Remember when pickup trucks came with just two doors, and maybe three trims? Things couldn't be more different in 2019. Some argue that American full-size trucks are needlessly over-engineered for the average consumer, with silly, rarely-used features and hyperbolic abilities. That might ring true for a few half-ton buyers, but on the heavy-duty side, automakers are locked in a towing capacity battle with very real stakes.
The average HD owner may not be pulling 20,000+ pounds on a regular basis, but it's very likely they are towing 10,000 or 15,000 lbs pretty often. That crazy-high max number (along with the new generation of trailering tech) stands as a statement of intent, a signal that the truck can be trusted to handle any lighter load easier and safer than before. The newly-luxe top trim models promise to be the cushiest, sturdiest long-haul companions since the midcentury American sedan. It all sounds great—except for their mortgage-like monthly payments.
Still, after two weeks and 3,500 miles behind the wheel of an $83,915 2019 Ram 2500 HD Limited Mega Cab Diesel (phew) hauling a $94,000 Airstream trailer all over the Upper Plains, the grumbling siren song of a Cummins-equipped, fancified HD truck is louder than ever. We should be clear: Any heavy-duty pickup on the market today has the grunt for this. What we're looking at is how the promise of safe towing, actually-useful features, and long-distance comfort are born out in the Ram through the greatest crucible of all: the family road trip.
2019 Ram 2500 HD Limited Diesel, By the Numbers
- Base Price: $64,890 (Crew Cab 2WD)
- Powertrain: 6.7-liter turbodiesel inline-six | 370 horsepower, 850 pound-feet of torque | Six-speed automatic transmission | Rear-wheel drive with on-demand four-wheel drive
- Max Towing Capacity: 12,910 pounds
- Trailer: 2020 Airstream Globetrotter 23FB
- Trailer Specifications: 23.9 feet long | 7,000 pounds | sleeps four | $93,900 base price
- Quick Take: The Rolls-Royce of heavy-duty trucks and travel trailers. Most likely the last of each you'll ever need to buy.
The truck's full name says it all: Ram 2500 HD Limited Mega Cab 4x4. Toss in the Cummins badge on the fender and it's hard to get much more American. Exterior styling is conservative, boasting a classy front end with clean lines that contrast the glitzier Ford Super Duty and the downright disturbing Chevy Silverado HD. Step into its massive cabin—the Mega Cab is 11.1-inches longer than a standard Crew Cab, all to the benefit of internal storage and rear-seat legroom—and a sense of hard power washes over you. High-quality leathers, open-pore woods, and the massive 12-inch portrait touchscreen let you know this truck means one thing: business.
In addition, Limited trim trucks include 20-inch brushed aluminum wheels with chrome pockets, trim-specific grille, adaptive LED headlights, heated and ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, and wireless cell phone charger. This specific Ram sported nearly $20,000 in optional equipment, though nearly half of that ($9,100) went toward the monster under the hood. The 6.7-liter inline-six turbodiesel puts out a hefty 370 horsepower and 850 pound-feet of torque, and it's built by Cummins at its Columbus, Indiana headquarters. That price premium means this isn't a recreational truck, an image piece someone buys to look macho or cart around a couple of mountain bikes. Said preener would soon come to regret their choices anyway, enduring the Ram 2500's abysmal turning radius, stiff ride, and solid-axle handling without point or purpose. It needs to haul something.
So haul we will—a 2020 Airstream Globetrotter 23FB trailer, to be exact. It's the crème de la crème of travel campers, towering above the competition with top-notch quality, hand-built luxe touches, and Kleenex-level name recognition at the campground. The classic aluminum skin immediately sets the exterior apart, but really, this $93K Airstream shines brightest on the inside. Decor is worthy of a luxury vacation home, and the kitchen and bathroom are more spacious than some New York apartments. Dry weight is a tidy 7,000 pounds.
If that wasn't enough, we also loaded the 2500 Limited with five people, one dog, three dirt bikes, seven suitcases, and everything else it takes to keep a family alive for 10 days on a 3,500-mile round trip from Indiana to South Dakota. Total weight between payload and trailer: a little over 10,000 pounds. That's right at the limit for most light-duty pickups, and even those with a max trailering package would be stressed. But it's in the comfort zone for something like the Ram 2500. At least, it should be.
Time-Saving Trailering Tech
We weren't getting anywhere without first connecting truck and trailer, a task made considerably easier by some neat features. With the push of a button, the airbag suspension (a $1,595 option) drops the truck's ride height a full two inches from its normal setting so the attached hitch ball can slide directly underneath the trailer's socket as you back up. That's when it's time for the 2500's 360-degree camera to shine. Engage reverse and the infotainment screen splits in two, one side showing the trailer hitch and guide line and the other a bird's-eye view of the 21-foot Mega Cab.
Once lined up, simply raise the suspension back to its normal setting and Ram and Airstream (or whatever you're pulling) are linked. The entire process takes well under two minutes, though you still need to get out to manually check the hookup and attach the safety chains. It's a killer app compared to the associated trailer data connectivity, impressive for its inclusion of things like realtime tire pressure on compatible rigs but lacking the advanced camera tricks of the GMC Sierra.
Of course, it's not exactly torturous to position a hitch with a regular backup camera and manually crank the trailer up and down, but the fact that this was done in minutes without breaking a sweat is a testament to the suspension usefulness. If your daily grind involves constantly hooking and unhooking trailers, the option will pay for itself in time savings alone.
And there's really not much the Ram 2500 Limited Diesel can't tow with 850 pound-feet of torque under the hood. Power flows from the Cummins engine across the entire rev range uninterrupted; fully-laden acceleration was noticeably smooth and strong. This pays greatest dividends on the highway, where it's almost too easy to jump from 60 to 80 mph during a pass and forget that others see you as a very shiny, very large land train.
Most noteworthy is the engine's bulletproof character. It shrugs off everything from steep hills to blinding summer rainstorms to the 110-degree heat one finds in July in Badlands National Park. As an inline-six, it's also more responsive to smaller throttle inputs than the diesel V8s from Ford and GM, and the simpler six-speed automatic does less hunting than those trucks' 10-speed units. More gears would likely maximize the engine's power, however.
Braking also inspires confidence, with the Ram's twin-piston front rotors bringing things to a halt without a stutter. The built-in exhaust brake worked wonders on 8 percent grades near Mount Rushmore, efficiently slowing down the truck and Airstream often with no input on the brake pedal at all. It feels as if someone's physically grabbing the truck from behind and pulling. Hands down one of the 2500 Diesel's best features, and something you won't find on any half-ton truck (though Ford and GM both offer it on their HD models).
But while our 12 miles-per-gallon average for the trip didn't exactly disappoint given the circumstances, the same can't be said for the fuel tank. At just 31 gallons, it offered a maximum range of under 370 miles given our burn rate, which drops closer to 300 if you're trying to maintain a realistic buffer while leaping between far-flung service stations on the Great Plains. Ram just rolled out an optional 50-gallon fuel tank in its 2020 HD trucks that would've reduced our number of pit stops from 12 to just eight. At about 20 minutes per stop, it could've shaved over an hour from our travel time.
Fiat Chrysler's Uconnect infotainment system has always stood out thanks to its ease of use. The Ram's new 12-inch vertical infotainment screen takes things to a whole new level in terms of customization and overall usability—especially for road trip duty. There's a dock at the bottom of the screen for five main apps (just like a smartphone), and the rest of the screen can be split into two equal parts, or "top and bottom cards" in the FCA parlance. A full-screen map option is particularly helpful, as is the option to run Apple CarPlay or Android Auto in one card while retaining access to the native UConnect OS.
What's key here is the ability to keep important features within easy reach and lower the amount of touchscreen fumbling while driving. The card system makes it easy for a passenger to handle road-trip DJ duties without taking away vital turn-by-turn directions; map and music was the most useful combination by far. Ram also did an excellent job in giving the physical knobs and redundant buttons that frame the screen an ergonomically pleasing layout.
Since it takes lots of entertainment to keep an entire family from murdering each other, the Ram 2500 Limited comes through with eight USB ports, one 12V socket, two 115V power outlets, wireless phone charging, a 17-speaker Harman Kardon sound system, and a built in Wi-Fi hotspot. Those last two won the popular vote for "best road trip features" by a country mile, with the Harman Kardon system drowning out both Ford's Bang & Olufsen setup and GM's Bose cones.
Other noteworthy options whose usage grows with the odometer reading are the cooled seats and innumerable storage options throughout the cabin. There seemed to be a specific cubby for most things we needed, from expense receipts to wet wipes (no family should travel without them), to restricted self-defense items not allowed to be within reach in every state—if you catch my drift.
Let's be clear: Just because a truck can tow a ridiculous amount of weight and boasts advanced driving aids, it doesn't mean someone can just hop in and safely make their way across the nation's interstates. In this case, the Ram and Airstream combo measured 45 feet long and weighed over 15,000 pounds. Even with features like tow/haul mode, lane departure warning, and blind-spot monitoring, it takes time and practice to get used to driving a large unit like this. Regardless of experience, things can get a little nerve-wracking at times.
As part of the $2,995 Limited Level 1 Equipment Group, optional on other trims but standard here, the Ram 2500 included safety features like full-speed forward collision warning, and unlike the 2020 GMC Sierra 2500 HD we recently tested, adaptive cruise control with full-stop capability. You don't need us to tell you that adaptive cruise is a game changer on a dead-straight Plains highway, and its ability to account for the weight of the trailer in managing braking all the way to a complete stop is impressive. You might instinctively take over with your foot seeing traffic slow ahead, but the system never faltered over our 3,500-mile voyage.
An integrated trailer brake controller makes it possible to properly adjust the brake balance between the truck and the Airstream, with a graphic on the driver's gauge cluster information screen showing the proper brake bias information and how it could affect weight transfer. Another nice touch was that even without saving the trailer into the truck's trailer memory, the brake balance setting remains the same after power cycling the truck.
The advanced adaptive LED headlamps were also appreciated when the sun went down. The powerful beams blanket the road in white, ultra-clear light, pivoting as you turn the steering wheel. Together with the Airstream's all-LED exterior lighting, it made for considerably safer highway cruising at night.
Trying to visualize this kind of extended road trip in an entry-level truck sounds rather awful. That's a snobby thing to say, but the truth is that we Americans like things easy and comfortable. It's why we love expensive SUVs, it's why our restaurants have drive-thrus, and why we can pay others to do our grocery shopping for us. America is comfort, and there isn't a single vehicle out there that embodies that ethos more than a fully-loaded, heavy-duty pickup truck with superlative torque and a cabin big enough for Shamu.
The offerings from GMC, Chevy, and most definitely Ford could've solidly handled this test, but none offer the sumptuous interior accommodations of the Ram. Similarly-equipped trucks peak around $85,000 for the Ford Super Duty to $79,000 for Chevrolet Silverado HD, putting the $83,915 Ram right smack in the middle in terms of price—though the Cummins powerplant is an undeniable draw.
The point of all this power and those wallet-busting features, therefore, is that they make us comfortable by making things easier. There's a security in using the 2019 Ram 2500 HD Limited Mega Cab Diesel for a relatively laid back (by its standards) trip like this. At the end of the day, the excess in features and performance didn't make the trip possible, but they were the sole reasons it was an entirely enjoyable experience. Because let's face it, what sounds better: Just enough, or way more than enough?