The pickup-truck market can be intimidating and a little complicated. Trucks come in hundreds of permutations, with different bed lengths, cab sizes, engine and transmission combinations, 4x4 or 2WD, single rear wheels or dual, plus multiple trim levels, tire sizes, and option packages. The new Ram Heavy Duty pickup is much simpler. It's about heavy loads. It offers all the above choices and more, but in the end, the Ram 3500 and 2500 are built for handling the heaviest loads around.

If need be, Ram 3500 pickups can be equipped to tow up to 17,600 pounds or haul 5150 pounds in the bed. Even the lighter-duty 2500 has a GVWR of 9600 pounds. These capability ratings represent increases for 2010. But the biggest difference between the new Ram one-ton and the current generation is the way it drives. The new truck rides and handles better, rolls quieter, and has been updated inside to reflect the latest comfort, safety, and convenience features. That includes multi-stage airbags, enhanced ABS braking, and features like remote keyless entry and Bluetooth wireless phone connectivity.

There are five different trim levels-ST, SLT, TRX, Laramie, and Power Wagon; the ultimate off-roader gets its own distinct trim package along with unique off-road capability enhancers. The old Quad Cab has been replaced with a true Crew Cab, so now the Ram has the same cab configurations as the competition, plus the really big Mega Cab, and a Regular Cab as well.

We found the new interiors essentially mirror the Ram 1500, with similar amenities. Front seats are of premium quality, with enough seat and side support to keep you comfortable for an entire day of driving. Easily accessible storage bins are everywhere, making us think the Ram would be great for long-haul use. We had some time in the rear seat of the Crew Cab, which is nicely designed with ample legroom, but still rather upright. On the other hand, the Mega Cab rear seats actually recline 37 degrees. Mega Cab rear seats might be a better place to relax than the front passenger seat, although some bed length is traded off to gain cab length.

Operating the new Ram 3500 reminds us of driving a half-ton pickup truck from one or two generations ago. It's still a little harsh with nothing in the bed, especially the Cummins 3500 on lumpy roads, but this one-ton feels almost like a personal-use half-ton, steers more like a full-size SUV, and is strikingly quiet. This new Ram is an example of how far the science of suspension design and interior soundproofing have advanced in the automotive industry. One-ton pickups once required a strong left leg, a light throttle foot, and a pillow on the front bench. You could sprain your neck rolling over a dime on the roadway, and in the rain, the truck could get sideways just easing out from a stoplight. And yet, we drove on highways and country roads in Texas for two days while it rained four inches, with nothing in the bed, wipers slapping all day long-without even thinking about it. We felt secure, kept up with the cowboys, and even had some fun on the 90-degree turns between cattle pastures. This, in a one-ton "work truck."

And it's a truck that puts down enough torque to ripple the roadway. The standard Hemi is rated at 400 pound-feet of torque, the Cummins, at 650. Combine that with gear ratios as low as 4.10:1 and axles strong enough to carry 5000 pounds apiece, and you get a big, strong truck that moves out readily at part throttle.

It's hard to tax a truck with these kinds of ratings, but people do it all the time. Think of 40-foot trailers; hauling a backhoe to a construction site; plowing wet, heavy snow; or picking up a couple pallets of bricks or stone. Think about a walk-in cab-over camper, with all your gear in it. That's what this truck is for, and it's built to handle it all day long.

We spent time driving a Ram 2500 4x4 with single rear wheels, a 3500 4x4 with the 6.7-liter Cummins, and the Ram Power Wagon, the off-road-going heavy duty. Capacity ratings aside, the new Ram has gone from being the least accommodating of the one-ton trucks to being one of the best.

Cummins 4x4
The 6.7-liter Cummins diesel, Dodge's trump card in the one-ton marketplace, is a medium-duty straight-six, transplanted into a light truck. The Cummins is standard on the 3500. Even with intercooled, turbocharged induction, it is not a revver, making max horsepower at 3000 rpm. And it's not one of those engines that reacts instantly to throttle input. But what it does not offer in flexibility, it makes up in torque, durability, and fuel economy. It has a life-to-overhaul interval of 350,000 miles, 100,000 miles more than the competition. Oil-change intervals are 7500 miles, it holds 12 quarts of oil, and runs 29 quarts of coolant. If you have never seen a Cummins 6.7 crankshaft, it's worth a visit to the factory to check it out. Just don't try to pick it up.

In theory, because it is a six, the 6.7 should get better mileage than the V-8 diesels in Ford and Chevy heavy-duty pickups, but that's hard to confirm because the EPA does not rate trucks over 8500 GVWR. In previous tests with the 6.7 Cummins, we averaged between 18 and 20 mpg on the highway. And, unlike the yet-to-be-released 2010-compliant Ford and Chevy diesels, Cummins has been able to meet stringent 2010 diesel emissions requirements without the use of urea injection. The Cummins can be had with either a six-speed automatic or a six-speed, granny-low manual transmission.

We drove a 3500 4x4 with the 6.7, both on back roads and on the highway. Even with the Cummins, the interior was quiet enough to make us forgot we had a diesel under the hood until we looked at the tach. Mated to the six-speed automatic, we saw 1750 rpm at 70 mph. In the unit we were driving, with hard-as-a-rock E-rated tires filled to max pressure, suspension tuning felt just slightly firmer than that of a Ford Super Duty. The front suspension uses coil springs, which are highly tunable, matched to appropriate leaf spring packages in the back.

There were only a few hundred miles on the odometer, and the 68RFE six-speed automatic had adopted a hard-shift mode, moving from gear to gear with a firm thump. We were told that the transmission is adaptive, "learning" to shift according to driver preference. And with journalists taking turns testing flat-out acceleration, the transmission had taken the hint. Over time, with gentle driving, the shifting logic would likely become more comfort-oriented.

Steering on the 4x4 is set up for durability, using a recirculating-ball hydraulic setup. Even with the straight front axle and a heavy Cummins up front, it's surprisingly precise on the road, with good power assist for easy low-speed maneuvering. Two-wheel-drive Rams use the more precise rack-and-pinion system as standard equipment, in part because they have smaller tires, but mostly because they will not have to deal with the kind of lateral wheel loads that come from off-road use.

Braking is handled via 14-inch discs, front and rear. They are the kinds of brakes meant for slowing a heavy truck on a steep downhill grade, while towing a 15,000-pound trailer. Driving the Ram empty, they bring the Ram to a straight stop with light pedal pressure. And with the Cummins, there is an exhaust brake that controls speed on downhills, just like a big rig.

5.7-liter Hemi
The standard engine on the Ram 2500 is a newly redesigned gas Hemi that makes 400 pound-feet of torque and 383 horsepower. It uses the latest active intake technology and variable valve timing, and revs willingly at the touch of the throttle, all the way to a 5800-rpm redline. There is only one transmission choice: the five-speed automatic 54RFE, with a 0.67:1 overdrive fifth gear for easy cruising.

Compared with the Cummins, the Hemi has more snap, more immediate response to throttle, and a wider, more flexible operating range. That would make it better for all-around duty, a mix of lighter hauling/towing and around-town driving. It is also more fun to operate. The more you expect to run empty or with loads under 2000 pounds, the more you would want to choose a Ram 2500/Hemi combination. We found the 2500 Ram rode a little smoother than the Cummins 3500. Like the 3500, the suspension is now enhanced by the addition of fluid-filled hydromounts that help manage shake and torsion flex better than previous generations, and it shows.

A class IV receiver hitch is standard on all Ram 2500/3500 pickups, with a four-pin/seven-pin harness plug. An electronic trailer brake controller is an option that comes with the towing package. Three axle ratios make it possible to set up the Hemi for lighter use or heavy towing-3.42:1, 3.73:1, or 4.10:1. There's a tow/haul transmission mode for both the five-speed and six-speed transmission, and good factory trailer-tow mirrors that flip up and outward for vision when towing a trailer.

The Dually A standard Ram 3500 can tow up to 17,600 pounds, and haul loads up to 5150 pounds. The ultimate hauler would be the Ram configured with dual rear wheels, diesel engine, automatic transmission, and 4.10:1 rear axle. That would yield a Gross Combined Weight Rating of 24,500 pounds, and by adding the Max Tow Package, GCWR would increase to 25,500 pounds.

We're accustomed to handling full-size domestic pickups, but driving one of these Ram 3500 dually trucks is another issue. The duallys are big, more than 75 inches wide at the rear wheels, and don't fit in every garage. The unit Dodge provided for towing a Case tractor had a curb weight of 7836 pounds. A dually will steer well and brake well, and the risk is that a driver easily forgets how long that turning circle really is, taking out a chunk of fence or mailbox, and the rear fender at the same time. The bottom line here is, if you're going to be towing the heaviest loads, get the dually. Otherwise, you're better off with a single-rear-wheel Ram HD, which is easier to handle the rest of the time.

Dodge Ram brand marketing executive Mark Keeler says Dodge was prepared to be aggressive with pricing, with most comparable models being priced right on top of the competition, and in some cases lower than prior Ram pickups. As an example, the 2010 Crew Cab will be $40 less than 2009 Quad Cab it replaces. The entry-level Regular Cab 4x2 ST will be $1970 less than the 2009 model it replaces. Cummins diesel pricing is expected to hold steady, so the engine will remain a $7500 option.

Power Wagon: Dodge's Off-Road Warrior

The Ram Power Wagon is an eight-lug, 8510-pound GVWR Ram 2500 set up for maximum off-road capability. The Power Wagon combines equipment not available on any other Ram.

The Power Wagon is built around stout AAM Tru-Lock front and rear axles housing 4.56:1 gears. That means there are electronic locking differentials at both ends, plus a mechanical limited-slip in the rear end, for better security when driving on pavement in wet weather. The ring gear is 10.5 inches across. All Power Wagons are equipped with the 5.7-liter Hemi engine and 545RFE five-speed automatic transmission combo, with a manual NV 271 transfer case.

Upgraded electricals come with the package. That includes the larger, 730-amp maintenance-free battery and the 180-amp alternator as standard equipment.

There is a factory winch up front, rated at 12,000 pounds, and tow hooks, with the trailer tow package (Class IV receiver hitch and wiring) available for recovery from the rear. The electronic brake controller is standard on the Power Wagon.

There is extensive skidplate protection covering the fuel tank, transfer case, and engine, with slider rails-a kind of steel ladder-running vertically under the underbody. With these slider rails, high-centering on rock or a stump would be of no consequence. The Power Wagon tires are LT285s on 17-inch alloy wheels. They're the tallest tires you can get on a Ram, measuring about 32.5 inches in height. Another unique piece of equipment is the front electronically disconnecting anti-roll bar, which adds almost another tire length of droop to the front, while allowing the opposite-side tire to stuff almost completely into the wheelwell. The lockers and the ground clearance are remarkable, but it's the electronic anti-roll bar disconnect that makes the Power Wagon the kind of crawler that amazes onlookers. The anti-roll bar disconnect allows the Power wagon front tires to reach down to maintain traction over cracks and dips.

On the highway, the Power Wagon's lower gearing yields 2200 rpm at 70 mph. Other than that, it rides and drives about the same as any other full-size Crew Cab with 33-inch tires. There are Bilstein shocks at all four corners, which are sensitive to smaller inputs, such as highway cracks, but they soak up larger impacts extremely well and do a good job of controlling the taller tires. With a straight front axle, we expected steering to be on the skatey side, but we were pleased with the way the Power Wagon tracked through corners and held true to its lane at highway speeds. We had some experience driving the PW in heavy rain on the highway, and in traffic the truck feels well planted, secure, and if not nimble, far from ponderous. It has good gearing, strong axles, good tires and shocks, good underbody protection, and tremendous grip, right from the factory. It's the kind of pickup a customer who has real need for low-range gearing will appreciate.

The Power Wagon cabin shares the newly designed characteristics of the 2010 Ram. It's simple and uncluttered, with logically arrayed instruments and controls. The center console continues to be dominated by an extra-large storage compartment.

The locking differentials are actuated via a dial, always with the rear actuating first. With two lockers plus traction control, the setup provides incredible grip-it's practically unstoppable in low range. The tires would be the limiting factor.

The tires are all-terrain tread, so they retain good wet braking and handling characteristics, with a reasonable noise tradeoff. However, we slid around on some super-greasy hills after three days of rain, and we found the tires were great on rock or hard ground, but overmatched in the mud. In environments where mud sticks to your shoes, a true mud tire would be a necessary complement to the drivetrain traction enhancements. Other than that, we'd say that behind the wheel of the Power Wagon, you're good to go anywhere it would fit. It's the kind of truck that can work all day in rugged, sloppy off-road environments without hurting anything. Wash it, and you're ready to go out to dinner.

Heavy-Duty Tech Too
By Kim Reynolds

Although the engineering advances of the new Ram Heavy Duty may be less dramatic than those of its independently-rear-suspended regular-duty siblings, Dodge's big-bore trucks certainly have plenty of their own tech treats to crow about. And at the truck's introduction in San Antonio-which has got to be the epicenter of heavy-duty trucks, judging by my highway cohabitants-three areas of technical bravado particularly alit my brain's left hemisphere.

STOP JUST LIKE THE BIG BOYS.
The mighty Cummins turbodiesel engine now offers standard engine braking, a boon while descending a grade with a following load that might have quite different ideas about stopping. How it works is wonderfully elegant: Just a button on the dash and a bit of thoughtful software is all it takes to transform the existing variable-geometry turbocharger into a brake-saving partner in deceleration. With the exhaust flow pinched via a restrictive variable-vane configuration, backpressure turns the engine into a brake. And when the system's activated, exhaust-braking is aroused even by lift-throttle episodes, reducing wheel braking that much more. Working with the system is Electronic Range Select, which allows you to limit the highest gear the six-speed automatic will engage as you descend. It's a cool combination of gotta-stop goodies.

UREA NOT FOR ME-A.
When the guys at Cummins began work on their current turbodiesel engine for the Rams, they asked Chrysler a simple question: While we're at it, why don't we go for broke and try to meet the 2010.5 diesel emission standards without resorting to urea injection (and all its accompanying complication and user-annoyance issues)? Chrysler punched the go-for-it button, and now Cummins has satisfied the impending regs with exhaust-gas recirculation alone. By doing this heavy-lift engineering in advance, the Cummins-powered Ram will soon become the sole diesel truck on the market without the urea factor.

SHAKE, RATTLE, AND ROAR NO MORE.
Although implementing a super-beefy version of independent rear suspension would be technically possible, the traditional live axle on leaf springs is hard to beat for heavy-duty applications. But how to improve the Heavy Duty's ride without IRS? Dodge looked to the aft junction of the cab and frame, and decided to quell the vibrations typically transferred there via twin glycol-filled hydromounts. When vibrations arrive, the glycol is compelled to zoom around a spiral course within them, the consequential damping effect quelling the much of the problem. Inside the cab, noise has been hushed by giving greater attention to the specific combination of sound-deadening materials employed. And aerodynamic noise has been limited by thoughtful tweaks to such cab details as moving the A-pillars door seals closer to the side windows (away from the wind's full blast) and integrating mild ramp-shapes into the hood, just ahead of the wipers, to launch the flow over them. After sampling a Ram back to back against its Chevy and Ford rivals, I can confirm that Chrysler's produced a comparatively quiet ride here.


Wheelbase
2010 Dodge Ram HD 2500/3500
GENERAL
Location of final assembly Saltillo Assembly Plant, Coahuila, Mexico
Body style Regular cab/Crew Cab/Mega Cab
EPA size class Standard pickup
Drivetrain layout Front engine, RWD/4WD
Airbags Dual front, side curtain
POWERTRAIN
Engine 90º V-8, iron block/alum heads
Bore x stroke 3.92 x 3.58 in
Displacement 343 ci/5.7L
Compression ratio 9.6:1
Valve gear OHV, 2 valves/cyl
SAE horsepower 383 hp @ 5600 rpm
SAE torque 400 lb-ft @ 4000 rpm
Optional engine Intercooled turbodiesel I-6, iron block/head
Bore x stroke 4.21 x 4.88 in
Displacement 408 ci/6.7L
Compression ratio 17.3:1
Valve gear OHV, 4 valves/cyl
SAE horsepower 350 hp @ 3000 rpm
SAE torque 650 lb-ft @ 1500 rpm
Transmission 545RFE 5-speed automatic
1st 3.00:1
2nd 1.67:1 upshift; 1.50 kickdown
3rd 1.98:1
4th 1.31:1
5th 1.00:1
Reverse 3.00:1
Opt transmission G56 6-speed manual
1st 5.94:1
2nd 3.28:1
3rd 1.98:1
4th 1.31:1
5th 1.0:1
6th 0.74:1
Reverse 5.42:1
Opt transmission 68RFE 6-speed automatic
1st 3.23:1
2nd 1.84:1
3rd 1.41:1
4th 1.00:1
5th 0.82:1
6th 0.63:1
Reverse 4.44:1
Axle ratios 3.43:1; 3.73:1; 4.10:1
Final drive ratio 2.14:1-3.03:1
Transfer case model NV271 (4WD ST); NV273 (Laramie); NV273 (opt SLT)
Low-range ratio 2.71:1
Crawl ratio 27.9:1-66.2:1
Recommended fue Regular unleaded, ULSD/B5 tolerant
DIMENSIONS/CAPACITIES
140.5-169.5 in
Length 231.0-259.4 in
Width 78.9-79.1 in
Height 73.6-74.1 in
Track, f/r 68.6/68.2 in (SRW); 68.6/75.8 in (DRW)
Headroom, f/r 41.0/39.9 in (Crew Cab)
Legroom, f/r 41.0/43.1 in (Crew Cab)
Shoulder room, f/r 66.0/65.7 in (Crew Cab)
Max cargo volume 72.2 cu ft (Mega Cab)
Bed availability 8.0 ft longbed; 6.3 ft shortbed
Ground clearance 8.1 in (Crew Cab 4x4)
Approach/departure angle 23.5/27.7 deg (Crew Cab 4x4)
Curb weight 5492-7743 lb
Max payload capacity 5130 lb
Max GVWR 11,500 lb
Max GCWR 24,500 lb
Max towing capacity 17,600 lb
Fuel capacity 34.0 gal; 35.0 gal
CHASSIS
Construction Ladder frame
Suspension, f/r Solid axle, coil spring/solid axle, multileaf spring
Steering type Rack-and-pinion (RWD); recirculating ball (4WD)
Turns, lock to lock 2.75
Turning circle Varies by wheelbase
Brakes, f/r 14.2-in vented disc/14.1.0-in vented disc, ABS
Wheels 17x8 SRW/17x6 DRW
Tires LT265/70R17 (SLT/Laramie)
Load/speed rating E
PRICE
Base price range $27,000-$47,000 (est)
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