Breaking down the differences between the 2019 Dodge Ram Heavy Duty 2500 and 3500. Which is right for you?
By Isaac Bouchard
I’d been blown away by how much I liked the new Ram 1500 when I had it last winter and I’d been equally impressed after spending a brief time behind the wheel of the new Heavy Duty 2500 & 3500 models this Spring. However, they’d been unladen, and there’s little reason to put up with the rougher ride, higher cost of entry or worse fuel economy of the bigger rigs unless they’re needed for tougher tasks. To test this, I hooked up my enclosed ATC Raven trailer to both a ¾ and 1-ton Ram. This trailer weighs a modest 6,000 loaded, but there are many other folk who have a similar quandary: We don’t necessarily need something that can tow 35,000-plus pounds, but we do want some extra bandwidth and realistically we might up driving our truck on a daily basis, a place where the half ton really shines.
Let’s start with the Big Daddy of ‘em all: A Ram 3500HD Limited dually with the most powerful civilian diesel you can get, the 400hp, 1,000lb-ft High Output Cummins. First off, you really can feel the extra grunt over the “normal” diesel’s 370hp/850lb-ft. Second, the last generation 3500HD dually was way too much the rough rider for a truck you’d use for more than towing massive loads. But Ram has made amazing progress not only making the Heavy Duties more capable, but also more comfortable as well. This 1-ton rides much like the last ¾-ton beastie, and that one rides much like ½-ton rigs, thanks to its coil-sprung rear. Especially when equipped with air suspension, which also allows one to lower and raise it to ease getting things into the bed of the truck or even to let it camel down to hook a trailer.
The interior of the Limited is stunning, with a sophistication of materials, colors and texture that is new to trucks. The only things missing are power adjust for tilt/telescope on the wheel and massage function as good as in an Ford heavies. Cab-wise, both Ram four doors are more than roomy enough for 4-5 people, and the 12in, vertical touchscreen interface puts those from Ford and GM to shame. For towing, there are cameras that not only can show what’s in the bed, or change angle to latch onto a trailer, but also ones built into the telescoping trailer mirrors and that can be panned to see down the side of it as you reverse and turn. The crème de la crème is the available Mopar accessory camera that can be placed in the bed to watch what your load is doing when it thinks you’re not around or put on the back of the trailer so you can see what is behind. It ties into the Uconnect system, making viewing it a snap. The steering of the 3500HD is accurate and direct; much of the credit goes to proper—if small looking—tires that are designed for this usage. I noticed this especially after towing the same load with the test 2500HD, whose off-road oriented tires introduced a level of vagueness that was at first disconcerting—but which one adapts to fairly quickly. Braking is linear and progressive, which is very helpful even when you have proper trailer brakes. Knowing the stability control tied the ATC into its algorithms is nice too; while I’ve never had a big tank-slapper moment while towing, it is comforting to know the Ram would try to help in such circumstances.
The Ram’s trip computer registered an average of 11mpg while towing at 5-10mph over the speed limit, which is what I’d experienced with the older 3500HD and about 1mpg better than my own (older) Chevy Duramax with the same load. A short highway run sans trailer showed 13-14mpg. In the final analysis, the dually is of course way too much rig for my needs, but all of its virtues—sumptuous cab, decent ride, stout brakes and excellent suppression of road and wind noise—seem to make it ideal for those who tow a large camper or similar load over vast distances. Six weeks later I was at it again, this time with a gasoline-engined 2500HD model. Heavily revised for the new generation, its 410hp scoots it around with alacrity when unburdened, sounding super sweet and sophisticated while doing so. It routinely returned 17mpg when running solo thanks to its Multi-Displacement System that shuts down cylinders to save fuel. It also saves $9,100 over the cost of the normal Cummins diesel and $11,795 for the HO (though it is worth noting that used diesels seem to retain 100% 0r more of the cost of the engine) and runs on cheaper fuel. It lacked the massive torque that allows diesels to accelerate to highway speeds so effortlessly, and even modest hills called for wide open throttle since it “only” has 429lb-ft to call upon. But the 2500HD showed 10-11mpg on the trip computer while burdened, almost the same as the diesel. Trimmed as a basic Tradesman, its cab was Spartan, but intriguingly Ram will let you spec the Power Wagon winch and suspension on this more modestly priced model, making it a perfect hunting rig. Since the 2500HD rides like a 1500 used to, it seems the sweet spot in the lineup for many of us, and the choice of gas or diesel broadens its appeal. In Colorado the turbocharged diesel makes more sense, but equipped either way, it moves the Ram to the front of the heavy duty brigade.
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