In previous decades, Dodge's full-size pickup was to its rivals from Ford and Chevy what Phoebe on Friends was to Rachel and Monica. Phoebe had her share of fans, but Rachel and Monica were by far more popular. That is, until the mid-'90s when Dodge introduced its then-new Ram pickup with its buff, big-rig styling and strong engine choices that included a V10. Those Rams got truck buyers' attention and boosted Dodge's bottom line, appreciably closing the gap between the Ram and its competitors.
With its redesigned-for-2010 (and redundantly renamed now that Ram has become a separate division of Dodge) Ram Ram Pickup 2500 and 3500 series heavy-duty pickups, the former dark horse brand looks to remain a strong choice for those who need a serious workhorse. We got to check out the trucks during a press preview held at the Canyons ranch outside San Antonio. Though we didn't brand any cattle, we did subject the Ram HD to a Texas-style triathlon.
First up was a several hours' stint on open highways and twisting byways to the ranch. Once there, we tackled some tight, muddy trails with the off-road-oriented Ram "Power Wagon." Lastly, we used a Ram 3500 crew cab dually to tow 16,000 pounds over hill and dale. In all three radically different scenarios, the 2010 Ram heavy duty did itself proud.
Fact is, any of the big three's heavy-duty pickups could probably handle whatever you could throw in their beds or hitch behind them. After buyers have studied the specs and picked a price range, chances are the purchase decision will hinge on factors such as refinement, comfort and styling. And in all those areas, the 2010 Ram Pickup 2500/3500 puts the heat on its "Friendly" rivals.
For the 2010 Ram Pickup 2500/3500, you have a choice of either the 5.7-liter gasoline ("Hemi") V8 that, at 383 horsepower and 400 pound-feet of torque, is the most powerful standard engine in a heavy-duty pickup. Then there's the optional 6.7-liter Cummins turbodiesel that pumps out 350 hp and 650 lb-ft. A five-speed automatic comes with the Hemi. A six-speed manual is standard on the Cummins, and a six-speed automatic is optional.
We mostly put the spurs to the Cummins with the automatic during the on-road driving and towing portions, while we put the Hemi through its paces off-road. The Cummins won't allow you to outgun kids in Camaros (these are 7,000-pound trucks, after all), but it pulls with a steady, strong surge up grades and runs down the highway at 75 like a freight train. To help slow things down, the Cummins features a class-exclusive exhaust brake (just like the big rigs) to help prevent brake fade on long downhill runs and extend the life of the brake pads.
Once acclimated to the Ram 2500 crew cab's size, we had no trouble negotiating winding country roads. The precise steering and solid, no-wander tracking made it easy to place the truck as we went 'round the bends.
During the towing exercise, we employed a Ram 3500 dually (dual rear wheels) crew cab that did a yeoman's job of lugging around 16,200 pounds' worth of Kubota farm tractor and its trailer. That's just about max capacity (16,800) and equal to the weight of four Dodge Challengers. The transmission's "tow-haul" mode worked smoothly and showed it had brains by downshifting and holding gears when needed (such as when going up and down hills) to keep speed constant. The smart tranny and the exhaust brake both bolstered our confidence while pulling that monstrosity.
The off-road portion made it seem as if the Power Wagon crew cab was shrinking in our hands. At first we thought it'd be too big for the trails with their switchback turns and steep approaches and departures. But as we rolled on through, we were impressed by the Ram's maneuverability and the fact that we never scraped the truck's chin, belly or bottom of its tail (thanks to impressive approach, breakover and departure angles) while ascending and descending the grades.
Though the Ram's steering wheel doesn't have a telescoping feature (tilt only), you can get power-adjustable pedals. Along with the power driver seat, that was enough to allow an editor measuring 5-foot-5 and his 6-foot-1 co-driver to get comfortable during their turns behind the wheel. The seats were soft yet supportive on a three-hour drive to the ranch, and even helped hold us in place while banging around on the trails once we were there.
The backseat of the crew cab is more than adequate for a trio of adults and offers a comfortably angled seatback (rather than the bolt upright seatbacks of old). The aptly named Mega Cab is simply cavernous and could easily accommodate a trio of Shaqs in its rear quarters.
As expected, the ride is firmer than what you'd get in the light-duty 1500 series truck (which features a coil-sprung rear suspension vs. the Ram HD's leaf springs), but not overly so, and the ride is darn good for this segment. A strong point of the Ram HD is its serene cabin. At highway cruising speeds, it's impressively quiet, with minimal wind and road noise. If you have the Cummins and put your foot into it, you'll notice some diesel clatter, though even that is fairly muted.
To aid in maneuvering, whether it involves backing a boat down the launch ramp or parallel-parking the truck itself, the Ram HD eases the tasks via available swing-out, wide-angle mirrors and an available back-up camera and/or reverse parking sensor. While towing, the integrated trailer brake controller provides smoother deceleration by allowing the two vehicles to slow virtually as one. Should you opt for the Power Wagon, there's a 12,000-pound Warn winch (which feeds through the front bumper) ready to pull you, or much more likely, your friends out of trouble.
Inside the cabin, most controls are user-friendly except for the audio system in navigation-equipped trucks. Though there is a volume knob, there's no tuning knob. That is done via the touchscreen, as is selecting your preset stations. We'd prefer an easily spun knob for tuning (especially with satellite radio and its nearly 200 stations) and large, hard buttons for our presets. That said, the steering-wheel-mounted controls alleviate this gripe somewhat.
If you're a mobile pack rat, you'll be glad to know the Ram has dual gloveboxes and, in crew cab models, spacious under-floor compartments. And there are enough additional stowage nooks and crannies to make a Thomas' English muffin jealous.
Design/Fit and Finish
The new Ram HD follows the Ram 1500's styling direction, set last year when it was redesigned. That meant retaining the big-grille, big-rig look of past Rams along with the newer, more sharply defined fender bulges. Unlike other dual-rear-wheel pickups, the 3500 dually features unique rear-quarter panels that seamlessly cover the wide track, rather than having tacked-on fender extensions.
However, it's in the cabin where the Ram clearly head-butts its rivals out of contention. Soft-touch surfaces are everywhere and the dash top even features a handsome stitching detail. Overall fit and finish in the trucks we sampled was excellent, and in the top-of-the-line SLT, the wood and metallic accents and plush seats seem almost too nice for such a workhorse.
Who should consider this vehicle
Anyone who wants to be pampered while hauling hay for their quartet of Clydesdales, while simultaneously transporting said steeds to the Budweiser team tryouts.
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