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Review: Ram 2500, 3500 bring power, luxury to worksites

Review: Ram 2500, 3500 bring power, luxury to worksites

March 3rd, 2019 by Mark Phelan/Detroit Free Press in Business

The 2019 Ram 3500 Heavy Duty Limited Crew Cab Dually. (Fiat Chrysler Automobiles/TNS)

LAS VEGAS—What does 1,000 pound-feet of torque feel like? Like Superman's first day on Earth.

"I can leap how high? I'm faster than a speeding what?

"I can tow 35,100 pounds? That trailer you stacked extra weight on because the backhoe isn't heavy enough? Up that hill?

"I'm gonna like it here."

Dust off your cape. The 2019 Ram 2500 and 3500 pickups are coming to town. Farms, rodeos, work sites and RV parks, too.

The new Rams are the most capable and luxurious in their class, but that could change fast, as Ford, Chevy and GMC storm into the latest front in the truck wars.

How powerful and capable are the Ram 2500 and 3500? The base engine is a 6.4-liter version of Chrysler's legendary Hemi V8 that generates 410 horsepower and 429 pound-feet of torque. Need superhero strength? A new version of Cummins Engine Co.'s equally legendary 6.7L straight-six diesel produces 400 hp and 1,000 pound-feet of torque, the most ever in a factory-equipped pickup. The midrange engine is a 370 hp and 850 pound-feet diesel.

The 2019 models should be in dealerships in the second quarter.

I recently drove Ram 3500 pickups with the high-output diesel through city, highways and countryside to a played-out mine in El Dorado Canyon, not far from Las Vegas. From there, I towed 35,100 pounds up and down a 6 percent grade to the Colorado River and back. The trucks I drove were "duallies"—pronounced "dooleys" and so named because they tow and carry so much weight they have four tires on the rear axle.

Big trucks for big jobs

The record-setting Cummins engine is only part of Ram's story. The 3500—bigger and more capable than the still pretty amazing 2500—is surprisingly easy to drive.

With prices that can top $90,000 out the door, they're among the most expensive and luxurious vehicles made by the traditional American brands. Ram calls them "heavy-duty" pickups, but officially, the new Rams and their direct competitors are medium-duty vehicles.

The Ram 2500 and 3500 compete with pickups like the Ford Super Duty F-250/350, Chevrolet Silverado 2500/3500 and GMC Sierra 2500/3500. While Toyota and Nissan build pickups to compete with 1500-size full-size pickups, they don't have anything that hits the 30,000-pound-plus levels the biggest Detroit 3 pickups promise.

Brand new versions of the Silverado and Sierra 2500/3500 go on sale this summer, while Ford's Super Duties have improvements and a big new gasoline engine coming late this year.

All three automakers are racing to add features and capability to the popular and profitable trucks, which probably account for around one-third of all full-size pickup sales.

I drove four-wheel-drive Mega Cab four-door models with the most luxurious trim and equipment packages: Limited and Laramie Longhorn. The Limited, which features metal and black pinstriped wood trim, stickered at $87,825, excluding destination charges, and had nearly every feature Ram can pack onto the big trucks.

A similarly equipped Longhorn cost about the same, but had a Western-style interior with saddle leather, filigreed metal and barnwood-style wood.

The interior is virtually identical to the acclaimed Ram 1500. The top models' interior materials and design can stack up next to most luxury vehicles.

The spacious cabin is remarkably quiet, thanks to sound-proofing in the cabin and updates to the engine.

The Rams are about the same size as last year's model. Engineers added lots of extra-high-strength steel to tow and carry more.

The Cummins got a raft of improvements to handle the extra power and reduce the noise and vibration usually associated with big diesels.

The diesel pulls smoothly from a standstill, accelerating confidently with or without a trailer.

Electronics for smart, safe towing

I towed a trailer with 35,100 pounds up a five-mile incline with ease, keeping the accelerator around halfway most of the time. Diesel engines get a six-speed automatic from Aisin, while the Hemi comes with Ram's usual eight-speed.

The Aisin is beautifully integrated into the trucks' electronically controlled towing mode, which links downshifts and the exhaust brake to slow the vehicle on downhill runs without riding the brakes.

You don't want to ride the brakes because that can lead to overheating, when the brakes stop working. That's disastrous towing a heavy load down a long hill. It's the reason you see runaway truck ramps on mountain highways.

The system greatly reduced how often I had to use the brakes going down the long slope in the 3500 dually.

The steering was surprisingly light and responsive. It uses old-style hydraulics rather than the electric systems common to smaller vehicles, but it feels light and precise.

Built to tow massive loads and carry up to 7,680 pounds in the bed, the pickups have very heavy-duty springs, but the ride's not too bouncy when you're not hauling a load. Engineers claim a 50-percent reduction in ride harshness.

Safety features include front collision warning and automatic braking, adaptive cruise control, blind spot alert and rear parking sensors that can be programmed to accommodate a dually's wide fenders.

With that many sensors, who needs X-ray vision?

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