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2010 Dodge Ram Heavy Duty 3500 Crew Cab 4 x 4

Comprehensive Reform
    

With the Cummins turbodiesel and four-wheel drive, Dodge’s all-new Heavy Duty Ram 3500 Crew Cab “dually” is a do-it-all towing tool.

Introduced at the Los Angeles Auto Show in December 2009, Dodge’s brand-new Ram Heavy Duty 3500 looked almost out of place at a show whose theme was—officially or unofficially—green cars.

But when you hook the Ram 3500 to a trailer and tow it over long distances, including Southern California’s mountainous Interstate 5 Grapevine, the truck is right in its element.

The new Ram 2500 and 3500 were redesigned for the 2010 model year, and perhaps the best description for the work Chrysler engineers and designers performed is “comprehensive.” The attention to detail and the amount of thought that went into this truck became more evident each time we climbed up into the driver seat.

 

Towing With It

For 2010, the Ram Heavy Duty 3500 offers a towing capability of up to 17,600 pounds. What’s more, the truck now has an increased maximum payload of 5,150 pounds. Our test vehicle, a four-wheel-drive Heavy Duty 3500 Crew Cab with the Cummins turbodiesel, 3.73:1 rear axle and six-speed 68RFE automatic transmission was rated at 13,200 pounds.

A big improvement for 2010 is the frame. It is hydro-formed, which means it is bent around a jig using highly pressurized water. The process reduces internal molecular stresses that arise during the manufacturing process because the metal is cooled as it is formed. The frame also is fully boxed for additional torsional rigidity and stiffness.

Knowing that “dually” trucks aren’t renowned for their ride quality, Dodge engineers tuned the front and rear shocks for optimum ride characteristics, while still using a rugged and capable multileaf spring design in the rear. Dodge used coil springs up front and—even with the shocks tuned more for ride comfort—managed to increase the front gross axle weight rating and gross vehicle weight rating on the new model. No small feat.

In addition to the suspension tuning, the heavy-duty Rams employ fluid-filled body mount cushions beneath the C-pillars, which help isolate noise, vibration and harshness from the cabin. We could feel it—or maybe it’s more appropriate to say we couldn’t feel it—when we drove it. Those niggling high-frequency cabin and chassis vibrations you can sense in your inner ear were virtually absent.

Based on our weeklong test, the steps Dodge has taken to make the truck a bit more cushy—without sacrificing capability—were worth the effort. Even on third-worldly bad stretches of “pavement” on Interstate 5, the Ram 3500’s ride was downright liveable, the best among all heavy duty trucks we’ve tested.

Cummins also upped the ante on its turbodiesel. All diesel Dodges now come with a standard exhaust brake, which helps slow the truck-and-trailer combination and keep brake temperatures in check on long downhill grades. Activated by a simple button on the dash, the system worked well on the long southbound downhill section of the Grapevine. It also operated more quietly than we imagined, which was a nice surprise.

Until the 2011 Ford Super Duties hit the market this summer, it’s the only pickup to offer such a feature.

The Cummins diesel also is equipped with common-rail injection for quieter operation, and it has a 350,000-mile major overhaul service interval, which, according to Dodge literature, is 100,000 more than the competition.

Horsepower and torque remain unchanged from 2009 at 350 bhp and a staggering 650 pound-feet at 1,500 rpm, respectively, but the 6.7-liter now meets the most stringent of 50-state emissions requirements. We had been driving the truck for three days before we even realized we had yet to catch a whiff of diesel fumes. We were only reminded of it because an older diesel truck passed by and left a cloud of black smoke.

The new Ram uses a diesel particulate filter, which virtually eliminates particulate emissions. It also uses an absorber catalyst to reduce oxides of nitrogen by as much as 90 percent.

So how clean does it run? Our test vehicle had nearly 10,000 miles on it and the inside of the tailpipe still looked like bare metal. We even started the engine and sat on the curb in the path of the exhaust stream, which smelled no more noxious than that of a propane-fueled forklift.

A key element to what makes the Heavy Duty Ram 3500 a great tow vehicle is the available integrated trailer brake controller. Included with the optional trailer tow group, the brake controller features adjustable gain and displays information in the electronic vehicle information center, which is standard on diesel models.

Diesel buyers can choose between a six-speed manual and a six-speed automatic. For towing, we suggest the automatic. It features electronic range select, which lets the driver manually limit the highest available gear. At the touch of a button, the driver can shift up or down manually. If you choose to leave it in “drive” the 68RFE works incredibly well all on its own.

During our trip up the steepest part of the Grapevine, the truck automatically downshifted to fifth gear to get back up to the 60 mph cruise control setting. The gearbox also would downshift itself and rev match the engine to help the truck slow down with a trailer in tow. Fifth and sixth gears are overdriven, and the automatic also comes with tow/haul mode, which enhances tow capability while towing.

Admittedly, the 4,200-pound trailer we were towing was no match for the Dodge, but pulling it over the Grapevine is always a challenge and we feel a good test of the truck’s abilities.

Living With It

The drawback to owning any dually pickup—if it’s also your daily driver—is that you end up walking more than you would if you owned, say, a Mini Cooper. Parking spaces just never seem to be big enough, so you often wind up parking out in outer reaches of the parking lots.

However, the backup camera and dash display and are a must if you’re going to drive this truck through suburbia ever day. They really help you back the truck into tight spaces.

The mirrors are another useful tool. They have a flat panel mirror on the inside and a convex panel on the outside, which shows the position of the rear tires on the pavement, which is incredibly helpful. What’s really nice is that they fold up and out for towing wide trailers, yet the mirror switch directions still work as normal, even though the mirror has rotated 90 degrees. The left arrow still moves the mirror to the left, not down. Again, it points out Dodge’s comprehensive attention to detail.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our test vehicle came in SLT trim and we suspect Dodge will sell most of them that way. It has enough creature comforts—power everything, satellite radio with MP3/iPod connectivity, nine speakers, dash display and chrome wheels—to make it a nice ride, but not so nice you’d be afraid to get it dirty.

More nice touches: the seat fabric felt as though it would resist dirt, yet be easy to clean; the in-floor storage compartments were removable for easy cleaning; the front center console/armrest was huge and flipped up to accommodate six passengers.

In terms of fuel economy, we expected a little bit better, but this is a 7,600-plus-pound truck. Around town, we netted about 10 miles per gallon. Averaging 80 mph on the freeway, we  got about 13.3 mpg. However, because California has a speed limit of 55 mph for trucks with trailers, we ended up getting about 14.5 mpg at an average speed of 60 mph.

 

Overall

Dodge has typically come in third in sales among the Big Three full-size pickup manufacturers, but as with the half-ton models it introduced in 2009, the 2010 Heavy Duty Rams are good enough to pose a serious challenge to trucks from Ford and General Motors.

It has the features and amenities to make it comfortable, and it is strong enough to pull the heaviest loads. The truck feels as though it is built to last, and the ride is supple enough to live with every day. When undertaking comprehensive reform of a product as important as a pickup, it’s important to do your homework, and it looks as though Dodge has done plenty.

SPECIFICATIONS

CHIEF COMPETITORS
Chevrolet Silverado 3500 HD, GMC Sierra 3500 HD, Ford F-350 Super Duty

STRENGTHS
- Excellent ride quality for a heavy duty truck
- Seven-blade and four-pin trailer connectors provided
- Six-speed 68RFE transmission rocks
- There is practically nothing it cannot tow
- Rigid chassis and cab structure
- Tons of storage everywhere
- Dual piston calipers on rear disc brakes

WEAKNESSES
- City fuel economy could be better
- Could use a telescoping steering column

PERFORMANCE
EPA Fuel Economy Estimates

City NA
Highway NA

ACCELERATION

0-60 mph nontowing     7.04 seconds

40-60 mph nontowing   5.8 seconds
0-60 mph towing           12.4 seconds

40-60 mph towing         9.5 seconds


POWERTRAIN
Engine              6.7 liter, six-cylinder Cummins turbodiesel
Horsepower     350 at 3,000 rpm

Torque              650 lb./ft at 1,500 rpm

Compression ratio 17.3:1
Transmission     Six-speed 69RFE automatic

WEIGHTS

Curb weight           7,662 pounds

Tow rating              13,200 pounds

Gross vehicle weight rating            12,200 pounds

Gross combined weight rating        21,000 pounds

CHASSIS

Axle ratio           3.73:1
Fuel capacity     35 gallons

Tire size 
           LT235-80R17
Brakes               Four-wheel disc, hydroboost with antilock
Suspension Front:        Live axle with trailing arms and coil springs.
Rear:                            Live axle with multileaf springs

DIMENSIONS

Overall length       259.4”
Maximum width     79.1”
Wheelbase            168.9”
Base price             $46,630
Price as tested      $52,595

TRAILER TOWED

1999 Miata on a 2009 Bri-Mar car hauler

WEIGHT TOWED
4,200 pounds

INFORMATION

Customer service 800-4ADODGE (800-423-6343)
Web site www.ramtrucks.com

PHOTOS

The test vehicle had some nice luxury features, such as dual glove boxes with iPod MP3 inputs for the stereo system.

The console has lots of storage and a 12-volt power outlet for charging phones and computers. At the rear, the tow package includes four-pin flat connectors for boat trailers and seven-blade round for campers.

The crew cab offers stowage—and a huge subwoofer—under the back seats and in-floor storage compartments. The rear brakes are discs, and feature powerful dual-piston calipers for stopping even the heaviest loads.

 

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