If you've wondered how Chrysler is going to pay back the U.S. Treasury, take a look at the 2010 Ram 2500 and 3500 Heavy Duty models. These new trucks are as good they come, and in some areas, better than anything else out there. If truck buyers pay attention, this could mean big dollars for Chrysler, and in turn, repayment of the company's debt to U.S. citizens.
The big Ram's story requires a bit of background: Dodge introduced their all-new Ram 1500 in the fall of 2008 as a 2009 model. With innovations like a smooth riding coil-spring rear suspension, the clever Ram Box storage system, and a truly excellent interior, Dodge's all-new light-duty truck seemed headed for new sales heights.
While the Ram 1500 won plenty of accolades, nothing could stop the economy from driving full-throttle off a cliff, taking all new vehicle sales with it. Suddenly, it didn't matter how good the new trucks were. Chrysler had a bigger issue to worry about: its corporate life.
Thankfully the economy rebounded and Chrysler survived, albeit as a much smaller company with many fewer dealers. Since Fall '08, Chrysler dropped several vehicle lines but the Ram 1500 remained in production. This is crucial because the Heavy Duty Ram is based on the light-duty model.
Of course, nearly everything in the HD Ram is upgraded from the Ram 1500. Numbers help tell the story. The new Heavy Duty Ram boasts a maximum payload of 5,110 lbs. The heaviest trailer it can tow is 18,500 lbs. Maxed-out GVWRs hits 25,400 lbs. These figures are, in some cases, nearly three times that of a Ram 1500.
Predictably, the capabilities are wrapped in a shape that's unmistakably Dodge Ram. Apparently, this sheep was fed steroids as a little lamb. The larger grille gets it size not from stylists, but from engineers who needed to meet the substantial cooling requirements of the Ram HD's optional 6.7-liter Cummins diesel engine. A larger domed hood adds to the bold look. New side vents are curiously non-functional. Details include a high-powered winch integrated behind the big chrome bumper of Power Wagons and flip-up outside rear-view mirrors that help with towing.
On models with dual-rear wheels, fully integrated rear fenders give these exceptional heavy-haulers unmatched style. It's a custom look straight out of high-end hot-rod shop. Fenders found on dual-rear-wheel versions of Ford and Chevrolet heavy-duty models look crudely tacked-on by comparison. Taken in total, the Ram HDs presents a strong and purposeful presence.
Dodge offers two engines for its Ram 2500 and 3500 models. The standard 5.7-liter HEMI V-8 produces 383 horsepower and 400 lb.ft. torque. The engine features a high compression ratio, variable valve timing and active intake manifold tuning. Fuel economy is approximately 4 percent better than the last HD Ram models, but there are not official EPA MPG estimates for this truck class, so we're just going to have take their word on it.
Chrysler's 5-speed automatic is the HEMI's only available transmission, a shortcoming when compared to the Ford Super-Duty and GM's Silverado and Sierra HDs. Those trucks both offer 6-speed automatics, helping with power delivery and fuel economy.
The HEMI is no pansy when it comes to delivering power, but when work demands even more oomph coupled with greater efficiency and durability, the only choice is the Cummins 6.7-liter six-cylinder diesel. The clean-burning Cummins cranks out 350 horsepower and a dyno-busting 650 lb.ft. torque. Gearboxes include a 6-speed manual and a competitive 6-speed automatic.
The Cummins meets the new 2010.5 diesel emissions regulations without the continual maintenance and expense of urea-type exhaust treatment systems. It also offers big-rig style exhaust braking capabilities, a valuable brake-saving feature for drivers who frequently traverse hills and mountains.
All Ram HDs feature an integrated trailer brake control, but unlike the Ford Super Duty, the biggest Rams are not available with electronic stability control systems. Dodge tells us that this feature is coming soon, perhaps as early as 2011.
The coil spring rear suspension found under the Ram 1500 was not carried over for the Ram HD. Traditional leaf springs can handle greater loads, so that's what's under the HDs.
Recognizing the needs of many users in snowy climates, Dodge specifically upgraded the front axles on some models to make their HDs more capable for snowplowing applications.
Dodge chose to offer its new HD trucks in three cab styles: regular, Mega, and crew. Inside, the interior of the Ram 1500 has been cloned. Those expecting a bare-bones work truck interior will either be greatly disappointed or genuinely impressed. Five trim levels are available, so there's one for every budget from the base-but-well-equipped ST to the loaded Laramie. Even the base trim looks and feels expensive. Two boxes trail the cabs, measuring 6.4 or 8 feet.
On the road with either powertrain, we found the interiors of several different Ram HDs to be exceptionally quiet and free of engine clatter and wind noise. Ergonomics are modern and practical.
We also had a chance to pilot the Ram 2500 Power Wagon, a special model designed as a dual-purpose work/fun truck. It feels as comfortable with half a ton in its bed as it does slogging through deep mud off-road. Unlike Ford's new Raptor, the Power Wagon is a traditional slow-speed off-road machine with locking differentials, an electrically disconnecting front sway bar, and an old-school lever-shifted transfer case. It felt unstoppable as it crawled over or through everything we aimed it at during our session at Chrysler's Chelsea, Michigan Proving Grounds.
Not that many years ago, trucks with the capability to tow eight tons were not comfortable every day drivers. The 2010 Ram 2500 and 3500 HDs are. Taxpayers should hope that truck buyers give the new Dodges a look. The payoff could be substantial.