One of the things we expect from 3/4- and 1-ton pickup trucks is a stiff ride. Strong springs are needed to haul heavy loads, so when the truck's empty it's got to ride a little rough.
Along with sharp styling and fresh interiors, Dodge has bestowed a smooth ride to its revised Ram Heavy Duty pickups. (Photo by Tom Berg)
Along with sharp styling and fresh interiors, Dodge has bestowed a smooth ride to its revised Ram Heavy Duty pickups. (Photo by Tom Berg)
But Dodge has smoothed out the ride quality of its revised Heavy Duty pickup line for 2010 to where a Ram 2500 or 3500 now resembles a half-tonner, for folks in the front seat, anyway.

Unveiled last fall and now appearing at dealers, the Ram 2500s and 3500s also feature the sharp exterior styling and fresh, upscale interiors of the '09 Ram 1500 pickups. The HD pickups (which of course aren't heavy-duty per industry weight classifications) are available in several trim levels and with two-door regular and "true crew" cabs with four full-length doors and generous leg room for rear-seat passengers.

The Ram 1500 can still be had with the shorter four-door Quad Cab, but the Quad is gone from the HD line, because real-life work crews can't be comfortably accommodated in it.

Ram reflections

Since the early 1980s, Dodge has called its pickups (and some vans) "Rams," but Ram is now a stand-alone brand name used in print ads and TV commercials. Even though the Dodge name is missing from badging, the trucks will still be titled as Dodges, executives said during a show-and-tell event in southeast Michigan last fall. That's when I drove a couple of Ram HDs. I had intended to concentrate on the ones with simpler work-oriented ST trim, but a lone ST had been grabbed by other guys.

So a driving partner and I piled into a shiny black Laramie 2500 Crew Cab. It didn't stay shiny for long because rain had fallen and road spray quickly put a layer of grime on the truck's exterior (black paint acts as a dirt magnet, after all).

But the grime didn't spoil the truck's interior niceness. Its seats were all leather-covered and power-operated, the dashboard outfitted in rich-looking plastic with touches of faux wood, and instruments had white numerals on black faces and were outlined with chrome rings. I can't fully describe how pleasant this interior was; suffice it to say I can understand how many folks would make this their "car."

Under the hood

Our Laramie had the latest Cummins Turbo Diesel, a 6.7-liter (408-cubic-inch) version of the long-running inline 6. This one was smokeless and odorless but plenty strong, especially with an empty bed that could've carried a lot in its 8-foot length. The engine makes as much as 350 horsepower and 650 pounds-feet and runs through a 6-speed automatic. Since 2008, the Turbo Diesel has met 2010-level federal exhaust emissions with a unique NOx adsorber system instead of the urea injection used with many other 2010-legal diesels. So the Dodge-Cummins mill remains unchanged for '10-model pickups and the upcharge for it is less dear than for competitors' trucks.

Standard engine in the Ram Heavy Duties is the Hemi gasoline V-8 that makes up to 383 horsepower. This begs a question: Why not advertise 380 or 385 horsepower? I'm guessing it's because 383 was the cubic-inch displacement of a hot Chrysler Corp. engine back in the '60s and '70s. Maximum torque is said to be 400 pounds-feet, not some odd number, which further supports my theory about "383." Anyway, it's a lot of horses and grunt out of 343 cubic inches (5.7 liters), and it usually runs through a smooth 5-speed automatic transmission.

On the road

We enjoyed our ride through scenic countryside, and sure enough, the ride was smooth, just as marketers had promised in an earlier briefing. Engineers did it by tuning various suspension components and adding hydraulic mounts - "fluid-filled hydro mounts" - at the rear of crew-cab models. The new mounts absorb road shock for front-seat passengers but, I found later, not for people in the rear seat. You'd think because they sit close to the mounts the ride back there would be smooth, too, but not in the crew cab I rode in later. It was a little bouncy. Two-door Regular Cab 2500 and 3500 models don't have the new cab mounts, at least yet, so the ride in them remains stiff.

The Ram HD's edgier exterior styling, from the "lean-forward" grille to blocky cues along the fenders and sides, has to look pretty sharp to most Dodge fans. A substantial change is the one-piece fender-bed-side sheet metal on dually models, which eliminates the fiberglass swells formerly used. Stylists have slathered lots of chrome and two-tone paint on the higher trim levels, which will surely brighten many guys' eyes.

Below the Laramie trim is the SLT and ST, while the top of the line is the Power Wagon, which combines zoot-suity style with real off-road ability. Included are auto-disconnect sway bars that allow more vertical wheel travel over rough terrain. It's hard for me to make sense of a fancy pickup truck set up for serious trail travel, especially one with a name that goes back to 1946 and the austere military-based WM series. The '10 Power Wagon has nothing to do with the old WM except a venerable name and a 4x4 layout. Sorry to say that I didn't get to drive a late-model version during this event.

Dodge brags that the Ram Heavy Duty series has grabbed a bunch of awards, including "Heavy Duty Pickup Truck of Texas" from an auto writers group there. I live in Ohio. Should it be declared the official Buckeye Truck? Naw. Just give me one and I'd happily call it the Truck of Tom.

Chassis-Cab versions now out

Dodge showed off Chassis-Cab versions of the Ram Heavy Duty line in mid-February at the Chicago Auto Show, and these 2011s have the same styling and nicer interiors of the HD pickups, but of course are shipped without bodies. There's no end to body types that can be fitted to the chassis, and the four-door Crew Cab truly has space for six long-legged guys, as the cab is 6 inches longer than the Quad Cab it replaces.

The Chassis-Cab trucks come in 3500, 4500 and 5500 series, with Class 3, 4 and 5 weight ratings. The 3500's curvy frame resembles a pickup's and this model can be had with the Hemi gasoline or Cummins diesel engines, also like those in pickups. The Ram 4500 and 5500, though, are diesel-only and their ISB-based Turbo Diesels make slightly less power and use selective catalytic reduction to meet 2010 emission limits. That's because the heavier trucks' engines will sometimes work too hard for the NOx adsorbers used in lighter models.

Dodge considers the 4500 and 5500 real commercial-grade medium-duty trucks and continues to sell them aggressively against Ford and other strong competitors.

From the March 2010 issue of Heavy Duty Trucking.