The Truth About Cars » Heavy Duty http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Fri, 18 Jul 2014 20:52:49 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars editors@ttac.com editors@ttac.com (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Heavy Duty http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com Review: 2013 & 2014 RAM 3500 Diesel (With Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/review-2013-2014-ram-3500-diesel-with-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/review-2013-2014-ram-3500-diesel-with-video/#comments Tue, 08 Oct 2013 12:00:59 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=532417 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.

Click here to view the embedded video.

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

2013 RAM 3500 Interior, 4WD controls, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 RAM 3500 Interior-021 2013 RAM 3500 Interior-013 2013 RAM 3500 Interior-004 2013 RAM 3500 Exterior-006 2013 RAM 3500 6.7L Cummins 2013 RAM 3500 Exterior-005 2013 RAM 3500 Exterior, Side, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 RAM 3500 Interior, uConnect 8.4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 RAM 3500 Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 RAM 3500 Interior-012 2013 RAM 3500 Interior-011 2013 RAM 3500 Interior-020 2013 RAM 3500 Interior-019 2013 RAM 3500 Interior-010 2013 RAM 3500 Interior-001 2013 RAM 3500 Exterior-003 2013 RAM 3500 Exterior-002 2013 RAM 3500 Interior 2013 RAM 3500 Interior-018 2013 RAM 3500 Interior-009 2013 RAM 3500 Exterior-001 2013 RAM 3500 Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 RAM 3500 Interior-008 2013 RAM 3500 Interior-017 2013 RAM 3500 Interior-016 2013 RAM 3500 Interior-007 2013 RAM 3500 Exterior-009 2013 RAM 3500 Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 RAM 3500 6.7L Cummins-002 2013 RAM 3500 6.7L Cummins-001 2013 RAM 3500 Exterior-007 2013 RAM 3500 Exterior-008 2013 RAM 3500 Interior-006 2013 RAM 3500 Interior-005 2013 RAM 3500 Interior-014 2013 RAM 3500 Interior-015 ]]>
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Review: 700 Miles In A GMC Denali 2500 HD 4×4 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/10/review-700-miles-in-a-gmc-denali-2500-hd-4x4/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/10/review-700-miles-in-a-gmc-denali-2500-hd-4x4/#comments Tue, 04 Oct 2011 18:21:33 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=413477

The last few years have been a struggle for a lot of folks. Financial meltdowns. Millions of bankruptcies. Massive unemployment. Our ‘global’ economy continues to experience a maelstrom of wealth destruction that seems to make nearly everyone guard their money.

It’s been hell for most…. but guess what? In spite of it all you are among the few who have thrived. In fact you are laughing all the way to your nearest dealership.

So get your something nice! Let’s say the budget is up to $65,000. What would you buy for yourself? Would it be a lightly used Lexus with all the trimmings? A new BMW 5-Series? Maybe one of those VW Touaregs with the diesel engine and all the luxury trappings of a neo-Audi.

In my neck of the woods where the suburbs meets the ex-urbs, this question has only one suitable answer… a truck.

This is what you see when you enter the dealership closest to my home. Trucks. Not just any trucks. But 26 consecutive four-door Chevy and GMC trucks that are ripe for the taking. The GMC Denali HD 2500 4X4 is an upscale supersized Cadillac in a town where the only true upscale vehicles have 4WD and altered suspensions.

Don’t even think about getting an Impala or a Malibu in rural America. Those are parked in the back at the dealership. The way back. The Hardy Boys (even 70 year old men are still boys in the South) want you to buy big and haul ass. That’s why they put the trucks as close to your eyeballs as possible.

“Oh… my… gosh… that’s one big puppy!”

Back at home, my wife was completely in awe of the truck that we magically found on our driveway last Monday. No doubt delivered by Brazilian elves who apparently worked for a press fleet company.

The heavy duty truck Marcello’s elves left us bordered on the gargantuan

To call the GMC Denali HD 2500 4X4 large would be a mild understatement. Think about a truck that dwarfs SUV’s and most everything else on the road. How big are we talking about? I’ll put it to you this way. In downtown Atlanta I saw this seemingly small vehicle scurry right past it. I first thought at first it had been a Beetle or a Civic.

It turned out to be a Hummer.

The truck is larger, longer and heavier than the two cars we drive put together. More than seventy five hundred pounds of big. Even with a regular bed. This Denali HD 2500 along with the Ford F-250 and Dodge Ram 2500 want to make the Lincolns and Cadillacs of the road look as low to the ground as coffins on wheels.

They do it…. because that’s what the buyers want.

So with ‘big’ out of the way let’s go straight to price. The 2011 GMC Sierra Denali HD 2500 4X4 Diesel I tested will also tip the scales with a $62,124 price tag which includes over $15,000 in options. That amount alone would give most customers pause… except for a few notable things.


First off you’ll never have to pay anywhere near that price. But more on that later. Let’s first look at what guides the brow of this behemoth. A 6.6L Duramax diesel engine will offers today’s blue collar executive 397 horsepower and 765 lb. ft. of torque. That is tops for the class on paper, and is all well and good.But on the road it’s incredible.This vehicle can go from 30 mph to 70 mph with a Baruthian thrust. The engineers at GM put the torque right at the low to mid end of the scale which means that if you drive normally, you’ll rarely see it go beyond 2000 rpm’s. When you want power, you’re launched. 0 to 60 time is 7.4 seconds which for a work truck is simply unheard of.

So a plain jane Camry with a V6 is faster you say? You’re missing the point. This truck can also haul 21,700 lbs. with a fifth wheel while comfortably going 80+ mph on the open road. No kidding. No lawyers will even want to dispute that number.

Regular towing will yield 13,000 lbs. and the bed alone can haul over two tons. All of these numbers rate it top in the class. In functional terms you can’t buy the power of this truck at this price range in anything other than a new Corvette or an abandoned Libyan airfield.

If power alone could sell trucks the Denali trimmed HD 2500 would be hard to beat. But you have to look at the whole package. Here is the point where I have to throw in a disclaimer. Most work trucks have interiors that look like they came from cars that were half the price.

The one in this truck is nice… in the same way that an Impala LTZ is nice. You get thick leather seats up front that can be heated or cooled. Wood and aluminum accents throughout the cabin that aren’t ‘super-sized’ just because it’s a truck. A navigation system along with a touch screen that is surrounded with too many small plastic buttons that are of little use Plus you get a dashboard and door panels that look to be directly lifted out of a GMC Yukon Denali.

If you love GM full-sized trucks, you will love the interior of this truck.

On the road the overall set-up is tuned towards comfort and ease of use. The ride is slightly stiff without a load which is to be expected in a work truck. But the steering has a directness and precision that is more like a modern full-sized sedan than a truck. The seats in particular put a smile on my face during long drives through Atlanta and North Georgia. Over 750 miles worth in a week. Even in traffic, the Denali was a wonderful vehicle in most every respect and surprisingly easy to drive. But there are still more than a few opportunities for improvement.

GMC’s nav system is not nearly as intuitive or seamless as the Sync on the 2012 Ford F-250. For example, I was able to locate a nearby hotel and have the number called while driving down the road using the nav system quite easily. Other primary functions are easy as well.

Radio controls are on the steering wheel, the display screen is easy to read, and the trip computer offers quick feedback on the fuel economy, fluid levels and tire pressure.
So the main functions work. But I had to also read through the manual more than once to fully understand a lot of the other buttons and features. The small plastic buttons that surround the nav screen are particularly heinous in their feel and design, and should be shelved.

Another weakness? Although the vehicle is 241 inches long the back seats are also works in progress. The rear space is small compared to competitors and although an unusually upright position may be fine for kids and teens, your adult friends may not be happy if you take them on a road trip.

Finally I wish all automakers, GM included, would focus a bit more on upgrading some of the little things in their trucks once they venture into the higher price ranges. The power features along the door panels (windows, door locks, mirrors) would have been perfectly at home in a leftover Chevy Cobalt. The antenna is a base universal screw on and the intake louvre on the hood looks cheap compared to the rest of the vehicle .The bedliner also should have been upgraded with stronger materials to reflect the higher price.


Are these things dealbreakers? Not at all. But in a $62,000 truck these little things should be tended to as well. Especially since we’re talking about a truck with an asking price that can now get you a decent house in the ex-urbs where I live.

Which brings me to the key question. Is this loaded up work truck worth the ‘real world’ price? That answer has a twist given the time of year we find ourselves in.
As a 2011 changeover this model will go for thousands less than the new F-250. More than likely in the mid-50’s. With that you get a better ride, greater hauling capability, an interior that is better proportioned for most drivers, and a powertrain that is far better noted for durability.

If you are the type who buys new and keeps forever, I would consider it. But (and this is one I can’t help mentioning given what I see at the auctions) work trucks have phenomenal levels of depreciation. Due to the economy a lot of work trucks have been repossessed. It’s one of the few vehicles that is not in short supply in the used car market. As a matter of fact, when I parallel parked this truck in a street at the Atlanta zoo I happened to see…

The market on full-sized diesel work trucks is very soft at the moment, new or used. However October and the first fifteen days of November is an absolute dead zone in the car business. No tax refund checks. No Christmas bonuses. No holidays to encourage whatever conspicuous consumption is left in the marketplace.

With this also being the tail end of model changeover time, you should be able to get this truck for a lot less than $62k+. Think about right around $54,000. At that price it’s worth considering.

 A press fleet company provided me with one full tank of gas, insurance, and one nice conversation for this review. This particular model came with a Power Sunroof ($895), 20” Forged Polished Aluminum Wheels ($850), 6” Tubular Chrome Assist Steps ($689), Front Heated & Cooled Seats ($650), Rear Vision Camera System ($450), and a Heated Steering Wheel ($150).I did run over an opossum during the course of this review. I’m thinking about getting it stuffed and taxidermied so I can use it as my profile picture on Facebook. .

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Quote Of The Weekend: Heavy Duty Demand Edition http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/08/quote-of-the-weekend-heavy-duty-demand-edition/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/08/quote-of-the-weekend-heavy-duty-demand-edition/#comments Sat, 13 Aug 2011 22:21:11 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=407068

In his New York Times comparison of heavy-duty pickup trucks, Ezra Dyer opens with a provocative comparison:

Heavy-Duty pickup trucks are the supercars of the truck world. They have more power than drivers are likely ever to exploit, and bragging rights depend on statistics that are, in practical terms, theoretical.

How does he figure?

While you can’t buy a diesel engine in a mainstream light-duty pickup, heavy-duty pickups now offer propulsion suitable for a tandem-axle dump truck.

I’m not exaggerating. Ford’s 6.7-liter Power Stroke diesel V-8 packs 400 horsepower and 800 pound-feet of torque; the base engine in a Peterbilt 348 dump truck offers a mere 260 horsepower and 660 pound feet. Does your pickup really need more power than a Peterbilt?

I’m guessing most HD truck owners won’t take kindly to the question, especially coming a scolding Gray Lady. But if you read the full review, you’ll find that Dyer was able to locate at least one contractor willing to admit that he realized he just didn’t need his HD’s overabundance of ability. It goes against the grain of the “bigger, faster, tougher, more” marketing message that has helped make trucks such a huge part of the American market, but is it possible that the tide is turning? Have pickups improved too much? The huge sales of Ecoboost V6-powered F-Series certainly suggests the we may just be moving towards a more pragmatic truck-buying market…

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Review: 2010 Dodge Ram 3500 SLT Crew Cab 4X4 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/09/review-2010-ram-3500-crew/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/09/review-2010-ram-3500-crew/#comments Fri, 10 Sep 2010 21:35:40 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=365385

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.

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