2019 Ram 2500 / 3500 Heavy Duty First Drive: The New King of Giant-Sized Pickup Trucks?

Will Ram’s newest HD challenger emerge victorious in today’s cutthroat heavy-duty truck wars?

2019 Ram Heavy Duty review
Jerry Perez

The 2019 Ram Heavy Duty lineup consists of a few towering pickup trucks attempting to redefine what it means to be a player in the heavy-duty truck segment. They laugh at the concept of "less is more." If the Ram Heavy Duty were a state, it'd be Texas. In a nutshell, it's a gargantuan middle finger to the truck powerhouses of Ford and General Motors. Truck buyers know there's no such thing as a perfect pickup truck. But could this beefy new Ram come close?

Ram's Heavy Duty 2500, 3500, and 2500 Power Wagon are all new for 2019, which means a new chassis and drivetrain along with fresh exterior and interior design. As expected with anything on wheels nowadays, new technology abounds inside and out in this new generation pickup; indeed, much of said tech (and the basic cabin layout) carry over from its young sibling, the Ram 1500, which has wowed reviewers and buyers left and right since it debuted a year ago.

2019 Ram Heavy Duty first drive review
Jerry Perez
2019 Ram Heavy Duty Power Wagon first drive review
Jerry Perez

To understand the all-new Heavy Duty, one must first look at its predecessor, a truck revered by folks who take trucking seriously in spite of its many flaws—ones such as outdated design, drivetrains, and safety technology. The outgoing Heavy Duty was a player in the segment, but not a front-runner. And yet, Ram went on to sell over 700,000 units globally in 2018. Clearly, the company was doing something right.

But there's always room for improvement. "More capability, more safety, more comfort, and more confidence" is what brand executives say customers asked for; as a result, the Heavy Duty now offers a Cummins turbodiesel engine that produces 1,000 pound-feet of torque, adaptive cruise control with full-stop capability, natural woods and leathers from the same supplier as Bentley, and the peace of mind that the overall package can tow 35,100 pounds without breaking a sweat. So in order to see for myself, I headed out to the canyons and desert surrounding Las Vegas, Nevada for the inaugural media drive, where the Ram Heavy Duty and its off-roading Power Wagon cousin could show off their new skills.

2019 Ram Heavy Duty first drive review
Jerry Perez
2019 Ram Heavy Duty first drive review
Jerry Perez

2019 Ram Heavy Duty Proves Numbers Matter

When Ram announced that its new Cummins-powered Heavy Duty would produce 1,000 pound-feet of torque, the entire industry took note. It's a big number. (Think back to 2006, when a Volkswagen Touareg equipped with a 5.0-liter V-10 turbodiesel towed a Boeing 747-200 using 553 pound-feet; 13 years later, there's a passenger vehicle packing almost twice that on sale.) Much like 0-to-60 figures for sports cars, however, numbers matter, but they're not everything. For example, how good is it to be able to tow more than 35,000 pounds if the brakes, suspension, and transmission can't take the beating for long? How good is it to be able to reverse Earth's rotation with 1,000 torques if the ride is unbearable, or the fit and finish sucks?

2019 Ram Heavy Duty first drive review
Ram

Heavy Duty dually chassis and Cummins engine

2019 Ram Heavy Duty first drive review
Jerry Perez

Buyers can choose from three different engines, starting with the gasoline variant: a 6.4-liter Hemi V-8 with 410 horsepower and 429 pound-feet of torque. That's paired with a ZF-derived eight-speed with electronic gear selector and a turbine torsional damper, which allows for low lock-up speeds in first through eighth gear—something that's especially appreciated while climbing car-sized boulders in the macho Power Wagon. 

Then come the two Cummins turbodiesels: the 2500's "standard output" 6.7-liter inline-six that puts out 370 horsepower and a measly 870 pound-feet of torque; and the mack-daddy of them all, the 3500's "high output" unit making 400 horsepower and 1,000 pound-feet of torque. Both Cummins pair up to six-speed automatics from Aisin, both of which retain steering column-mounted shifters; the Hemi V-8 switches to the rotary dial found in Ram 1500 models.

2019 Ram Heavy Duty first drive review
Jerry Perez
2019 Ram Heavy Duty first drive review
Jerry Perez
2019 Ram Heavy Duty first drive review
Jerry Perez

On the road, both the gasoline and diesel engines feel as they should: strong. In the case of the diesels, both blocks have been recast out of compacted graphite iron, which not only helps shed 60 pounds but drastically reduces vibrations at the wheel and makes them considerably quieter. Smash the throttle as you merge into the highway and you'll be rewarded with an eerily-quiet-yet-overpowering rush of torque that pushes you deep into your seat, even if the tachometer never pushes past 3,000 rpm. On the other hand, baby the throttle from a stop or set cruise control, and the behemoth cruises serenely down the highway, never giving away any clues about its potential.

In a vehicle of this size and capability, brakes and cooling matter nearly as much as the engine and transmission. The new truck sports 14.2-inch brake rotors in the front, with bigger pistons for better braking performance and pedal feel. During several towing runs near Mead Lake with trailers ranging from a few thousand pounds to the whole 35,100-pound enchilada, the brakes, transmission, and engine communicated a reassuring feeling of confidence through the steering and pedals. Even during full-bore stops, the brakes always felt solid, regardless of the load. Diesel trucks also recieve a button-activated engine brake, which aside from making an intoxicating big-rig sound, helped considerably when towing downhill.

2019 Ram Heavy Duty first drive review
Jerry Perez
2019 Ram Heavy Duty first drive review
Jerry Perez

Turning radius is exactly what you'd expect from a truck this big—poor—but the steering ratio proved to be accurate while driving both around crowded Las Vegas streets and curvy country roads. The wheel feels a touch light at highway speeds of around 85 miles per hour, admittedly—but that's to be expected when driving an unladen truck with a suspension tuned to handle thousands upon thousands of pounds.

Seat time was limited in the trail-ready Power Wagon, but an hour inside was enough to discover the new-gen truck is more refined and better-equipped than its predecessor. As expected, its Hemi V-8, Bilstein shocks, locking differentials, disconnecting sway bars, and new 12,000-pound Warn Winch made child's play out of most off-road situations; the Power Wagon displayed impressive wheel articulation, and went crawling over rocks with the utmost ease.

Heavy Duty's Interior Takes After the New Ram 1500

"Viva Las Vegas," a young Elvis Presley once shouted into a shiny microphone—one that, as it happens, the gauge bezels and map-pocket buckles of the Longhorn and Limited trims of the new Heavy Duty vaguely resemble. According to one of the interior designers, the wood used for the interiors is sourced from the same company that supplies Bentley and Aston Martin. And when it comes to leather and leather-wrapped surfaces, the Ram manages to out-do the Platinum and High Country/Denali models offered by Ford and Chevrolet/GMC. Even in lower trims, the cabin is a nice place to be—though the interiors finishes are less authentic-Presley and more strip-club Elvis impersonator.

The majority of pickup customers nowadays want space—and lots of it. Ram delivers with an airy interior, one further magnified by its larger-than-life Mega Cab. The most spacious cabin in the segment offers rear seats that can recline, as well as fold flat to increase payload capacity. There's a considerable amount of storage room behind the rear seats, as well as in-floor storage bins.

2019 Ram Heavy Duty first drive review
Ram
2019 Ram Heavy Duty first drive review
Jerry Perez
2019 Ram Heavy Duty first drive review
Jerry Perez

While it seems at first blush like everything inside the Ram is powered, heated or ventilated, the steering column isn't—and it doesn't offer telescoping adjustment, even in the fanciest trims. It makes up for this a little thanks to its adjustable pedals, but it's not a perfect replacement. And in case you're wondering, the Ram HD doesn't offer massaging seats like in Ford's Platinum-trim Super Duty models. What you will find is a total of five USB ports ready to power all of your devices, a wireless charging pad located by the phone holder, and a customizable center console that can fit anything from a laptop to a lunchbox...or perhaps a pistol, if you're in Texas.

An available 12.0-inch vertical touchscreen identical to the one in the Ram 1500 splits into two customizable "pages," each capable of displaying different information—for example, Apple CarPlay on top and music or climate controls on the bottom. All of the trucks I tested came with this Tesla-esque screen, and I'll admit, I needed more time to figure it out. It looks awesome, but it's not intuitive. Perhaps it just takes time.

More truck-spec tech finds its way into the Heavy Duty in the form of four cameras that provide a 360-degree view of what's around you, plus bed and tailgate cameras that provide zoom capabilities so you can keep an eye on your cargo or trailer hitch when hooking up. You'll be happy to know that blind spot monitoring is also available in 2019, but disappointed to know that it doesn't factor in a trailer's length when towing, as the system in the Ford Super Duty does. Lastly, additional cameras can be added to the inside or the back of a trailer for added convenience and safety, while 12 additional tire pressure monitoring sensors (for up to three trailers total) can be recognized by the truck.

Ram Heavy Duty's Exterior Looks the Big Truck Part

Six different trims are offered on the Ram Heavy Duty: Tradesman, Big Horn, Power Wagon, Laramie, Longhorn, and Limited. These can be had in three different cabs: Regular, Crew Cab, and Mega Cab. The "big rig" appearance is shared throughout the lineup whether you spend $34,845 on the Tradesman or $67,050 for a 3500 Limited Mega Cab 4x4.

No design detail was left untouched during the development of the all-new Ram, and it shows. For example, the air dam underneath the front bumper was extensively reworked until it deflected enough air away from the front tires to improve the truck's drag coefficient. Designing around engine airflow requirements also created plenty of work for the design team; a new cooling module that's 30 percent wider forced Ram to take its grille and adaptive-headlamp design back to the drawing board once or twice.

2019 Ram Heavy Duty first drive review
Jerry Perez
2019 Ram Heavy Duty first drive review
Jerry Perez

Still, the new design doesn't look too different from the previous truck from afar, which seems like a good thing for the old-school "Dodge Ram" aficionados who value tradition over anything else—the Mopar-or-no-car type. However, from up close, all the new cues begin to stand out, revealing a sharp-looking truck with attitude. 

Ram may have moved the needle in many ways with the all-new Heavy Duty. Still, that doesn't mean it's won the heavy-duty pickup truck war. That'll never end—not Ram makes a rig that can conquer Ford and GM buyers by the legion (or one of the other Big Three brands do it). But as we made our way through the desert, owners of Ram, Ford, and Chevrolet pickup truck all stared at and snapped pictures of our convoy of 10-plus trucks. Will Ram’s new challenger convince these folks to head into a dealership for a test drive? We'll start finding out when the Ram Heavy Duty trucks begin arriving at dealerships nationwide within a few weeks.