Ten minutes into a test drive in the Nevada desert south of Las Vegas, it becomes obvious that something is seriously amiss with the new Ram 3500 heavy-duty truck.
“This is the diesel, right?” I ask my driving partner, as I struggle to resolve the dissonance between what I know to be true and what my ears are telling me. It is, quite simply, too quiet.
Big work trucks have always had three things in common: Their diesel engines rattle like dice in a tin cup, their interiors are paeans to plastic and passengers bounce around like they’re on a buckboard.
The 2019 heavy-duty Rams have none of these markers. Instead, the cabin is as quiet as a watchmaker’s shop, with only a low murmur from the Cummins diesel engine, which is so powerful that it could pull your entire house behind it; the leather- and real-wood-trim interiors are macho-luxe; and the ride – well, it’s not quite on par with Bentley, but at least it will keep your teeth intact.
The Detroit Three have been putting a lot of effort into making their heavy-duty trucks more user-friendly, and the new HD Ram trucks are in lockstep with competitors at Ford and GM. Even the no-frills Tradesman work truck has enhanced ride quality. Climbing up the six steps in the trim staircase delivers ever quieter cabins, technology-based safety and convenience features, and luxurious interiors with a man-cave touch.
In the name of comfort, Fiat Chrysler added more sound insulation, frequency-response damping shocks, progressive-rate springs and upgraded bushings.
“You drive it down the road and you say, ‘Wow, this is quiet,’” says Rod Wichman, head of Ram Truck Engineering for Fiat Chrysler. “On the weekends, you can take it and drive it around town without losing your fillings.”
Technology, too, is taking the burden out of hitching and towing a big trailer. An available five-camera configuration and plug-in camera for the trailer delivers full 360-degree views. Using the cameras and rear air suspension, drivers can lower the truck bed, accurately position a bed-mounted three-inch gooseneck ball and then raise the bed right into the hitch.
“We’re almost at the point when you can sit in your cab and hook up a trailer,” says Wichman.
Towing power is contractor-grade, too. The 6.7-litre Cummins high output diesel engine (a $2,500 upgrade) produces a landmark 1,000 lb.-ft of torque. (GM’s Duramax diesel produces 910 lb.-ft and Ford’s Super Duty diesel produces 935.) Paired with a beefed-up six-speed Aisin automatic transmission, a fully equipped Ram 3500 can pull up to 15,900 kilograms and carry a payload of 3,484 kilograms. That puts it in a virtual dead heat with Ford, rated at 15,876-kilograms.
Journalists got a chance to feel the diesel Ram’s awe-inspiring pulling power, tugging a trailer loaded to capacity up a five-degree slope. The diesel just calmly dug in and pulled. Just as impressive, however, was the downhill drive, where engine braking and beefed up brake calipers ensure there are no runaway trains.
The diesel engine is unchanged in displacement from the last generation, but now has a compacted graphite iron block – a stronger and lighter material. Combined with a lighter high-strength steel frame, aluminum hood and other weight-saving tweaks, the Ram is about 90 kilos slimmer than its comparably equipped predecessor.
Those who don’t plan on hauling massive trailers will find the base 6.4-litre Hemi V-8 gasoline engine more than adequate. It produces 410 horsepower and 420 lb.-ft of torque – a little less than the power produced by four Fiat 500s.
The heavy-duty Rams share styling cues with the light-duty 1500 introduced last fall, but the big hauling capacity forced some important tweaks. The cooling module for that massive drive train, for example, is 90 centimetres wide. Stylists found a way to tuck the cooling unit behind the front grille while keeping the spirit of the 1500.
The new Ram is taller than the old, but wind tunnel work and grille shutters that close when air flow isn’t needed make it eight per cent more slippery in the wind.
Of the trim levels, my personal favourite was the Long Horn, new to the Canadian market. It features rough-sawn wood trim, tasteful leather and visual details that evoke the bony desert of the U.S. southwest. Configured with a crew cab and 4x4, prices range from mid to high $70,000s. The top-of-the-line Limited, on the other hand, is big on chrome, for drivers who like a dressy look.
Fiat Chrysler also offers the offroad-capable Power Wagon version. It is equipped with a variety of Jeep-inspired 4x4 configurations, including locking front and rear differentials, disconnecting sway bar and handy features such as downhill descent control.
The Ram heavy-duty line is ready to lock horns in the battle for consumers who want both comfort and massive hauling capacity, and are will to pay in both price and thirsty fuel consumption. Picking a favourite, however, is pretty much splitting hairs – more a matter of personal taste than capability.
The 2019 Ram 2500 and 3500 are arriving in dealerships now.
The writer was a guest of the automaker. Content was not subject to approval.
- Base price/as tested: $50,495-$63,995/$84,495
- Engines: Gasoline: 6.4-litre Hemi V-8; Diesel: Cummins 6.7-litre turbodiesel I-6; 6.7-litre high-output turbodiesel I-6
- Transmission/drive: Eight speed (with gas engine); six-speed (with diesel); in two-wheel and available all-wheel drive.
- Fuel economy (litres/100 km): Transport Canada does not rate this size of truck. Expect about 12-16 L/100 km on the highway, when not hauling a load and depending on configuration.
- Alternatives: GMC/Chevrolet 2500 & 3500; Ford Super Duty 2500 & 3500
The heavy-duty trucks carry over the refreshed look introduced last fall with the light-duty Rams. The massive horizontal front grille and beefy body lines are macho, without slipping into gauche.
Fine quality leather and real wood in top trim levels set the standard in the class. The gritty Long Horn finish, which replaces the SLT model in Canada, has a handsome rough-sawn wood look. Fiat Chrysler has arguably the most tasteful interiors in the category. The instrument layout is simple, clear and modern-looking.
The optional Cummins diesel puts out a full 1,000 lb.-ft. of torque, the new benchmark in the heavy-duty wars. Mated to the upgraded Aisin six-speed transmission, it can tow up to 15,900 kilograms and carry a payload of 3,484 kilograms. Engine braking and beefier brake calipers also help stop all that weight.
The best tech requires you to upgrade from the Tradesman work truck, which comes with a tiny 12-centimetre screen. The top-of-the-line radio and navigation screen is a full 30 centimetres deep. Upgrades include 360-degree camera views, blind-spot monitoring and adaptive cruise control. Lane-keeping assist, curiously, is not offered.
Clever layout in the interior provides a plethora of cubbyholes to stash stuff. The rear seats in the crew cab and mega cab fold up, providing a flat surface to stow large items. All the nifty bins inside add up to a claimed 250 litres of space.
The verdict: 9.0
Brawny, beautiful and bold, the Ram heavy-duty line is the embodiment of heavy-duty hauling, enhanced with comfort, convenience and modern tech. If you need more oomph than a light-duty truck can deliver, the Ram is ready for whatever you throw at it. It’s also rolling proof that you can bring your living room with you on the road.
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