2010 Ram 3500 Laramie Crew CabPosted on January 8th, 2010
Heavy-duty pickup truck goes the distance
By Nina Russin
I’ll admit it: the thought of driving a truck that’s fourteen feet long and weighs three and a half tons makes me a little nervous. The Ram 3500 heavy-duty pickup is not a truck for everyone. But buyers needing its off-road and towing capabilities will be surprised at how easy and fun the new Ram is to drive.
The test truck is the Laramie crew cab: an upscale grade with seating for up to five passengers. Base price is $49,945, not including a $950 delivery charge. Options on the test truck include leather trim ($500), special paint ($225), automatic transmission ($1575), a power sunroof ($850), upgraded audio and navigation system with satellite radio ($800), a rearview camera ($200), and a back seat entertainment system ($1695).
Power comes from a 6.7-liter Cummins turbo-diesel engine and six-speed automatic transmission. In addition to having an abundance of low-end torque, the engine gets pretty good gas mileage, thanks to its exhaust-driven blower. I averaged 17.3 miles-per-gallon on my 150-mile drive, which included a significant elevation gain.
Off the line in a hurry
Diesel engines are ideal for towing because of their torque. The Cummins engine in the heavy-duty Ram produces 650 foot-pounds of torque. Peak torque is available at 1500 rpm: the speed the engine reaches when the driver tips the throttle off idle.
As a result, the Ram can easily out-accelerate most other cars from a stop. Passing slower traffic on the highway is a non-issue.
But power alone doesn’t equate to good performance. In my test drive, I wanted to see how well the Ram could handle altitude changes, and some decreasing radius turns. I also spent some time in rush-hour traffic to assess visibility around the vehicle.
One thing that became obvious the moment I sat behind the wheel was large blind spots to the rear, due to the vehicle’s high profile. I would highly recommend the rearview camera for this reason. It makes backing out of parking spots much easier.
Parents of small children should purchase the option as a safety measure, so they can see the kids if they run behind the truck in the driveway. The camera also makes it easier to see the area around the towing hitch, and to monitor a trailer in back.
The truck’s side mirrors include wide-angle inserts that enhance visibility in the adjacent lanes. The mirrors take a little getting used to, but I was amazed at how easy it was to see low profile cars to either side of the truck. Despite their size, the side mirrors do not obstruct the driver’s visibility when cornering in either direction.
Drive through the Arizona mountains
Since I didn’t have the opportunity to hook up a trailer, I wanted to see how well the Ram could climb steep grades. I decided to drive up the Beeline Highway that runs from east Scottsdale towards the northern Arizona town of Payson. I turned around at Sunflower, where the elevation is just short of 5000 feet.
For those who haven’t driven the route, I highly recommend the 87 highway as an alternative to Interstate 17. The route adds about an hour to the trip to Sedona, but offers some spectacular scenery, ranging from high desert to Ponderosa pine forests. The area south of Sunflower is thick with Saguaro cactus and dramatic granite boulders.
The road itself is a driving enthusiast’s dream, with lots of wide sweeping turns and corkscrews. The winding thoroughfare with its steep ascents and dips would not only challenge the Ram’s diesel engine, but its steering and suspension systems as well.
While the two-wheel drive Ram has a rack-and-pinion steering system, the four-wheel drive 3500 model has a power recirculating ball setup. Most drivers are more familiar with rack-and-pinion systems from passenger cars. The power recirculating ball system is more durable, but it can lack the rack-and-pinion’s quick response. I was also concerned about the truck’s high center of gravity, and how it would affect traction in quick turns.
While it’s no sports car, the Ram handled the challenging road quite well. I was able to enter corkscrews at 70 miles-per-hour and maintain that speed with the truck well under control. On-center response is slower than for a lighter vehicle, but adequate for making emergency lane changes at speed.
Standard four-wheel disc brakes with four-channel antilock braking stop the truck in a firm, linear fashion.
Both rows of seats have ample head, hip and legroom for adult passengers. The leather trim package adds heated rear seats in the outboard position, as well as front seat ventilators.
Grab handles on the A and B pillars make it easier to climb inside the truck, since there are no running boards. The driver controls a digital information display in the gauge cluster with buttons on the steering wheel. The display includes audio programming, average fuel economy, ambient temperature, cooling system temperature, maintenance updates, and information on the available trailer brake control.
A rotary dial on the instrument panel allows the driver to shift between two and four-wheel drive modes. A two-speed transfer case gives the Ram the extreme low gears necessary for off-road driving. A nearby button engages the tow/haul mode for the transmission.
The central navigation screen also displays the backup camera image when the driver shifts into reverse and audio programming.
Dual-zone climate controls keep both front passengers comfortable. There are two 12-volt power points up front and one in the back of the center console. The front passenger can use a 115-volt outlet on the instrument panel to plug in a computer.
A double glovebox and two-piece center console bin provide ample storage inside the cabin. A USB port in the glovebox lets passengers plug in an iPod or thumb drive.
Ready to tow out of the box
The Ram 3500 comes standard with trailer tow wiring, pin connectors and a class IV receiver-hitch. A standard exhaust brake adds an extra measure of control with heavy loads. The Ram tows up to 9600 pounds with the six-speed automatic transmission and 3.42 rear axle.
The brawny Ram Laramie crew cab is rolling into Chrysler dealerships nationwide.
Likes: A heavy-duty pickup passenger car ride and handling. The Ram has true off-road capability and can tow a large trailer.
Model: Ram 3500 Laramie Crew Cab
Base price: $49,945
As tested: $56,820
Horsepower: 350 Hp @ 3000 rpm
Torque: 650 lbs.-ft. @ 1500 rpm
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: N/A
Bicycle friendly: Yes
Fuel economy: N/A
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