By on October 8, 2013

2013 RAM 3500 Exterior, Side, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Nothing is more American than the pickup truck. If the stars and stripes thing ever gets old, they will probably get replaced by a RAM / GM / Ford montage.  The other thing that’s quintessentially American is an arms race. No, I’m not talking military hardware, I’m talking about the eternal RAM vs Chevy/GMC vs Ford tuck wars. Who has the best frame? Who has the best engine? Who can haul the most? Be prepared to draw your weapons and click past the jump. Chrysler sent me a 2013 RAM 3500 for a week and then invited me to taste test the refreshed 2014 model for a day.

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Exterior

What can we say about the exterior? It’s pickup truck shaped. Aside from that revelation, the RAM can be had with three different cabs and two different bed sizes. Regardless of the options you choose, the RAM “big rig” styling that rocked the pickup world in 1994 is still with us although it’s been softened slightly. 2013 brings new headlamps and more chrome but keeps the seriously large grille which is raked slightly forward. Fear not, there is ample room to install a set of horns on the front.

2013 RAM 3500 Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. DykesInterior

I was initially a little perturbed, I had asked for a Tradesman trim of the RAM 3500 because I have a thing for the stripper commercial vehicles. Instead I ended up with a top-of-the-line Laramie Long Horn Edition in the driveway. If I’m honest the interior is a little over the top in my book, but I’m much more of a minimalist when it comes to interior design. Regardless of how you feel about the bedazzled instrument cluster, the RAM exudes quality. I’ll say that again, the RAM exudes quality. How exactly Chrysler went from crafting the cheapest feeling interiors to some of the best on the market is anyone’s guess but the result are stunning and boil down to one decision: stitched leather.

I breezed by my local RAM dealer to checkout the Tradesman, and the difference is marked. The Tradesman has an attractive interior design, but the Long Horn takes it up several notches with an injection molded dash that features real stitching, real wood trim that isn’t heavily lacquered and genuine cow hide on the doors and seat backs. The front seats are large and supportive in all versions of the RAM but don’t offer much lateral bolstering.

Rear seat comfort has been a new focus for pickup trucks owing to their increased use as family haulers and daily drivers. The RAM’s rear seats are higher off the ground than in the Ford pickups which I found more comfortable, but those with short legs may complain. Although the seats in the back don’t recline and they are slightly more upright than any other vehicle type, they proved comfortable for an hour trip. Instead of folding down, the seat bottom cushions flip up revealing storage compartments and, in our Longhorn Edition, a subwoofer. In addition to the swanky interior trappings, the RAM 3500′s cabin is almost luxury sedan quiet at 71 db at 50 MPH.

2013 RAM 3500 Interior, uConnect 8.4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Infotainment

uConnect 2 is the first major update to Chrysler’s 8.4-inch touchscreen system that launched in 2011 and the first version found in the RAM 1500. Based on a QNX Unix operating system, the system features well polished graphics, snappy screen changes and a large, bright display. In addition to extensive voice commands for USB/iDevice control, uConnect 2 offers smartphone integration allowing you to stream audio from Pandora, iHeart Radio or Slacker Radio. You can have text messages read to you and dictate replies (if your phone supports it) and search for restaurants and businesses via Yelp. In addition to all the smartphone-tied features, uConnect 2 integrates a CDMA modem on the Sprint network into the unit for over-the-air software updates and access to the new “App Store” where you will be able to buy apps for your car. Since there’s a cell modem on-board, uConnect can be configured to act as a WiFi hot spot for your tablets and game devices as well.

Completing the information assault is SiriusXM’s assortment of satellite data services which include traffic, movie times, sports scores, fuel prices and weather reports. As with uConnect data services, there’s a fee associated after the first few months so keep that in mind. 2014 also brings uConnect Access which is Chrysler’s answer to GM’s OnStar providing 911 assistance, crash notification and vehicle health reports. Garmin’s navigation software is still available as a $500 add-on and it still looks like someone cut a hole in the screen and stuck a hand-held Garmin unit in the dash. The interface is easy to use but notably less snazzy than the rest of the system’s graphics. If this bevy of techo-wizardry hasn’t convinced you that Ram is now in the 21st century, consider this: our tester didn’t have a CD player. If the bevy of USB ports has you confused, you can rock your John Denver CD by paying $395 for a single-slot disc player jammed into the center armrest.

2013 RAM 3500 6.7L Cummins-001

Drivetrain

The standard engine for both 2013 and 2014 is Chrysler’s ubiquitous 5.7L “Hemi”  V8 tuned to 383 horsepower and 400 lb-ft of torque. Unlike the refreshed 1500, the 2500 and 3500 don’t get the Chrysler/ZF 8-speed automatic instead relying on the Chrysler 66RFE 6-speed to put the power to the ground.

Our tester had the optional 6.7L Cummins turbo Diesel engine we at TTAC have come to know and love. The 6-cylinder oil burner comes in three flavors depending on the transmission you select. The 6-speed manual (a class exclusive) gets the lowest tune at 360 ponies and 660 lb-ft. Checking the box for the Chrysler 68RFE 6-speed transmission bumps power to 370 HP and torque to 800 lb-ft. If that’s not enough a new Aisin AS69RC 6-speed automatic can be selected which gets you 385 HP and a whopping 850 lb-ft. The new Aisin transmission is capable of handling a PTO, should you need it.

2014 brings a new truck version of Chrysler’s SRT 6.4L V8. RAM was quick to say the engine isn’t just an SRT transplant and a high percentage of parts are unique. The “big gas” as RAM is calling it is good for 410HP and 429 lb-ft which may not sound like a huge increase over the 5.7 but looking at the torque curve the larger engine has considerably more grunt. The 6.4 is an alternative to the expensive Cummins for most applications and it can be paired with the 66RFE automatic or the Aisin 6-speed if you need a PTO.

If you’re buying a 4×4 pickup and fuel economy is a factor, the 2014 RAM models include a front axle disconnect system. By essentially decoupling the front right wheel and front left wheel from one another, parasitic losses inside the front differential are greatly reduced. This is similar to the rear axle disconnect system employed on the new Jeep Cherokee.

2013 RAM 3500 Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Payload and Trailering

Thanks to the revised drivetrain and that new Aisin 6-speed automatic, the RAM reaches new (and insane) heights in towing with a 30,000lb tow rating when properly equipped. This isn’t just a slight increase in towing ability, this is a whopping 6,800 more than GM’s 2014 trucks and 8,800 more than Ford’s F-350. True to RAM’s commercial heart, the maximum tow rating can be had in all trim levels of the 3500, including the stripper Tradesman. All you have to do is select the Cummins and Aisin combo and be willing to spend $38,895.

What’s it like to tow that kind of weight? I wish I knew. It’s illegal in California (and many states) to tow more than a 10,000lb trailer without a class C license so I hooked up my 7,500lb trailer at home with the 2014 and RAM provided a 9,999lb trailer with the 2014 model for testing. Shoppers should know that the 66RFE and 68RFE transmissions are related to the 65RFE that I have frequently complained about. However, the reason for my complaint had to do with the 65RFE’s gear ratio spread, this is not a problem in the 66RFE or 68RFE as they use a different set of ratios. Even so, the Aisin transmission is the transmission of choice for towing and hauling as it has a notably lower first and second gear and is capable of torque converter lockup in first. As you would expect, 7,500 lbs of trailer is no match for 850 lb-ft of torque and the Cummins felt like it wasn’t even trying as I climbed up a 2,200ft mountain pass.

2013 RAM 3500 Interior, 4WD controls, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. DykesIf you’re the kind of guy who does serious towing or hauls heavy payloads, forget the 2013 RAM and tell your Ford and GM friends to join you at the RAM dealer for the 2014 3500 with a rear air suspension. This is not the same system used on the RAM 1500 which is a four-corner height adjustable  system, the 2500 and 3500 are rear load leveling only. 2500 trucks get a new 5-link coil suspension standard with available air suspension while the 3500 gets a beefier multi-plate leaf spring standard and optionally a single leaf with a set of air bags. Aside from being totally cool, leveling suspensions improve ride as well as suspension dynamics by keeping the suspension in the middle of its travel so that jounce and rebound (check?) are optimized. The air suspension also allows the maximum payload to creep up to 7,320 lbs in the 3500 for 2014 and the truck will perform better while under load.

In addition to the new rear air suspension, 2500 models get an entirely new frame and a new front suspension setup based on the 3500′s multi-link front suspension. I was worried this would decrease the 2500′s ride quality but impressively the opposite was true.
2013 RAM 3500 Interior-020

Drive

The 5.7L V8 isn’t a bad engine by any stretch, but the RAM isn’t a light weight hauler. Our Cummins model rang in at 6,799lbs ad the V8 isn’t that much lighter. Put a few thousand pounds of concrete in the bed and you’re in for a slow slog up the hill. If you can’t bring yourself to pay for the diesel, my suggestion is to drive the RAM 1500, 2500 and 3500 back to back and seriously ask yourself what your towing and hauling needs are. The 1500 isn’t just 1,800lbs lighter, it has that new 8-speed automatic which makes towing a breeze. If however you’re a serious hauler, then nothing but the 6.7L turbo diesel will do.

As much as I love manuals, and as happy I am that the Cummins can still be mated to one, the automatic is the transmission you want. Not only does it make trailering easier, you get 140 lb-ft more twist for your $500 as well. Anyone serious about towing (and anyone with a class C license) will want to step up to that Aisin transmission. Aside from getting an extra 50 lb-ft, you get higher torque rated internals, more evenly spaced gear ratios and a lower first gear.

If you notice, I haven’t spoken to the way the RAM drives yet. That’s because driving manners are secondary to the mission in a heavy-duty pickup truck. Even so 2013 brings a notable improvement to the RAM and opting for the air suspension in 2014 takes things up to the next notch. If you’re upgrading from a half-ton truck, keep in mind that 2500 and 3500 trucks will have a rougher ride in general thanks to the heavy-duty suspension components.

2013 RAM 3500 Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

RAM was the first to market with an exhaust brake in 3/4 and 1 ton trucks and they continue to lead with one of the best on the market. This system shouldn’t be confused with the “Jake Brakes” found in Cummins’ big-rig engines, the system Cummins employs here is sometimes called a “potato brake” because it operates by closing the vanes of the variable geometry turbo charger to increase back pressure and thereby increasing engine braking. This type of engine brake is rate in horsepower for some reason and the 6.7L diesel now brakes to the tune of 225 ponies which has a big impact on brake pad life if you tow in mountainous terrain.

When it comes to pickup trucks, especially heavy-duty trucks, shoppers are extremely brand conscious and extremely brand loyal. Think about it, how many people do you know that rotate around pickup brands with every purchase? As a result it would be easy to say the RAM 3500 is a great truck for RAM loyalists and the other trucks are all lovely too. However, the 2014 RAM might be the first truck since 1994 to sway hearts and minds. Not only does the RAM deliver the best interior and infotainment system in the segment, but it also delivers 30,000lbs of bragging rights, a stellar Cummins engine and a rear air suspension that is nothing short of revolutionary for the heavy-duty pickup market. If you’re looking at an F-350 or eagerly waiting that new Silverado 3500, swallow your pride and give the RAM a test drive. You’ll thank me later.

Chrysler provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of diesel for this review.

Specifications as tested

0-30: 3.39 Seconds

0-60: 8.72 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 16.76 Seconds at 85.7 MPH

Sound Level: 71 db @ 50 MPH

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52 Comments on “Review: 2013 & 2014 RAM 3500 Diesel (With Video)...”


  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    Pedantic point: QNX isn’t a UNIX, it just (optionally) can have a UNIXish POSIX layer.

  • avatar
    danio3834

    “Aside from being totally cool, leveling suspensions improve ride as well as suspension dynamics by keeping the suspension in the middle of its travel so that jounce and rebound (check?) are optimized.”

    It also helps with driveline shudder from excessive u-joint angles when loaded. Ford and to a lesser extend GM truck owners who haul heavy trailers frequently complain about this. The springs have to be soft enough so occupants won’t complain of a jarring truckish ride, but also be stiff enough to prevent squat and axle wrap.

    Ford solves this by telling (F-150) owners to go to the dealer where they will shim your axle to put the vibration where the owner will notice it least. Often, they still have the vibration, it’s just hopefully in the range the truck is driven in the least.

    Personally, I like Ram’s solution. Coil springs for a nice ride and good handling for the family haulers, then if you actually haul, order the air suspension to keep the rear end in check. On the Super Duty Ford, you can add auxiliary leaf springs, which limit extreme sag, but don’t do anything good for ride quality.

  • avatar
    jmo

    So, I went to ramtrucks.com and optioned this bad boy up… $64,305.

    • 0 avatar
      crtfour

      Wow. How do people afford these things? I’m currently doing some contract work in a small pickup-loving town where the average annual income is $32k, yet I see Laramie Ram’s, F150 Platinum’s etc all over the place. You’ll see an 80K house with a 50k truck parked in the carport.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      That’s sick money for a truck. For 60 large, make my C7 ‘Vette red as hell, and when I need a pickup, I’ll rent one from Enterprise.

      • 0 avatar
        Sam P

        Or do what my uncle (a general contractor) did and buy the cheapest F-250 4×4 available. No options on top of 4WD. Plain white work truck.

        His non-work vehicle is a Subaru Baja.

      • 0 avatar
        Sigivald

        You are not the target market for a truck with a 30,000 pound tow capacity, naturally.

        Because people who should buy this truck are, as the article stated, people who are *serious about towing*.

        And thus can’t just ‘rent one from Enterprise’ when they ‘need a pickup’.

        (Indeed, Enterprise’s website doesn’t even seem to *list* any full-size pickups, just mid-sizes.)

        • 0 avatar
          FreedMike

          You’re right, I’m definitely not the target market for this truck. But it’s not necessarily the “serious towing” crowd either. In fact, I rarely see any duded-up pickups like this one carrying anything heavier than the Saturday morning haul from Home Depot.

          And, yes, someone who just needs a pickup truck for an occasional duty (such as picking up furniture from a store, etc) can rent one by the day from Enterprise, U-Haul, or any number of other outlets. You can rent full size pickups at Home Depot.

          So, yes, it seems to me that unless someone IS serious about trailering (which is probably a distinct minority of buyers), you could get by without this truck. Or, you could get by with a far cheaper truck if you have to have one.

        • 0 avatar
          mnm4ever

          Around here Enterprise removes the hitches from the pickups and specifically do not allow any towing in the rental agreement. Even the trucks you rent by the hour from Lowes or Home Depot have rods welded through the hitches.

          I think you can rent a big U-Haul or other moving van and tow, but I if you need to tow something big pretty regularly you don’t have many choices other than owning your own pickup (or borrowing your dads truck like I do).

          • 0 avatar
            Carlson Fan

            Yep I was gonna say that towing with a rental is generally a big no-no.
            But I agree with freedmike that unless you have something big and heavy that you tow regularly, really no reason own something like this. Or any fullsize truck for that matter. I towed heavier stuff more often and farther with my little Toyota PU when I had it than some guys I knew with 3/4 ton diesels. But for the same reasons people buy diesel cars, some just own them because they like diesels.. As a buddy used to say, real trucks burn diesel fuel!….LOL

    • 0 avatar
      bumpy ii

      I played around with the configurator, and the current equivalent of my ’97 regular cab 2wd 12v rang in around $40,000. To be fair, the Ram 1500 v6 diesel is probably a better match in overall capability.

  • avatar
    Athos Nobile

    US trucks have become unbelievably posh. Me likes. The HEMI has dragster-like power.

    Compared with the local ones, this thing is a Caddy.

    • 0 avatar
      IHateCars

      No, No, No! Trucks should be archaic with a bench seat, roll up windows and barely adequate power. And only contractors or farmers shall drive them….anyone else who buys a truck and doesn’t haul with ith it 24/7 is automatically labelled a “poser” and or “wasteful” and should be driving a brown diesel manual station wagon with a trailer. So that the B&B said, so it shall be written!

      • 0 avatar
        danio3834

        Haters gonna hate.

        I’ve seen quite a few tarted up King Rang Fords used by contractors and construction crews. The saddle leather seats immediately get destroyed and look awful. It doesn’t really matter, after a few years of hard use, it’ll be liquidated and a new Platinum Lariat Limited King Ranch Long Horn Lone Star will be in it’s place.

      • 0 avatar
        nrd515

        I would have to be brain dead before I would drive anything brown. The only worse colors are beige and butterscotch. As the one time owner of a truck with a bench seat (The BEST seats I have ever sat on!), roll up windows, and NO A/C (In Vegas!, WTF was wrong with me??), It was bright yellow, and flat black, like this,

        http://carphotos.cardomain.com/ride_images/3/584/1461/26458230062_large.jpg

        I have only one thing to say about it…

        Never, ever, again!

        My last truck was about as different as night and day, good power, all kinds of toys, and, of course, power windows, and A/C.

        Like this, but dark red, and different, 17″ wheels:

        http://fp.images.autos.msn.com/merismus/gallery/c441677a.jpg

  • avatar
    Onus

    The new front suspension setup is NOT multilink. The old one was 4 link with a track bar, or 5 link as some people call it based on the suspension design first used in the Jeep Cherokee in 1984.

    The new suspension is a radius arm design much like what ford has been using since 2005 on the super duty trucks when they went to coils for 4×4.

    These things come in 2wd which have been coils on all brands since the 1970′s. Does anyone buy these anymore. I’m a huge fan of a stripped pickup, and just rwd. Even in New England i don’t see the need for 4 wheel drive. They are so heavy with some good snow tires they don’t have much of an issue getting through snow.

    My state is also a 10,000 k limit state. So i see no need to get anything newer than my 1990 f250 which is rated about that much.

    • 0 avatar
      Alex L. Dykes

      You might want to take that up with Chrysler. At the launch event for the 2014 HD they put in their PR talking points “A new five-link/coil suspension on Ram 2500 provides better handling and ride, with better articulation over obstacles.” They also frequently referred to the five link as a multi link which is logical since it has multiple links.

    • 0 avatar
      Mr Imperial

      Here in Michigan, I see GM/Ford/Ram 3500 dualies with 2wd, towing vehicle transport trailers that hold up to three vehicles (trailer looks like a big wedge). Those seem to be the only drivers of 2wd 3500′s.

    • 0 avatar
      Mr Imperial

      BTW Onus, is that the International 6.9 IDI in your avatar?

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    As always, up to your usual high standard, Alex . . . although it would be nice if the video didn’t quit about 8 minutes in.

    So, describe the operation of the exhuast brake. I see the little button on the lower dash (which seems to be a bit of a reach). Does the driver just push the button, and you get whatever braking you’re gonna get, without modulation? What happens if you get on the throttle with the button depressed? Even with trailer brakes (which most states require for trailers capable of carrying more than 1500 lbs. or so), having some engine braking for long down grades is a comforting thought.

    • 0 avatar
      Alex L. Dykes

      So, when engaged the system operates normally under power. Lift the pedal and, over a certain speed (about 30 MPH) the turbo charger closes off the exhaust creating additional back pressure. The exact braking ability can be controlled by downshifting/upshifting and yes, you get what you get, it’s not dependent on you pressing the brake pedal.

    • 0 avatar
      Wheeljack

      The exhaust brake is even more aggressive when the transmission is put in “tow/haul” mode. It almost feels like an anchor was thrown out behind the truck.

  • avatar
    tbone33

    Another great review, though the first paragraph may need some spell checking. “Starts and stripes” sounds like a competition at a monster truck show and “tuck wars” sounds like a competition at a trannie bar. Together they would form the greatest biathlon known to man.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    Wow, way more truck than I’ll ever need but I’m OK with that. I’ve never really found trailering to be “fun”.

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    A “stripper commercial vehicle”. I tried to explain that phrase to one of my female relatives. It did not go so well.

  • avatar
    Carlson Fan

    Alex,

    Did this truck have a factory brake controller for towing trailers with electric brakes?
    And how do you monitor transmission temp when towing? I assume it reads it somewhere I just noticed it doesn’t have a nice dedicated gage right on the dash like my ’04 GMC 2500HD. Also wonder it you noticed at what tongue weight Ram requires a Weight Distribution hitch.

    • 0 avatar
      SC5door

      The truck shown has a trailer brake controller. Display is in the dash, controls are on the IP at the bottom. (The little “sliding thing”).

      Trans temp can be displayed in the screen, oil temp, as well as individual tire pressures and locations (including DRW models) for 2014. (Other items can be displayed as well)

    • 0 avatar
      Alex L. Dykes

      It dis have the factory brake controller. As others have said you monitor transmission temp using the 7-inch LCD gauge cluster. RAM’s PR does not specify anything in regards to weight distributing hitches instead referring you to the manual in the truck you buy and standard towing practice guidelines from your trailer.

      • 0 avatar
        bumpy ii

        At this level, you’d think they’d offer a gooseneck or 5th wheel as a factory option.

        • 0 avatar
          SC5door

          It does, as an option. Which includes the 7 pin connector in the bed for the electrical hookup.

          • 0 avatar
            Carlson Fan

            NIce touch! Referring to the 7 pin connector in the bed. Seems like anytime I see one of those huge 5th wheel RVs on the road it is being towed by a 3/4 ton diesel. The 6.0 gasser in my GMC could handle the weight OK but as I have said before pushing all that air out of the way, especially when a bucking a hard side or head wind, would kill it. That is where a diesel really shines. Much more comfortable and safer IMO to be able to effortlessly stick with the flow of traffic on a busy interstate.

  • avatar
    JaySeis

    It’d be helpful if you stated its tow rating was GCWR as opposed to implying actually pulling 30K of trailer. It’s what the long haul truckers have derisively called “Hotshot rigs” for decades. In other words, any big pickup (usually diesel) driven by a wannabe trucker.

  • avatar
    ihatetrees

    To mess with expectations, if I had the means my 2 daily drivers (depending on the weather) would be a Cummins Ram and a Cayman. Both would have 3 pedals, dammit!

    It would say something about the duality of male dic*head drivers.

  • avatar
    pragmatist

    My brother had self leveling air springs in a Nissan Armada. A real reliability and financial disaster. I would worry about them in a real heavy duty application.

  • avatar
    JREwing

    I have mixed feelings about the 6-speed manual transmission option in this truck. I’m glad there’s a manual option – what’s more “Big Rig” than a stick-shift diesel motor?. But with about 1/4 the available torque chopped off the motor, what’s the point?

    The guys who are buying these things want the “Big Rig” experience. Is it so hard to supply a transmission good for 1000+ lb-ft? If you want to really do this right, make it a 8 or 10-speed with a High and Low range.

  • avatar
    Japanese Buick

    One thing to keep in mind when looking at the sky high prices of these trucks is that for all practical purposes they can replace two vehicles…a heavy duty work truck and a luxury car. No way you can get both for $70k.

    If I lived someplace like Alaska or the Northwoods of Maine, a truck like this would be my vehicle. Currently in exurban NC I have a Lexus and an F150. The Lexus would be worthless in one of those theoretical locations and the $70k luxo truck would satisfy the luxo urge and be the necessary vehicle.


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