2019 Ram HDs Offer Power, Poshness

By Tom Berg, Truck Editor | May 17, 2019
The regular cab 3500 HD rode better than its robust suspensions would suggest.
With a modest load, the regular cab 3500 HD rode better than its robust suspensions would suggest. Here it pauses near a dry wash that empties into the Colorado River in the distance.

Whether you need them or just want them, Ram Truck has the strongest diesel and among the most posh interiors available in the heavy pickup truck segment. Ram has collaborated with Cummins to up the output of the 6.7-liter Turbo Diesel to 1,000 lb.-ft. along with an oddly moderate 400 horsepower. That news was highlighted at a ride-and-drive event in southeastern Nevada, but overall comfort and capability of the 2019-model Ram 2500 and 3500 Heavy Duty pickup trucks were more noteworthy. Performance and ride quality were impressive, and most trim levels were so comfortable they’re almost decadent.

When towing or hauling, I could barely feel the loads whether on the level or when climbing or descending hills, and on curvy roads and straight-aways. Credit sophisticated suspension components and liberal use of high-strength steel in mainframes, our Ram hosts told us. And even with the base Tradesman model there’s more than adequate comfort and convenience. Ascending trim levels are the Big Horn, Laramie, Longhorn, and Limited, in that order. At least on the retail side of sales, most buyers tend to load their trucks with options before they pile any cargo aboard.

“In this segment they check the boxes,” said Dave Elshoff, who heads communications for the Ram brand. Very few trucks leave the factory in plain vanilla form, whether painted white or anything else. Thus most of our sample trucks, no matter what each of the six series was called, had fancy interiors and rich color screened electronics that provided powertrain information, navigation, and connectivity that younger buyers covet. Much equipment and most styling details come from the previously introduced and much acclaimed Ram 1500s.

Following product presentations near the Las Vegas airport, we reporters departed for the arid countryside. I was asked to drive a Ram 2500 Longhorn pulling a tag trailer with a couple of pallets of cinder blocks strapped aboard. An info card said the trailer weighed 10,150 pounds, a relatively paltry number. Its Cummins diesel had the standard rating of 370 horsepower and 850 lb.-ft., driving through a Chrysler TorqueFlite 6-speed automatic, said Rod Romain, chief engineer for the Heavy Duty series.

He rode with me on our 50-or-so-mile trip to El Dorado Canyon, once a rich gold- and silver-mining area and now a tourist draw well south of Las Vegas and well off main highways. The premises included weathered mining buildings and what he called “an eclectic collection of vehicles,” from yes, old pickups, to stripped-down cab-chassis trucks whose powertrains had long ago been yanked, to others that seemed intact but had quit running many years ago. Many were Internationals, including one that I mistook for an old Dodge Power Wagon.

Current Power Wagons are Hemi-powered 2500s, and at this event there were four 2019s with the latest equipment: remotely disconnecting sway bars, locking differentials, and front-mounted 12,000-pound-capacity Warn electric winches. We were encouraged to take at least one test drive over a narrow, rocky off-road course, and though I was reluctant to bother with it, I ended up doing it twice. It’s amazing what these trucks will go through without bogging down or tipping over. Yet back on pavement, they were as fast and smooth riding as almost any pickup in the group. I just wished my legs were lanky because the Wagons’ floors were about 2.5 feet off the ground and, as with any serious off-road vehicle, you don’t install running boards that would get remodeled by rocks and close-by slopes on the trail. But a large handle on the A-pillar helped me pull myself in.

Otherwise I hung around our El Dorado base of operations and when a truck returned from a trip on the access road, I could take it out or wait for something else. Mostly I drove to a circle that overlooks the Colorado River a couple of miles away. Near here is a paved trail to a wide wash that empties into the river, and I took a 3500 HD down there. The gravelly stream bed was dry, but I stuck to firmer ground because the truck was a 4x2, and I didn’t want to chance bogging down. This pickup rode well over rough ground, though not quite as well as those with the four-point air suspension that I’d be tempted to order. Aside from a smooth ride, rear air bags can be deflated and inflated to ease dropping off and hooking up trailers.

The High-Output Cummins, by the way, is paired with a stronger Aisen 6-speed automatic. The trucks I drove this day had the lower-rated Cummins inline-6 or a 6.4-liter, 410-horsepower/429-lb.ft. Hemi gasoline V-8, the latter with a corporate 8-speed automatic. They both really moved. Each time I left off-pavement areas, I made it a point to press hard on the accelerator and watched the needles on the main gauges climb, to 60 and 70 mph on the speedometer and 4,000 and 5,000 on the tachometer. Both types of powertrains propelled the trucks very well, no matter what the circumstances.  

Most of our five hours here were under cloudy skies, and with darkness approaching I was asked to return to our Strip hotel in a 3500 HD dually with a 14,000-pound fifth-wheel dump trailer carrying bags of landscaping rocks. Again, I barely felt the trailer back there. I did note that the tranny tried to keep the engine between 1,700 and 2,000 rpm, but the Cummins’ revs rose to 3,000 or so when climbing hills. Engaging the Tow/Haul mode and the diesel’s exhaust brake prompted downshifts on downgrades that, with smooth and strong disc brakes, easily kept the combination in hand. “What a sweet ride,” I caught myself saying several times. And that’s what the ’19-model Ram HDs are.

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