2013 Ram 3500 Laramie Longhorn 4X4 review:

Cowboy-couture Ram boasts truckish tech

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Engine bay
With its output and transmission upgrades, our 6.7L turbodiesel engine is good for 850 pound-feet of torque. Josh Miller/CNET

Power for that turbo diesel is rated at 370 horsepower and 800 pound-feet of torque, but our example was also equipped with an AISIN HD six-speed automatic transmission, an option that bumps the output to 380 horsepower and 850 pound-feet of torque. You'll pay an additional $2,650 for that transmission, which also includes a 3.42-ratio rear axle that's slightly taller than the standard ratio for better highway fuel economy -- save your hate mail, I know I accidentally called it a lower ratio in the video -- and $7,795 for the extra power.

Along with the power bump, our 6.7-liter upgrade also includes diesel exhaust braking, Urea-DEF Selective Catalytic Reduction, and a beefier 180A alternator. The exhaust braking system allows the truck to be slowed using pressure from the exhaust system, which is good for controlling speed on long mountain descents with a full load. There are two settings: on, which starts the braking when you lift off of the accelerator, and auto, which ties the exhaust braking to the brake pedal.

Diesel Emissions Fluid (DEF) is a nicer way to refer to the Ram's urea-injection system, chosen because it sounds less like a bodily fluid. The truck has a reservoir of this fluid that is used by the Selective Catalytic Reduction system to clean the diesel emissions. Ram recommends that you refill the DEF tank (the filler is behind the fuel cap) when the gauge on the dashboard gets low or about every 15,000 miles.

Instrument cluster
The DEF gauge can be spotted in the lower left corner of the instrument cluster. Josh Miller/CNET

An uprated 180 amp alternator comes with this package, but in our configuration it was replaced by dual 220A alternators for $395.

We've also got Ram's 4X4 system, which has three modes selectable with a knob on the dashboard. The 2WD mode sends power to the rear axle for daily driving with decent fuel economy. The 4WD Lock mode engages the front wheels for better traction, and 4WD Low engages the low-range transfer case for even more torque multiplication for climbing or pulling extremely heavy loads, but only at very low speeds.

Optional capability upgrades include $50 for a skid plate, and $400 for more prep for fifth-wheel or gooseneck towing.

Truckish on- and off-road
Ironically, the week that I have the gigantic pickup truck is the one week of the year that I'm not helping someone move, so I wasn't able to do any towing or hauling. I also wasn't able to play with the trailer brake controls or pull any stumps out of the ground. The $500 trifold tonneau cover didn't come off until it was time to take photographs of it.

Tonneau cover
The optional three-panel tonneau cover is heavy, but one person can remove and replace it without help. Josh Miller/CNET

I was able to go off-road, though. The Ram 3500 didn't so much roll over bumps on our dirt test trail as it crashed through them. The cab bounced all over the place, tossing me to and fro atop those flat, wide leather seats. However, the chassis didn't creak or groan once -- this thing feels like it was machined from a single hunk of obsidian, it's that solid.

The 4X4 system isn't very sophisticated; you'll have to do the shifting from 2WD to 4WD manually with the knob when you come upon that gravel hill too steep to climb with just two wheels. The turning radius, which is not great in 2WD mode, is huge in 4WD mode, so this isn't the best vehicle for tight turns on narrow trails. That the side step reduces the ground clearance slightly also doesn't help.

4X4 selector
The Ram 4X4 system has three user-selectable drive modes. Josh Miller/CNET

But the Ram -- the Laramie Longhorn, in particular -- isn't a trailblazer, it's more at home hopping curbs to cross a construction site, hauling lumber down a highway, or towing a boat to the lake.

On the road, the truck rode, well, like a truck. In the same way that it crashed and bounced over bumps off-road, the suspension sent every crack, pothole, and imperfection in the road up and into the cabin. For the first day or so, I was uncomfortable driving over about 60 mph on the San Francisco Bay Area's rough highways because of the high seating position and amount of bouncing around that I experienced. Eventually, I got used to the massive vehicle and learned to trust its steering. While the unladen leaf-spring rear end seemed to move around quite a bit over bumps, the front end remained planted and predictable, while the steering had a nice weight to it.

Aside from giving a rough ride, all of that bouncing around also made it difficult for me to interact with the Uconnect system. In the Ram 3500's massive cabin, the screen is a long reach from the driver's seat and every jostle made it harder for me to aim my outstretched hand. Thank goodness for Uconnect's voice command system and chunky physical controls.

Showing passengers the big, bold "NA" in the fuel economy field on the Monroney elicited gasps and chuckles, but the Ram 3500 with the Cummins diesel did not disappoint. I averaged about 16.6 mile per gallon of fuel sipped from the 31-gallon tank. My driving largely consisted of highway mileage, but I still I think my average was rather good.

2013 Ram 3500
I averaged an excellent 16.6 mpg over the week. With no hauling and mostly highway driving, this is probably a best-case scenario. Josh Miller/CNET

In sum
The Ram 3500 Laramie Longhorn comes well equipped with Uconnect, navigation, and those fancy seats for $52,790. Our example also adds $525 for Monotone True Blue Pearl paint with body-colored fender flares, as well as the options listed above: the uprated transmission and power bump, the CD player, sunroof, towing prep, and so on. Add $995 in destination charges to reach our as-tested price of $67,835.

Tech specs
Model 2013 Ram 3500 Heavy Duty
Trim Laramie Longhorn Crew Cab 4X4
Power train 6.7-liter Cummins Turbo Diesel, inline 6-cylinder, 6-speed AISIN automatic transmission with 3.42-ratio rear axle, user-selectable 4X4 system with low transfer case
EPA fuel economy n/a
Observed fuel economy 16.6 mpg
Navigation Uconnect solid-state system, traffic, weather
Bluetooth phone support Standard hands-free calling and audio streaming
Disc player Optional single-slot CD
MP3 player support Standard analog 3.5mm auxiliary input, 2 x USB connection, Bluetooth audio streaming, iPod connection, SD card slot
Other digital audio SiriusXM satellite radio, HD Radio
Audio system 506-watt Alpine surround, 9 speakers with subwoofer
Driver aids Rearview camera with ParkSense proximity detection
Base price $52,790
Price as tested $67,835

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