As recreational buyers flood the pickup market, it might seem as if fancy interiors, heated steering wheels and chrome are suddenly more important than a truck’s ability to get the job done. Has fancy become more important than torque, towing capacity and maximum payload weight?
The diesel-powered 2017 Ram 3500 Mega Cab recreational heavy-duty pickup proves a truck can be both capable and comfortable.
Ram, a division of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, offers the 3500 Heavy Duty line in a broad range of configurations, including four body styles, six different trim levels and two bed lengths. The largest is the gargantuan Mega Cab, which offers the most rear-seat space in the class and seemingly more overall square footage than most New York City apartments. Like the popular Crew Cab, it’s also available as a dually with four rear wheels and tires for maximum towing and load-carrying stability. Four-wheel drive is available for $3,000 more.
Although the Ram’s ultimate tow ratings and maximum payload trail its competitors, its specs are impressive, and the optional Cummins diesel has a reputation for being indestructible.
Most fleet buyers will find the diesel’s cost and complexity are unnecessary. For most jobs and commercial business owners, the base two-wheel drive, Regular Cab Tradesman with an 8-foot-long bed and a gas-burning 383-horsepower 5.7-liter Hemi V8 engine is plenty. But it’s not the truck you want. A 410-horsepower 6.4-liter Hemi V8, which Ram also uses in the 2500 Series Power Wagon, is a no-cost option. Don’t pass it up. Both engines run on 87-octane regular grade fuel to keep operating costs down and work with a smooth-shifting 6-speed automatic transmission.
Prices start at $34,640, including the $1,395 destination fee, but you should seriously consider stepping up to the Crew Cab. The extra $4,000 gets you significantly more cargo and people carrying abilities that you will appreciate over time. It seats five comfortably, and it’s still offered with the longer 8-foot bed, which creates a very useful vehicle. It’s also equipped with enough features to keep the team comfortable, but you’re not wasting money on frivolous luxuries like an optional heated steering wheel. It‘s a perfect example of a comfortable and well-equipped truck that’s actually more capable. Jumping up to the SLT trim and beyond starts adding chrome and potentially unnecessary features.
Pile on the options and fancy trim and a fully loaded Ram 3500 can sell for more than $80,000 – well over double the base model. That’s a big number, and it makes this pickup the second most expensive vehicle sold by Fiat Chrysler behind its new $84,995 Dodge Demon muscle car.
Our $82,000 Ram 3500 Mega Cab Limited 4×4 dually diesel test truck is the vehicle you want if your plans include personal use, as well as long-haul towing. Its luxury list read like something from Mercedes-Benz, and included heated second-row seats and navigation. Still, some options don’t pencil out. Skip the pointless $545 Tri-Fold Tonneau Cover. Instead, spring for the Rambox system, which puts large, lockable, drainable bins on each side of the bed. It’s a much better value at $1,295.
Its High Output 6.7-liter Cummins turbo-diesel is well worth the additional $8,700. The inline six-cylinder is rated at 385 horsepower at 2,800 rpm and a massive 900 pound-feet of torque peak at just 1,700 rpm. It works with a bulletproof Aisin 6-speed automatic transmission that costs $2,695. A lower-power Cummins with 370 horsepower and 800 pound-feet of torque is mated to a 68RFE six-speed automatic and found under the hoods of most heavy-duty Ram diesels.
Unlike Ford, Chevy or GMC, Ram will sell you a turbo-diesel dually with a manual 6-speed transmission, although the engine’s power drops to 350 horsepower and 660 pound-feet of torque, which significantly affects its towing and max payload ratings.
With the high-output Cummins and the Aisin transmission, a crew cab Ram 3500 dually long box with 2WD or 4WD is rated to tow 18,000 pounds on a conventional hitch and more than 30,000 pounds with a fifth-wheel hookup. And with 2WD, the Ram’s max payload rating is 6,030 pounds.
Impressive numbers that make it the most capable Ram truck ever, but they’re not class leading. The Ford F-350 Super Duty with the Power Stroke diesel V8 is the torque king of the world, with 925 pound-feet and can tow and haul significantly more than the Ram, 21,000 pounds on a conventional hitch and 7,200 pounds in the bed. These numbers lead the segment. With the new Duramax V8, both the Chevy Silverado HD and GMC Sierra HD offer the most horsepower in the segment, 445 horsepower, and they make 910 pound-feet of torque. They can also tow more than the Ram, but their max payload is about 650 pounds less.
Ford also offers much more safety technology than Ram. Despite its big price tag, the Ram’s towing aids and tech-based safety systems are limited to an integrated trailer brake controller, trailer sway control and a basic backup camera. Ford’s Super Duty, meanwhile, is the first truck in this class to offer adaptive cruise control and collision warning with brake support for heavy trailers. It also offers a trailer tow camera system that uses four cameras offering a 360-degree bird’s-eye view of the truck, as well as a Trailer Reverse Guidance system that provides visual cues and tips to help you back up a trailer.
The Ram 3500 is built in Saltillo, Mexico, not far from the GM assembly plant in Silao, Mexico, that produces the Silverado HD and the Sierra HD. Ford builds the Super Duty, which has a lighter aluminum body and bed, in Kentucky. The Ram’s body is made of steel.
Although our test truck weighed over 8,600 pounds, acceleration is robust. The Cummins redlines at just 3,200 rpm, but its turbo system spools up quickly and delivers its massive torque right off idle. Unladed, it’ll run from 0-60 mph in about 8.5 seconds. Although the more powerful Duramax V8-powered Chevy and GMC are much quicker, the big Ram is quick enough to leave little sedans and SUVs in the wake of its four rear tires.
Ram does an impressive job keeping the rattle of the Cummins out of the cab, especially out on the highway, where our test truck averaged 14 mpg with four people aboard. Expect fuel economy to be significantly lower in town, or when it’s loaded down with rebar.
With an empty bed, the 3500 will bounce around a bit over rough road. Although you can feel the front suspension trying to control the weight of that massive cast iron diesel, which adds 1,100 pounds to the nose of the Ram, the optional air suspension does a remarkable job at keeping the ride civilized. It doesn’t ride as well as a V8-powered Ram 2500, which uses a unique coil spring rear suspension, but the 3500 doesn’t knock you around either. Loaded, it’s a pussycat.
The Ram’s interior is well appointed and well built. Its seats are large and shaped well for big guys, and there’s a large 8.4-inch touch screen. Ram also equips the 3500 with a proper column-mounted shifter, unlike the 1500, which has a rotary shifter on the dash.
Overall, this is a surprisingly responsive and comfortable truck with the power and capability that hard-core heavy-duty truck buyers and commercial business owners demand. It’s a stupendous combination of workhorse and luxury plaything. Considering that it costs as much as a BMW 7 Series it better be.