Torque, Thrust: 2019 Ram 2500 / 3500 HD First Drive
Ram’s excellent new heavy-duty is much more than just eye-popping numbers.
To an outsider, the launch of Ram's new heavy-duty pickups might seem like a symphony of chest thumping. After all, Fiat-Chrysler's engineers trumpeted the new Ram's best-in-class 1,000 lb-ft of torque and 35,100-lb towing capacity when it debuted.
But a week or so later—and three weeks before we were allowed to tell you how the new Ram trucks drive—Chevrolet announced a 35,500-pound towing capacity for the Silverado 3500. Meanwhile, Ford also showed off its revised F-series Super Duty, with a promise of increased but as-yet unspecified towing numbers. It wouldn't surprise us if Ram finds a way to up its own specs ("You can tow more if you remove the window glass!"), because the HD-truck arms race will continue unabated until the sun swells up and swallows the earth.
Thing is, though, the new HD Ram doesn't need to brag on its numbers. That's because it follows in the tread marks of its redone-for-'19 half-ton sibling, the Ram 1500, which is the nicest and best truck on the market. And if sales of the light-duty 1500 are any indication, the public is figuring that out.
It's no secret that pickups have been getting posher over the years, but Ram has taken things to a new level. It proudly boasts that its top-of-the-line HD models have more leather and wood than any other pickup, and we're content to take the company's word for it. The Limited model has leather on the seats, leather on the console, leather on the dash, leather on the door panels, and leather on the gear selector. And where there isn't leather, there's open-pore wood trim that looks freshly hewn. If cowboys designed Bentleys, this is what they'd look like.
Among the impressive elements about the new truck are the lengths Ram went to in order to differentiate the trim levels. Every model has its own personality, reflected in its interior accents, fabric choices, grillework, and even the fonts used on the instruments. Sit in a low-level Tradesman or Big Horn, then check out a top-of-the-line Longhorn or Limited, and they feel almost like completely different trucks. It's a real contrast to GMC's latest Sierra, in which there's little differentiation between the top-line Denali and lower trims.
In-vehicle technology shares the spotlight. Ram offers three sizes of touchscreens, the largest of which is a 12.0-inch, vertically oriented monster that allows two standard-size views (for example, the climate-control display and the audio system) to be displayed at one time. It can also show a giant map in full-screen mode, very handy when one is hauling a heavy trailer and needs to preview the road ahead with a critical eye.
But even the bottom-of-the-line Tradesman, outfitted with commercial-grade vinyl seats, a plastic dash, and the smallest available display, shows an attribute we're not used to seeing in heavy-duty trucks: refinement. Whether you opt for the 6.4-liter gas V-8 or the famed 6.7-liter Cummins diesel, the truck is surprisingly quiet, something Ram went to great lengths to achieve with improved sound deadening, an acoustic windshield, and an active noise-cancellation system for top-of-the-line models.
The Dirty Bits
Naturally, there has been much beefing up of the mechanicals. We'll leave the technical deep dive to our colleagues at Truck Trend, and instead hit the highlights. The frame and axles have been strengthened, and the suspension geometry revised to improve ride and handling. The shocks are valved to provide variable response to softer or harsher inputs, and optional rear air-spring leveling is offered on both the 2500 and 3500 that not only self-levels the truck, but also gives it the ability to squat down under a trailer hitch and then raise itself to hook up.
2500 models have a five-link rear suspension, which does wonders for the ride. It doesn't seem that long ago that heavy-duty trucks rode like, well, heavy-duty trucks. The 2500 models feel as steady as the half-ton trucks of not-too-long-ago, and while the 3500s get leaf springs in the rear and are noticeably harsher, they're still surprisingly comfortable given their ability to haul up to 7,680 pounds in the bed.
Last year's 5.7-liter gasoline V-8 has been dropped; the base engine is now the 6.4-liter gas V-8, which returns with 410 horsepower and 429 lb-ft of torque and a new eight-speed automatic. But it was the Cummins turbo-diesel that put Ram HDs on the map, and it's been extensively updated. The 6.7-liter straight-six now makes 370 horses and 850 lb-ft in standard trim, and—warning, headline material ahead—400 horsepower and 1,000 lb-ft of torque in high-output form. Currently, the Chevy tops out at 910 lb-ft and the Ford at 935. For perspective, the base engine in a new Peterbilt 579 semi makes 1,150 lb-ft. Both versions of the diesel get six-speed automatics, but while the standard-output engine gets a beefed-up Chrysler transmission, the high-output version gets an Aisin unit.
Cummins did a lot of work on the engine to facilitate the upgrades, including a new compacted graphite iron (CGI) block, a redesigned cylinder head, a new turbocharger, and a 2,900-psi fuel system. The strength of the CGI block allowed many of the nonstructural components to be switched from iron to aluminum, and as a result the new engine is 60 pounds lighter. FCA engineers had to increase the size of the cooling system, and were rather pleased that they were able to do it without altering the Ram's signature styling.
The Part Where We Drive
We started our drive in a 3500 regular-cab Big Horn, one step up from the entry-level Tradesman, with a V-8 engine up front and a 1,500-ish-pound load in the bed. With an interior done up in black plastic, the truck was all about function over form, but we were impressed by the simplicity of the layout and the quality of even those basic materials, which is more than we can say for Ram trucks of just a few years back. Big mirrors and a commendable lack of bulges on the hood make the big Ram as easy to drive as a half-ton.
Our second truck, a 2500 Limited crew-cab with the stoutest diesel, was a real cowboy Cadillac, awash in leather and wood and featuring the massive 12.0-inch vertical infotainment screen. We're not totally convinced about the latter—we prefer real buttons for the climate controls versus a touch-screen, though perhaps owners will grow familiar and won't mind. Only the column shifter, an unbending affair that looks as if it were made from a piece of bar-stock steel, stood out as slightly awkward. But the overwhelming impression was that it's a lovely truck to drive, with a comfortable ride, a dearth of engine and road noise, and power, power, power.
Naturally, we towed a trailer—a 30-something-foot fifth-wheel palace for horses and people. In terms of towing and hauling technology, Ram offers a comprehensive camera package, including a wiring harness for a remote camera that can be mounted on the back of (or inside) your trailer. The trucks also have an automatic emergency braking system which can trigger the trailer brakes or be disabled if you're towing horses. We were more impressed by Smart Brake, a feature that's been on Ram HDs for some time. Put the exhaust brake in Smart mode, take your foot off the accelerator, and it will use the transmission and exhaust brake to maintain the same speed as you cruise downhill. Very cool—and very safe.
We also did some off-roading in the new Power Wagon, the 2500-based macho version of the Ram HD, which benefits from the new eight-speed automatic that gives it a 50:1 crawl ratio. The built-in winch (which precludes the Wagon from getting the diesel engine) now uses a synthetic cable in place of steel, saving 28 pounds. We hit some pretty intense trails in Hungry Valley, one of which required some help from the winch (with another Power Wagon as the anchor point). Suffice it to say that it's a great off-roader on trails big enough to accommodate a truck its size—and anything the Power Wagon can't fit through, it can probably knock over.
As for pricing, the cheapest HD, a 2500 4x2 regular-cab Tradesman, starts at $35,090, including the $1,695 destination fee. 3500s start at $36,540. Power Wagons begin at $54,595 and Mega Cabs at $48,195. The most expensive model, a 3500 4x4 Limited with the Mega Cab, starts at $68,745. Want a diesel? You'll pay $9,100 extra for the standard-output version and $11,795 for the beefier one. Other option costs have not yet been announced, but based on the current truck, we could be looking at Ram trucks closing in on—and maybe passing—$100,000.
As sure as the sun will cross the sky, truck fans will spend thousands of hours bragging and debating the various capacities of different rigs. The Ram HD may or may not be the most capable on the market at any given moment, but it's clear to us that it's the nicest and easiest-to-live-with heavy-duty truck on the market—and we don't see that changing any time soon.
2019 Ram 2500/3500 HD Specifications
|BASE PRICE RANGE||$35,090-$68,745|
|ENGINES||6.4L OHV 16-valve V-8, 410 hp @ 5,600 rpm, 429 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm; 6.7L turbocharged OHV 24-valve diesel I-6, 370 hp @ 2,800 rpm and 850 lb-ft @ 1,700 rpm or 400 hp @ 2,800 rpm and 1,000 lb-ft @ 1,800 rpm|
|TRANSMISSION||6- or 8-speed automatic|
|LAYOUT||2- or 4-door, 2-5 passenger, front-engine, rear- or 4WD truck|
|L x W x H||232.0-260.8 x 83.4-96.5 x 77.8-80.9 in|