BUYERS GUIDE - UTES & CAB CHASSIS LARGE
The RAM has been Cummins-powered since 1989. It took nearly 30 years to make it Down Under as RHD-converted ute, but the wait has been worth it.
RAM Trucks are being distributed in Australia by American Special Vehicles, after ADR-compliant conversion to RHD by Walkinshaw Australia, one of the world’s leading automotive engineering companies.
Two top-weight, crew-cab models are being offered: the 2500, with coil-spring rear suspension and a payload of 900kg, and the 3500, with leaf rear springs and a payload of up to 1700kg.
Both have Cummins diesel power, Chrysler six-speed automatic boxes and Borg Warner transfer cases with 2.64:1 deep reduction.
The 6.7L Cummins Turbo Diesel engine has EGR, a DPF and a selective catalytic reduction (SCR) emissions system that requires AdBlue fluid. The B-Series engine is rated at 276kW and 1084Nm, and incorporates a two-stage exhaust brake.
The 2500 is rated to tow up to seven tonnes with a pintle coupling or a fifth-wheel and the 3500, 6.2 tonnes. The maximum gross combination mass (GCM) of both vehicles when pintle towing is 11.5 tonnes.
The main advantage of the leaf-rear-spring 3500 over the coil-rear-end 2500 is almost one tonne more payload and almost one tonne more GCM when towing a 3500kg or 4500kg trailer. The 3500 requires a light rigid truck licence, whereas the 2500 can be driven on a car licence.
For 2016 Ram comprehensively redesigned the 2500’s ladder frame, using high-strength 345 Mpa steel, with eight cross-members, hydro-formed main rails and fully-boxed rear sections.
In addition to the chassis revisions to enhance torsional rigidity, Ram has equipped the 2500 with a new five-link rear rear axle and rear coil springs – a segment first that results in a comfortable ride when the pickup is unladen. An anti-spin rear differential is standard.
Also unique among the competition is an optional rear air-suspension that further improves the ride and includes a self-levelling function that adjusts the ride height to compensate for payload or attached trailer.
What you get
Our test vehicle was a Ram 2500 model, for which pricing starts at a heady $139,500. That’s an awful lot of money, but the Ram is an awful lot of ute!
The Ram 2500 combines what’s expected of a heavy duty pickup in the US market: power, durability and towing capacity – with several features that aren’t typical of the segment, including smooth-riding rear suspension and a luxury vehicle interior.
The right hand drive re-manufactured Australian model is more than cut-and-shut conversion. For a start, the dashboard is completely remodelled, using a one-piece housing and the firewall position is optimised for pedal placement. (The pedal position is also adjustable.)
The right hand drive steering box is made by the same manufacturer that supplies the original left hand drive box and is positioned on the right hand chassis rail, unlike some RHD conversions that retain a LHD steering box and use a cross-shaft.
The dashboard instruments are metric and are the same as Canadian-market Ram gauges.
All ASV RAM pickups are covered by a three-year/100,000km warranty (whichever comes first) and roadside assistance. The ASV national dealer network also provides parts and service support.
The 2500 has Chrysler’s Uconnect Access infotainment system that’s one of the more user-friendly infotainment setups on the market, Uconnect Access integrates most of the truck’s audio, navigation and climate control functions into one unit. Uconnect Access features a voice command system that allows the driver to place phone calls, use the sound system, input navigation destinations and more, without taking his or her hands off the wheel.
An 8.4-inch touchscreen mounted on the dashboard is the central component of the system, but buttons and knobs for climate and audio volume and manual tuning are also included. A newer feature offered on these models is a switchable rear camera display – there is a cab-rear-mount camera and a tailgate-mount camera – for ease of solo-vehicle reversing, trailer coupling and trailer manoeuvring.
In the USA the Ram 2500 is offered in Regular Cab, Quad Cab and Mega Cab models. The Regular Cab features two doors, the Quad Cab has four doors and the Mega Cab has four doors with expanded rear passenger space. Two box lengths are available: 2.5-metre (standard on Regular Cab and available on Quad Cab), and two-metre (standard on Mega Cab and available on Quad Cab).
Eight trim levels are available to North American buyers: Tradesman, SLT, Lone Star, Big Horn, Laramie, Outdoorsman, Laramie Longhorn and Laramie Limited. With these different trims, the Ram 2500 can be outfitted as a spartan work truck, a leather-lined luxury vehicle with the latest tech features and
almost anything in between.
Australian-market Rams come in Quad Cab Laramie spec’ level, which is quite luxurious. Standard equipment includes leather trim, carpet with floor mats, adjustable pedals, heated and ventilated front seats, heated and tilting steering wheel, heated power mirrors, powered opening back screen, cruise control, auto headlights, cup holders everywhere, lifting back seats that convert to a cargo area and a friction-coated cargo tub with lighting and fixed tie-downs.
An optional Ram Box pack features a lockable side bin on each side of the cargo tub. These 240-litre capacity bins are lined and are dust and waterproof, with drain holes fore and aft. (We suspect they’re used for gun stowage by the Good Ol’ Boys, but they’d be ideal for fishing and any other wet gear.)
Other tub options are movable tie down tracks and cars, and a movable cargo divider.
All 2500 pickups come equipped with dual front, front side and full-length side curtain airbags in addition to traction and stability control systems.
In the olden days you’d buy a North American ute and discover a vast engine bay with a relatively small five-litre petrol V8 in the middle of it, allowing plenty of servicing room around the donk. That’s not how things are under the RAM 2500 bonnet.
The near seven-litre Cummins takes up most of the longitudinal space and its bulky turbo, exhaust and intercooler plumbing takes up most of the available width. What little space remains is filled by a huge brake booster, large coolant reservoir, air cleaner, washer bottle, two batteries, ABS module, computer stack and fuse box.
There is a fuel filter, but it’s very difficult to reach. (Some US blogs suggest the easiest way to get at it is to take off the left hand front wheel and come in via the inner mudguard.) That filter is a five-micron main unit – not a two-micron impossibility like the ones fitted to most common-rail diesels these days – and is preceded by a 30-micron pre-filter and water separator that’s located in front of the rear axle, above the (aluminium)
On and off road
We picked up the Ram 2500 Laramie on a wet evening in central Sydney, which is not where this bulky beast was designed to operate. Nevertheless, its excellent forward vision, good mirrors and relatively tight turning circle allowed better manoeuvrability than we expected.
It’s been our experience over many years of testing vehicles from Fiat 500s to road trains that a well-balanced vehicle feels smaller than it looks. Such was the case with the Ram 2500.
We left the auto box to its own devices and that resulted in our trickling along in city traffic with 1000-1500rpm on the tacho and seamless shifting.
Once on the open road the big beast stretched its legs, but still upshifted at no more than 2000rpm and was happy to lope along in sixth, running at 1500rpm at 110km/h.
When a manual shift was called for, the column shift knob’s ‘+’ and ‘-‘ switch was very easy to flick, without taking a hand off the steering wheel.
Fuel consumption at cruise was a creditable 12L/100km, but we averaged 14.7L/100km on an on and off road test cycle with no load on board. Our mates at Club Marine magazine did a highway tow test, hauling 3.5 tonnes of boat and trailer, for an average of 22L/100km.
We couldn’t pick any compromises in the ASV conversion from LHD to RHD and everything worked as if the Ram had been factory-built for Australian driving conditions. However, we expected the North American shock absorbers to be inadequate and they were – very inadequate.
The Ram’s all-coil springing was excellent, but the dampers couldn’t control live axle movements at the front or the back on typical Aussie bitumen roads. On corrugated dirt they were woeful, letting the axles do pretty much as they liked.
We’d budget for a set of top-quality, light-truck shockers that won’t leave much change out of $3200, but they’re necessary.
That was it for fault-finding. All the Ram’s controls worked well; the ergonomics were excellent and cabin comfort was at luxury vehicle levels – suspension damping apart. Road and mechanical noise was almost totally absent, unless the big Cummins was provoked.
The exhaust brake was handy for washing off speed when running downhill and really came into its own when trailer towing.
ASV took pains to explain to us that the current 2500 specification is aimed at the needs of the majority of Australian buyers and that list is headed by the need for serious towing ability. Ground clearance on the Laramie model isn’t sufficient for serious rock hopping, but theatre are other models in the Ram catalogue that target extreme off-roading. They’re not currently in the Australian catalogue, but you never know.
However, we took the 2500 up some of our test slopes and it climbed very easily, with the Cummins just idling and traction control and the rear LSD doing their bit to preserve traction. The standard side steps were a rock-clearance-limiting factor, but they can be easily removed by the adventurous.
Another issue when off-roading is the prominent and expensive emissions treatment kit in the exhaust system. There’s a bulky trio of oxidation catalyst, diesel particulate filter and selective catalytic reduction filter: all fitted with sensors and wires. You wouldn’t want to drag all that across a sharp rock ledge, or leave it immersed in deep water for any length of time.
Towing with the Ram 2500
Here’s what our mates at Club Marine Magazine had to say about the Ram 2500:
The Laramie is no crude car crusher. It is actually a surprisingly sophisticated and consummate heavy hauler that grew on us as we towed more than four tonnes of Haines Hunter 760R and trailer the 700km or so from Melbourne to Portland and back.
What really impressed was the 6.7L Cummins diesel that combusted away quietly and smoothly in front of us. For such a large oil-burner, it almost purred and there was no sense of diesel shake, rattle and roll when asked for more.
When we put the foot down, nearly 1100Nm of torque was at our disposal. In the case of our Portland convoy, that meant that the Laramie barely seemed to notice the large boat and trailer that
were tagging along behind.
We left it in cruise for most of the trip and only once did it call on a lower gear from the smooth six-speed auto as it effortlessly maintained 95km/h. Very impressive, indeed.
The spacious interior was a tasteful combination of acres of dark leather, with white stitching, fake timber insets, bits of chrome here and there and light grey roof lining. Our model was also equipped with a sunroof and there were American-sized cup holders for those who like their morning coffee supersized.
The heated and cooled front seats were large and comfortable, separated by a slab-like storage console, which converted to a centre seat when required.
Controls and displays weren’t overdone and everything was within easy reach.
A leather-bound heated steering wheel, easy-to-use 20cm touchscreen display and nine-speaker rolling disco sound system completed the front compartment equipment.
Back in the cheap seats, there was plenty of room for XX-Large passengers, although whoever sat in the middle would need to be a little more weight conscious.
The ride was typically big American pick-up, tending towards the softer end of the scale and prone to some mild pogo-ing over undulating surfaces.
Steering was effortless and adequately responsive, with a sharp turning circle for such a big rig.
Brakes were powerful enough, but required a hefty push for maximum effect.
Average fuel burn for our 700km-plus journey towing the big Haines worked out to around 22L/100km from the 117L tank.