Web Exclusive: Ram 2500 Tow Test

Tow Vehicles — on January 4, 2011 at 8:24 am

If you own an ATV, odds are you also own a pickup truck or SUV that you use as a tow vehicle. Actually, our own in-house research shows that nearly 100 percent of ATV Reviews readers own at least one such a vehicle. We also know that, like most motor junkies, there’s a good chance you’re a truck enthusiast.

We are, and have a lot of towing needs: whether it be hauling ATVs or UTVs to the latest test location, shuttling trailers to and fro, or pulling a full load of snowmobiles on duty for our sister publication Snow Goer. As we’ve tested the latest crop of attention-getting trucks and SUVs, check back for more tow vehicle reviews in the coming weeks – exclusively here on zrwhat.com.

Our first vehicle under the microscope is the former Dodge Ram 2500, now simply renamed 2010 Ram 2500 — as the Dodge has been dropped, and Ram is now a separate brand under the Chrysler-Fiat umbrella.

Boldly styled, the Ram 2500 has a sporty feel that translates into athletic moves ... for a heavy duty truck.

Boldly styled, the Ram 2500 has a sporty feel that translates into athletic moves ... for a heavy duty truck.Dodging Its Past

Dodging Its Past
Testing the newly sophisticated, un-Dodge Ram 2500

Story and photos by Tom Kaiser

Now that gas prices, the Gulf Coast oil catastrophe and this spoilsport economy have knocked some sense back into American drivers and consumers, more of us are buying properly sized cars instead of commercial-grade trucks for weekend runs to Room & Board.

This is a good thing. While there’s some black humor in watching suburbanites blast Expeditions and Tahoes over curbs at the local shopping center, driving a right-sized rig is environmentally responsible, more logical and safer for all involved — especially those cart pushers!

Fuel economy was acceptable, considering the size of the load.

Fuel economy was acceptable, considering the size of the load.

Such titanic changes in our economy and driving habits have caused automakers to drop like flies, while simultaneously encouraging smaller, lighter vehicles with higher MPG ratings. Have no fear, though, as full-size pickups continue to justify their existence. There will always be a market for big power, and full-size and heavy-duty trucks will still be available to the motoring public, albeit with higher price tags and more fuel-saving technology packed under the hood.

While it’s no longer technically labeled a Dodge, after its new Italian (Fiat) ownership created the separate Ram division for the company’s trucks, we had seen, read and heard enough about the new Ram 2500 to be excited. It wears a bold, pressed suit of sheet metal, looks to be sporting the most well appointed Dodge/Chrysler interior in recent memory, comes fitted with a monstrous turbodiesel and was also Motor Trend’s 2010 Truck of the Year. Sounds good — let’s get towing!

Sitting Down, Shutting Up
Our 2500 Laramie Mega Cab 4×4-spec test unit came well equipped with a big (really big!) $54,150 price tag. Options like the aforementioned 6.7-liter Cummins Turbo Diesel, a 6-speed automatic transmission with push-button manual shifting, tire pressure monitoring, power bucket seats up front, theft deterrent system, rear park assist with camera, remote starting, seat heaters in both rows, in-dash navigation with a 30-gig hard drive, powerful 9-speaker Alpine stereo with satellite radio, a trailer-brake controller and leather seats helped account for the lofty price.

The chassis is very stout: you can truly barely tell you're pulling a trailer filled with machines.

The Ram 2500 chassis is very stout: you can truly barely tell you're pulling a trailer filled with machines.

As it was February when our Ram arrived, the snow pack was still in prime condition here in the Midwest. We wasted no time after being handed the keys and immediately loaded up sleds and gear into an enclosed Featherlite trailer for a riding weekend in northern Wisconsin with family and friends.

The long weekend journey, mostly towing, involved 75-mph freeway jaunts, cruising two-lane country highways and some around-town driving without the trailer — the ideal voyage for zeroing in on the finer points of the big Ram’s towing abilities, luxuriant coddling and for silently enjoying the satellite-fed tunes.

We checked the trailer lights, entered our destination on the touch-screen navigation system and hit the I-35 heading north. Getting acquainted as the miles rolled on was a relaxing, comfortable experience. Everything from the gear shifter, turn signals and secondary controls exudes quality, and the Cummins turbodiesel makes a burly, muted rumble upon takeoff.

A Tony Truck
Settling down into the wide, couch-like leather seats, it was immediately clear Chrysler Group, wherever its owners, adorned this vehicle with a better interior than any in the company’s recent history. Gone are the vast expanses of hard, grey plastics of previous Rams, replaced instead by a tasteful, symmetrical dash whose quality and materials is clearly seen and felt up close. While a working truck shouldn’t be masquerading as a Maybach, some creature comforts and a tasteful design should be standard on any vehicle costing more than $50,000. Judging by the pleasantly upscale Ram cabin, it seems Chrysler finally agrees.

Because it's winter, we decided some snowmobiling in Wisconsin was in order.

Because it's winter, we decided some snowmobiling in Wisconsin was in order.

The gauge cluster is minimal and easy to decipher, steering wheel buttons are large and straightforward, and the navigation and climate controls are flanked (in our Laramie version) by decently realistic wood-grain trim, satin-finish silver and chrome surrounds. Also, contrasting white stitching provides some added flair to those supple black leather seats. No evidence of cost cutting here!

It was easy to be wowed by the calming interior, which was designed for ease of use, functionality and simplicity. With the 6.5-inch navigation screen leading the way, cruise control activated, satellite radio streaming personalized music, hands-free calling, automatic climate control and a heated seat and steering wheel, there’s little for the driver or passengers to worry about inside the Ram.

Chrysler claims the Mega Cab offers the most passenger volume in its class and, indeed, back-seat passengers are treated to a vast rear cabin with abundant comforts. The rear seat is heated, which the riding buddies appreciated after a bracing ride, behind-the-seat storage bins helped hide some personal effects during the day and the reclining rear seats fold flat when you’re carrying cargo instead of human weight.

As a turn off the freeway approaches, the music gradually lowers around the driver and a soothing feminine voice informs you of the turn, which is also displayed on-screen. There’s very little fiddling with controls in this vehicle, and most functions can be taken care of by voice or with the big steering wheel-mounted buttons.

Industrial Class
Yes, riding in the lap of luxury is nice, but your pilot didn’t forget that this is a truck that’s destined to work, pull and get dirty. With 350 turbocharged horses and 650 pound-feet of torque from the Cummins diesel, the Ram 2500 has an 18,500-pound towing capacity — in the ballpark for the rest of the HD competition.

Compared to the Chevy Silverado HD and Ford Super Duty, the big diesel Ram offers a lot of features for the dollar, and sporting looks.

Compared to the Chevy Silverado HD and Ford Super Duty, the big diesel Ram offers a lot of features for the dollar, and sporting looks.

Off the line, acceleration is smooth, steady and forceful — without being brutish about it. The truck quickly builds speed, and can hit 60 mph in about 8.5 seconds. It never feels like a sports car, but this diesel puts out the twist to pull a large trailer up a steep hill or to pass with confidence — unloaded or packed to the gills.

It’s not as noisy as previous-generation diesels and, indeed, the 6.7-liter, inline six-cylinder turbodiesel is a remarkably advanced mill that meets the government’s stringent new emissions rules — without resorting to urea injection that requires periodic maintenance. Also, there was very limited smell or smoke from this civilized diesel.

Ditching the Ram 1500’s revolutionary, smooth-riding coil-spring rear suspension, this larger Ram 2500 is suspended the old-fashioned way — leaf springs. There’s a small amount of wheel hop in bumpy corners, but handling is quite sharp for a 7,600-pound vehicle. All bumps are absorbed without harsh impact. And, where some heavy-duty trucks are downright flinty without a load, this Ram is composed without any weight in the box or on the tongue.

We found the Ram 2500 interior to be very comfortable, quiet and thoughtfully designed - even though it's not as high-tech as the new Fords.

We found the Ram 2500 interior to be very comfortable, quiet and thoughtfully designed - even though it's not as high-tech as the new Fords.

The six-speed automatic has a dash-actuated tow/haul mode that minimizes gear hunting, maximizes mileage and reduces brake wear. It can also be shifted manually, should the mood (or big hill) strike. We mostly left shifting to the tranny, and it was seldom searching for the right gear. Downshifts often required pressing the pedal down a moderate amount, but shifts were predictable and six speeds appropriately complement the diesel’s power curve.

Steering is also pleasant and direct, as the rack is not overly boosted, so constant, minor wheel corrections pose no distraction at speed. Again, the Ram 2500 works to keep the driver’s heart rate as low as possible, even while towing in three lanes of thick, distracted freeway traffic.

Fuel mileage was consistent, and about what we expected: just over 11 mpg while towing and 13-14 when riding solo, where this is an obscene amount of vehicle for shuttling one driver to the office. Sure, its dimensions are elephantine, but the truck doesn’t embarrass itself (or frustrate the driver) in city neighborhoods or downtown traffic. Still, towing a heavy trailer on a sprawling country road is this Ram’s natural, favored habitat.

Classy Beast of Burden
The choices have never been better for those in the market for a heavy-duty work truck. They’re more expensive with every passing year, but recent innovations have taken these compression-fired beasts of burden to places recently unimaginable with opulent luxury for the occupants, heroic hauling capabilities, civilized handling — all without the racket and bluish cloud of traditional, old-school diesels.

Stay tuned to zrwhat.com for more tow vehicle reviews!

Stay tuned to zrwhat.com for more tow vehicle reviews!

Compared to its loaded-up competitors from Ford and General Motors, the Ram 2500 comes in a few thousand dollars cheaper for similar performance levels and amenities. Chrysler’s Italian leadership has big future plans for the newly independent Ram brand. As long as it keeps cranking out products with visible quality like the Ram and the newly-arrived Jeep Grand Cherokee (stay tuned for our test of the fancy, new G.C.), there’s a decent chance this company can generate the cash flow needed to keep the doors open into the future.

One cannot build such a capable, advanced hauler on the cheap. Sure, $54 grand is a hefty sum, but at least it comes with features and an interior fit for the price range. Whether it’s Detroit, Rome or Washington at the reins, the new Ram 2500 Mega Cab 4×4 is the company’s first post-bankruptcy vehicle that proves it could have a vibrant future. How fitting that its potential savior arrives as an all-American, 350 horsepower, diesel-powered truck — a good one, at that.

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