Particulate Matters: Heavyweight Champ
I’m a boxing purist. Old-school pugilism. No eye poking, knees to the nose, or choking to submission—just simple touch-gloves-and-come-out-fighting, toe-to-toe duking it out—the way champions like Joe Louis, Muhammad Ali, George Foreman, Mike Tyson, and others did it.
Yes, I acknowledge Ultimate Fighting Championship and other octagon-ring death matches cast a huge shadow over the “sweet science” these days, and that disappoints me. But this modern-era sport is very popular now and, like its traditional predecessor, some of the fiercest UFC battles (that I’ve witnessed) are contested in the Heavyweight division.
For the last four years, similar fighting (not radically hostile, but not overwhelmingly friendly, either) has taken place between the Big Three diesel-pickup manufacturers. Almost like clockwork, Ford, GM, and Ram announce or introduce drivetrain and/or chassis changes to their heavy-duty lineups in an effort to one-up each other and take command of the fullsize-truck segment, with horsepower, torque, payload, and towing capability being the main criteria by which today’s pickups are measured.
For 2019, torque and towing capability are buzz terms in the heavy-duty ranks, with 1,000 lb-ft and anything north of 35,000 pounds (respectively) being the proverbial magic numbers for each category. And, while Blue Oval and the General’s top offerings cover one of those bases (towing), Ram’s heavy-duty series features chassis and drivetrain updates that collectively elevate its 2500 and 3500 pickups to a higher level.
In February 2019, Ram afforded me and several other automotive journalists an exclusive opportunity to drive an assortment of its new Heavy Duty rigs through a route that took us to the Eldorado Canyon Mine area, approximately 50 miles outside Las Vegas, Nevada. While the diesels on hand included high-end 2500 and 3500 crew cabs in Longhorn and Limited trims (and let me tell you, when it comes to having more luxury and amenities than a truck should be allowed, they’re the poster rigs), the two-wheel-drive 3500 dualie—equipped with the optional 400hp-at-2,800-rpm/1,000–lb-ft-at-1,800-rpm, high-output Cummins 6.7L I-6 torque monster, 4.10 gears, and an upgraded Aisin AS69RC six-speed automatic transmission—was my primary interest. FYI: This powertrain option is only available for Ram 3500s.
Getting all the talk about chassis, interior, and other aesthetics out of the way, yes, the ’19 Ram Heavy Duty line is structurally stronger (significant frame reinforcements from stem to stern), lighter (aluminum body pieces, the use of composite and steel in the bumpers, and reduced-weight internal engine parts help shed 143 pounds), and 10-decibels quieter (thanks to active noise cancellation and “acoustic glass”). It also rides better (Frequency Response Damping shocks, and rear air suspension make this so) and is stocked with cool and helpful accessories such as multiple cameras, improved towing mirrors, interior treatments—like a 12-inch touchscreen in the center of the dash—that leave cabin occupants thinking they’re in a living room, and much more.
Sure, I went for gratuitous spins in all the diesel trucks on hand (again, the Limited crew cab dualie is absolutely fabulous in every way imaginable), but my main mission was to see how well the regular-cab Tradesman model my drive partner Frank Alvis and I nicknamed “Brutus” handled its maximum towing weight—35,100 pounds (top payload is 7,680 pounds)—on the 6 percent grade at the Techatticup Mine, which served as our proving grounds for the day.
Upon firing the high-output Cummins for the first time, my immediate thoughts were: “It’s so quiet!” And, before even moving an inch (and with 1,000 lb-ft of torque on my mind): “Damn! It’s too bad this beast has an automatic.” As of 2019, Ram no longer offers a six-speed manual gearbox as an option. But imagining how badass Brutus would behave with a stick shift brings a big smile to my face.
My first run was downhill. While having that much weight behind me (and given Ram trucks’ history of high-speed “death wobble”) was concerning, the new Ram demonstrated excellent steering, stability, and braking (primarily with the exhaust brake) through the entire 5.7-mile trip on the aggressive downgrade.
The return trip up the hill is where I got to flog the new drivetrain. There’s no need to beat around the bush here. The ’19 Ram’s high-output Cummins 6.7L engine and updated Aisin six-speed transmission are 100 percent legit. From a dead stop, the combination worked seamlessly and the dualie pulled the load into the hill without hesitation or any indication the weight was “too much” for it to handle. I had the throttle all-in, and once the transmission found the gear it needed (and because the reprogrammed Aisin shifts so quickly and smoothly, I’m not certain exactly which gear that was), the big 1-ton held a steady 45-mph speed at 2,500 rpm. Of course, temperatures are always a concern when towing, and during my road test the setup maintained a steady 172-degree Fahrenheit transmission temperature, and coolant temp didn’t top 200 degrees throughout the 5.7-mile uphill climb.
For now—based on my experience in the driver seat of the regular-cab, two-wheel-drive dualie ($55,105/MSRP for high-output Tradesman)—I’ll say the ’19 Ram 3500 is definitely the reigning towing champion in the heavy-duty-pickup segment. However, having driven only Ram’s HD rigs and top powertrain offerings, and none of the other brands’ new heavies, I think we all better get ready for what might end up being a pretty heated battle. Toe to toe: exactly how a good heavyweight fight should be.