“Hey, man,” the Ram PR dude said to me. “Would you mind starting out in the Hemi 2500 Tradesman?” No, dude, I silently thought to myself. I did not drive 47 miles to spend the night at the Four Seasons Westlake Village only to drive some dirty old gasoline-powered Ram HD with only—only —429 lb-ft of torque.
No, sir! I made the sacrifice to stay in a five-star hotel away from my sleep-averse toddler only to play with the big dog, to experience the main event, to drive the Ram with the 6.7-liter Cummins turbodiesel inline-six with—are we all sitting down—1,000 lb-ft of torque! A Hemi 2500? Come on! “Sure,” I said, knuckling under to petty authority. “That’s fine.”
The shocking part is, said Hemi-powered truck is much better than fine. I remember back at the 2017 Truck of the Year competition, Ram lent us a gasoline-powered 2500. Hated it! Hated it to the point that I questioned why anybody would ever buy a gas-powered heavy-duty.
Well, let me announce that the 2019 Ram 2500 Hemi answers that question. Because it’s terrific. Same engine, in fact, so the question is, why is the 2019 version so much better? Gearing. The new version is mated to a ZF eight-speed automatic transmission (the 2017 model had a six-speed automatic), and that alone basically solves every issue I had with the last gen. Suddenly, the low-spec Ram HD feels quick, sporty, and swarming with torque. Even though the job-site-white, crank-window(!) Tradesman had 2,500 pounds of lumber in the bed, the thing still felt fleet and darty. Sure, any truck is going to ride better with weight in the bed, so yes, Ram PR totally tricked me.
However, if you actually use your truck to move stuff around, the 2500 Tradesman is a great, low-dollar, high-capability alternative to a half-tonner. Ram hasn’t announced pricing yet, but I’d guess you’ll be able to slide into the Tradesman’s vinyl-skinned interior for about $35,000 with no options whatsoever, just like the example I drove.
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On the other end of the pricing spectrum sits the full-fat, 3500 Mega Cab dually with the aforementioned optional 1,000-lb-ft engine, in either Laramie Longhorn or Limited trim with the Max Tow package—which can set you back over $90,000.
What if you want the capability of a big, strong diesel powerplant, but the notion of a near-six-figure truck leaves you cold? Don’t worry. For $9,100 over the base gas engine, you can opt for a 370-horsepower, 850-lb-ft version of the Cummins. Jumping from 850 to 1,000 lb-ft—which requires a different transmission and transfer case—costs another $2,695. Still, you can buy a very capable Ram heavy-duty hauler for well under 50 large. How capable?
I got behind the wheel of a 3500 Limited dually with its 850 lb-ft of torque and a large, enclosed box trailer hanging off the gooseneck. All the trucks present had little white placards inside announcing both the trailer weight and the weight of what was on/in said trailer. All the trucks save for the Delmonico Red bruiser I was sitting in. Some other journo swiped it. I’ll ask the PR guy later, I told myself.
Even though 850 lb-ft of twist is weirdly a “normal” amount of torque these days, the trailer felt very light. “Maybe it’s empty?” my passenger mused. Yeah, maybe. The two of us guessed that the unladen trailer weighed 2, maybe 3 tons, max. We made this assumption because the ride quality wasn’t all that great. As stated earlier, heavy-duty trucks tend to ride much better when under a heavy load. Imagine our stunned shock to discover the trailer was full of bags of rocks; thus we’d been hauling 16,580 pounds. As for the ride quality, I’m thinking the Max Tow package solves that problem. Why am I thinking that?
Finally it was time to climb into the truck I’d come to drive, a 3500 Limited dually with the Max Tow package plus the 400-hp, 1,000-lb-ft king Cummins. As it happened, this particular truck was hooked up to an 8,440-pound trailer with a 9,100-pound skid-steer strapped to it (total: 17,540 pounds). Heavy, yes, but the crazy part is that 17,540 pounds is less than half of the truck’s capability. That’s right, this rig is capable of hauling 35,100 pounds.
(An aside: Sadly for Ram, Chevy just announced that its heavy hauler can handle 35,500 pounds. Meanwhile, Ford’s new thing is to announce numbers without actually revealing the numbers—such as saying the GT500 will be 700-plus horsepower. So, Ford’s 7.3-liter V-8 will have some sort of output—but you can rest assured that the 2020 Super Duty’s max tow rating will be at least 35,501 pounds.)
Up the Grapevine we went. Although it’s not quite the legendary Davis Dam towing test we employ as part of our Truck of the Year festivities, the California Grapevine up through and past Gorman is quite mountainous. The big Ram got itself up to 50 mph on a flat section of freeway, no problem whatsoever. I waited for the uphill and then punched it. As it turns out, knowing you have four-digit torque at your disposal and experiencing said tidal wave of force are two radically different things. I knew this truck wouldn’t sweat the load, but I wasn’t prepared for how effortless it would feel. To my astonishment, I watched as the 3500 HD accelerated up to 65 mph as easily as an unladen passenger car would perform the same act.
Going downhill was as easy. Ram includes an automatic exhaust brake that acts as a sort of smart descent control. After double-tapping the exhaust brake switch twice, all you do is ever so lightly drag the brake pedal to hold your current speed. Touch the throttle to override it. Simple. Also worth noting, with the Max Tow package, the rear brake rotors are larger (14.4 inches) than the fronts (14.2 inches). Why? The rear brakes of the truck act as the front brakes of the trailer. Think about it. Clever, no?
After turning around to head back to base camp, I found myself stuck behind a motorhome struggling to go 25 mph up the hill. During Truck of the Year, testing director Kim Reynolds calls this the Frustration Test, and it has become a staple of our Truck of the Year testing (though we test accelerating from 35 to 55 mph). I pulled out to the left and floored it as we passed Tejon Ranch on the way up to Frazier Park.
I checked my rearview display, and, yup, cars were bearing down on me and the giant Ram. I didn’t know it at the time, but the 3500 Limited I was driving weighs 9,060 pounds empty. Counting the trailer and at least 800 pounds of passengers (including Ram HD chief engineer Rod Romain, who has a 1,000-lb-ft handshake), we’re talking more than 27,000 pounds that needed to get from 25 to 65 mph uphill in a big hurry. Moment of truth, as they say.
In our standard testing, this big Ram hits 60 mph in 8.4 seconds and runs the quarter mile in 16.4 seconds at 84.9 mph. On paper, these numbers sound like nothing. Back to knowing versus experiencing, this big ol’ hoss feels much quicker than our instrumented numbers say.
There’s this Bentleyness (for lack of a better word) to this sensation—that the tsunami of torque you’re surfing will never crest, will never cease, will never relent. The times on paper aren’t quick by modern standards, but by the seat of your pants, this engine in the Ram feels invincible. Also, this 4.5-ton monster truck rides remarkably well completely empty. As for the Frustration Test, I ask, “What frustration?” We passed that slow-moving motorhome without breaking a sweat.
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