2014 RAM 2500 Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
New engine, air suspension for Ram's heavy hauler.
OverviewThe 2014 Ram Heavy Duty models boast some of the highest tow ratings among pickups. Ram HDs offer five engine power ratings and a range of interiors from commercial-friendly to luxury.
The three-quarter ton Ram 2500 series receives the bulk of the changes for the 2014 model year. The 2014 Ram 2500 gets a new front suspension and a unique rear suspension. Ram 2500 offers rear air suspension while Ram 3500 offers rear air assist. Also new for 2014, a second Hemi gasoline V8 joins the lineup. Fleet and plow operators will appreciate the expansion of gasoline-power availability. The current-generation Ram Heavy Duty pickups began with the 2003 model year. 2010 brought revised styling and more refinement throughout. For 2013, headlamps and tail lamps were updated, chrome and power folding mirrors were added.
Maximum towing for the 2014 Ram 2500 is nearly 18,000 pounds and for the 2014 Ram 3500 it is 30,000 pounds; top payload approaches 4000 pounds for a Ram 2500 and is 7320 pounds on Ram 3500. Like all full-size pickup trucks, the maximum tow rating and maximum load rating apply to different trucks and not simultaneously. While Ram's payload numbers are fully competitive, the 3500's towing ability is literally tons better than the challengers. (Most HD pickups pulling a trailer rated for anything near their maximum load capacity may require some sort of driver's license beyond the norm or an endorsement.)
Chrysler's 383-hp Hemi 5.7-liter V8 with 6-speed automatic is the standard setup; a CNG version has limited availability. The new 6.4-liter 410-hp Hemi is designed for regular unleaded fuel and has cylinder deactivation for lower light-load fuel consumption. Most models offer at least two powertrain choices, though Longhorns are automatic only and Power Wagons are gas engine only.
The 6.7-liter Cummins turbodiesel comes in three variants: 350-hp, 660 lb-ft with 6-speed manual; 370 hp, 800 lb-ft with 6-speed automatic; 385-hp, 850 lb-ft with 6-speed automatic on the MaxTow package.
Ram HD rides well and cruises quietly by heavy-duty pickup standards but you can't compare the ride to a car, nor noise from six tires, lots of airflow and trailer hardware. We found the rear-air suspended Ram 2500 rode quite comfortably empty or towing, while four-door Ram 3500s towed comfortably into the 28,000-pound range. As with most full-size pickups, four-door cabs' better body mounts and a longer wheelbase help ride quality and isolation.
Equipment levels vary from the Ram Tradesman's rubber-vinyl coverings and crank windows to Ram Laramie's heated steering wheel and rear seats, heated/ventilated front seats, driver memory system, configurable instrument cluster and text-to-voice infotainment systems. All cabs are roomy but the Ram MegaCab offers more cabin lounging space than any HD pickup.
(The 2014 Ram Power Wagon will be a late introduction. Expect the new suspension design to be taller than a standard 2014 but just as flexible as the previous Power Wagon. We're expecting gas-engine only.)
Ram 2500 and 3500 Heavy Duty models compete with Ford Super Duty, Chevrolet Silverado HD, and GMC Sierra HD pickups. Ram HD shares many interior elements and styling cues with Ram 1500 models, though they are not identical.
Ram HDs remain a compelling choice for anyone in need of a heavy-duty pickup truck. Ram Heavy Duty models are an excellent choice for anyone pulling big travel trailers, multi-car race trailers, big boats or a stable of horses. They are a good choice for anyone who has work to do, be it hauling construction tools and materials or substituting for a medium-duty when a primary business rig is on downtime.
The 2014 Ram 2500 and Ram 3500 Heavy Duty pickups come in Tradesman, SLT, Outdoorsman, Power Wagon, Laramie, and Laramie Longhorn trim levels, plus regional SLT+ packages such as the Big Horn and Lone Star. Three cab configurations are available: Regular, Crew Cab, Mega Cab. Two bed lengths (6-foot, 4-inch and 8-foot) are offered, along with a choice of four wheelbases. Ram 3500 models are available with single or dual rear wheels (SRW or DRW). The Power Wagon is 2500 4WD, Crew Cab, gasoline only; Ram HD regular cab is Tradesman or SLT trim only; Mega Cabs come only with the short bed.
Ram 2500 and Ram 3500 come standard with the 5.7-liter V8 and 6-speed automatic; no manual is offered for the V8. A factory-built CNG (natural gas) unit is available on a few 2500 Crew Cab long box. The 6.4 Hemi is available on most trims, and for the first time in decades, on a dual-rear wheel 3500. The optional Cummins 6.7-liter turbodiesel is available in three power levels with three corresponding transmissions. On most Ram HD models, part-time 4WD (manual or electric-shift) adds about $3,000.
Ram Tradesman models are commercial-grade: black bumpers, grille and mirrors, crank windows on regular cab (power windows and locks on others), vinyl 40/20/40 seat, steel wheels and a manual-shift transfer case on 4WD. Vinyl floor covering is standard and can be ordered in place of carpet on all but Laramie models. Ram Tradesman comes standard with an automatic transmission, air conditioning, Class V hitch with 4/7-pin plugs, AM/FM Uconnect 3.0 stereo, cruise control, locking tailgate and tilt steering wheel. Options for Ram ST are plentiful, including a diesel engine (which adds front tow hooks and cruise control), power heated and towing mirrors, integrated trailer brake controller, sliding rear window, spray in bedliner, floor mats, cloth upholstery, DVD/HDD and Sirius audio, limited-slip differential, skid plates, RamBox or fifth-wheel/gooseneck prep, various option groups, and choices for wheels, tires and axle ratios.
Ram SLT adds power mirrors, remote keyless entry, power windows (including rear windows on four-doors), carpeting, cloth upholstery, electric-switched transfer case, chrome wheels, sliding rear window, in-dash tire-pressure display (2500 only) and the integrated trailer brake controller. Some notable SLT options are fog lamps, CHMSL rear camera, heated power towing mirrors, forged aluminum wheels, bucket seats and console, power seats, adjustable pedals and driver memory system, moonroof, navigation, Uconnect phone, remote start, back-up camera, security system, and rear park assist.
Ram Outdoorsman is a package for Ram 2500 and 3500 Crew cabs based on an SLT luxury package with some additional extras. Standards include gray painted bumpers and fender flares, two-tone paint, body-color grille/black insert, fog lights, power folding/heated mirrors with signals, HomeLink, mud/slush floor mats, 115-VAC outlet, power split-bench seat, leather-wrapped wheel, LT265/70R17E on/off-road tires on forged aluminum wheels, 7-inch TFT info display, Uconnect 8.4-inch touchscreen AM/FM/sat/Bluetooth/voice nav-ready audio, security system, limited-slip differential, tow hooks, and remote start. Primary options are a moonroof, engines, navigation and park sensors.
Ram Big Horn and Ram Lone Star (Texas only) editions are packages based on a Ram SLT with some Outdoorsman parts and Uconnect 5.0 touchscreen audio with Bluetooth and satellite radio.
Power Wagon models come only as 2500 Crew Cab. Power Wagons get electric locking front and rear differentials, a front antiroll bar disconnect, specific suspension with Bilstein shocks, 32-inch BFGoodrich off-road tires, a 12,000-lb Warn winch, full skid plates, 4.10:1 gears, more lighting and two-tone paint and graphics. Three trim levels parallel the Tradesman, SLT and Laramie trim (and most options) of other HD Rams.
Ram Laramie adds more chrome, power adjustable pedals and heated mirrors on driver memory system, dual-zone climate control, 115-VAC outlet, universal door opener, 10-way/6-way power heated leather seats, heated leather steering wheel, nine-speaker DVD/HDD surround-sound audio, rear park sense, and security system. Laramie upgrades are generally limited to chrome packages, towing mirrors, skid plates, rear window defroster, heated/ventilated power bucket seats with floor console, moonroof, navigation, rearview camera and wheel and axle ratio choices.
Laramie Longhorn is automatic only. Four-door cab only, it adds to a Laramie with filigree leather upholstery, leather on the dash and door panels, wood trim, Berber floor mats, ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, leather-wrapped shift knob, navigation with Sirius Travel Link, remote start, unique instrument graphics, polished aluminum wheels and spray in bed liner. Options are few: skidplates, axle ratio, limited-slip differential, smart beam headlamps, rain-sensing wipers, alternate wheel finishes and rear seat entertainment system.
Laramie Limited is the top-line, four-door cab only. Relative Longhorn it gets body-color bumpers, standard RamBox, piped Natura Plus black leather interior, 20-inch polished aluminum wheels, keyless entry/start, smart-beam headlamps, rain-sensing wipers, and logo floormats.
Safety features on all HD Rams include dual front multi-stage airbags, side curtain airbags, front side airbags, adjustable height front belts, LATCH child-seat anchors, child-protection rear door locks, stability and trailer sway control, anti-lock brakes on all wheels, hill-start assist and tire-pressure monitors (2500 only).
Ram Heavy Duty pickups got revised styling for 2010. For 2013, headlamps and tail lamps were updated, chrome and available power folding mirrors added, along with Longhorn's long running boards. A spray-in bedliner and simple fifth-wheel/gooseneck out-fitting help the truck end of things.
With a forward tilt to the grille and an upward, inward point to the headlights, grille and bumper, the heavy-duty nose looks like a stout blunt instrument, rather like the point on an anvil. There are four choices in grilles, the pinnacle a chrome mesh arrangement.
While the style and lights are from the 1500, only the latter are the same parts. The HD's grille is larger than that of the 1500 models to allow more cooling air in, the bumper is reshaped, and the hood has a larger central bulge and faux louver contouring, but the easiest way to distinguish a non-dually HD from the 1500 is the gap above the bumper: The 1500 has no such gap.
Upper-trim trucks get projector headlamps with LED ancillary lamps, and LEDs in back. Taken from the 1500, they provide the same visibility improvements, and access covers are fitted for easier alignment and bulb changes.
Ram HD Crew Cab is comparable to competitor crew cabs in size and is about the same size as the Ram 1500 Crew Cab. The Ram HD Crew Cab has four forward-hinged doors.
The ultra-long Mega Cab uses the same rear doors as the Crew but adds inches behind the doors.
Crew Cab and Mega Cab both come with a 6-foot, 4-inch box. You can get an 8-foot box on any Crew Cab except Power Wagon. The short box looks stubby behind the imposing Mega Cab and you'll want to consider a slider hitch if you tow a fifth-wheel; you can not get a Mega Cab long-bed as it would be unwieldy anywhere outside the Great Plains.
Dual rear wheel models (DRW), including the Mega Cab, use a single outside panel for the wide rear fenders to eliminate seams and fasteners that might prove problematic long term. And the bed sides are steel, for easier straightening than fiberglass if you ding one.
In terms of sleekness, the Ram slots between the GM HD and Ford Super Duty pickups: Perceptively bigger and more angular than the Silverado HD yet smoother than the Super Duty. Very mild fender flares of various colors are used on some trims. Power Wagon models get a graphics package with plenty of wallpaper.
Roof clearance lamps, government-mandated for vehicles like dual-rear-wheel pickups that exceed a certain width, use clear lenses for a better-integrated look; the satellite antenna is between them so cabover campers and contractor racks won't knock it off. Upper trim level mirrors have puddle lamps, and the towing mirrors have turn signal repeaters and a separately adjustable, much larger wide-angle element at the bottom (in tow position); in the retracted position the outboard wide-angle element is very useful in traffic, tight trails and parking areas as you can view both rear tires. Worth noting, you can adjust the electric mirrors without having the truck switched on. The towing mirrors are very good, providing an excellent view rearward and some offer power folding.
A RamBox is optional on 6-foot, 4-inch bed models. The RamBox houses large lockers along the top of each bed-side for stowing anything that will fit, including fishing rods and long-handle shovels or about a gross of your favorite beverage cans on ice. Downsides are a drop in payload and no use of over-rail bed covers.
A tailgate lock is standard. However, the tailgate is not heavily damped, so it will thud if you just let it go. (Get a helper if you remove it because it's heavy). On trucks with rearview cameras, the lens is far enough from the latch so you won't scratch it opening the gate, and it gets decent protection and snow/ice rejection from the tailgate's upper lip. A secondary rearview option places the camera near the center brake light atop the rear cab for easier kingpin hitching, and the load can be checked in motion (the standard camera image display moves to the inside mirror). Bed rails are protected from load scuffing, and the bed is contoured for 2x4s and 2x6s to make it dual-level. A spray-in bedliner is a factory option.
The Ram Heavy Duty cabin is basically the same as that of the Ram 1500; the main differences are features, shifter locations and floor pan.
Materials and trim are appropriate by model line, be they the base truck or a Laramie Longhorn Mega Cab with Ram's head embosses on the seatbacks and console and pouych-like map pockets on the seatbacks. We found no fit-and-finish issues. The Longhorn's low-gloss woodwork is unique, and few shiny surfaces generate glare to bother the occupants. Although a vinyl floor is standard on only the base Tradesman model you can order it with a more upscale interior if it's only your boots that get filthy. Thick mats designed for muck and slush are standard on the Outdoorsman but are available through Mopar accessories.
The Regular Cab has plenty of room for two people, three across if you don't mind the floor hump or have a manual gearbox. The biggest guy we could find who claimed to be.
At minimum a Ram Heavy Duty is more than 19 feet long, six-and-a-half feet wide, six feet tall, needs nearly 3.5 12-foot traffic lanes to execute a U-turn and is three-tons of sink-in-hot-pavement truck. If you haven't got a lot of weight to carry or pull, a 1500 will probably serve better. If you need to tow or haul, however, you've come to the right place.
Once accustomed to the outside dimensions, the Ram HD is not hard to drive. You need to allow a bit more space for stopping distance than the average car but that's easy given the visibility from the higher driving position. The steering is reasonably quick, and the 3500 4WD's steering feels almost as good as the old trucks' rack and pinion independent suspension (the HD's are now a solid front axle on 2 or 4WD). You'll be twisting the wheel more than a car to make the same turn, and the Ram changes direction easily and we couldn't overwhelm the steering pump (making it sluggish and heavy) in parking lot maneuvering or threading a 4WD through mud, trees and rock.
There are good reasons why many enthusiast magazines don't do handling tests on HD pickups because handling and precision are relative terms. The Ram changes directions admirably and has predictable characteristics, but start horseplay in a vehicle where the rear axle alone weighs as much as a big Harley and you'll learn the hard way what those strange terms on NASCAR broadcasts mean.
What stands out the most on the current Ram is the quiet cabin and smooth ride quality, which have come a long way since the pre 2009 models. We found all three cabs quiet and solid, but the Crew Cabs and Mega Cabs were superior and nearly shudder free. Part of this solid feel is suspension tuning and part of the smoothness is the advanced body mounting system.
The 2500's coil/link rear suspension improves its ride and handling characteristics just as it did for the 1500. Optionally the 2500 may be equipped with full air suspension in back that levels automatically (two heights are available for towing) for load an trailer, meaning no more headlight adjustment and more consistent driving dynamics. The 3500 offers air-assist for the rear suspension, so you can get the huge load ratings but have a gentler ride empty.
There is now no single aspect of the Ram HD that will wear you out. At 75 mph on moderately good pavement we floored the pedal on a diesel and the engine wasn't heard over the road noise and wind noise wasn't heard above either. We could still converse in regular tones, even with riders in the rear seat. Since it revs higher, the Hemi comes across no quieter than the diesel except at cold idle.
The standard 5.7-liter Hemi V8 develops 383 horsepower at 5600 rpm and, like any good truck engine, it makes more torque than horsepower, with 400 pound-feet at 4000 rpm. The new 6.4-liter Hemi, which shares nothing with Chrysler's SRT division's 6.4, rates 410 hp and 429 lb-ft of torque. Besides making more peak power and torque, it makes the same power as the 5.7 1000 rpm earlier, it has cylinder deactivation to run half-cylinders under light load, it's recommended fuel is less expensive than the 5.7's, and it typically has notably higher payload and tow ratings. On a new 7000-pound 4WD 2500 on a route half winding mountain roads and half level cruising we averaged almost 13 mpg.
The 6-speed automatic transmission shifts as it should, and if your primary truck need is carrying things or ultra-cold-weather plowing the Hemis are often better choices than the diesel. Yes, they will use more fuel, but they weigh less and the $6500-10,000 saved can buy lots of gas.
The Cummins turbodiesel is a proven option. Every version has big cooling (two radiators, two ATF coolers on autos, thick intercooler) to allow high tow ratings. Torque is 660 lb-ft at 1500 rpm on the manual, the standard automatic is 370 hp and 800 lb-ft, and the MaxTow high output engine is 385 hp and 850 lb-ft. If your occasional trailer is not more than 20,000 pounds or so, it might be wiser to choose the 370/800 engine and 4.10:1 axle ratio which rates about the same tow rating as the 385/850 with 3.42:1 but costs thousands less.
Our limited road drive in a lightly-loaded 2500 4WD showed close to 20 mpg, but as always your driving style and load will have far greater effect on your economy. The DEF fills next to fuel, and even factoring DEF costs, per-mile fluid costs should improve by double-digit percentages.
Diesel exhaust brakes are now multi-stage. You can choose maximum retarding whenever your foot's off the accelerator or an auto mode that aims to maintain the speed set, such as holding downhill speed to 60 mph rather than slowing until you disable it. The service brakes were strong enough to stop a 30,000-pound trailer from 45 mph on level ground without smoking when we stressed them by disabling the trailer brakes.
The Cummins inline six-cylinder is a medium-duty truck engine, with exceptional robustness, longevity and low-rpm grunt. Torque is what gets a load in motion, and with the Cummins making nearly as much torque when you let the clutch out as the 5.7 does at 4000 rpm, it is the obvious choice for heavy towing. Many RVers report better fuel mileage towing with their Cummins than a Hemi gets in an empty truck.
The integrated trailer brake controller is available on most models and hard to beat. Besides adjustable gain you can choose from light or heavy, electric or electric-over-hydraulic trailer brakes. We tried both heavy settings and each was capable of locking six or eight tires on a 14-plus-ton trailer with gain set at 7-7.5 of 10.
The frame now uses a Class V (2.5-inch) conventional receiver hitch. A massive mid-bed crossmember makes adding a fifth-wheel or gooseneck and tie-down points much easier, and a Mopar accessory installed at the dealer will be covered under the truck warranty. Rear trailer plugs are standard, an in-bed simple to add in.
The Power Wagon needs to be considered a separate model based not only on equipment but also performance. Locking differentials and a front antiroll bar disconnect give excellent low-speed off-highway performance. It's also quite good at speed across a gravel road or dry wash, though not a direct match for Ford's F-150 Raptor, which costs about the same with the 411-hp 6.2-liter engine, has a regular or Crew Cab, but offers less of the load and towing capacity of a Power Wagon.
With the MaxTow package the top ratings for the Ram are 30,000 trailer and 37,600 combined. Tow ratings for the Ram HD range from 10,540 pounds to 30,000 pounds; adding a larger cab, more lux or 4WD will tend to lower the tow rating. However, even the fanciest, largest Ram HD can be loaded with passengers and payload and still pull 10 tons.
Maximum payload varies by similar parameters although sometimes the 4WD version carries more. Load capacity runs from 1400 pounds (a CNG Crew Cab 2500 long bed) to more than 7300 pounds (2WD regular cab long bed 3500 dually).
Note that virtually all pickup truck tow ratings apply to a truck with a driver and only the mechanical options required; any cargo, people, or aftermarket equipment on board (winch, tool box, fifth-wheel hitch, etc.) will have to be subtracted from the max ratings. Double-check everything if you will be near the limits.
The Ram Heavy Duty pickups are so strong that the top level is essentially a premium car cabin on a medium-duty truck. Load limits are high and towing ability is unequalled, whether you're farming, a hot-shotter or double-towing a big fifth-wheel with a dinghy behind it. At the lower end, a $40,000 Hemi Crew Cab 4WD makes a useful workweek truck to get the job done, and occasional weekend family tow-rig or big-box hauler that won't break the bank.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent G.R. Whale reports after test drives in Texas, California and Detroit; with Mitch McCullough reporting from San Diego.
Ram 2500 Tradesman 2WD regular cab long bed ($29,600); 2500 SLT 4WD Crew Cab short bed ($40,815); 2500 Laramie 2WD Crew Cab long bed ($43,565); 2500 Laramie Crew Cab 4WD short bed ($46,855); 3500 Tradesman 4WD regular cab long bed ($33,275); 3500 SLT 4WD Crew Cab long bed ($41,860); 3500 Laramie Limited 4WD Mega Cab ($57,085).
Options As Tested
6.4-liter Hemi ($1495); Uconnect 8.4AN with navigation; rear air suspension; RamBox; miscellaneous.
Ram 2500 Crew Cab Laramie 4WD short box ($46,855).
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