2019 Ram HD Review

All-Out Capability, Luxury-Car Refinement

Whether you’re hauling a bed full of building material or towing an overloaded trailer, be it across the country or just to a neighboring county, “You’ve got enough to worry about,” said Rod Romain, chief engineer of the Ram Heavy Duty pickup range.

“The more confidence and the easier the truck makes that trip, the better off you are,” he continued. “[That way] you don’t get out of the truck at the end of the day feeling exhausted.”

Even segment-leading capability counts for little if a pickup doesn’t give its driver the confidence to take full advantage of what it can do. For hard-working customers, there’s no shortage of either with the new 2019 Ram Heavy Duty, which is shipping to dealerships right now.

Confidence Meets Capability

A major enabler is this tough truck’s ultra-rigid foundation, which helps it tow up to 35,100 pounds (15,921 kg) and haul nearly four tons (7,680 pounds, 3,484 kg) in its bed.

Stronger and stiffer than ever, this frame is new but not, explained Romain. The overall design and dimensions are essentially the same as what’s underneath the outgoing Ram HD, though the materials have been changed and details tweaked.

This structure has up to eight crossmembers tying its fully boxed main rails together. It’s also made of 98.5 percent high-strength steel, a significant increase over the outgoing HD frame, a selection of materials that helps provide best-in-segment torsional rigidity.

Thanks to this newly redesigned foundation as well as greater use of aluminum and other lightweight materials, these trucks have lost up to 143 pounds (65 kg) in certain configurations.

Improving comfort and combating passenger fatigue is a raft of refinement-enhancing features. Tuned-mass dampers bolted to the frame cancel out undesirable powertrain vibration. Hydraulic cab mounts located underneath the C-pillars further smooth things out. Coil rear springs eat up bumps while an optional air suspension system gives drivers more control over the truck’s ride height. Active noise cancellation, acoustic glass, and improved aerodynamics further quiet the interior, reducing unwanted ruckus by up to 10 decibels. Frequency Response Dampers (Power Wagon models get Bilstein shocks), fancy shock absorbers that automatically adjust to different inputs, noticeably improve ride quality.

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Of course, an independent front suspension would have further smoothed out bumps in the road, but Ram engineers opted to retain a solid front axle. Romain said their customer base is loyal to this configuration and that it’s worked well for them over the years. Plus, “We’ve been able to reach our ride targets,” he noted. “There’s no real reason to change.”

Many years ago, GM reached a different conclusion with its heavy-duty Silverado and Sierra models, employing an independent front suspension design to great advantage. But you’ll almost certainly be surprised by the new Ram’s refinement. It’s remarkably smooth over the road, with minimal bouncing or bucking. The retuned, hydraulically boosted recirculating ball steering system is likewise far crisper and more precise than you’d ever expect given this truck’s “old-fashioned” suspension design.

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Class-Leading Interiors

Notwithstanding the chassis, one area of this heavy-duty truck that could never be described as outdated is the interior. Following closely in the award-winning Ram 1500’s tire tracks, even entry-level Tradesman models feature well thought out and carefully crafted cabins.

Customers are treated to high-quality, durable-feeling seat fabrics; door panels and armrests with generous amounts of soft padding; rugged, easy-to-operate switchgear; and even exemplary build quality. Nothing about the Tradesman interior feels cheap, hell, even push-button start is standard.

If even the entry-level 2019 Ram HD is equipped with a nicely finished cabin, you can imagine how well-appointed the range-topping Limited model is. Rivaling a German luxury sedan, these “cowboy Cadillacs” are loaded with high-end features as well as acres of real wood and leather trimmings. As with the smaller Ram 1500, these interiors are easily best in the heavy-duty class, a clear step above what Ford offers in its Super Duty range and even nicer than what you get in high-end versions of the brand-new GMC Sierra HD.

Models powered by the standard Hemi V8 feature a familiar rotary gear-selector on the dashboard, however, Cummins diesel-equipped trucks have a more traditional column-mounted shifter. This large lever feels more appropriate in a truck, though the design looks like something of an afterthought. It seems just a little too big and sprouts out at an odd angle, plus the rubber boot is baggier than a pair of JNCO jeans.

Helping keep Cummins customers comfy cozy, oil-burning variants benefit from electric heating elements in the climate-control system that dramatically hasten cabin warmup in winter weather.

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Further differentiating Ram from the rest of the pack is an available infotainment system with a 12-inch display. The Uconnect 4C NAV is cutting edge, with a crisp touchscreen that’s large enough to have two different apps running at once, such as the radio up top and climate controls at the bottom. Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and Waze are all integrated for even greater ease of use.

As Ram continues to make features like this enormous screen available throughout its truck lineup, rivals haven’t even responded yet. “A lot of it’s the nimbleness of, I think, our company,” said Ryan Nagode, Ram chief interior designer. “We don’t have that many layers and we can get the right guys in the room and just make a decision and just go,” he added.

Further improving convenience, higher-end models feature a large center console that’s roomy enough to house a 15-inch (38.1 cm) laptop. This convenient bin is reconfigurable in 12 different ways for unmatched usability. The new Ram HD also features up to five USB ports including several type-C versions to keep the latest mobile devices fully juiced.

Offering customers ample choice, six different models of this tough truck are available. Big Horn, Power Wagon, Laramie and Laramie Longhorn variants are bookended by the Tradesman and Limited trims.

Additionally, three body styles are on the menu, including regular cab, crew cab and the gargantuan Mega Cab. Each one has ample interior space, even the two-door offering, which provides about a foot’s worth of storage space behind the seats, plenty of room for odds and ends, some toolboxes or even a small suitcase.

Helping it offer more innovative features than rival brands, Ram product planners are always talking to dealers and customers to find out what buyers want. “And other than that, it’s also just gut instinct on some of the stuff to say, ‘You know, this is the perfect time,’” said Nagode. “We want to be leading in this stuff and… show everything we can do.”

Making life easier, these new trucks can be had with a wide range of driver-assistance features, things like a 360-degree surround-view camera, trailer reverse guidance, a cargo-view camera with dynamic gridlines, a bed-lowering mode for easier trailer hookups and more. But perhaps the most intriguing bit of kit is adaptive cruise control with forward collision warning, a system that will bring the truck to a safe stop even while towing.

Power to the People

The 2019 Ram HD is available with three different powertrains. The base offering is a 6.4-liter gasoline V8 backed by an eight-speed automatic gearbox.

This arrangement delivers 410 horsepower and 429 pound-feet of torque, more than enough to get plenty of work done. It redlines at 5,800 rpm and is happy to run on 87-octane, regular-grade gasoline.

For drivers that want more, a thoroughly revised 6.7-liter Cummins inline-six diesel is also available. Thoughtful engineering has reduced the weight of this powerplant by around 60 pounds. A major enabler of this reduction is the new compacted graphite iron block. This ultra-durable material allows for thinner, lighter castings with no sacrifice in strength.

The venerable Cummins has also been fitted with a new cylinder head, lighter and stronger pistons, a variable-geometry turbocharger that pumps out up to 33 psi (228 kilopascals) of boost and newly designed forged connecting rods. At long last it’s also been fitted with hydraulic roller lifters that cut both friction and noise, meaning this engine’s characteristic ticking sound is gone. One wonders what took them so long to implement this ostensibly simple change?

In standard form, this diesel delivers 370 horsepower and a whopping 850 pound-feet of torque. Step up to the high-output version and those figures swell to 400 and 1,000, respectively, the most twist of any heavy-duty truck today. And in either case, diesel owners are protected from expensive repairs by a five-year, 100,000-mile powertrain warranty.

Each version of the Cummins is matched to a six-speed automatic transmission. The standard version is bolted to an updated version of FCA’s 68RFE while the hopped-up variant is wed to an Aisin AS69RC.

With competitors launching new 10-ratio gearboxes in their heavy-duty trucks, it would seem Ram is at a disadvantage, but that may not be the case. “[With the] inline-six and the six-speed transmission, based on the ratio spreads, based on the axle spread, based on the torque curves, it’s a system, a matched system that works well to deliver the numbers,” explained Romain. In simple terms, he added there’s enough torque that extra gears are not needed.

But if you require Cummins performance, be prepared to pay for it. The standard version adds a whopping $9,100 to the sticker price while the high-output variant swells that figure by $11,795.

The Drive

Given the wide range of configurations, it’s difficult to comment on how every version of 2019 Ram HD drives (and there are MANY), though here’s a breakdown of the models evaluated for this review. Across the board, all of them are remarkably refined, with an unexpectedly smooth ride and quiet interiors.

Ram 2500 Laramie Longhorn Mega Cab 4×4 Diesel: $80,450

The first truck evaluated during the drive program was a high-end Mega Cab model with the standard-output Cummins engine. As expected, the interior was lovely, light brown in color with tons of soft leather and rough-sawn wood trim. Unfortunately, a large bulge on the passenger-side floor intrudes on foot space.

Even the “base” diesel engine delivered strong unladen acceleration, the transmission clicking through its gears mostly without fuss, though occasionally it would clunk on upshifts, a minor complaint. Naturally, there was TONS of torque no matter where the tachometer needle was pointing, meaning wheelspin was just a toe-tap away.

Smoother and quieter than ever, both Ram and Cummins have done a superb job civilizing this compression-ignition workhorse, which is now essentially free diesel clatter and annoying vibration, constant reminders in the previous-generation model that you were driving a dedicated work vehicle. It cannot be stressed enough how much more refined this powertrain is than before; it’s practically smooth and quiet enough to be used in a luxury vehicle.

As for ride quality, it too is far silkier than it has any right being given the live axles supporting each end of the truck, though, yes, occasionally some tiny jiggles were felt over uneven pavement. Like the latest Jeep Wrangler, FCA engineers have made an industrial-grade product ride and handle practically like a family car.

Ram 2500 Power Wagon: $54,595

Essentially an upfitted 2500 Heavy Duty 4×4 Crew Cab, Power Wagon is the Ram HD that’s most like a mountain goat. Washed-out two-tracks, rocky inclines, hub-deep mud, almost nothing can stop these rigs off-road.

Maximizing capability in the dirt is standard low-range gearing, a disconnecting front sway bar for improved suspension articulation and even locking axles to provide the most traction possible in adverse of conditions.

Enhancing driver confidence is an available forward-facing camera with gridlines to help position the truck exactly where it needs to be in tight quarters.

Should the unthinkable happen (getting stuck, that is), a Warn Zeon-12 winch is standard on the Power Wagon. Instead of a traditional steel cable, it’s fitted with a new synthetic line, one that cannot kink, doesn’t fray and is far lighter, cutting weight by a claimed 28 pounds (12.7 kg).

For drivers that want Power Wagon performance without all the bells and whistles, and elevated sticker price, a content package is offered on Tradesman models providing all the off-road goodies in an entry-level package.

For enhanced high-speed off-roading, Power Wagon models are fitted with Bilstein shock absorbers. They can dissipate quite a bit of heat before going soft, providing sustained off-road fun.

Ram 3500 Tradesman Regular Cab 4×2 Long Box with Max Tow Package: $56,800

Next up, a truck equipped to tow up to 35,100 pounds (15,921 kg). This combination gets you the regular-cab body with dualie rear tires, the high-output diesel engine and a 12-inch (30.48 cm) AAM rear end with 4.25-inch (10.8 cm) axle tubes.

As expected, the high-output Cummins in this application is just as smooth and docile as the standard version, but with more horsepower and torque. It had no trouble hauling an 11,500-pound (5,216 kg) gooseneck trailer loaded with a 15,810-pound (7,171 kg) backhoe and 7,790 pounds’ worth (3,533 kg) of cinder blocks.

The fact that this truck can even get a load like this moving is impressive on its own, that it accelerates with reasonable authority is even more astounding. Bury the accelerator from a dead stop and the mighty Cummins takes a second to catch its breath, then the truck’s hood lifts slightly as it angles a few degrees toward the passenger side as that 1,000 pound-feet of torque transfers through the driveline.

Underway, that 35,100 pounds jostles the truck around a fair amount over bumps, which is expected, but never did it feel unstable or at risk of going out of control.

Tackling a decently steep 6 percent grade revealed the boundary of Cummins’ capability. Accelerator buried for most of this run, the truck was able to maintain 35 miles an hour, nothing more, which, rather conveniently, was the speed limit on this section of road. The downward trip proved just as drama free, with the brakes providing ample stopping performance, even if the pedal felt rather squishy. Hey, stopping nearly 18 tons ain’t easy!

Prior to sampling this Max Tow Package-equipped model, I briefly drove a crew-cab truck with the high-output Cummins, one hooked to an 11,000-pound trailer. Needless to say, it felt like nothing was attached at all. The Ram handled it effortlessly.

Ram 2500 4×4 Regular Cab Big Horn LWB: $40,545

The last Ram HD sampled was a gasoline-powered 2500 Big Horn model. With four-wheel drive it rode high, giving a commanding view of the surroundings.

As always, FCA’s 6.4-liter Hemi was smooth running and great sounding, burbling quietly in the background, even with a 1,250-pound (567 kg) load in its bed. Acceleration was more than adequate to be certain, with the new eight-speed automatic transmission making the most of available torque, though it didn’t feel quite as fleet as models equipped with the Cummins.

Ride quality was a little choppy, even with cargo on board, but that’s the only complaint. This lower-end model still featured a well-executed interior with premium materials and high-quality switchgear. The seats were all-day comfortable and there was no shortage of storage space.

The Verdict: 2019 Ram HD Review

Like the brand-new half-ton model that debuted last year, this redesigned heavy-duty truck range is a winner. From day laborer to construction foreman, workaday Tradesman model to range-topping Limited trim, there’s a version of this pickup for just about everyone.

But does Ram have a segment-leading pickup with the 2019 Heavy Duty range? “I know I do,” said Romain without missing a beat. Now that’s confidence.

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