all sorts of deliveries that are too small for a full semi load. You've undoubtedly seen them on the highway.
Both campers and Hot Shots will appreciate the incredibly comfortable and luxurious interiors Ram offers. It's still possible to get a Tradesman model to keep costs down, but even the base interior materials and build quality are incredibly good. Far from the vinyl seats and floors one might expect in a commercial-grade truck, the Tradesman offers comfortable, durable cloth seats and a surprisingly good stereo. The current trend in trucks is luxury, and Ram offers Laramie and Laramie Longhorn trim levels that are on par with what we've come to expect in German luxury sedans, albeit Longhorn models are more in line with the tastes of Texans than Bavarians. When properly equipped, the Ram HD offers a connection to the Cloud, smartphone integration, 3-D navigation, and in-cab Wi-Fi.
None of those interior accoutrements will help sell trucks if there isn't a stout powertrain and frame beneath the sheetmetal, however. Here, the Ram is unparalleled. The heart of the Ram HD lineup has always been a Cummins diesel engine. For 2013, there are three different 6.7-liter Cummins options. Trucks equipped with a six-speed manual transmission come with a 350 hp, 660 lb-ft version of the engine. There are two six-speed automatic transmissions offered. The base auto, known as 68RFE, can handle 370 hp and 800 lb-ft of torque. Anyone looking to max out towing capacity will want the AS69RC automatic with beefier internals and optimized gear ratios that can handle the full 385 hp and 850 lb-ft the turbo I-6 is capable of producing. All three Cummins variants utilize a new Ram Active Air intake system that switches from the typical underhood air intake to a front air intake when ambient temperatures are too high to allow maximum performance. Ram's signature 5.7-liter Hemi engine is newly available for 3500 models this year.
It's nice to know Ram makes towing big trailers so easy, but what about hooking them up to your truck? To this end, a new crossmember situated over the rear axle will make installation of a gooseneck or fifth-wheel hitch a cinch. Mopar offers both hitch styles and either of them bolts right in. A center-high-mount stoplight camera is a new option that will allow the driver of the truck to see exactly where the trailer's gooseneck or kingpin is in relation to the bed-mounted hitch. Traditional rear-view cameras aren't very useful when they are several feet behind the items you are trying to line up.
During our drive loops with the massive 30,000-pound trailer in tow, we chatted with an engineer about the upper limits of towing capacity. When asked if the current 30,010-pound tow rating was about as high as a one-ton truck could be rated, he simply laughed and said we're nowhere close to this particular truck's full potential. Perhaps the Ram is running a bit closer to its theoretical maximum than the Tsar Bomba was during testing, but it's impossible to tell right now.
Although the Tsar Bomba was the pinnacle of nuclear bombs, the arms race changed directions shortly after it was detonated. With the advent of smarter missiles capable of far greater accuracy, weapons like the Tsar Bomba were no longer practical. We doubt the HD pickup truck wars will change direction drastically anytime soon. Rest assured that Ford will strike back with a more capable F-350. General Motors is only about a year away from unveiling its all-new HD trucks. For now, though, the Ram 3500 is the undisputed king of heavy hauling.
2013 Ram 3500 Tradesman Regular Cab 4X2 8' Bed DRW
- Base Price: $30,900
- As Tested: $44,000 (estimated)
- Engine: 6.7-liter OHV turbo-diesel I-6
- Horsepower: 385 hp @ 2800 rpm
- Torque: 850 lb-ft @ 1600 rpm
- Transmission: 6-speed automatic
- Drive: Rear
- L x W x H: 231 x 78.9 x 73.6 in
- Curb Weight: 7421 lbs
- EPA Rating: N/A