2011 Dodge Ram 2500 Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
Proven powertrains, ongoing refinement, new name.
The 2011 Ram Heavy Duty models, the Ram 2500 and Ram 3500, are comfortable and highly capable, ready for serious towing or heavy-duty hauling. Thoroughly revised for 2010, the 2011 Rams boast proven technology while benefiting from some minor updates. A new Ram Outdoorsman model expands the 2011 Ram 2500 and 2011 Ram 3500 lineup.
Ram Heavy Duty models received a major overhaul for the 2010 model year along with refinements throughout. The Crew Cab got larger, giving Ram a unique cab lineup in the segment. The Ram Heavy Duty was restyled for 2010 to go with the new 2009 Ram 1500 light-duty. The Ram Heavy Duty is not identical to the light-duty trucks, but many interior and some sheetmetal parts are the same. The regular and crew cab interiors are also very similar.
For 2011, the biggest change is the introduction of the new Outdoorsman, a Ram packaged for use by hunters, fisherman, campers, and boaters. The Ram Outdoorsman replaces the TRX and is available in many Ram 2500 and Ram 3500 configurations.
Other updates for 2011 include making the in-dash vehicle information center standard on all models, and an integrated brake controller comes standard on all but the base model, a great feature. The navigation system has been updated for 2011. A factory spray-in bedliner is available, along with new colors and new wheel designs.
Most of the parts and technology on the 2011 models have been proven in earlier Rams. The cabin was launched in the 2009 Ram 1500, and the engines, transmissions and brakes are evolutionary versions of the 2009 heavy-duty models. The gasoline engine that comes standard is the most powerful base engine in big pickups. The optional Cummins turbodiesel met current emissions requirements years ago. The diesel engines from both Ford and GM are new, and both of them require a fuel additive the Ram diesel pickup does not. Only the Ram offers a choice of transmissions with the diesel. With Ford and GM you get the automatic. Some drivers who pull heavy trailers say you get better reliability on steep hills with a manual. We prefer the automatic, however.
Much attention has been devoted to ride comfort and quiet on the 2011 Ram HD, and it is noticeable. The feature lists, both standard and available continue to grow, as pickups become ever-more car-like inside: heated/ventilated front seats, heated steering wheel, Sirius Backseat TV and so on. But don't confuse this with a car because it is substantially larger and will not ride softly even if you load it up. That said, we found a 2011 Ram 3500 rode very nicely while towing a 6,000-pound trailer.
The most capable Ram HD pickups will carry more than 5,000 pounds or tow more than 17,500 pounds. Other pickups may better those tow ratings, but whether they actually tow any better is another story. Also, trailers heavy trailers require a different driver's license in some states.
The Ram Heavy Duty models will work for anyone who has work to do, be it hauling construction tools and materials, plowing driveways or dragging around big trailers. They remain a compelling choice for anyone in need of a heavy-duty pickup truck, and on balance are priced similarly to 2010 models.
Officially, Chrysler no longer refers to its full-size pickup as the Dodge Ram. It's now just the Ram. We may still refer to the Ram as a Dodge because we haven't figured out how to change a model name to a brand name, but Chrysler does not.
The 2011 Ram 2500 and 3500 Heavy Duty models compete with the Chevrolet Silverado HD, Ford Super Duty and GMC's Sierra HD lineups.
The 2011 Ram 2500 and 3500 Heavy Duty pickups come in ST, SLT, Outdoorsman, Power Wagon, and Laramie trim levels. In addition, there are Big Horn and regional editions. Three cab configurations are available: Regular, Crew Cab, Mega Cab. Two bed lengths (6-foot, 4-inch and 8-foot) are available, along with a choice of four wheelbases. Ram 3500 models are available with single or dual rear wheels (SRW or DRW). The Power Wagon is 2500 4WD, Crew Cab, gasoline only; Ram 3500 regular cab is DRW only; Mega Cabs come only with the short bed.
Ram 2500 comes standard with the 5.7-liter Hemi V8 and 5-speed automatic, no manual is offered; the Cummins 6.7-liter Turbo Diesel is optional with a 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic. On average 4WD adds about $3,000 and a long bed about $200 over a short bed, for most Ram HD.
Ram 3500 models come standard with the Cummins diesel, so prices appear high relative the competition which come standard with a gasoline engine. For rough comparisons add $7000 to a competitive gas truck for diesel pricing.
For adding your own box or work platform, 3500 Chassis Cab models are available, as are commercial-grade medium-duty Ram 4500 and 5500 trucks. You can also delete the cargo box on some 2500 and 3500 models.
Ram ST models are commercial-grade or a blank canvas depending on your point of view: gray-painted bumpers, chrome around the grille, black mirrors, crank windows on regular cab (power windows and locks on others), vinyl 40/20/40 seat, steel wheels and a manual-shift transfer case on 4WD. Vinyl floor covering is standard and can be ordered in place of carpet on all but Laramie models. Not a stripper however, the ST also has an automatic transmission, 34-gallon fuel tank, air conditioning, Class IV hitch (optional in Canada) with 4/7-pin plugs, AM/FM/CD/MP3 stereo, locking tailgate and tilt steering wheel. Options for Ram ST are plentiful, including a diesel engine (which adds front tow hooks and cruise control), power heated or towing mirrors (but not powered towing mirrors), integrated trailer brake controller, sliding rear window, floor mats, cloth upholstery, DVD/HDD and Sirius audio, limited-slip differential, skid plates, various option groups, and choices for wheels, tires and axle ratios.
Ram SLT adds chrome, heated power mirrors, remote keyless entry, power windows (includes rear window on four-doors), carpeting, cloth upholstery, cruise control, Sirius radio, electric-switched transfer case, chrome wheels, in-dash tire-pressure display (2500 only) and the integrated trailer brake controller. Some notable SLT options are fog lamps, heated power towing mirrors, forged aluminum wheels, bucket seats and console, power seats, adjustable pedals and driver memory system, moonroof, navigation, Uconnect phone, remote start, back-up camera, security system, and rear park assist.
Ram Outdoorsman is a package based on an SLT luxury package with some additional extras. Standards include gray painted bumpers and fender flares, two-tone paint, body-color grille/black insert, fog lights, power folding/heated mirrors with signals, HomeLink, mud/slush floor mats, 115-VAC outlet, power split-bench seat, leather-wrapped wheel, LT265/70R17E on/off-road tires on forged aluminum wheels, security system, limited-slip differential, tow hooks, and remote start. Primary options are a moonroof and electronics: navigation, rear camera and/or park sensors, UConnect.
Ram Big Horn and Ram Lone Star editions are also available, essentially packages based on a Ram SLT.
Power Wagon ($44,980) comes in 2500 Crew Cab only and approximates SLT grade but is built with trail use in mind. It gets electric locking front and rear differentials, a front antisway bar disconnect, specific suspension with Bilstein shocks, 32-inch BFGoodrich off-road tires, a 12,000-lb Warn winch, skid plates, 4.56:1 gears, more lighting and two-tone paint and graphics. Options include luxury and convenience items such as power seats, moonroof, and navigation.
Ram Laramie adds more chrome, power adjustable pedals and heated mirrors on driver memory system, dual-zone climate control, 115-VAC outlet, universal door opener, 10-way/6-way power heated leather seats, heated leather steering wheel, nine-speaker DVD/HDD surround-sound audio, rear park sense, and security system. Laramie upgrades are generally limited to chrome packages, towing mirrors, skid plates, rear window defroster, heated/ventilated power bucket seats with floor console, moonroof, navigation, backup camera and wheel and axle ratio choices.
Safety features on all HD Rams include dual front multi-stage airbags, side curtain airbags, adjustable height front belts, LATCH child-seat anchors, child-protection rear door locks, anti-lock brakes on all wheels, and tire-pressure monitors (2500 only).
The Ram Heavy Duty models got revised styling for 2010 so there are no major changes for 2011. 2010 marked the first time Ram differentiated the styling between light-duty (1500) and heavy-duty Ram pickups. The Outdoorsman package is fairly low-impact with minimal chrome.
With a forward tilt to the grille and an upward, inward point to the headlights, grille and bumper the heavy-duty nose looks like a stout blunt instrument, rather like the point on an anvil.
While the style and lights are from the 1500 only the latter are the same parts. The HD's grille is larger to allow more cooling air in, the bumper is reshaped, and the hood has a larger central bulge and faux louver contouring, but the easiest way to distinguish the HD from the 1500 is the gap in the bumper; the 1500 has no such gap.
The HD Crew Cab is the same size that debuted on the Ram 1500 and has four forward-hinged doors, a closer match to competitor Crew Cabs. Ram's Crew Cab replaces the Quad Cab. The ultra-long Mega Cab uses the same rear doors as the crew but adds inches behind the doors.
Crew Cab and Mega Cab both come with a 6-foot, 4-inch box. It doesn't look that long behind the imposing Mega Cab but it is; you can not get a Mega Cab long-bed as it would be a unwieldy anywhere outside the great plains.
Dual rear wheel trucks (DRW), including the Mega Cab, use a single outside panel for the wide rear fenders to eliminate seams and fasteners that might prove problematic long term. And the bed sides are steel, for easier straightening than fiberglass if you ding one.
In terms of sleekness, the Ram slots between the GM and Ford HD pickups: perceptively bigger and more angular than the GM yet smoother than the Super Duty. Very mild fender flares of various colors are used on some trims, and the Power Wagon gets a graphics package and flat, dark paint for the center of the hood.
Roof clearance lamps, government-mandated for vehicles like dual-rear-wheel pickups that exceed a certain width, now use clear lenses for a better-integrated look. Upper trim level mirrors get puddle lamps, and the towing mirrors get turn signal repeaters and a separately adjustable, much larger wide-angle element at the bottom (in tow position); in the retraced position the outboard wide-angle element is very useful in traffic and tight parking areas as you can view both rear tires. Worth noting, you can adjust the electric mirrors without having the truck switched on. The towing mirrors are superb, providing an excellent view rearward.
A tailgate lock is standard. However, the tailgate is not damped, so it'll slam down if you don't ease it down. On trucks with rearview cameras, the lens is far enough from the latch so you won't scratch it opening the gate, and it gets decent protection and snow/ice rejection from the tailgate's upper lip. Bed rails are protected from load scuffing, and the bed is contoured for 2x4s and 2x6s to make it dual-level. A spray-in bedliner is now a factory option.
On trucks with satellite service for audio or navigation the antenna is on the right rear of the roof. It should be safe from contact with contractor racks or cabover campers (though those pieces may block the antenna's ability to receive signals).
The 2011 Ram Heavy Duty uses the same cabin as the Ram 1500; the few differences are for features or shifter locations the 1500 does not have.
Materials and trim are appropriate by model line, be they the base truck or a Laramie Mega Cab with Ram's head embosses on the seatbacks and console. We found no fit-and-finish issues. The Laramie's fake wood looks just like real wood and gloss surfaces generate no glare to bother the occupants. Although a vinyl floor is standard on only the base ST model you can order it with a more upscale interior if it's only your boots that get filthy. Thick mats designed for muck and slush are standard on the Outdoorsman but you can get similar pieces through Mopar accessories.
The Regular Cab has plenty of room for two people, three across if you don't mind the floor hump. The biggest guy we could find who claimed to be 325 on a good day had no qualms about space.
The Crew Cab offers essentially the same space in the front seat as the Regular Cab but provides a roomy back seat. Most Crew Cabs have a split folding rear seat and a center armrest, and all of them have three complete baby seat anchor sets and three adjustable headrests. The back seats flip up for cargo space. If you like to remove the rear seats for cargo storage you're left with a stepped floor. Coat hooks are above the rear window. The rear window can be powered open/close or replaced with a defrost-able window on most models.
The Mega Cab is nine inches longer than the Crew Cab. It has an extra five inches of legroom plus space behind the reclining seatback, and with the seats folded flat offers up 72 cubic feet of lockable cargo space, considerably more than behind the middle row in a Chevy Tahoe SUV. But plan on a lot of AC use in warm climes, as the only vents in back are on the floor.
We found the seats quite comfortable and widely adjustable, whether in the buckets or the front bench split 40/20/40. The seat cushion and backrest adjust as a unit, unlike the separate component approach that makes you go back-and-forth to get both pieces where you like. Lateral support is notably improved over earlier models without adding any difficulty to entry and exit. Big 4WD trucks are by design tall but side steps are available.
Power adjustable pedals are available that combine with a tilt wheel and power seat adjustments to accommodate most of the population. You can even get a heated steering wheel and ventilated cooling front seats to maximize driver comfort.
The instrumentation is complete with oil pressure and battery information. On diesels all the ancillary gauges are numbered. The center dash Electronic Vehicle Information Display can call up transmission temperature and tire pressures (2500 only) among the slew of data, adjustments and messages; ours told us to clean already-dusty rear park sensors rolling down a dry highway so we opted to wait. We were pleased to find EVIC, navigation, audio and brake controller displays were all easily viewed through polarized lenses. The EVIC is run through buttons on the front side steering wheel spokes; the back side of the spokes is reserved for audio system functions.
Switchgear is straightforward, with audio and navigation controls above climate controls in the center stack, plus operating controls for the Tow/Haul mode, exhaust brake and so on. The Light Tire Load switch on 2500 models allows you to set the tire pressure in the rear tires on an unloaded 2500 notably lower than the front, for better wear and ride comfort without the low tire pressure warning light coming on. On electric-shift 4WDs the switch is on the left side of the center panel and includes a Neutral position for being flat-towed. The trailer brake controller is below the headlight switch to the left about knee-high, and some drivers reported the steering wheel partially obscured it.
Side pillars are larger than in some cars but you sit far enough back that they don't intimidate. The bodywork is reasonably well defined for close quarter maneuvering by new-truck standards, and the rear park sensors and/or camera will get you within inches.
Interior storage is extensive and even better than the half-ton Crew Cab's forty-odd places to put things because the heavy-duty has no shifter and gets an extra space in the console. Upper and lower door pockets are complemented by a variety of shapes from the broad tray on the dash that we emptied on the first corner to the under-floor storage areas behind the front seats; you can't reach these from the driver's seat but the liners are removable for cleaning and locks are available.
The audio and entertainment systems bring plenty of options and sonic performance that benefits from a relatively quiet interior. Partial credit must go to the noise and vibration tuning that includes liquid-filled body mounts that helps make this the quietest Ram heavy-duty yet without adding much weight.
At minimum a Ram Heavy Duty is more than 19 feet long, six-and-a-half feet wide, six feet tall, needs nearly 3.5 12-foot traffic lanes to execute a U-turn and is 5800 pounds of sink-in-hot-pavement truck. If you haven't got a lot of weight to carry or pull a 1500 will probably serve better. If you need to tow or haul, however, you've come to the right place.
Once accustomed to the outside dimensions, the Ram HD is not hard to drive. You need to allow a bit more space for stopping distance than the average car but that's easy given the visibility from the higher driving position. The steering is reasonably quick, and the 4WD's steering feels almost as good as that on the independently sprung 2WD. You'll be twisting the wheel more than a car to make the same turn, and the Ram changes direction easily and we couldn't overwhelm the steering pump (making it sluggish and heavy) in parking lot maneuvering or threading a 4WD through mud, trees and rock.
There are good reasons why many enthusiast magazines don't do handling tests on HD pickups because handling is a relative term. The Ram changes directions admirably and has predictable characteristics, but start horseplay in a vehicle where the rear axle alone weighs as much as a big Harley and you'll learn the hard way what those strange terms on NASCAR broadcasts mean.
Given the engines, transmissions, brakes and basic suspension architecture are little changed from 2009, what stands out the most on the 2011 Ram is the quiet and ride smoothness. We found all three cabs quiet and solid, but the Crew Cabs and Mega Cabs were superior and nearly shudder free. Part of this solid feel is suspension tuning and part of the smoothness is the advanced body mounting system.
There is now no single aspect of the truck that will wear you out. At 75 mph on moderately good pavement we floored the pedal on a diesel and the engine wasn't heard over the road noise and wind noise wasn't heard above either. We could still converse in regular tones, even with riders in the rear seat. Since it revs higher, the Hemi comes across no quieter than the diesel except at cold idle.
The 5.7-liter Hemi V8 is standard and available only on 2500 and with an automatic transmission. The Hemi, redesigned for 2009, develops 383 horsepower at 5600 rpm and, like any good truck engine, it makes more torque than horsepower, with 400 pound-feet at 4000 rpm. We could cruise along at moderate rpm doing Texas highway speeds and although the Hemi has cylinder deactivation for improved mileage it won't happen much in a 4WD pickup that weighs more than three tons. On our drive the trip computer showed an average 12.2 mpg which was frankly a bit better than we thought it would be. The Hemi is a realistic choice for those not towing severe loads, or heavy loads for long distances, where purchase price is a more important consideration than towing performance, fuel economy or maximum engine life.
The Cummins Turbo Diesel option is a proven option, compliant with 2010-emissions rules three years early. Both Ford and GM have new diesel engines for that standard, and both of them require the use of diesel exhaust fluid (aka urea or trade names such as AdBlue) at regular maintenance intervals. Only the cab-and-chassis diesel Rams require the additive. Ram's diesel option costs about $7,500 total. Since the engine is essentially the same as last year's and does not require the added costs associated with urea, it should remain the best buy in diesel options. Ford's and GM's 2011 diesels both offer more rated power than the Ram and should be quicker; truck bragging rights are a never-ending war.
Diesel buyers get a choice of manual or automatic transmissions, both 6-speed. However, note the manual is rated at 610 lb-ft of torque at 1400 rpm vs 650 lb-ft at 1500 for the automatic, and the automatic is available with shorter axle ratios and higher tow ratings. Either transmission gets the job done, the manual providing maximum control and minimum prices, the automatic more convenient. The exhaust brake makes grades and slowing stress free by delivering up to 190 braking horsepower (bhp) to control descent speed, thereby leaving the service brakes cool and free for more immediate stopping.
The Cummins inline six-cylinder is built like a tractor-trailer engine, with exceptional robustness, longevity and low-rpm grunt, and frequently used in fire apparatus and motorhomes that carry 2-10 times what a Ram pickup will. Torque is what gets a load in motion, and with the Cummins making nearly as much torque when you let the clutch out as the Hemi does at 4,000 rpm, it is the obvious choice for heavy towing. Many RVers report better fuel mileage towing with their Cummins than a Hemi gets in an empty truck. On essentially the same drive that saw 12.2 mpg in a Hemi 2500, we recorded about 16.5 mpg in a 1000-pounds-heavier, dual-rear-wheel Cummins automatic.
For 2011, Ram has made the integrated trailer brake controller standard on all but ST. In our trailer drives, the system worked as it should, as smooth or smoother than the most expensive aftermarket controllers. Like most such systems it does not work with all electric-over-hydraulic trailer brakes becoming more common on upper-end and heavier RV's. A fifth-wheel plug arrangement is available from Mopar and will maintain the warranty when properly installed.
The Power Wagon needs to be considered a separate model based not only on equipment but also performance. It comes only with the 383-hp 5.7 gas engine and five-speed automatic. Locking differentials and a front antisway bar disconnect give low-speed off-highway performance no full-size pickup can match. It's also quite good at speed across a gravel road or dry wash, though not a direct match for Ford's F-150 Raptor, which costs about the same with the 411-hp 6.2-liter engine, has a regular or crew cab, but at best offers roughly 80 percent of the payload and towing capacity of a Power Wagon.
Tow ratings with the Hemi range from 8,100-12,100 pounds and for the diesel from 9,000-17,600 pounds, maximum gross combined (truck, trailer, cargo, occupants, fuel) is 24,500 pounds on diesel and 18,000 pounds on gasoline. Adding a larger cab, more lux or 4WD will lower the tow rating. Maximum payload varies by similar parameters although sometimes the 4WD version carries more. Load capacity for gasoline trucks ranges from 2,610-3,120 because the Hemi is not offered on dual-rear-wheel trucks, and diesels carry from 1,850-5,130 pounds of cargo. Note that virtually all pickup truck tow ratings apply to a truck with a driver and only the mechanical options required; any cargo, people, or aftermarket equipment on board (winch, tool box, fifth-wheel hitch, etc.) will have to be subtracted from the max ratings. Note also that industry guidelines on tow rating standards were recently adopted and some truck ratings may therefore go down.
We tested a Ram 3500 Laramie Crew Cab by towing our 20-foot enclosed test trailer, a bumper pull car trailer loaded to about 6,000 pounds total, from Los Angeles to San Diego and back. We found it comfortable, smooth and supremely stable. It was completely unaffected by crosswinds or passing semi-trailers. We had no trouble stopping, and the integrated brake controller made life easy and worked flawlessly. The Cummins supplied easy power. We hardly knew a trailer was behind us. In short, we think this is a wonderful tow vehicle ready for big, cross country pulls.
The Ram HD lineup brings a level of refinement that is long-term more significant than the sheetmetal it's wrapped up in. Proven drivelines and components, realistic hauling and towing ratings and performance, and a broad-based set of configurations and amenities will provide the right combo for your work truck, horse-hauler or recreational tow vehicle.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent G.R. Whale filed this report after test drives in Texas and California.
Ram 2500 ST 2WD regular cab long bed ($27,545); 2500 SLT 4WD Crew Cab short bed ($38,630); 2500 Laramie 2WD Crew Cab long bed ($40,020); 2500 SLT Mega Cab 4WD short bed ($39,330); Power Wagon ($44,980); 3500 ST 2WD regular cab long bed ($35,120); 3500 SLT 4WD Crew Cab long bed ($46,950); 3500 Laramie 4WD Mega Cab ($51,465).
Options As Tested
Leather-trimmed bucket seats ($500); Navigation ($800); Rearview camera ($200); Anti-spin rear differential ($325).
Dodge Ram 2500 Crew Cab Laramie short bed ($43,265).
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