You don’t have to travel far from Chrysler’s proving grounds in Chelsea, Mich., to happen upon some surprisingly curvy roads. And when the morning sunshine glistens off the blooming dogwoods, it’s easy to forget you’re driving a Ram 3500, loaded with weighty slabs of concrete, and take the sumptuous bends with more vigor than a kid jacked up on Mountain Dew.
And that’s a problem. Well, it should be. But when the tarmac twists and turns, the Ram displays better poise than Fred Astaire.
When designing the latest version of the brand’s 2500/3500 heavy-duty trucks, the phrase in play was “don’t mess it up.” After 36 consecutive months of sales increases, Ram remains on the move. It’s quick to point out, however, that despite other automakers showcasing similar growth as the industry recovers, Ram has been slowly clawing market share from its rivals: “We’ve got the power, we’ve got the performance, and we’ve got the efficiency,” they say.
All that aforementioned power derives from a 6.7-liter Cummins turbo-diesel inline six. Now available in three versions, the top dog, mated to a new Aisin six-speed automatic transmission, boasts 385 hp and a best-in-class 850 lb. ft. of torque. Additionally, the 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 debuts as standard on the single rear wheel Ram 3500.
With diesel engines having a tendency to lose power in order to protect themselves in times of high heat and stress, Ram focused healthy effort on cooling. By utilizing dual radiators and improved ventilation, Ram assures that, no matter the conditions faced, its engine will not de-rate, ensuring optimum power all of the time.
Effort was also spent on improving rear roll stiffness. But in order to accomplish this, the front suspension needed serious work. Ram, therefore, added a three-link front suspension, delivering massive roll stiffness without the need of a roll bar, allowing the engineers to work their magic on the rear, creating that Fred Astaire stability under load.
Talking of load, Ram set us up with a 30,000-lb. lump off the back of a Ram 3500 Longhorn, and told us to venture around the private roads of Chrysler's proving grounds. The lump in question was a flatbed loaded with two Case tractors. The reason we had to stay within the confines of the grounds? A load this large requires a commercial driver's license to tow on public roads.
There’s a lengthy delay when applying throttle before significant forward propulsion prevails — not uncommon amongst trucks — but once rolling, it’s easy to relax with the massive load in tow. You can certainly feel the 30-foot trailer, and the ride clatters like an angry caveman throwing boulders, but that's all to be expected. What impresses, again, is the truck's stability under cornering.
The interior in the Longhorn variant is surprisingly luxurious. In fact, it’s easy to ponder why anyone would pay $68,000 to simply haul loads. According to the folks at Ram, there are more wealthy horse lovers than you might think: “If you’re spending $200,000 on a horse trailer, not to mention the price of multiple thoroughbreds, the cost of a loaded diesel 3500 Laramie Longhorn is nothing.”
They have a point. Fortunately, you can grab a rear-wheel drive Tradesman for around $30,215, so those without the equestrian background can still play trucker.
Taking to the public roads in both the Ram 2500 and 3500, the quietness in the cabin deserves praise, as wind and engine noise remain barely detectable. There are areas that need improvement, however. The brakes, despite having a shelf life of 2-3 times that of its competition, lack bite. The acceleration lag feels unnecessarily long; it’s a solid five count, whereas two would be sufficient. The exhaust brake doesn’t provide the aggressive engine braking promised, and the new “smart” exhaust brake, automatically adjusting engine braking based on circumstances, barely presents itself.
These complaints, however, feel like nitpicks, as Ram delivered an exceptionally capable truck. Although fuel numbers aren't available, Ram claims to have increased efficiency by over 10 percent, in part due to the addition of a front axle disconnect for all-wheel drive models and a new diesel exhaust treatment – the latter of which delivers a best-in-class oil change interval of 15,000 miles.
With the economy improving, truck sales are rising. Adorning new LED headlights, the Ram 2500/3500 certainly looks the part. And as we found out, from behind the wheel, it packs a potent punch. Whether you’re hauling two Case tractors, or simply lugging a couple of hay bales, these trucks spar with the best. And if you happen to find yourself amped on Dew, fear not. Ram’s got you covered.