President Theodore Roosevelt’s foreign policy ideology could be summed up with his well-known phrase, “speak softly and carry a big stick.” That same phrase could be applied to the new 2019 Ram Heavy Duty pickup truck lineup, which I was able to sample last week.
FCA wanted me to drive their new Ram Heavy Duty trucks so badly that they invited me to a media day with a bunch of other DC-area automotive press. They fed us lunch and also let us drive the new Jeep Gladiator, which was neat.
We were presented with three Ram Heavy Duty trucks to choose from, of varying trim level, cab size, rear wheel count, and engine spec. I had enough time for some quick impressions of each.
2019 Ram 2500 Tradesman
Regular Cab | 8′ bed | 6.4L Hemi V8 – 410 HP / 429 lb-ft
This 2500 Tradesman was about as “stripper” as Ram will sell you for this model year, with just a limited slip differential, upgraded 4.10 gearing, and rear parking sensors as options. The standard 6.4L Hemi V8 sent power to just the rear wheels through the corporate 8-speed automatic.
Speaking of that big Hemi, this truck moved. And it sounded glorious while doing so. With little weight compared to the more luxurious siblings, and a bit less drivetrain loss given the lack of transfer case, the 6.4 was happy to sing the song of its people (burbly, raspy, very good noises) and move with authority both from a stop and when passing. The Tradesman felt light on its feet – an odd thing to say about a 3/4-ton truck – and handled well due to the coil springs out back, instead of traditional leaf springs. Typical leaf-sprung trucks, especially once you get above a half-ton “1500” truck, provide a harsh ride unloaded, given the requisite stiffness when loaded up. Not so in the Ram 2500.
The Tradesman interior was spartan, with vinyl flooring and seat covers. The vinyl seats were comfortable, but slippery. My biggest takeaway from this no-options interior was how pleasant it was. The base interiors of Ford and GM medium-duty trucks can feel a bit chintzy; the Ram felt equally sturdy but a bit nicer.
Ram does get a big ol’ “WTF” for the key, uh, situation, that they have on the most basic of Tradesman trucks. All 2500 Tradesman trim trucks come with standard keyless go and a locking tailgate. They do not all come with power door locks – those are part of an $895 “Level 1 Equipment Group” that our demo truck did not have.
So, our demo truck had a key fob that had to be in the vehicle to start it, and had buttons to lock and unlock the tailgate. It also had a regular steel key that had to be used just for the door locks, but could not be used to start the truck or unlock the tailgate (there’s no key hole). I’m guessing most Tradesmans will be equipped with that Level 1 package, even at the fleet level, but this key/fob combination was equal parts awkward and amusing.
2019 Ram 2500 Limited
Crew Cab | 6’4″ bed | 6.7L Cummins Turbo Diesel – 370 HP / 850 lb-ft
I traded the Tradesman’s awkward ring of keys and fobs for a single fob, which belonged to this Maximum Steel 2500 Limited. The Limited is the “give me every option” trim level, and it shows in the details.
Opening the door and stepping up on the power-extending running board revealed a fantastic two-tone “Indigo and Frost” interior, complete with intricate stitching on every leather surface and some bizarre gray “not really wood, but printed like it” trim. Much like the smaller 1500, Ram’s higher-trimmed interiors impress, although the Heavy Duty trucks do not offer a panoramic sunroof – Ford is currently alone in that space.
The Cummins turbodiesel engine provided smooth acceleration, mated to a 6-speed automatic. Although the Ram 3500 offers the “high output” Cummins, the 2500s must make do with just 850 ft-lb of torque. That said, 850 ft-lb is still enough for most racers’ trailers, even larger goosenecks.
Historically, diesel engines can sound a bit clattery. Ram went to great lengths to insulate the cab in the new Heavy Duty trucks, and they are indeed very quiet both at idle and at speed. Noise-wise, these trucks are a far cry from the early-2000s diesel trucks that sound more like school buses than anything.
Ram has finally integrated some driver assistance technology in the 2019 Heavy Duty trucks, too. Adaptive cruise control and forward collision assistance are both available, and work with a trailer hooked up to slow and stop the whole rig as needed. Blind spot monitoring is available, but unlike Ford, does not monitor the length of a trailer (Ford monitors trailers up to 33′ in length).
The final party piece of the 2500 Limited was shared, between the massive 12″ touchscreen dominating the center console, and the plethora of cameras stuck to the truck’s body. Unlike Tesla, Ram chose to leave some physical buttons around the edges of the large screen for common functions. Drivers can adjust basics without diverting their attention – essential to safety. The cameras provide for a 360° top-down view, views of both the bumper hitch and in-bed fifth wheel hitch, and elongated views down either side of the truck. The side views are intended to help with backing and towing a long trailer, although we were not able to test the effectiveness with anything hooked up to the hitch.
2019 Ram 3500 Laramie Longhorn
Mega Cab | 6’4″ bed | 6.7L Cummins High Output Turbo Diesel – 400 HP / 1,000 lb-ft
I never thought I’d use a comma when writing a from-the-factory torque figure, but I just did. For those looking to win the turbodiesel torque numbers game, Ram now offers a “High Output” variant of the 6.7L Cummins engine, rated at one thousand pound-feet.
Our demo truck was a “not quite a Limited” Laramie Longhorn, which seemed about as nice inside as the 2500 Limited, but with a different color palate. Aside from the High Output Cummins, the 3500 was built as “big boy” as possible, with the gigantic Mega Cab (a Ram exclusive, giving 15° of recline to the rear seats) and dual rear wheels.
All of this equipment allows for a supposed 35,100 lbs towing capacity and 7,680 lbs of payload. For reference, what the new Jeep Gladiator can tow, the Ram 3500 HD can just have sitting in its bed.
As the interior and tech of this 3500 were shared with the 2500 Limited, my impressions remained the same as with the other truck. The 3500 was equipped with optional auto-leveling rear air suspension. Unlike the Ram 1500 and Ram 2500, which have coil springs at all four corners, the Ram 3500 relies on leaf springs in the rear, to enable the big towing and payload numbers. However, the air suspension option adds two rear airbags, which inflate and deflate to compensate for added payload or tongue weight out back. The driver can also lower the rear of the truck at the push of a button, making trailer hookups a bit easier.
The “dream scenario” painted for us was a driver looking to hook up their gooseneck trailer. They can, in theory, push a button to lower the power tailgate, push another button to lower the truck’s rear and back under the gooseneck with ease, thanks to the cargo camera, then raise the truck right up to the gooseneck. Less time in and out of the truck means faster hookups, as the driver only gets out to raise the trailer’s feet and connect wiring and safety chains.
Even with the leaf-sprung rear end of the 3500 Heavy Duty, I came away impressed with the overall ride composure. Expansion joints didn’t upset the ride until the joints got really (unusually) large. Good work, Ram.
The magic High Output Cummins, frankly, did not impress on my test drive. We were constrained to a wooded parkway with 50 mph speed limits, and not allowed to tow anything with the trucks. Acceleration provided by the High Output Cummins felt similar to that of the “normal” Cummins in the 2500. Ram claims the 1,000 lb-ft is available at 1,800 rpm, but I wasn’t putting the truck under any sort of challenge that would show off the extra 150 lb-ft compared to the 2500 Limited.
The Ram 1500 impressed when it debuted last year, especially with its all-new interior. Ram was smart to quickly move that interior to the larger Heavy Duty trucks. The 2019 Ram Heavy Duty trucks offer nice interiors, compelling drivetrains, an excellent ride, some clever technology, and an astonishing amount of capability.
Just remember, if you purchase a Tradesman, it’d behoove you to negotiate a larger key ring from the dealership’s parts department while you’re there.