First Drive: 2013 Ram HD 2500/3500


Bringing a new truck to the heavy-duty segment(three-quarter and one-ton trucks) is not what it used to be. Not long ago, itwas simply about making small, incremental changes that nudged you ahead of yourtwo competitors. As long as you offered loyal truck buyers a fair number ofreasons to buy your truck (usually in the form of a slightly higher payload, largertowing number or higher gross combined vehicle weight rating), all would befine.

But that was before Ford made a huge push to offer its own SuperDuty turbo-diesel and transmission, and before GM completely revamped itssuspensions and frames, not to mention upgrading its Duramax engines andAllison transmissions.

With the race to claim class-leading payloads and maximumtowing capacities, the heavy-duty truck war has become as fierce as a clash ofthe the half-tons. It should come as no surprise that Ram is hoping to make ahuge splash in the marketplace with its new 2500 and 3500 HD pickup trucks, thefollow-ups to the highly successful Ram 1500 that came out late last year. Ram iscoming off one of the biggest sales months ever just as the economy looks likeit’s getting some color back in its cheeks. The timing couldn’t be better.

Our first look at the new Ram HDs came during last year’s , but now we’ve had the chance to getbehind the wheel and finally see what this truck can do, specifically from a maximumtowing and payload point of view. And we can say the efforts must have beengargantuan, because the results are that impressive.

More backbone

All 2013 Ram HDs start with a completely new, much stronger foundationthat uses eight reinforced cross-members sitting between roll-formed and fully boxedframe rails. The frame is stronger and wider up front, and stronger and stifferin the back third of the platform. A massive new 12-inch-wide cross-member directlyunderneath the bed can be used as the support bracket for a fifth-wheel orgooseneck hitch when ordered from the factory. This is the first time Ram hasoffered this bed-hitch from the factory. The vastly improved and strengthened ladderframe allowed engineers to rethink the front and rear suspensions in order to improveride quality and capacity as much as possible.

Specifically, the front suspension on all one-ton pickupswill switch to a more controlled and laterally sophisticatedthree-link/coilover suspension with two gigantic trailering arms locating thelive axle. The 2500s will continue with the existing five-link/coilover setup,but we’d guess most of the models (but not the Power Wagon) will also switch tothe three-link strategy by 2014. Although there has been no announcement of anykind of air-bag suspension (so no load-leveling) coming, Ram engineers have tunedthe rear leaf springs with a surprising amount of comfort when both loaded andempty. New spring rates and progressive multistage overload springs make theride on most 2013 models dramatically different from the previous generation.

Additionally, there is a new, more massive rear axle to helpaccommodate the special max towing package that includes, among other things,an 11.8-inch ring-and-pinion gear housed in a wonderfully efficient, finnedaluminum differential cover. But pulling heat from the axles isn’t the onlyplace (or even the most important place) from which to pull heat.

More power choices

Ram engineers knew that if they wanted to get morehorsepower and torque out of the stout Cummins ISB motor, they would have to besmarter about pulling heat from the block. They’ve done that in several ways.Not only do the new Ram HDs have the biggest radiator fan you’ll find in an HDpickup, but they have twin radiators to extract tons of extra heat from theengine block. On the intake side, the new HD also tries to get the coolest airpossible into the engine (for more power efficiency) by offering a segment-onlydual air intake that decides where to pull air from, depending on load and need.There’s an intake cool air charger as well. It’s worth noting the intake systemis smart enough to know when to pull warmer air during snow, heavy rain (orwater fording) or extreme altitude climbing too, with intakes atthe top of the front grille or behind the front passenger fender.  

As noted, the 6.7-liter inline-six Cummins will come inthree different flavors: Those optioned with the six-speed manual transmissionwill get the 350-horsepower engine with 660 pounds-feet of torque; the regular Chrysler68RFE six-speed automatic transmission will bepaired with the 370-hp Cummins offering 800 pounds-feet of torque; and themaximum towing package gets a brand-new six-speed automatic Aisin AS69RC matchedwith the high-output Cummins that is rated at 385 hp and a class-leading 850 pounds-feetof torque. Finally, it will now be possible to order a 3500 Ram HD with singlerear wheels with the Hemi gas engine, something never possible before.

There’s more big news: All three Cummins engine are paired with a new diesel exhaust fluid injectionsystem, rather than the expensive catalytic reduction processes used last year.This simpler way of dealing with emissions (a strategy also used with the chassiscab 4500/5500 models) improves fuel economy by as much as 15 percent and helpskeep overall costs down. 

Carrying the load

But the really big news for the segment comes in the form ofthe maximum payload and towing capacities of the 2013 Ram HDs. According to Ramcharts and calculations (see links below),a regular-cab long-bed Ram 3500 HD with all the right options will be able tocarry more than 6,700 pounds of payload and tow a fifth-wheel or goosenecktrailer weighing just a hair more than 30,000 pounds. Oddly, the maximumpayload number is rated with the middle Cummins and 68RFE transmission, while the maximum towing number is ratedwith the high-output Cummins and the stouter Aisin six-speed.

We had the chance to tow several trailers weighing more than28,000 pounds at Chrysler’s Proving Grounds in Chelsea, Mich. (it’s illegal totow that kind of weight on public roads without a commercial driver’s license),and found it to be much easier than we expected. The newly tuned Tow/Haulsetting helps a lot with more confident takeoffs; both transmissions (the 68RFEand AS69RC) were quick to downshift and keep the engine within 1,800 to 2,900rpm, where it seemed to have the most pulling strength. Of course, with thiskind of weight all things are relative, so don’t expect Superman-like pullingstrength as the computers try to make the ramp-up smooth and gentle on theimportant axle, transmission and driveshaft parts. At higher speeds, the front endfelt vastly more controlled; in manual mode, we found the shifts quick and assuredwithout a hint of excessive force during gear changes. However, getting atrailer this big moving at freeway speeds is only half the battle.

Quite possibly the most impressive piece of technology onthe truck is the new smart exhaust brake system that allows the driver todetermine how aggressively he or she wants the exhaust brake to kick in. Whetherin Off, On or Auto mode, the new exhaust brake will activate to help slow thevehicle down as long as the various sensors determine the conditions are right.

The On setting is the most aggressive and delivers the mostimpressive jake-brake-style rumble we’ve heard from any heavy-duty; it soundsexactly like a big-rig throttling down on the interstate every time you liftoff the throttle.

The Auto mode is a softer setting for the exhaust brake thatconsiders more parameters when changing the angles of the veins on theturbocharger to slow the truck and trailer combo. The result here is quiteliterally a leap forward for the 2013 Ram HDs over their competition, all in thename of safer, more controlled and better-sounding towing. We like that.


With all the mechanical and structural upgrades made to the 2013Ram HDs, it would be easy to gloss over the interior changes, mostly becausethey look so similar to the huge changes we saw in the light-duty Ram 1500 that debuted last year. Ram is clearly taking the same interior trim package and stylingcues that made the Ram 1500 a 2013 winner in WardsAuto’s 10 Best Interiors competition. It’s an attempt to redefinewhat a heavy-duty truck interior should and can look like. All the same trimpackages, including the impressive high-zoot Laramie Longhorn, essentiallycarry over to the HD lineup, giving customers many different work-truck andluxury-cruiser options. But the beauty is not just skin deep here.

Just as in the 1500, Ram engineers replaced the entireelectrical guts of the HDs to accommodate a vastly improved connectivitycapability. The new 8.4-inch touch-screen UConnect system, newly available in RamHDs, offers incredible access to detailed navigation, local and national weather,customizable music, info about your favorite sport teams, movie listings and real-timefuel prices right at your fingertips. Additional information screens in thecenter of the gauge cluster offer info on the engine, filter life,turbocharger, exhaust brake, preferred trailers and many other details. Withall these features you begin to see that these new trucks are not just betterthan the ones they replace, they’re trying to set a new standard. And from ourfirst look, these are the first HD pickups we’ve driven in a long time that literallyadd up to something greater than the sum of their parts. We like that too.


It’s almost an impossible task to try to list or filter allthe significant details about the Ram 2500/3500 from the meaningless ones — orat least the ones you don’t need to know about — because there is so much meathere. The 2013 Ram HDs are clearly better trucks than the ones they replaces,and in many areas they offer some of the best features in the segment, but theyaren’t necessarily the perfect truck either. As noted, we still don’t have aload-leveling suspension; we still don’t have a way to see what gear ourtransmission is in unless we shift manually; and we still don’t have a Ram Long-Haulerready to create a new breed of tow king.

However (fingers crossed), we’re told that there will be evenmore important changes for the Ram HDs coming in the 2014 model year. Normally,we’d think this was just an attempt to blow smoke up our backsides about newpaint colors and trim packages, but from what we’re hearing from several industrysources, we think Ram may be holding a few big surprises for next year. Whatexactly that means we’re not sure, but we hope it looks something like the newRam HDs, just more of them. We know the Ram 1500 will get the little diesel engineoption soon; the Ram ProMaster full-size van is just around the corner; and nowwe can expect some added upgrades for the Ram HDs for the 2014 model year.We’re guessing we’ll hear more by the time we get to Chrysler’s What’s Newevent later next month.

For now, this is what we know, but it seems like we need toput together another  test with new Ford and GM offerings. We’llkeep you posted.

To download the most up-to-date specifications for the Ram2500 and 3500, .

To download the most up-to-date tow ratings for all Ram HDconfigurations, .

To download the most up-to-date overview of the 2013 Ram HD2500/3500 pickup trucks, .

To download the most up-to-date Ram HD order guide, .



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Former Editor Mark Williams lives in Southern California with his wife and enjoys camping, hiking, skiing, big trucks and towing, and backcountry 4x4 driving. Email Mark Williams

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