Trucks are a hot commodity in America. According to a few pickup truck forums, if you’re not some leftist tree hugger, then you either have a pickup truck or want a pickup truck. Truth be told, every time I bought a new car, I secretly wanted a pickup truck: a huge red one-ton diesel pickup truck. So when the US Government Dodge said one would be available for a week, I jumped at the opportunity. Not one week later and occupying four parking spots was that boyhood Tonka-truck dream: an extended bed, dually-equipped 2010 Dodge Ram 2500 SLT Crew Cab 4X4 (seriously, could that name be any longer?), but is the boyhood dream shattered by adult realities?
Before we jump right into the meat of the review, let’s start with a reality check. I’m not a contractor, construction worker, rancher, or vehicle transporter, nor am I the owner of a ginormous fifth-wheel RV. I am building my own home singlehandedly however (ok, so there are two sets of hands involved), but even still the biggest payload I ask of a truck is a pallet of concrete weighing in at 3360lbs, which I can put in the bed of the non-dually Ram 3500. Since I don’t own a truck however, I just toss the pallet in my trailer and tow it with my Volvo wagon. So that begs the question, who needs a truck this big? Not too many people really, but if you need it, it’d better be good.
The first thing that strikes you about the 3500 is its size. This is an imposing vehicle from every angle. Our tester measured in at just under 22 feet long, 8 feet wide and tipped the scales at 7,743lbs. This baby is BIG. Really BIG. Ever wonder why 3500 drivers are camping out in the left lane? As I soon discovered, there is a reason: these things are huge and not terribly nimble, so you need to choose a lane where you only have to worry about traffic on one side and don’t have entering/exiting traffic to deal with. Parking? Yet again, an education for me: why do drivers of big trucks park like pricks taking up multiple spaces? Because you have to in order to ensure that you will be able to get the thing out of the parking lot later.
On the outside, the Ram dually has finally gotten the respect it deserves. It’s no longer a 3500 truck with some bulging fiberglass fender extensions bolted on. The dually has its own rear sheet metal, and parked next to a Ford or Chevy one ton truck, the exterior lines work for me. Sadly the same cannot be said of the interior. While I would say that the interior is good for Chrysler standards, and not really that far below the competition in style, the materials choices leave something to be desired. In a vehicle intended for the working crowd, the acre of metallic-effect plastic trim is an idea that only works in a focus group. In reality, with less than 5,000 miles on the clock (all driven by the press who I can guarantee you never had tools rolling around the interior), the fake metallic surfaces were already showing significant wear. I’m not sure I want to know what this interior looks like after 100,000 miles.
The rest of the driving experience with the 3500 is the same mixed bag. The interior of this beast is quiet, and I don’t mean quiet by truck standards, I mean quiet by any standard. Sadly even the standard engine, the 6.7L Cummins diesel is eerily quiet. I miss the loud Ram pickup trucks of the past. What kid playing with their Tonka doesn’t make noises? The ride is hard, but then that’s to be expected with a payload capacity sufficient to haul a Range Rover in the bed. When you hammer the throttle, you get what feels like decent acceleration from the 350HP, 650 lb-ft of torque engine, but when the clock is finished the 60MPH run took over 12.2 seconds every time. Of course it also ran a similar time with quite literally a ton of bricks in the bed. 12.2 would be quite respectable if Ford’s new monstrous diesel V8 didn’t propel the 2011 F-350 to 60 in a rumored 9 seconds.
Let’s talk fuel economy, or lack thereof. In our 860 miles of testing, mostly highway miles with little traffic, we averaged 14.2MPG. Not stellar, but again, expected and not out of the ordinary for this segment. Speaking of engines, the Cummins diesel boasts a 350,000 mile time-between-overhaul rating which is 100K more than the Chevy or Ford, but I wonder how many people ever keep their truck to 250,000 miles let alone 350,000? If you have, let us know in the comment section below. Dodge tells us that 79% of Ram heavy duty trucks sold in 2008 were diesels and more recently the number approached 87% which explains why Dodge dropped the gasoline engine for 2010.
The thing about the Ram 3500 is that it kept charming me in unexpected ways. The up-level audio system is excellent, almost good enough for me to overlook the uConnect radio/nav system that has to be hands down the worst I have used in a long, long time. Seriously, there were better after market head units in the 1990s, what gives?
The real fly in Chrysler’s truck ointment is the Ram’s tow rating. Allpar.com claims that the 2011 models will be class competitive with a tow rating of 22,000lbs, but the 2010 Ram Dodge loaned us was only rated at 17,600lbs. Sure, over 8.5 tons sounds like a huge tow rating, but compared to the F350 which tops out at 22,600lbs, or the F450 that bumps the tow rating to 24,400lbs, 8.5 tons seems like weak sauce. Let’s hope Dodge gets their tow on for 2011. Reality checks are always important, so I have to temper towing capacities with the fact that few people will ever tow would be a conventional hitch trailer which would top out well within the tow capacity of the Dodge. Of far more use is the payload rating where unfortunately the Dodge still falls short with a 5130lb capacity to the Ford’s 6360. S
As my week with the Ram drew to a close, I realized that I would actually miss my boyhood fantasy truck. The big-rig style Jake brake had earned a special place in my heart on my daily commute, as had the fact that the Ram meets 2010.5 emissions requirements without urea injection. Dodge chose to use the more expensive NOx scrubbers instead of some expensive pee injection system like other makers. It should be noted that chassis cab versions of the Ram trucks do use urea injection instead of the NOx scrubbers as a cost reducing measure.
Our tester was $55,000 as equipped, and there’s the final rub, a similarly equipped F350 rings in a hair cheaper and brings more hauling cred to the party. If you’re just going to buy a truck on looks, your boyhood dream, or you want to tow your non-fifth wheel trailer, then the Dodge is competitive, otherwise you should just drive right past the Ram dealer. At the end of the day Chrysler’s financial condition is likely to blame for the tune the Ram 3500 plays and unless they take their engine and chassis back to the drawing board, Dodge will need to get used to being the handsome brute at the back of the pack.
Dodge provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review.