First Drive: 2019 Ram Heavy Duty Pickups Ramp Up Competition

February 28, 2019 by Jerry Hirsch, @Jerryhirsch

Ram tosses around a lot of numbers as it pitches its redesigned line of heavy-duty pickup trucks. There’s the 1,000 pound-feet of torque milestone, the massive 35,100 tons of towing capacity and the 8 percent improvement in aerodynamic efficiency.

But there are really just two numbers to watch as Ram continues the rollout of its new-generation pickups this year: 536,980 versus 585,581.

The first is the number of trucks Ram, a division of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, sold last year. That made the Ram pickup the third-best-selling vehicle in the U.S. The second is how many Chevrolet Silverado trucks General Motors sold in 2018. The Silverado is the No. 2 seller. Ford’s F-Series line remains well above both at the top of the heap.

Moving closer

With the right pickup truck configurations and features, combined with increased factory capacity, Ram is now breathing down Chevrolet’s neck.

Here’s another way of thinking about this rivalry: Ram had 22.2 percent of the pickup truck market last year, gaining 1.2 points of share from the prior year. It has climbed from 15.9 percent of the market back in 2009. Meanwhile, Chevrolet lost half of a percentage point to hold a 24.2 percent share last year. And that’s way down from the 28.3 percent of the market the Silverado held back in 2009.

Now, market share isn’t the be-all and end-all. Pickup trucks and related large SUVs account for the vast majority of the profits at the Detroit Three automakers. GM earned $8.1 billion last year and has logged a strong stock performance so far this year. Yet, in a market where bragging rights matter, Chevrolet can’t be happy that Ram is so close.

Here’s how Ram has done it.

Its redesign of the Ram 1500 is an unqualified success. Our tests found that the truck drives the best in the segment. The road-smoothing coil spring suspension makes it an easy choice for a daily driver. It’s big, it’s spacious, it has a bed. Close your eyes – if you could safely – and you might not think you were driving a truck.

Now Ram is out with the new generation 2019 HD trucks. These are the 2500s, the 3500s and even a larger chassis cab. These are true work trucks that can tow, haul and navigate the rough terrain of a construction site or ranch.

The numbers are big.

How big?

Depending on the configuration, the new HD truck can tow up to 35,100 pounds and haul up to 7,680 pounds of payload. Recent test drives in the Nevada desert demonstrated the Ram is up to the task – in fact, it almost demands it. An unloaded Ram 3500 four-wheel-drive Mega, or extended version of the crew cab, rattled over bumpy sections of the highways near Las Vegas. This is a massive dually – two sets of wheels on the rear axle – equipped with the high output Cummins six-cylinder turbo-diesel engine. It puts out up to 1,000 pound-feet of torque – the most in the heavy-duty pickup truck segment – and up to 400 horsepower. But once you put a load in the bed or a trailer behind the truck, the beefy coil and leaf spring suspension take hold and the ride settles.

  • 19 ram hd int1

The interior is luxurious and comfortable. The seats and just about all the touchpoints are lined with leather. The Mega Cab configuration provides two rows of nearly limousine-like space. There’s a high-resolution 12-inch touch screen that can be used as a mammoth navigation screen or divided into two sections, with its lower half customized to the driver’s preferences.

There’s lots of useful technology that makes this beast easy to drive, including blind-spot alert that ranges back to the trailer. There is cross-path detection to prevent an inattentive driver from backing into traffic in a parking lot. It has adaptive cruise control to take stress out of a long road trip. There’s a forward-collision alert with automatic emergency braking.

The cabin is quiet, helped by the truck’s stiff frame, now 98.5 percent high-strength steel to increase rigidity and slash vibration. It has acoustic glass windows and active noise cancellation. This all reduces the interior noise level by about 10 decibels, a noticeable decrease from the previous truck that makes conversation easy and the sound system better at lower volume levels.

Big torque, big price

The only problem with this truck is that buyers are going to have to write a check to match the 1,000 pound-feet of torque.

The test vehicle had a sticker price just shy of $90,000. Nearly $12,000 of that was the massive diesel engine. Another $3,700 was the top package. The base price is $68,745, including the destination fee.

2019 Ram HD Tradesman dually

A 2019 Ram HD Tradesman regular cab dually. (Photo: Ram)

The Ram 2500 Tradesman Regular Cab two-wheel-drive pickup sits at the other end of the automaker’s heavy-duty truck lineup. The base price is $35,090, including the destination fee, for the practical long-bed configuration.

The standard engine is a more-than-adequate 6.4-liter V8 with 410 horsepower and 429 pound-feet of torque. This truck had a modest $145 option giving it a more capable axle ratio. That provides a towing capacity of 17,080 pounds and a payload-hauling capability of 3,550 pounds. It is mated to an exceptionally smooth eight-speed transmission.

This is an easy vehicle to drive, with good pickup and handling, even with 2,500 pounds of lumber in the bed. This truck is designed for workers and fleets. The low-end trim level doesn’t come with any automated safety systems such as forward-collision alert or blind-spot warning. However, the visibility out the rear window is excellent.

There’s a minimal 5-inch screen rear-view backup camera but not much else in the way of technology. Consider this version a competent but basic work tool.

Ram has done an excellent job of making huge improvements to its half-ton pickup and carrying through the same types of design and engineering gains to its heavy-duty lineup, which accounts for about 25 percent of its truck sales.

Although overall vehicle sales in the U.S. this year are expected to decline, don’t be surprised to see Ram increase both its overall truck sales numbers and its market share. This is a company that’s proving it won’t cede a single truck sale to Ford and GM.

Read Next: Review: 2019 Ram 1500 Laramie is the Pick of New Pickup Trucks

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