2019 Ram Heavy Duty first drive review: Torquey towing

If there's an example of one-upmanship anywhere, you'll find it in today's heavy-duty truck world. We've seen torque ratings in the 900s from Ford, GMC and Chevrolet, but then Fiat Chrysler Automobiles decided to get all "big-boy pants" on the competition, throwing a whopping 1,000 pound-feet into its 2019 Ram HD 2500 and 3500 pickup trucks. Good Lord, what's this world coming to?

The 2019 Ram Heavy Duty is available in 2500 or 3500 guise, with two- or four-wheel drive. The harder-working 3500 series is also available as a dually (i.e. with dual rear wheels). There are three engines on tap, as well as a 6-foot, 4-inch box or an 8-foot box. It's also possible to order the new Rams as a chassis cab (without a box), perfect for commercial conversions. Additionally, buyers have the option of a regular single cab, crew cab or extra-spacious Mega Cab. There are six trim levels, from the base Tradesman to the luxed-out Limited.

No matter what configuration you choose, these trucks are equipped for serious work -- if you're looking for a pickup to haul mulch or a couple of jet skis, do yourself a favor and look at a light-duty truck like a Ram 1500, because the bad boys seen in these photos will be hard-riding, fuel-gulping overkill.

Heavy towing power

I arrive at the our base of towing operations outside of Las Vegas to find a very specific Ram HD hooked up to an 11,500-pound, 40-foot trailer. See, in order to max-out Ram's 35,100-pounds tow rating, you need a single-cab 3500 with rear-wheel drive, a long box and dual rear wheels with a 4.10 rear axle ratio. Only then can you load that trailer with a 15,810-pound backhoe loader and 7,790 pounds worth of cinder blocks. This is more weight than I've ever towed before, and I'm about to do it downhill, in the rain.

Stacks of cinder blocks and a backhoe are no match for the Ram Heavy Duty.

Emme Hall/Roadshow

Of course, you'll also need to opt for the 6.7-liter high-output Cummins turbo diesel straight-six engine, putting out 400 horsepower and that massive 1,000 pound-feet of torque capable of towing all the things. Other available powertrains net significantly less utility.

The standard-output 6.7-liter diesel I6 is good for 370 horsepower and 850 pound-feet of torque. Again, combined with a single-cab, 3500 truck in rear-wheel drive with a long box, dual rear wheels and a 4.10 rear axle ratio, the maximum tow rating is 22,740 pounds. Set up that same configuration with the base 6.4-liter V8 with 410 horsepower and 429 pound-feet of torque, and you're looking at 18,210 pounds of towing capability.

Still, the fact of the 17.5-plus tons I've got behind me is very impressive. The three-stage air suspension system included in Ram's $3,695 Max Tow Package keeps the truck level, so there's no visible squatting in the rear. As I head down a 5 to 6 percent grade, the exhaust brake keeps some pressure in the cylinders to keep the engine from getting away from me, and the Aisin six-speed transmission doesn't upshift, keeping the revs nice and low. I don't even need to touch the brakes. I actually feel pretty good on the straight section of the downward slope, but the tight curves coming up ahead are a little intimidating.

I soon learn there's little to worry about. 2019 Ram HD trucks have improved brakes, including a new master cylinder, calipers and revised boost rates. While I have to brake early, I don't have to stomp on the pedal to get all this weight to slow down. I can feel the trailer back there, but it's easy to decelerate and take a confident turn.

The 1,000 pound-feet of torque is a veritable monster, but note that Crew and Mega cab configurations will get less towing capability.

Ram

There's a roundabout at the bottom of the hill, which is good, as the Ram doesn't have any kind of trailer backup assist, save for an available 360-degree camera system. Sure, it includes side cameras, so at least I can see if I'm about to hit anything, but you're better off looking for a wide spot to just flip a U-turn. After taking it really, really wide, I'm headed back up the hill.

It's slow going for sure; with my foot buried, I'm topping out at about 35 miles per hour, the speed limit on this road. On the ascent, the transmission holds the engine steady at mid-to-high rpms. Before I know it, I'm back at base and ready for lunch.

If it's the maximum 7,680 pounds of payload you're interested in, you'll have to configure a single-cab 3500 with rear-wheel drive and a long box, plus dual rear wheels and either a 3.73 or 4.10 rear axle ratio. However, you'll also need to stick with the standard gas 6.4-liter V8. The same configuration with the high-output diesel gets you 6,570 pounds in the bed.

Torque for fun

Of course, no matter how much a truck tows, at some point, it'll be driven unladen. I grab the keys to a nicely equipped 3500 Laramie trim with the Mega Cab, dual rear wheels and that crazy high-output engine, and take off for Sin City. With this rig's heavy-duty 12-inch rear axle, hitting a speed bump while unladen is kind of like dropping the rear end off a cliff, but that's to be expected -- other trucks in this class behave similarly.

While the 2500 gets a coil suspension in the rear, this beefy 3500 rolls on leaf springs. However, my truck's ride is made a bit smoother by Frequency Response Damping shocks with valves that adjust automatically. That's not to say that it handles like a Miata, but it certainly has a well-sorted road feel for a gigantor truck.

Heavy-duty trucks need more cooling, hence that massive grille.

Emme Hall/Roadshow

When those 1,000 torques aren't doing hauling duty, they can act as a fun-time party manager in an unladen HD. A bit of pressure on my right foot, and the nearly 21-foot truck thunders forward with a quickness that belies its large footprint. Catch me if you can, suckers!

The EPA doesn't require a fuel economy rating for vehicles exceeding a Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) of 8,500 pounds. However, after my day with the unladen 3500, the computer showed 14 miles per gallon, comparable to offerings from Ford and Chevrolet.

Tech offerings

Forward collision warning with emergency braking and full-speed adaptive cruise control are available on these models and they work even with a trailer hooked up. Blind-spot monitoring is also offered, but it doesn't cover the length of the trailer the way the Ford Super Duty can. Bummer.

The Ram HD's interior is very close to that of its smaller 1500 brother. It's full of fine-quality materials with excellent fit and finish. On the road, the cabin is extremely quiet, with no diesel rattle making its way inside.

The Heavy Duty's interior looks a lot like that in the smaller 1500 truck.

FCA US

Ram's expansive 12-inch touchscreen running Uconnect will be available across all trim lines soon after launch, and this infotainment setup is wonderful. Not only are icons large and crisp, the system can run two applications at once, and the package includes Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and a Wi-Fi hotspot. USB A and C ports abound, and there are 12 outlets, a wireless charging pad and up to three 400-Watt three-prong outlets for charging power tools or laptops on the go.

The extra-large Mega Cab of my tester gives rear seat passengers nearly 6 more cubic feet of space. It's enough room for my 5-foot, 9-inch frame to sit on the floor and use the rear seat as a desk while waiting out the weather during our video shoot. Were I to actually put my rear in the seat where it belongs, those backrests recline 15 percent for more comfort on long rides. Further, there's enough storage between the center console, under the rear seat and all the various cubbies that I could put 125 two-liter bottles of Diet Dr Pepper in there, and be good to go.

While the 2019 Ram HD is king of the castle for now, the 2020 GMC Sierra HD will bust its way onto the market later this year brandishing a maximum tow rating of 35,500 lbs. and some cool tech like a "transparent" trailer display and a head-up display. Meanwhile the 2020 Ford F-Series Super Duty will be available with a 7.3-liter V8 gasoline engine and Pro Trailer Backup Assist.

The 2019 Ram HD will be available this spring. A base Tradesman 2500 starts at $33,395, while the 3500 begins at $34,845. The high-output diesel is a $11,795 premium, and the tow group and dual rear wheels will set you back $3,695 and $1,295, respectively. The Tradesman 3500 I towed with comes out to $56,800 plus $1,695 for destination fees. The Laramie 3500 starts at $54,850, but my tester ended up at $84,370. That's nearly as much as a base Ram 1500's worth of options. Yowza.

If competition breeds excellence, we're in for an interesting ride. These new Ram Heavy Duty trucks are a welcome addition to the workforce, and with manufacturers putting their all into innovation, everyone's going to benefit.

Let the truck wars continue!


Editors' note: Travel costs related to this feature were covered by the manufacturer. This is common in the auto industry, as it's far more economical to ship journalists to cars than to ship cars to journalists. While Roadshow accepts multiday vehicle loans from manufacturers in order to provide scored editorial reviews, all scored vehicle reviews are completed on our turf and on our terms.

The judgments and opinions of Roadshow's editorial team are our own and we do not accept paid editorial content.

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