For 10 years, Chrysler/FCA has been trying to convince consumers that its pickup brand is now called Ram, but drivers of every ilk still prefer the Dodge label. The thing is, these new Ram pickups are so different from anything Dodge built, and now so popular, that perhaps the shift to Ram was the name change needed to separate history from a new present.
Last year — for the first time — Ram outsold Chevy’s Silverado to become the second most-popular nameplate in America, trailing only Ford’s venerable F-series. This sales race wasn’t a squeaker either; Ram clobbered the Silverado by 58,000 units, or, 10 percent more sales than the Chevy.
The Ram 2500, like this week’s featured truck, was also named Motor Trend Magazine’s Truck of the Year, making two years in a row that Ram earned such accolades. Sense a trend?
Like its 1500 series sibling, the heavy duty 2500/3500 series pickups receive the industry’s best interior design, with textures, surfaces, controls and technology that match luxury carmakers, along with chassis upgrades including an optional auto-leveling air-ride suspension, as well as an upgraded Cummins turbodiesel engine that produces a segment-leading 1,000 pound/feet of peak torque in 3500 series models.
Long a cornerstone to the heavy duty Dodge/Ram pickups, the latest Cummins in-line six-cylinder diesel comes in two versions. The “base” 6.7-liter six makes 370 hp and 850 pound/feet of torque and can tow up to 19,780 pounds. The HO — high output — 6.7-liter is optional on the one-ton 3500 series trucks with dual rear wheels and spins out 400 hp and can pull up to 35,000 pounds with its six-speed automatic.
For comparison, the gas-engined version of the 2500 series Ram uses a 6.4-liter V-8 making 410 hp that can pull 14,370 pounds with its eight-speed automatic.
The Cummins motor has been significantly quieted. Yes, you can hear the exploding clatter of the compression engine outside, but inside you hear almost nothing. There is some “big truck” thrum at certain engine speeds, which Cummins fans love, yet highway cruising is effortlessly serene. So smooth is the big Ram that you must mind the speedometer, as beyond-the-pace speeding is too easily accomplished in this hushed workhorse.
The EPA does not render fuel economy numbers for heavy-duty pickups. Plus these trucks are usually working, towing or plowing something, so fuel economy is relative to the task at hand. In over 1,400 miles of cold, winter driving, our Granite Crystal Limited returned 18.5 mpg. On the days when the mercury climbed above freezing, the on-board computer generated mileage over 21 mpg.
For truck buyers out of the market for more than four or five years, you will be shocked at the level of content in the Ram. From the 17-speaker Harman Kardon audio system (fabulous), to the heated and cooled leather seating (excellent), to the surround-view camera system (how did we live without?), to the massive 12-inch iPad-like vertical touchscreen — the largest in the segment — the Ram is bristling with features and technology.
Safety is available, too. Blind-spot detection, cross-traffic alerts, parking sensors front and rear, front camera, dynamic adaptable cruise control, forward collision braking system, plus remote starting are all part of the Limited offering, while other expected pieces like push-button access and ignition, heated steering wheel and heated rear seats are also included. With power-folding running boards, a pickup bed camera (extremely handy!), plus a trailer reverse guidance system, the Ram Limited stretches the boundaries of what pickup buyers can expect.
Options include a 12,000-pound Warn ZEON power winch, a 50-gallon fuel tank as well as a trailer-tire pressure monitoring system.
Ram Heavy Duty pricing starts at $33,645 for a 4X2 regular cab. Add $2,900 for 4X4. A Tradesman Crew Cab 4X4 starts at $40,395, then climbing past Lone Star, Big Horn, Laramie and Power Wagon to our Limited Crew Cab, which starts at $68,090. Our sample truck carried a Munroney of $82,290 with the $9,100 diesel engine option.
High points: The Ram proved to be much more compliant down the road than reasonably expected. The truck tracked perfectly on the highway and drove with an ease that was downright impressive. The interior was richly finished and detailed like no rival has yet achieved, an isolation chamber for space travel. The audio system is special, the turning lamps up front a boon to rural road travel, the heated seating and wheel excellent company on zero-degree mornings.
Complaints are few. As much as the 12-inch screen stretches the paradigm in trucks — it is massive — it was often difficult to make changes with one finger-strike as a touchpad lacks any tactile feedback. There are plenty of redundant buttons for climate and other repetitive controls, yet it felt like a screen this big should be canted or rotated toward the driver more, an angle that would make both visibility and access easier. Perhaps mounting this much screen on a movable pedestal could be the next step.
The Ram is worthy of its honors. There is a lot here for discerning pickup buyers. Just remember to call it Ram.