There’s something eerily metaphoric about the fact we’re at Eldorado Canyon Mine in the dusty outback environs of Nevada. Formerly a rich hunting ground for gold and silver, today it’s little more than a ghost town. Strewn all around are the rusting remains of everything from a pair of Buick Super Eights, to a clapped-out VW Baja Bug and even a wrecked US Navy fighter jet from the 1950s.
In this context, the new Ram 2500 Heavy Duty I’ve just rolled into town in has an air of indestructability about it — as though it could never suffer the same fate as these dilapidated contraptions. This is dirt and sweat blue-collar country, where fortunes were made and lost. It’s the heartland of the American dream, and Ram’s latest heavy hauler is no less symbolic of this nation than the stars and stripes.
The latest Heavy Duty range has been engineered to take a beating, and the stats alone make for impressive reading. The brand’s marketing boss, Bob Hegbloom, swells with pride as he presents the newbie’s gargantuan towing and payload numbers to our assembled throng of motoring hacks. Indeed, it’s hard not to be taken by the fact the Ram can tow a humungous 15,876kg — at least when equipped with the torque-laden 6.7-litre turbodiesel motor. We won’t get this powerplant in our diesel-averse market, but the 410bhp 6.4-litre petrol V8 we get instead is hardly a slouch and it, too, copes wholeheartedly with lugging massive loads.
The Ram’s load bay can shoulder a burden of just under 3.5 tonnes in the wideboy 3500 (1.8 tonnes in the 2500), so whatever you need to shift, just chuck it in there and hit the road – the big truck is equal to the task. The 2019 Ram heavy duty line-up comes in Tradesman, Big Horn, SLT, Laramie, Power Wagon, Laramie Longhorn, and Limited trim levels, three cab configurations, two bed lengths and rear-drive or four-wheel-drive formats, and that’s before optional packages.
Company execs boast the Ram Heavy Duty range can out-power, out-tow and out-haul every other pick-up on the market, but the biggest advancements on its predecessors are said to be in the areas of comfort, driveability and safety. To this end, the cabin is said to be the quietest yet, thanks to active noise cancellation, anti-vibration devices and acoustic glass. There’s a comprehensive quota of active safety kit on offer, too, including Adaptive Cruise Control, Forward Collision Warning, Automatic Emergency Braking (AEB) and AEB with trailer brakes.
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In the past, heavy-duty pick-ups used to carry out whatever utilitarian tasks were required of them, and then be parked on the weekend because they were just too darn crude, noisy and bone-jarring to be used as commuters. That’s clearly changed, because the Ram Heavy Duty is a surprisingly cossetting chariot — much more so than expected, especially once you get up to the premium trim levels. If you blindfolded someone, deposited them in one of the seats and drove a few kilometres down the road, they could easily come to the conclusion they were being carted around in a luxury SUV. It’s that quiet and refined, thanks in no small part to that barrel-chested V8 and smooth-shifting eight-speed Aisin auto.
What the Ram Heavy Duty isn’t is agile, and how could you expect the three-tonne juggernaut to be, when it stretches almost 6m in length, stands just under 2m tall and is underpinned by a hulking steel ladder-frame chassis? The thing might be plush to ride in but, at the end of the day, it’s still a truck — so it should come as no surprise it drives like one. Carving up mountain roads at warp speeds obviously isn’t what it’s designed for, as you need to pre-plan your braking and cornering well in advance to allow all that inertia enough time to change course and speed.
That said, there’s still a lot of fun to be had in the recreation-oriented Power Wagon spec, which we sampled on a short but challenging off-road loop. This variant is the rowdy entertainer of the line-up, equipped as it is with custom suspension with a two-inch (5cm) lift, electrically disconnecting anti-roll bar, Bilstein shocks and locking front and rear differentials. You also get a 12,000-pound (5,454kg) Warn winch to haul yourself (or others) out of trouble in case you get mired in the sand. The winch itself is a new Warn Zeon-12 model that features a synthetic line that’s claimed to be 13kg lighter than before, as well as being resistant to fraying.
Our brief off-road test threw up a couple of obstacles that tested wheel articulation to the max, but the Power Wagon — with sway bar disconnected and differentials locked — romped across it without raising a sweat. The last section of the loop was a fast, flowing gravel track where that 6.4-litre V8 could stretch its legs and make for some power-sliding hooliganism. The rambunctious Ram is laugh-out-loud fun in this sort of terrain, conjuring up images of a chase scene from The Dukes of Hazzard or Smokey and the Bandit, raising a massive rooster tail of dust as it thundered – largely sideways — across the gravel track.
For the more sedate tarmac section of the launch drive, we piloted a single-cab Ram 2500 Bighorn for the outward leg, while for the drive back to our Las Vegas base we scored a Ram 3500 Limited. The massive rear footprint of the latter — thanks to dual wheels at each flank — was something I was initially very conscious of, but after a while you naturally attune to the massive width of the vehicle. The 2500 rides on rear coil springs, while the workhorse 3500 has leaf springs to cope with extra-heavy loads. Both ride with an agreeable degree of compliancy, as alluded to earlier.
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The 2019 Ram Heavy Duty carries over much of the sheetmetal from the previous model, although the bonnet is now fabricated from aluminium in the quest for weight savings, while the face — with its one-metre-wide wide grille – has been redesigned to reflect the style of the smaller Ram 1500. Although the latest Heavy Duty isn’t hugely different from the oldie externally, the high-strength-steel frame that underpins the vehicle is all-new, and it shaves about 14kg of mass while adding greatly to strength and vibration suppression. And, while the 6.4-litre V8 is also largely a carryover engine, it now features cylinder deactivation and variable-cam timing to lower fuel consumption. Make no mistake, it’s still a thirsty beast though.
Heavy-duty haulers of yesteryear had hard plastic interiors and not much more than an AM/FM radio in the way of mod-cons. But such barebones utilitarianism doesn’t wash with buyers these days, so the Ram delivers a premium cabin ambience (especially in Limited guise) via a completely redesigned and remarkably car-like interior that’s lathered in real leather, metal and/or wood. The upgrades inside are extensive, but the centrepiece is the optional 12.0-inch touchscreen (5.0-inch is standard, with an 8.4-inch screen optional), which can be connected to a 17-speaker, 750-watt Harman Kardon stereo.
The new centre console has 12 possible configurations and features a bank of auxiliary switches for your aftermarket goodies, a wireless phone charger, and up to five USB chargers in both standard and USB-C configurations. Passengers can bask in more comfort than ever thanks to the aforementioned noise cancelling and shock absorbers plus new engine mounts, a quieter exhaust, and new hydraulic rear cab mounts to further isolate the cabin.
A handy new feature is the 360-degree surround-view camera with trailer reverse guidance view, which provides a single display-screen view of both sides of a trailer to take the guesswork out of manoeuvring if you happen to be the type who regularly hauls around a horse float or large boat.
The new Ram Heavy Duty range has already bagged a hatful of awards in the US and, based on our preliminary drive, it capably fulfils the twin roles of hardcore workhorse and refined wagon. Its lofty pricing and massive girth mean it will target a limited audience when it lands here in a few months, but those who do shell out their cashola for one will likely have their expectations met, if not exceeded.
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