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2010 Dodge Ram 3500 & 2500 Power Wagon First Drive

Posted in Vehicle Reviews on February 1, 2010 Comment (0)
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Photographers: Courtesy of Chrysler

It probably goes without saying that this is not exactly the optimal time for any automaker to be unveiling a new fullsize pickup truck to consumers. Cash-for-Clunker programs aside, the number of new car buyers prowling the aisles at dealerships-let alone buyers looking for large vehicles that deliver less-than-stellar mileage-have been as rare as Elvis sightings in recent months. On the other hand, more than 1.6 million pickups were sold in the U.S. last year, even in a terrible economic climate, so consumer demand for these vehicles will always be present, if not overwhelming. And when you represent a brand that's as closely identified with pickup trucks as is Dodge, you can't afford to stand pat in an ever-evolving market, especially when your competitors have launched recent updates of their heavy-duty truck lines. To that end, the folks at Chrysler have rolled out the latest generation of the heavy-duty Ram for 2010.

For 2010, buyers can choose their Ram HD in Standard, Crew, and Mega Cab configurations, in wheelbases ranging from 140 to 169 inches, with either 6-foot, 4-inch or 8-foot beds, and in five distinct trim levels: ST, SLT, TRX, Laramie and, thankfully, Power Wagon, which was once rumored to be on the chopping block but which, we're happy to say, is going to be around for at least another year-and hopefully longer.

While the Ram HD is all new both inside and out, the truck's basic powertrains carry over from 2009. The 5.7L Hemi V-8 has been tweaked for 2010 with variable valve timing, increased compression and improved cylinder head flow efficiency, and is now rated at 383 horsepower and 400 lb-ft of torque. The 6.7L Cummins turbodiesel Six still produces 650 stump-pulling lb-ft of torque, and it's also cleaner for 2010, having been equipped with a new particulate filter and NOx absorber catalyst that enable it to meet 20101/2 federal clean-diesel standards without the need for a more costly (and heavier) urea-based emissions system. The Hemi is backed by the reliable 545RFE five-speed automatic transmission, while the Cummins offers either the G56 six-speed manual or the optional Kokomo-sourced 68RFE six-speed automatic. Transfer cases are the standard electric-shift NVG 273 or (for the Power Wagon) the manual-shift NV 271 with 2.72:1 low-range. Solid axles hold up both ends of the Ram; the suspension comprises coils and struts up front, and leaf springs and overload leaves in the rear; and you can still get 4.56:1 axle gears with the Power Wagon.

For our on-road testdrive, held over a muggy day near San Antonio, Texas, we chose a Cummins-powered, single-rear-wheel 3500 Crew Cab in top-of-the-line Laramie trim with split leather seats and heated steering wheel, dual-zone A/C, nine-speaker Surround Sound, UConnectivity and Sirius satellite, all standard with the Laramie package. Immediately we were struck by the attention given to the new Ram's interior build quality and tactility-the cross-dash stitching, the soft-touch plastic armrests, and the brushed-stainless center console trim were all pleasing to the eye and to the touch. The split gloveboxes and rear in-floor storage bins are both clever and functional. We also (greatly) appreciated the presence of the new-for-2010 integrated trailer brake controller (!), located on the lower left dash panel.

The mother of all torque motors, the 6.7L Cummins straight-six churns out 650 lb-ft of torque at an unbelievably low 1,500 rpm. For 2010 it's been outfitted with a new particulate filter and an absorber catalyst to reduce NOx emissions, and it meets federal clean-diesel standards without the need for urea.

Outside, the Ram's new design cues bespeak a painstaking attention to detail in design and engineering: the oversized 7x11-inch, fold-up/fold-out towing mirrors, designed to reduce wind noise, are equipped with integrated turn signals, puddle lamps, and memory functions, and the bedsides of the dual-rear-wheel Ram are an engineering marvel: A single stamping of convex sheetmetal running the entire length of the bed (no plastic fender cutouts), which was a challenge to create, since only a handful of OE sheetmetal suppliers have the means to manufacture it. The tailgate now sports a backup camera to aid with trailer hookups, and the front bumper has been recessed slightly back towards the frame, enabling easier access to the Ram's massive tow hooks.

This is a Dodge truck interior? This 2500 Laramie now comes with heated leather seats and steering wheel, dual-zone climate controls, and a digital-readout "Information Center" located between the speedo and tach that allows you to monitor engine and transmission temps, inflation pressures, and the like. The center storage bin is large enough to accommodate a laptop, and wide enough for hanging files.

Pavement Pounding
On-road ride was, at first impression, slightly underwhelming. At highway speeds on asphalt roads, it was hard to get a sense of steering center; the vehicle seemed somewhat prone to wander, in need of frequent correction, and the front suspension felt slightly choppy and underdamped-a bit of a surprise, considering the weight of the diesel engine and automatic transmission over the front axle. We later determined that our test unit's E-range inflation pressures had been altered, front to rear, to 60 and 45 psi, respectively; we presumed this was done to soften up the ride in the back of a heavy (7,100-pound) pickup truck with an unladen 8-foot bed. Instead, what we experienced was a slightly jittery ride up front, though on further reflection it struck us as roughly on a par with that of the latest-generation Super Duty. (The trucks we tested were prototypes, too, and since prototypes tend to get hammered fairly hard in their lifetimes by OE engineering guys, much of this could have simply been due to an alignment issue.) More annoying to us was the amount of engine noise that intruded into the cab at highway speeds, at levels slightly higher than we'd expect from a luxuriously appointed crew cab. (And yes, we know, it's a big diesel.) On the other hand, we imagine that most buyers of 1-ton pickup trucks aren't going to expect their rigs to handle (or sound) like a luxury sedan, and as we kept our road speeds at the posted limit, we'd consider our critique of the Ram's suspension tuning, and engine noise, a secondary concern. (By comparison, we later piloted a 2500 TRX model with the 5.7L Hemi, and found it noticeably quieter inside.)

Check out the lines on that dually bed-it's a single stamping of convex sheetmetal. The tailgate also now sports a backup camera for easier hitch-ups and a spoiler-type design for improved aerodynamics. All Ram HDs get a Class IV hitch standard, and comes prewired for four- and seven-pin connectors.

Minor gripes notwithstanding, the Cummins is a mother of a torque motor, and perfectly matched to the six-speed automatic; it gets the Ram up to speed very quickly-if there was any "turbo lag" on display in our tester during repeated acceleration runs, we sure couldn't sense any-and it's happy to cruise all day at 75 mph on the Interstate at its torque-peak 1,500 rpm in Sixth-gear overdrive. While we might have wanted a more heavily weighted front ride, we did notice a near-total lack of body-panel creaks and rattles that we'd come to associate with some later-model Rams; sure enough, new fluid-filled C-pillar hydromounts work with the retuned suspension to reduce frame bending and bed flex. Like we said, there's a lot of attention to detail going on here.

Tractor Towing
Later in the day, we got the chance to hop into a dually Crew Cab model to tow a spanking-new Case Maxxum 140 tractor secured to a 34-foot twin-axle gooseneck (combined weight: approximately 17,000 pounds) on some narrow, winding, and occasionally steep two-lane roads in the Texas hill country. With both sets of tires aired to identical pressures, and the suspension firmly planted beneath some 81/2 tons of load, the Dodge's towing manners were impeccable. The front suspension now seemed perfectly weighted, neither too light nor too sluggish, and the steering required much less correction to hold a steady line. The Cummins provided ample power for getting the truck up to speed, though we did manage to push it to its limits (i.e., spinning five grand at full throttle) on one challenging uphill grade; and while the engine labored at times, the 68RFE didn't seem to mind the workout a bit, rarely straying above 210 on the temp gauge, no matter how hard we abused it.

Yes, we actually towed this monster, all 17,000 pounds of it, over twisty and often steep backroads in the Texas hill country. Loads like this will make you happy for the Ram's trailer brake controller and exclusive exhaust brake, which provided excellent compression on downhills, and a neat big-rig exhaust note as well. For 2010, you can get an HD Ram with a GCWR as high as 24,500 pounds-impressive.

On steep downhill sections, the Dodge's onboard exhaust brake-another awesome feature that's exclusive to the Ram for 2010-proved admirably responsive to sudden weight transfers, providing excellent compression braking-and a way-cool big-rig throttle-down exhaust note, too. The Ram's Tow/Haul programming was a little slow to our liking to give us a downshift when we wanted it, but hey, we're wusses when it comes to towing anything heavier than Holman's flatfender. (You can toggle down manually if you like, which we did, via the shift buttons located on the steering column.) We rarely had to apply pedal braking during our tow trip, and the few times we did, the onboard trailer brake controller was on hand to help maintain the proper accelerative balance between truck and towed load. We have to admit, we were a little leery of this exercise at first given the size of the load and our lack of experience at towing anything this huge, but the new Ram HD's attributes made it surprisingly easy and stress-free.

Wet-Weather Wheeling
When it came time for some four-wheelin', we grabbed a new Power Wagon and headed out for a short trail ride. The hardscrabble hill country of central Texas is a well-kept secret among rockcrawlers, and our off-pavement course had its share of rock-strewn creekbeds, which the Power Wagon negotiated with little fuss, thanks to the added articulation afforded by its electronic swaybar disconnects and Bilstein shocks. We also encountered some genuinely greasy mud on our ride, due to recent thunderstorms. Here, we discovered the Power Wagon's only discernible weak link on the trail. The Power Wagon's OE-issue BFG Rugged Trail radial, while a superior all-season tire, is slightly out of its league in really slimy mud, and its treads were easy to pack up with slop, resulting in plenty of wheelspin and necessitating some steering correction while the TracRite front and rear lockers hooked up. Otherwise, the Wagon performed in exemplary fashion-and regardless, we didn't need to worry about getting irretrievably stuck, knowing that the 12,000-pound Warn winch housed in the factory front bumper (and an abundance of winch-anchor trees along our course) would make extraction from any worst-case scenario a breeze.

The split upper and lower gloveboxes are another design trick we liked, and they're only tw o of several storage spaces inside the new HD Ram.

Bottom line: Dodge badly needed to upgrade the Ram HD inside and out in order to match the levels of refinement offered in current HD trucks from Ford and GM. Judging by our time behind the wheel, we think they've met the challenge-and in some cases, surpassed it. Naturally, in challenging economic times, the $64-billion question remains: Now that Dodge has the product, will buyers come calling soon? Only time will tell, but Chrysler can be justifiably proud of this truck all the same.

2010 Dodge Ram 3500 HD Cummins
What's Hot

Refined Laramie interior trim, jaw-dropping dually bed styling, in-dash trailer brake controller, could tow an Oshkosh MRAP.

What's Not
Diesel engine noise, vague steering feel, slightly choppy ride when unladen.

Our Take
Dodge's heavy-duty truck line returns in sleeker and more refined packaging with all of its legendary work-truck attributes intact.

2010 Dodge 2500 Power Wagon
What's Hot

Swaybar disconnects, Bilstein shocks, front and rear lockers, skidplates galore, 12,000-lb Warn winch.

What's Not
Could use a more aggressive tire.

Our Take
Given the current OEM penchant for downsizing model lines, it's a good sign that Dodge remains committed to building a fullsize work truck that can wheel like none other.

Specifications
Vehicle/model (tested): 2010 Dodge Ram 3500 Laramie
Crew Cab longbed
Price as tested: $57,050
Engine: 6.7L Cummins turbodiesel I-6
Rated hp/torque (lb-ft): 350/650
Transmission: 68RFE 6-spd automatic
Transfer case: NVG 273
4WD system: Part-time 2-spd. electric shift
Low-range ratio: 2.72:1
Frame type: Steel ladder
Suspension, f/r: Multilink, coil springs/leaf springs with overload leaf; monotube shocks
Axles: Corporate 9.25-in/AAM 11.50-in
Axle ratio: 4.10:1
Max crawl ratio: 36.03:1
Steering: Power, recirculating ball
Brakes: 14.2-in vented discs/14.0-in vented discs; 4-wheel ABS
Wheels: 17x8 polished aluminum
Tires: LT265/70R17E Michelin XS
Wheelbase (in): 168.9
Length (in): 259.4
Height (in): 78.3
Base curb weight (lb): 7,109
Approach/departure angles (deg): 24/26
Minimum ground clearance (in): 7.7
GVWR (lb): 12,200
Payload (lb): 2,990
Interior cargo volume (cu ft): 72.2
Max towing capacity (lb): 16,750
Fuel capacity (gal): 35

Specifications
Vehicle/model: (tested) 2010 Dodge 2500 Power Wagon
Price as tested: $48,255
Engine(s): 5.7L Hemi V-8
Rated hp/torque (lb-ft): 383/400
Transmission: 545RFE 5-spd. automatic
Transfer case: NVG 271
4WD system: Part-time 2-spd. manual shift w/4.0:1 low-range
Low-range ratio: 2.72:1
Frame type: Steel ladder
Suspension, f/r: Multilink, coil springs, electric swaybar disconnect/leaf springs; Bilstein monotube shocks
Axles: AAM 9.25-in/AAM 10.5-in; TracRite electric lockers
Axle ratio: 4.56:1
Max crawl ratio: 37.21:1
Steering: Power recirculating ball
Brakes, f/r: 14.2-in vented discs/14.0-in vented discs; 4-wheel ABS
Wheels: 17x8 forged aluminum
Tires: LT285/70R17D BFGoodrich Rugged Trail
Wheelbase (in): 148.9
Length (in): 237.4
Height (in): 79.1
Base curb weight (lb): 6,572
Approach/departure angles (deg): 22/27
Minimum ground clearance (in): 7.4
GVWR (lb): 8,510
Payload (lb): 1,940
Interior cargo volume (cu ft): 72.2
Max towing capacity (lb): 10,300
Fuel capacity (gal): 35

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