Another shot has been fired in the best-in-class war going on in the world of heavy duty (HD) pickup trucks and this time it’s Ram holding the smoking gun.
Engine: 6.7-liter diesel with 385 hp and 900 lb-ft of torque.
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Pricing: $32,090 base.
For 2016, the American automaker’s big rigs are getting a new high output version of the 6.7-liter Cummins diesel engine that puts out 900 pound-feet of torque, a new height never before reached by HD trucks.
With this configuration, Ram claims a best-in-class tow rating of 31,210 pounds and a best-in-class payload rating of 7,390 pounds.
On paper, Ram’s HD numbers are mighty impressive, but in the real world, are those best-in-class claims justified?
We had the chance to haul a 31,000 pound trailer packed with steel on a gooseneck trailer with the new truck to really see how the 900 lb-ft transfers to the ground. Ram also put us behind the wheel of the 3500 Laramie Limited to sample the height of its luxury lineup, all at the company’s test facility located in Chelsea, Michigan. Before we talk about how these trucks handled though, let’s discuss what it takes for this truck to get such impressive numbers.
Three versions of the 6.7-liter diesel are available. The “weakest” setup is paired to a segment-exclusive six-speed manual transmission, putting out 350 horsepower at 2800 rpm and 660 lb-ft of torque at 1500 rpm.
Finally, the 900 lb-ft version uses an Aisin six-speed automatic transmission, which allows the truck to churn out 385 hp. For this maximum power, it must also be a regular cab with two-wheel drive and a 4.10:1 rear axle ratio.
Not coincidentally, this is exactly the configuration that Ram let us drive around FCA’s Chelsea proving grounds, with a massive load of steel hitched to the gooseneck.
Not surprisingly, the Cummins strains hard to get the massive, limit-pushing load on the move. While the 900 lb-ft claim jumps off the page when you first read it, my internal seat-of-the-pants dyno didn’t really feel the extra torque compared to last year’s Ram 3500, a truck I also had the chance to tow with quite a bit. Off all the Heavy Duty pickups, Ram’s 3500 has always felt like it is overrated when it comes to power and that hasn’t changed.
The real-world acceleration of the truck doesn’t quite live up to what the numbers would suggest, taking a long run to get up to highway speeds. Expecting a load like this to jump to speed is ridiculous with just about any engine, but this is not something I would fancy towing on public streets for any length of time.
Accelerating the weight may not be this package’s best feature, but controlling and stopping the load is handled well. The truck offers a heavy-set steering rack with a planted feeling that mixes well with heavy hauling. Cruising through corners and over uneven pavement didn’t upset this rig, staying well in control at all times.
Braking also proves to be a strong suit of the Ram 3500. A three-stage exhaust brake is available and it makes a big difference. The first setting aligns the exhaust brake with the truck’s brakes, while the second setting activates that exhaust brake the second you lift off the gas pedal. Even with this big load, you can feel the back pressure provided by the engine helping to scrub speed and keep everything safe.
The deep pronounced grumble of the exhaust brake sounds fantastic as well, an added bonus on top of its capability.
Outside of actually handling at the limit quite well, this Ram offers some features which will help anyone who plans to tow trailers. Most notably is a camera mounted above the bed beside the high-mounted stop light, which serves two main purposes. First, helps you hookup a gooseneck or fifth-wheel trailer as you can monitor the hitch itself and line it up. It also acts as a cargo monitor, allowing you to check on either your hitch setup or on whatever you have in the bed without having to strain your neck.
A prep package for fifth-wheel and gooseneck hitches is available with this truck as well, making life easier for customers looking to utilize the truck’s full pulling power with a bed-mounted hitch.
Heavy Duty Luxury
To get the massive tow rating, the Ram must be dressed in base tradesman trim, which means the interior include cloth seats, a small four-inch display screen and no niceties found in most modern trucks, although it is still fairly comfortable and there are plenty of smart features, like a rather large storage bin on the floor behind the seats. Our day spent at Chelsea wasn’t just about this base heavy hauler though, as we also had the chance to sample Ram’s new luxury Heavy Duty pickup, the 3500 Limited.
This luxury package is subtle in its execution, and comes across with the simple, well-though-out feeling of a German luxury car. A revised front grille, which is plastered in chrome, announces the Limited model, while the interior gets leather seats, real-wood inserts, contrast stitching and silver pin striping. Though some view it as a cheap truck option, the column-mounted shifter feels more suited to Ram’s large trucks than the knob-operated transmission found in the 1500.
With the current industry-wide push into high price luxury pickups, the 3500 Limited will fit right in. This is one interior I wouldn’t mind spending eight hours in.
Base pricing for a 3500 Limited model begins around $57,000, though a fully loaded model can easily crest the $70,000 mark. To get the version of the truck with the maximum tow rating, you’re looking at spending at least $46,500, not an unreasonable price for the amount of capability on offer. But getting those high tow numbers better be worth it to you, because they don’t come cheap. Getting the 6.7-liter Cummins diesel will cost you $8,995, while adding the Aisin six-speed that makes all that torque possible will cost you $2,595, for a total of $11,590 extra.
I’m always quick to recommend the diesel to anyone who plans on doing any serious towing, as the dynamics of the engine will help keep you and your load safe and secure. This hasn’t changed. But bumping up to the six-speed Aisin is a move that’s hard to see the value in.
Unless you plan on loading your truck right to the limit, which is something we wouldn’t recommend doing on a regular basis, the 22,000-lb tow rating of the lesser six-speed automatic transmission will probably be enough for just about every customer. Unless you truly need that added capability, it’s just not worth the money.
The Verdict: 2016 Ram 3500 HD Review
Though 900 lb-ft of torque looks mighty impressive on paper, it didn’t have us blown away in practice. Still, we can’t deny that right at the limit, the 2016 Ram 3500 can still tow with admirable performance, controlling massive amounts of trailer weight safely.