I have no frame of reference for the 2010 Dodge Ram 3500HD. Motor Trend crowned it Truck of the Year, a pretty big endorsement, and applying a car-guy eye backs up the judgement that it is indeed one heck of a truck. The HD Ram is enormous, tall and extra-wide with a dually rear axle. General Motors and Ford also make trucks that play in this realm, real workers that kick it with diesel engines and five-digit combined weight ratings. Having a pickup is useful for a homeowner, but this truck and its Kenworth-worthy engine note aren't going to breathe very hard hauling a swingset's worth of lumber (which, incidentally, creatively fits in a Mazda6.) Being only an occasional light-duty truck user, deep insights into how this Ram 3500HD is going to pull your 5th wheel will not be forthcoming. After a few days of trying to figure out what exactly to do and say, the truth emerged.
A Sports Car? You're nuts.
While this big, brawny cart ox of a pickup is built to work, it's really a sports car. Hear me out. Take a look at the specs of a quintessential sports car, the BMW Z4.
- Underhood it's got a turbocharged inline six-cylinder engine.
- You stir the gears with a six-speed manual transmission.
- Handling is scalpel-accurate, commanded by a rack-and-pinion helm.
- It seats two.
Now the Dodge:
- Turbocharged inline six-cylinder - this one's a diesel
- Six-speed manual transmission
- Seats two comfortably.
- Rack and pinion handling
- Stiff chassis
The Dodge has the added benefit of a commanding presence on the road and exponentially more utility with its big cargo bed. Besides, it's the best looking pickup out there, and there's even louvers in the hood like the Dodge Viper. Awesome. Oh, and its priced like the premium vehicle it is, starting off in the mid-$30,000s.
It's Got The Goods
What do sports car fans love? Powerful engines! With the 6.7 liter Cummins turbodiesel and a raison d'etre involving much towing, driving an empty HD Ram becomes an exercise of "I wonder if it'll start off in THAT gear?" Yes, it will. Bottomless torque set our hearts aflutter in the Dodge Viper (and induced palpitations in our passengers), and the diesel Ram draws from a deeper, more flexible well of the stuff. 650 pound-feet of torque, and a not-paltry 350 horsepower are rated for 17,600 pounds of towing plus another 5,130 of payload in the bed.
Disk brakes at all four corners are another sports car touch, though the Ram's hardware is heavy enough to crush an entire Z4 within a single front caliper. Pedal feel from the system is firm, and the brakes feel very capable with an empty, unloaded truck. There's also an integrated engine brake that makes you feel like you're part of the convoy when it rewards a lift of the accellerator with a "brrrraaaaappp," just like the big rigs.
Big on the inside, too
Size matters in truckdom. These are working vehicles, driven by burly folks in bulky gear, nobody wants to be smooshed up against the door panel, or worse yet, their passengers. Despite being a regular cab, the Ram is broad-of-beam with plenty of storage space behind the front seats, too. It's like a Carhartt jacket - cut roomy for comfort while working.
Despite being the most basic trim level of 3500HD, the Ram's interior is nicely done. Many surfaces are hard to the touch, and a carpeted floor would have lent a cushier ambiance, but the design is straightforward and attractive and the environs are a comfortable place to pass the miles. Comfort, even in the lowest-trim truck, is vital. It's the same reason why sports cars are often so suited to days-long drives; it's a business office. Even though they're not trimmed in leather, the two comfortable and supportive seats in the Ram had nice-looking and high-quality feeling vinyl in a stylish contrasting color scheme. There's a giant-sized armrest that can swallow the giant file folders that come with the big jobs these trucks are capable of, and will even likely accept a laptop computer.
Fine, but it still rides like a truck, right?
It's not exactly the lithe, supple little sportster that our Z4 analogy is, but the Ram 3500HD drives surprisngly easy. Twist the key, wait for the glow plug light to go out, and fire the big diesel off. The clutch is a master class in progressive takeup, despite having so much grunt available from the engine. Pedal pressure is deliberate, but not racing-clutch heavy, and you know exactly where it engages. This is an easy truck to launch, despite how intimidating something so big can be.
It drives smaller than it is, like any good sports car. There's a long lever to work that six-speed box of rocks, and it's notchy and not prone to hurried shifting. First gear is short enough to get this rig moving when fully loaded, so it's not good for a lot in regular, unladen driving, and it's marked "L" to indicate such. It does come in handy when stuck in heavy stop-and-go traffic. Give yourself a little space cushion to the car in front and just let the truck walk itself ahead at idle. Starting off in second gear is typical practice, and though the engine will happily rev up to 4,000 rpm, you feel the urge to shift before 2,000 most of the time. You can get up into 6th gear readily, even skipping right to it from 2nd sometimes, and that's all there is to it.
The steering is astoundingly sharp, tight, and accurate. Kickback and numbness have been the order of the day for years with big-truck steering, but not here. Dodge's rack and pinion system in the Ram is a little numb in terms of sports cars, but there's little play, and the traditional inches-wide dead spot on center we expected (after all, so many summer jobs involved trucks that were rolling hazards) was not there. If it weren't for the height and one-ton ride, this would be about the same as driving a Charger. Well, no, it's just a lot more wieldy than you'd initially expect. The ride is a little stiff-kneed, and occupants do get bumped and jostled a bit, though hydraulic rear cab mounts quell some of the hobby-horse motion. You have to cut it some slack when unladen, though. This suspension is designed to deal with an impressive amount of weight, and a couple thousand pounds in the bed would smooth things right out.
But it's gigantic! Must use a lot of fuel.
Fuel economy with the big diesel is pretty good, all things considered. You can touch low-to-mid twenties in highway mpg, though mixed driving will drag the average down into the teens pretty quickly. Still, you don't give up much economy to any of the gas-engined trucks this size, and there's far more torque available. When working hard, the diesel's economy won't exhibit the drastic implosion that the gasoline fueled powerplants will, either. Nobody buys a sports car to save gas, neither does one purchase such a purposeful pickup truck to hypermile.
You've made your point. Sort of.
Unlike a sports car, however, the Dodge Ram 3500HD makes a case for itself through a different set of performance numbers. Racy two seaters are all about quarter miles and skidpads and centers of gravity. This big Dodge truck is defined by payload and towing capacity, far more useful measures. Rather than just be zippy, this Ram is about doing stuff, and it does what it's supposed to do very well.