Dodge Ram 3500 Heavy Duty — A beast of burden

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

We acknowledge the many virtues of the Ram 3500 Laramie Heavy Duty Mega Cab (crew cab) dually, but one of them is not as a daily driver. (Note: Ram Truck is now a brand within the new Chrysler Group and Dodge is now solely a car brand.)

The huge truck with the sprawling dual rear wheels was a challenge. To be more precise, it challenged us every time we took it off a straight stretch of road and headed for a parking lot whether it was to mail a letter or go out for the traditional Friday night dinner at a local restaurant. We knew from a couple days experience there was no way the big Ram — which stretches out more than 21 1/2 feet with a mammoth 49-foot turning radius — could be squeezed into the parking spaces at most of our favorite eateries, at least not by a driver with our expertise in driving giant sized trucks.

We gained new appreciation for the guy who takes his big rig everywhere he goes. One of our acquaintances believes if you don’t have at least one full-sized pickup truck in your driveway you are not truly American and he fell instantly in love with the Ram. He couldn’t understand our apprehension over driving the Ram all the time. “This has got everything you need,” he said, as he climbed up behind the wheel for a better look. “Huge back seat you can carry everything including people, big bed, and it will pull your house off its foundation, and when you go out to eat, park the thing as far away as you have to and walk proudly to the restaurant — because you are the king of the road.”

The bottom line for us — if you need 17,600 pounds of maximum towing capacity for the large horse trailer or giant travel trailer, and if you need 4,540 pounds of payload capacity for the load of bricks, and if you need full-time four-wheel drive high and low for those muddy farm trails, and if you need comfortable stretch-out room for five people, then the Ram 3500 HD Mega Cab dually is indeed your kind of truck.

Of course, if you are in the business of construction, farming or ranching then the giant truck makes perfect sense. But, you’ll also need a car, crossover, smaller pickup truck, or some other “normal” conveyance to accomplish the daily chores of life.

What you won’t sacrifice in the 3500 are the amenities of driving life. Even if you use a luxury car or crossover as your Sunday-go-to-meeting vehicle, you will not be disappointed on Monday morning when you crank up the big Cummins diesel and pull away in nearly four tons of truck.

The Ram has one of the most upscale interiors of any pickup we’ve driven, and we never thought we would say that after experiencing recent editions of the Ford F-Series. Our top-line Laramie test truck impressed us with soft-touch controls, classy materials, tasteful stitching, and wood and metallic accents, things you would not normally find in a work truck. We even discovered the second row had a heated seat and it worked very well. You can’t purchase that feature in most trucks at any price because heated rear seats have never been seriously considered in a pickup. And interior storage is ample with numerous bins and pockets and a huge center console bin that will swallow up a laptop or a large purse.

Equally impressive is a relatively quiet interior with minimal wind and road noise, which adds to the luxury feel of the cab. The good use of deadening materials also makes the diesel chatter from the 6.7-litter Cummins engine almost imperceptible inside.

Also adding to the truck’s friendly, upscale nature is a very livable ride, even unloaded. Despite its awesome payload capacity, the suspension was more car-like than truck-like. Ram has developed hydraulic cab-to-frame mounts that are tuned to reduce the jostling ride typical of an unloaded heavy-duty truck.

Our test truck was outfitted with an inexpensive $800 navigation screen that included a $200 backup camera that we found invaluable while backing from parking places and in our attempts to position the monster truck.

The Ram Heavy Duty series trucks do not come without a rather hefty price. You must pay for all of the utility, but the truck maker has managed to keep prices at 2009 levels or below. The 2500 series starts at $28,165 for a regular cab model with a short bed and goes to $44,100 for the Mega Cab four-wheel drive Laramie edition.

The 3500 series we drove begins at $35,630 for a regular cab short bed rear-wheel drive model and goes up to the Laramie Mega Cab with four-wheel drive for $51,095. Our test truck with a few options carried a bottom line of $54,370. Note that you can save $2,380 if you opt out of four-wheel drive.

The standard engine in the 3500 is the 6.7-liter Cummins turbo-diesel inline-6 that produces 350 horsepower and an impressive 650 pound-feet of torque. It is mated to either a six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic transmission.

We were impressed with acceleration, which we considered very adequate considering the truck’s massive 7,920-pound curb weight. A major auto magazine measured 0-to-60 time (unloaded) in 13.5 seconds. Equally impressive is a comparatively short panic stopping distance of 152 feet from 60 to 0.

We enjoyed driving the big beast on the open road. Handling is first rate. We admit, however, it was a seven-day ordeal to navigate busy city streets and parking lots. But that’s not the business of this big truck. The business of this rugged Ram is to pull heavy things and carry big loads. And for those chores the Ram has first-class credentials.

Base price: $35,630; as driven, $54,370
Engine: 6.7-liter turbo-diesel inline-6
Horsepower: 350 @ 3,000 rpm
Torque: 650 foot-pounds @ 1,400 rpm
Drive: four-wheel
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 168.9 inches
Length: 259.4 inches
Curb weight: 7,920 pounds
Turning circle: 49.8 feet
Payload capacity: 4,580 pounds
Towing capacity: 17,600 pounds
Fuel capacity: 35 gallons (diesel)
EPA rating: NA
0-60: 13.5 seconds (Motor Trend)
Also consider: Ford F-350, Chevrolet Silverado 3500

The Good:
• Powerful diesel engine
• High-quality cabin
* Stretch-out room in rear seats
• Incredible towing capacity

The Bad:
• Pulling four tons takes a heap of diesel fuel

The Ugly:
• Not designed for city parking lots