Ram Trucks deftly blends capability with luxury and technology to create its best heavy-duty lineup yet, with tow ratings up to 35,100 pounds.
In case you haven’t noticed, we’re living in extreme times. There is no longer room for “almost” or “good enough,” and your opinion pings the news or social-media feeds only if it completely polarizes your audience. Put up or shut up. Go big or go home. Second place is the first loser.
In the heavy-duty pickup truck ranks, however, statements are made not with words but with numbers. If you’ve got the biggest, then in the eyes of most buyers, you’ve got the best. And right now, the Big Three are engaged in what amounts to an engineering death match for HD supremacy, the likes of which we’ve never seen before. Rarely do all three manufacturers come to the table with their most potent weapons at the same time, but are instead content to play a monster game of Battleship as each participant launches its own salvo then waits for a response from the enemy(ies). But 2019 is a year that shall live in HD infamy.
Hot on the heels of GM’s all-new HD entry, but just months before Ford’s upgraded 2020 Super Duty lineup (at press time), comes the 2019 Ram HD — and it’s completely bonkers. Along with a beefier chassis, sumptuous interior choices and class-leading technologies, it offers up to 1,000 lb-ft of torque, a tow rating of up to 35,100 pounds and a maximum payload of 7,680 pounds.
With apologies to Steven King’s The Dead Zone, “The missiles are flying. Hallelujah. Hallelujah.”
The heart of any heavy-duty truck, and certainly a key component of its bragging rights, is the engine. Chrysler Corporation’s decision to partner up with Cummins for the 1989 model year was a master stroke, and when it introduced its game-changing mini-Mack looks in 1994, it ushered in big-rig design cues to match the truck’s diesel sound and reliability.
Having sold millions of 5.9- and 6.7-liter powerplants, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) once again turned to Cummins to create a next-generation 6.7-liter engine that was not only more powerful but also quieter, more efficient, lighter and smoother.
“It’s basically the same architecture as the outgoing engine, but there were upgrades made,” explained Ram Heavy Duty Chief Engineer Rod Romain. “First, we went to a compacted graphite-iron block, which offers three key benefits. One, it’s 75 percent stronger by mass; two, it provides Noise, Vibration and Harshness (NVH) improvements;
and three, weight reduction. We also looked to Cummins to make all nonstructural parts previously made from cast iron to be made from aluminum — water inlets and outlets, water-pump housing, some of the brackets and a few other items. All simple parts, but they combine for a 60-pound weight reduction.”
In addition, Romain noted that the cylinder head has been redesigned for increased strength and improved cooling, the common-rail fuel system now squirts at 29,000 psi, and the turbocharger has been upgraded for additional flow, primarily on the compressor side. The improvements result in an even 400 horsepower and 1,000 lb-ft of torque for the high-output (HO) engine, while the standard Cummins 6.7-liter clocks in with 370 horsepower and 850 lb-ft.
To quiet things down a bit, new hydraulic lash adjusters replace the mechanical units to eliminate that familiar tick-tick-ticking sound, while a scissor gear was added to the front gear-drive assembly to reduce noise.
With the increased engine output, the transmission had to be upgraded as well. Both the Aisin six-speed that backs the HO engine and the 68RFE that goes behind the standard Cummins benefit from hardware and software improvements for better shift quality. The base 6.4-liter Hemi gasoline V-8 engine is largely unchanged but benefits from a new eight-speed TorqueFlite 8HP75 automatic transmission. “The cool part about this transmission is that it offers 40 unique shift maps to adapt to whatever scenario you’re putting the vehicle through in order to provide the best performance, efficiency and capability,” Romain said.
Driving the new Cummins-equipped trucks on the highways outside of Las Vegas, the first thing we noticed was how effortlessly they got moving, even when pulling more than 10,000 pounds. Whether using a light or heavy throttle application, you are met with very little turbo lag — just a smooth surge of power. The engine is indeed quieter but thankfully retains that characteristic Cummins sound and satisfying growl under full throttle.
Strength, of course, is a truck chassis’ reason for being, but as customers expect even the toughest trucks to provide a civilized ride and quiet comfort, tough wouldn’t be enough for 2019. Along with fully boxed frame rails and a redesigned front frame member, new cab mounts, reengineered bushings and even redesigned exhaust hangers were employed to reduce NVH. The front coil springs are now canted outward for improved roll stiffness, and on the 2500 series trucks, a new progressive-rate spring is used.
“The significance there is that we were able to reduce the unloaded spring rate by 20 percent but increase the loaded spring rate by 40 percent,” Romain explained, “so you get the stability when hauling but the comfort when you’re not.” Teamed with frequency response damping (FRD) shocks, the 2019 Ram HD suspension provides a massive improvement over the previous-generation truck.
“The other aspect to ride quality is isolating and controlling road noise to make the overall driving experience more comfortable,” Romain continued. “We did that in a couple of ways. Active-tuned mass modules, which is technology we brought in from the 2019 Ram 1500, employs a module on each side of the frame that is calibrated to seek out vibration and eliminate it. These combine with active noise cancellation to take out the audible noise, so now you don’t feel it or hear it.”
Those who have driven any previous-generation Ram HD truck will notice the difference immediately. Between the NVH strategies, new progressive-rate springs and FRD shocks, Romain claims the engineering team reduced overall ride harshness by 50 percent while improving ride comfort by 50 percent, compared to the outgoing truck.
Braking is something you can never get enough of, especially when you’re hauling more than 7,000 pounds or pulling more than 35,000. So, the Ram engineering team also completely revised the braking system, adding a new master-cylinder booster, calipers, larger rotors and even revised pedal ratios.
“The pedal-ratio changes that we’ve made reduce the amount of effort on the driver so there’s more confidence with more comfort,” Romain explained. “We’ve also reduced the stopping distance with 360-millimeter rotors and twin-piston calipers up front, and 358-millimeter with twin piston calipers in the rear.” On the max towing application, 365-millimeter rear rotors are employed to better cope with heavy loads.
Heavy-duty pickups have never been known for their fuel-sipping ways, and in fact aren’t even under any real pressure to improve, since the EPA doesn’t require “commercial” trucks to display fuel-economy numbers like their half-ton cousins do. Even so, Ram engineers took it upon themselves to improve efficiencies wherever possible to save fleet managers and individuals alike a few extra dollars at the pumps. All areas that once used mild steel have been upgraded to high-strength steel, the hoods are now aluminum, and the steel bumpers incorporate composite materials for an overall savings of up to 143 pounds, according to Romain.
Another opportunity to improve efficiency was with aerodynamics. Ram claims that the new HD offers best-in-class aero-efficiency with a .409 coefficient of drag (CD), an 8 percent improvement over the outgoing truck. “We accomplished this with active grille shutters, a new air dam and additional front-end sealing,” Romain explained. “The importance of the front-end sealing is for two reasons: one is aero-efficiency, but the other is managing the airflow. When you are towing and you need that extra cooling, the grille shutters are open to help direct the air through the radiator where you want it.”
Time was short, the weather was bad, and the selection of trucks on hand was somewhat limited, so we didn’t have a chance to test all of the new trailer-friendly features of the new Ram HD, but we can tell you that there are many. The side-view mirrors are vastly improved, each containing a camera and a “spotter’s lamp” that shines down the side of the truck and trailer to make backing into tight spaces easier. The camera view on the center-console display can also be biased so you can see only down the blind side if you choose, and the convex portion of the mirror is now power-adjustable from the driver’s seat.
The back of the cab now features a so-called CHMSL camera (mounted in the Center High Mounted Stop Light) to make it easier to align a fifth-wheel or gooseneck hitch, while the tailgate-mounted camera includes a zoom feature to make hitching a travel trailer even easier. There’s also an optional 360-degree camera system, and an available auxiliary camera system that can be mounted on the back of the trailer, or even inside of it.
Another welcome feature is a factory trailer tire-pressure monitoring system, which enables the user to monitor the pressure in up to 12 tires, on up to four different trailers. Once the system is configured, it will automatically display the pressure values you established for that trailer through remote tire-pressure sensors installed in the trailer tires. And, when tire pressure falls below 10 percent of your preset pressure, the system will provide an audible and visual warning. The sensors are internally mounted and are available through Mopar parts.
When the now-famous “big rig” design was introduced in the 1994 model year, one of its hallmarks was groundbreaking interior design that focused on comfort, convenience and storage space for everything from laptops to Big Gulps. For the 2019 Ram Heavy Duty, once again the interior-design team put significant effort into creating a space that was not only highly functional but a very comfortable place to spend hours at a time.
“Storage, function, technology — those were our key points for our truck,” said Ryan Nagode, chief interior designer for Ram Trucks. “We wanted a very structural feel to the interior, with soft materials in all the right areas. The lower areas are still hard, which allows the truck to work…you can clean those areas easily, and a lot of trucks are still available with vinyl floors. We’ve also improved the seating — it’s more comfortable, more adjustable, with power lumbar and four-way adjustable headrests.”
Interestingly, one of the goals was to make sure that each of the six different Ram truck trim levels had a distinct personality. “The truck market is so diverse, and it’s one of our most complicated vehicles within the lineup, so we had to make sure there was differentiation,” Nagode said. “We offer the most leather, the most wood, and we make sure the wood choices are appropriate. A lot of details like embroidery on the center console and on the seats, right down to the metal finishes throughout the interior are very unique. It’s almost like a bespoke type of feeling for the interiors. They really feel like they have been designed for each buyer.”
Additional comfort key points include a completely revised HVAC system for better heating and cooling, and even an available inline heater in diesel models to get the cab warm before the engine is up to temperature.
As we spend more and more time in our vehicles, technology that keeps us entertained and informed has become as important as comfy seats. So this year, the 2019 Ram features the fourth-generation U-Connect system with an available 12-inch reconfigurable touchscreen. “It’s like having a tablet with pinch to zoom and multitouch gestures, and you can go between 2D and 3D with your fingers,” Nagode said.
“Another little-known feature, something that really hits home with the truck cus- tomer, is the ability to reconfigure that lower bank. Touching the center area gives you a big menu, and you can drag and drop any of those features to put what you want at your fingertips,” he added. The system also offers SiriusXM with 360L, a new service that includes exclusive content, more than 200 channels and access to thousands of hours of recorded on-demand programming.
Having spent time behind the wheel of the new Ram in a variety of configurations, both gas and diesel, it’s hard to imagine how this truck could be better, more capable or more RV-friendly. Ram has indeed dropped a bomb on its competitors, but unlike true warfare, the response will undoubtedly benefit all of us.
A frequent contributor to Trailer Life, Chris Hemer is the former technical editor of Trailer Life and MotorHome, and has been an RV and automotive journalist for more than 20 years. An outdoor enthusiast who now makes his home in Portland, Oregon, he enjoys camping, motorcycle riding, mountain biking and hiking.