Trucks, specifically pickup trucks, are not what they used to be. Nowadays there are sport trucks, personal luxury trucks, tough trucks for off-roading, trucks that look tough but never go off road, cars that look like trucks, and trucks that ride like cars. Well, what if you have a real job to do? Are there any pickup trucks out there that, well, you know, can really truck stuff around?
Well, the engineers at Dodge know a thing or two about building trucks that work for a living. Two of those things are the new 2003 Dodge Ram Heavy Duty 2500 and Heavy Duty 3500. These are vehicles designed with the primary mission of being a big box on wheels that can haul lots of heavy stuff for a long time. All HD Rams benefit from the “big rig” styling theme introduced on last year’s Ram 1500 series that says “stand back and watch me work”.
And work they do, thanks to new engines like the Ram 2500 series’ HEMI Magnum V-8. Available only in the Heavy Duty line, the legendary Hemi name adorns a 5.7 liter pushrod V-8 with 345 horsepower and 365 pound-feet of torque, the most powerful standard engine in its class. Now Hemi may bring back memories of tire-smoking Road Runners, but this HEMI V-8 is more about grunt than grabbing gears. It propels the Ram 2500 HD to a quarter mile time of 16.7 seconds at 81 miles per hour. Not exactly muscle car quick but amazingly strong. 0 to 60 takes only 8.6 seconds, so hitting highway speed from a standing start is no problem. But our drivers felt that the automatic transmission up-shifted into overdrive much too early, blunting the engine’s high performance edge.
We expected the Ram Heavy Duty 2500 to be a strong straight line runner but were surprised by its excellent manners in the turns. Words like nimble, responsive, and predictable are not usually used to describe heavy duty pickups, that is until now! This is partly thanks to a redesigned recirculating-ball power steering system. Stops from 60 took 144 feet. A bit long for four wheel ABS discs but with good stability.
But it’s out in the real world that the Ram 2500 really shines. The optional electronic- shift four wheel drive system makes for easy transitions when you run short of pavement, while our 4X4’s solid front axle with coil springs delivered surprising ride comfort both on and off road. With a trailer tow capacity of nearly 12,000 pounds, the 2500 HEMI can easily handle most routine towing jobs.
Of course there are times when no matter what the weather or circumstance, you have to haul a monstrous load. And that calls for the most powerful pickup on the market, the Heavy Duty Ram 3500 with the optional high output 5.9 liter Cummins Turbo Diesel. While also available as a single-rear wheel version, our tester was a great looking dualie. This means a trailer tow capacity of over 16,000 pounds, so you can tow just about anything short of a mountain.
The heart of this Heavy Duty 3500 is of course the all new 5.9 liter High Output Cummins Turbo Diesel. This inline-six pushrod engine uses high-pressure common rail injection to produce 305 Horsepower and a whopping 555 pounds-feet of torque.
The only drawback is that the HO diesel is exclusively mated to a rather clumsy six speed manual transmission. 4-speed automatic models make do with a less powerful but still able Cummins Turbo Diesel. Now what’s not clumsy was the Heavy Duty 3500’s highway ride. Again we were impressed that such a tough truck could deliver such comfortable ride quality.
So what will all this capability set back your wallet? Well, the Ram 2500 with the Hemi V8 starts at $23,755 for 2-wheel-drive and a regular cab, and can climb to $29,215 for a Quad Cab 4x4, plus options. The even more capable Ram 3500 starts at $25,640 for the 2-wheel-drive regular cab, and jumps to $35,045 for a Quad Cab with 4-wheel-drive. Adding the Cummins turbo-diesel engine tacks on $4,625.
So are the all new Dodge Ram Heavy Duty 2500 and 3500 the ultimate ‘‘work for a living’’ pickup trucks? Well, until GM or Ford up the bar on heavy duty pickups, we’d say that these Ram brutes from Daimler-Chrysler are a great bet to get the job done, no matter how tough the task.
Engine: 5.7 Liter Hemi Pushrod V-8
Torque: 365 Lb Feet
0-60 MPH: 8.6 Seconds
1/4 Mile: 16.7 Seconds @ 81 MPH
60-0 MPH: 144 Feet