We do appreciate our American stereotypes, and unabashedly so. I know I do.
For me being on a press trip for the Heavy Duty 2014 Ram 2500 and 3500 pickup trucks, it felt as though it were compulsory to tow a 10,000-pound trailer, listen to country music, drink fresh lemonade at a farm, and make fun of Canadians all together just so I could soak in the rugged individualism, set the mood, and build the required machismo required to drive three to four tons of trucks that carried astronomical horsepower and torque figures. OK, so maybe I didn't actually find any Canadians to make fun of, and maybe the lemonade was organic stuff out of a bottle. And maybe I don't even like country music particularly. And truth told, I'm not really even a truck guy.
But I had a job to do--to drive the new Ram 2500 and 3500, revised throughout--and tell you whether or not it's a good truck. So I did. And I learned a lot about pickup trucks, how to tow like a guy who possesses a far hairier chest than I, and a bit more about what it really means to be a "truck guy" versus just another poseur with a $70,000 pickup as we so often see in Los Angeles.
Model and PriceWhile hopping into a Ram 2500 requires at least $30,695 for a basic work truck with a 5.7-liter Hemi V-8, the rigs we sampled were a little better-equipped. First up was a 2500 with the all-new 6.4-liter Hemi V-8 (a $1,495 option) with 410 horsepower with cylinder deactivation that should supposedly net better fuel economy than the smaller engine in the real world. In midlevel Big Horn Crew Cab 4x4 configuration with some extras like the 8.4-inch Uconnect system, our truck totaled $49,965, including $1,095 for destination and handling.
Our tow rig was a little better equipped, a 3500 model that featured a 6.7-liter Cummins turbocharged inline six-cylinder diesel (a $7,995 option) that has seemingly limitless torque. In Laramie Limited Mega Cab 4x4 guise with everything you didn't think you needed, it costs $58,180. With navigation, a fifth-wheel prep package, dual 440-watt alternators, dually configuration, and every conceivable option, ours rang up to $72,960, not including the Case tractor strapped to the back of it on a 30-foot trailer.
Safety and Key FeaturesYou have a truck with three or four tons of weight to haul around, minimum. It also has six airbags for all outboard passengers. Chances are if there's an accident, you'll end up looking better than the other guy. Enough said.
Family Friendliness and UtilityWhile the Ram HD has the tendency to ride like a cement truck when nothing is in its bed or behind it, it's a surprisingly comfortable vehicle for a family of five or six. That's right, when optioned so, it can still accommodate a center passenger up front, with the space doubling as an armrest and cupholder when not transporting all of your favorite farmhands--or family members--or maybe they're one and the same.
In the Laramie and Longhorn editions we drove--optioned up to make your favorite oil tycoon feel at home when the family's Mercedes-Benz S-Class is in the shop--the experience was positively rich, with soft-touch materials, what we assume was wood on the dashboard, heated and cooled front seats, and Chrysler's 8.4-inch Uconnect infotainment system. The only tip-off we were driving a big rig would be the column-mounted shifter and wide cabin. With so much ground clearance, we do wonder how a gaggle of running children would survive getting into and out of this truck without occasionally missing a side step and falling. Then again, if you're the cowboy or cowgirl sort with a herd of children to wrangle, you might think a misfortune like that could only help toughen up your kids.
Comfort and QualityThat, of course, helps speak volumes about the uplevel trucks we drove. These trucks aren't just meant for weekend horse-hauling duties. Their owners will be keeping this massively expensive behemoth for years. All of the materials have to be durable and high-quality, which they certainly appeared to be, and they have to be able to haul around a family in comfort and style for what may be hundreds or thousands of miles at a time.
Adding to the comfort and convenience are available Rambox locking storage containers in the bed, a Mega Cab configuration that can open up limo-like rear leg room with reclining seats, and a preinstalled frame rail hookup for a fifth-wheel trailer. You know, the sort that allows the Ram 3500 to tow 30,000 pounds. That, by the way, is an epic number for a truck that doesn't necessitate you have a commercial license to drive.
How it DrivesOver the last year, Ram's engineers completely revised the truck's frame and suspension, stiffening parts and adopting a coil spring rear suspension and available air suspension for 2500 models. What that means is that the 2500 models provide a much more compliant drive when you're not towing or hauling, albeit still firmer than the light-duty 1500 models. It also means that the HD trucks now have a load-leveling suspension that helps ease the bucking sensation found in industrial-grade trucks. We didn't get a chance to drive the off-road ready Ram 2500 Power Wagon, as it needs a little more time in development to cope with stiffer frame and new suspension. Last year's setup was with the bendy frame was actually ideal for the Power Wagon, but it was outdated. So out with the old, in with the new.
That said, the 3500 is a whole different animal. It retains leaf springs that are so thick that they might as well be made of a solid piece of steel. And they need to be, because towing as much as 30,000 pounds in a one-ton truck far and away exceeds what any sane automaker might attempt. GM and Ford haven't yet--nowhere close even.
Whoever the person daft enough to let me go out on a public road unsupervised with a 30-foot trailer with a tractor hooked up to it--about 10,000 pounds--behind a Ram 3500, I thank you. That was only the second time I've ever towed anything, and it made me feel as though I were four years old, playing in a sandbox, all over again. I could feel the trailer trying as it might to sway behind me, the brake pedal stiff and lacking feel to compensate for the vehicle's more than doubled gross weight. I could feel the torquenacious 6.7-liter inline-6 Cummins turbo diesel muster through 850 pound-feet as it got the trailer up to the speed limit quickly. Undoubtedly, the truck was a far more capable tool than I was a daring driver. I averaged 10.9 mpg with the trailer in a Cummins model, 16.1 mpg when unladen, and 12.1 mpg with the new Hemi 6.4-liter V-8 in a 2500 with no cargo.
None of them rode so pillowy smooth as the coil spring-equipped Ram 1500 and they all drink fuel like sailors on shore leave, but given their capabilities, I figured that was a small sacrifice to make for Ram's engineers and the people who need the capabilities the Ram HD can deliver.
SummaryThe first time you start up a $72,000 pickup truck, that loud diesel rumble takes away your sense of "How do I drive something this huge?" and replaces it with "Bring it on." It makes you feel like you're far more confident and competent than you probably are.
You don't expect it to ride like a luxury car, even after driving the coddling Ram 1500; the big-hauler Ram perfectly matches your expectations. It's more of a side benefit that at least it has the interior of one, even if you have to deal with fuddy-duddy chrome belt buckles, embroidery, and more signage inside the truck than what you might see on the Las Vegas Strip. Perhaps customer reassurance is a big thing with truck buyers.
The Ram 2500 and 3500 are a little brash, obnoxious, and don't mind getting dirty, but they're perfectly civil for a night on the town if you don't mind searching for a large enough parking space or paying a valet. And they're good at what they do, willing to let you know it whenever they have a chance. Quite simply, they're Americanism embodied and emboldened, and they made this non-truck guy a believer.
Basic Specs5.7-liter V-8, 6-speed automatic transmission, rear- or four-wheel drive, 383-hp/400 lb-ft torque, $30,695 base price, fuel economy not rated
6.4-liter V-8, 6-speed automatic transmission, rear- or four-wheel drive, 410-hp/429 lb-ft torque, $49,965 as-tested, fuel economy not rated
6.7-liter turbocharged diesel inline-6, 6-speed automatic transmission, rear- or four-wheel drive, 385-hp/850 lb-ft torque, $72,960 as-tested, fuel economy not rated