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BUYERS GUIDE - UTES & CAB CHASSIS LARGE

RAM 2500 IS A REAL UTE
Many people want a large towing ute and the Cummins-powered RAM can do the job

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 was worth it. The latest model was released in September 2021.

 

 

The 2021 RAM 2500 and 3500 models were announced in September 2021, with 2500s available for immediate delivery and 3500s scheduled for later in 2021. As with their predecessors the new RAMs are purpose-designed to tow heavy trailers.

The latest 2500 and 3500 utes have new chassis and bodywork, with updated powertrains. The two utes are identical in appearance and specification, other than for the 3500’s even heavier-duty rear axle and suspension.

A new, lighter aluminium bonnet is employed, along with a larger grille. The new front bumper has larger openings, providing greater airflow to a larger intercooler. 

The latest development of the proved, 6.7-litre, Cummins in-line, six-cylinder, turbocharged and intercooled diesel powered both new RAMs and now develops 276kW at 2800rpm and a whopping 1152Nm at 1700rpm. (That was judged sufficient power and torque to haul a 30-ton semi-load not that many years ago.)

Engine upgrades include a cylinder block made from compacted graphite iron and new cast-iron cylinder head, exhaust valves, springs and rocker arms.

 

 

Matched to this impressive grunt is an upgraded version of the 68RFE six-speed automatic transmission. Changes designed to improve the electronically controlled transmission’s shift quality include new variable-force solenoid controls for the torque-converter clutch.

A BorgWarner electronic transfer case provides 2WD, 4WD-High, Neutral and 4WD-Low ranges. 

New front and rear axles have been engineered to improve durability, handle industry-leading payload and towing capabilities and minimise NVH.

The all-new 2500 continues to offer the best lockable bed storage in the segment with an optional RamBox that’s not available on the 3500. The RamBox Cargo Management System includes versatile, weatherproof, lockable, illuminated and drainable storage bins, plus cargo restraint bars. 

 

 

The interior mirrors the design expressed on the already launched Ram 1500 DT.  A new instrument panel sees central controls moved more towards the driver and a Uconnect 4C NAV on a 300mm (12-inch) configurable touchscreen. It can display one application, such as the navigation map, across the whole screen, or can be divided to show two different applications at once. 

There’s also a 175mm (7-inch), full-colour, 3D-animation-capable driver information display that enables drivers to personalise graphics and text information.

An active noise cancellation system and acoustic glass are said to reduce ambient cabin sounds by nearly 10dB(A) making the new RAMs the quietest ever. 

A new HVAC system delivers 30 percent more air flow at lower noise levels and has larger front defroster vents. Electric heating elements in the ventilation ducts help speed cabin warm-up on cold days and larger system controls work better with gloved hands. 

 

 

RAM Heavy Duty utes feature all-new frames built with 98.5-percent high-strength steel, six separate crossmembers, hydro-formed main rails and fully boxed rear rails, for optimal strength. 

However, lightweight materials in the frame, powertrain and the aluminium hood reduce overall weight by up to 64kg. Two Active-Tuned Mass Modules (ATMM) mounted on the frame rails apply vibration countermeasures.

Wider front frame rails allow the front springs to be positioned slightly outboard, generating positive roll stiffness, while the fully-boxed rear rails and structural crossmember stiffen the rear end to allow increased towing capacity – up to an eight-tonnes gooseneck trailer with air brakes. 

The new 360-degree, surround-view camera with trailer-reverse guidance provides a single display-screen view of both sides of a trailer, to assist the driver in manoeuvring trailers. There is also a second rear-view camera integrated in the centre high-mount stop lamp to monitor payload in the bed and it can also be used to help align a trailer.

Up front, a new two-piece suspension crossmember structure provides a longer welded interface and greater strength to the frame. An advanced three-link front suspension is said to enhance roll stiffness. 

The 2500 includes Frequency Response Damping (FRD) shocks on all four coil-sprung corners. The valves of an FRD shock automatically adjust for the type of vertical wheel input, allowing the 2500 to have firm suspension for handling and supple suspension on rough terrain. 

Engineers added progressive springs and upgraded bushings to the suspension system, including an exclusive five-link, coil design, providing better load-carrying characteristics and improved articulation over obstacles when compared to a leaf-spring system. 

 

 

The 3500 has the same front end, but leaf rear springs. It has a rear axle capacity of 3300kg, which is the total GVM of most utes and wagons!

A new braking system has upgraded callipers, booster and master cylinder that are said to result in shorter stopping distances and braking to match the higher trailer capability. 

Unlike non-US-brand utes the RAM range has been purpose-designed for towing. Also, US utes are designed around trailers with electric brakes that are commonly used in the USA and Australia. (European trailers have over-ride mechanical or hydraulic braking.)

The coil-sprung RAM 2500 without RamBoxes has a modest payload of 835kg, while the leaf-rear 3500 has a truck-like 1724kg payload. However. Both Rams have the same trailer-towing ratings: 3500kg with a 50mm towball; 4500kg with a 70mm ball and up to 8000kg with an air-braked fifth wheeler.

The RAM 2500 has a GVM of 4495kg – passenger-car licence level – and the 3500 is rated at 5350kg – light-truck licence. However, the 3500 can pre re-rated to 4495kg GVM if required.

Multiple safety and security systems include Adaptive cruise control, Forward Collision Warning with Active Braking, Trailer Sway Control, Lane Departure Warning, Blind Spot Monitoring with Rear Cross Path and Trailer Detection.

New is an Alpine 10-Speaker Premium Audio System, including sub-woofer.

All RAM Trucks Australia vehicles have more than 400 locally-sourced new parts involved in the transformation from left- to right-hand drive.

The new RAM 2500 starts at $157,950 plus on-road costs for Laramie Crew Cab, rising to $162,900 plus on-road costs for the Laramie Crew Cab with RamBox. Pricing for the 3500 will be provided nearer to its late-2021 launch date.

 

 

Getting familiar

 

The RAM 2500 combines what’s expected of a heavy duty pickup in the US market – power, durability and towing capacity  – but adds several features that aren’t typical of the segment, including smooth-riding rear suspension and a luxury vehicle interior.

Also, the RAM Trucks Australia-performed 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. 

Naturally, the brake and accelerator pedal positions are electrically adjustable for different-length legs!

The right hand drive steering box is made by the same manufacturer that supplies the original 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 derived from Canadian-market RAM gauges.

The previous 2500 had Chrysler’s Uconnect Access infotainment system that was one of the more user-friendly infotainment setups on the market and the latest one is much, much better.

A before, it integrates most of the truck’s audio, navigation and climate control functions into one unit, with 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. 

However, the new one has a much larger display area that provides space for larger multi-displays at the same time. The navigation mapping detail includes most Aussie bush trails and can be displayed over the entire screen.

 

 

The previous switchable rear camera display for the cab-rear-mount camera and the tailgate-mount camera  –  for ease of solo-vehicle reversing, trailer coupling and trailer manoeuvring – is now enhanced by 360-degree camera coverage.

Subtle changes from the previous model include relocation of the manual gear selector +- switches to the steering wheel, instead of on the knob of the column lever.

Our test vehicle had Quad Cab Laramie spec’ level, which was quite luxurious. Standard equipment included 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 converted to a cargo area and a friction-coated cargo tub with lighting and fixed tie-downs.

In contrast to the smaller RAM 1500’s vast engine bay with a relatively small petrol V8 in the middle of it, allowing plenty of servicing room around the donk, the RAM 2500’s lightweight bonnet lifted on gas struts to reveal a packed space.

The near seven-litre Cummins took up most of the longitudinal space and its bulky turbo, exhaust and intercooler plumbing took up most of the available width. 

What little space remained was filled by a huge brake booster, large coolant reservoir, air cleaner, washer bottle, two batteries, ABS module, computer stack and fuse box.

The fuel filter was jammed in, but reachable with a socket that allowed extraction of the element. In best big-truck practice, this filter was preceded by a 30-micron pre-filter and water separator, located near fuel tank, between the aluminium propshaft and the truck-sized exhaust system.

 

On and off road

 

 

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 steering wheel’s ‘+’ and ‘-‘ switch was very easy to flick, without taking a hand off the wheel.

Fuel consumption at cruise was a creditable 12L/100km and we averaged 14.7L/100km on an on- and off- road test cycle with a half-load on board. 

 

 

The towing economy was huge surprise, showing just how relaxed the big Cummins was with three tonnes behind it:  15.2 L/100km. That test was done at legal maximum speeds, letting the auto box do its bit and progress was swift an unfussed. 

Activating the ‘tow/haul’ dashboard switch had the effect of reducing ‘shuttling’ between ratios in the transmission and also changed the downshift program when running downhill, to maximise exhaust brake effect. 

The Yanks designed this thing to tow easily and that’s just what it did.

The previous model’s shock absorbers were very inadequate, but the change to FRD dampers has made a huge difference: ride quality on all surfaces was very good – even with the cargo tray empty – and superbly controlled on rough bitumen and corrugated dirt.

 

 

All the RAM’s controls worked well; the ergonomics were excellent and cabin comfort was at luxury vehicle levels. We couldn’t pick any compromises in the RAM Trucks Australia conversion from LHD to RHD and everything worked as if the RAM had been factory-built for Australian driving conditions.

Road and mechanical noise was almost totally absent, unless the big Cummins was provoked. With the exhaust brake in its higher setting the retardation was accompanied by a low, Jake-like sound. Very satisfying!

Ground clearance under the Laramie’s side-steps wasn’t sufficient for serious rock hopping, but there 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 was the prominent and expensive emissions treatment kit in the exhaust system. There’s a bulky selective catalytic reduction filter,  fitted with sensors and wires. You wouldn’t want to drag that across a sharp rock ledge, or leave it immersed in deep water for any length of time.

In summary, the latest RAM 2500 shows how a dedicated towing ute should be designed and built. It’s expensive, but there’s literally nothing in the way of mods that needs to be added, other than an after-market ‘roo bar.

 

 

Previous models

 

RAM Trucks were 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.

The company structure is now RAM Trucks Australia.

Two top-weight, crew-cab models were offered in 2014: 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 had 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 had EGR, a DPF and a selective catalytic reduction (SCR) emissions system that required AdBlue fluid. The B-Series engine was rated at 276kW and 1084Nm, and incorporated a two-stage exhaust brake.

The 2500 was 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 was 11.5 tonnes.

The main advantage of the leaf-rear-spring 3500 over the coil-rear-end 2500 was almost one tonne more payload and almost one tonne more GCM when towing a 3500kg or 4500kg trailer. The 3500 required a light rigid truck licence, whereas the 2500 could 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 had equipped the 2500 with a new five-link rear rear axle and rear coil springs – a segment first that resulted in a comfortable ride when the pickup was unladen. An anti-spin rear differential was standard.

Also unique among the competition was an optional rear air-suspension that further improved the ride and included a self-levelling function that adjusted the ride height to compensate for payload or attached trailer.

 

What you got

Our 2016 test vehicle was a RAM 2500 model, for which pricing started at a heady $139,500. That was an awful lot of money, but the RAM was an awful lot of ute!

The RAM 2500 combined what’s expected of a heavy duty pickup in the US market:  power, durability and towing capacity  – with several features that weren’t typical of the segment, including smooth-riding rear suspension and a luxury vehicle interior.

The right hand drive re-manufactured Australian model was more than cut-and-shut conversion. For a start, the dashboard was completely remodelled, using a one-piece housing and the firewall position was optimised for pedal placement. (The pedal position was also adjustable.)

The right hand drive steering box was made by the same manufacturer that supplied the original left hand drive box and was 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 were metric and the same as Canadian-market RAM gauges.

All ASV RAM pickups were covered by a three-year/100,000km warranty (whichever came first) and roadside assistance. The ASV national dealer network also provided parts and service support.

The 2500 had Chrysler’s Uconnect Access infotainment system that was one of the more user-friendly infotainment setups on the market, Uconnect Access integrated most of the truck’s audio, navigation and climate control functions into one unit. Uconnect Access featured a voice command system that allowed 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 was the central component of the system, but buttons and knobs for climate and audio volume and manual tuning were also included. A newer feature offered on these models was a switchable rear camera display – there was 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 was offered in Regular Cab, Quad Cab and Mega Cab models. The Regular Cab featured two doors, the Quad Cab had four doors and the Mega Cab had four doors with expanded rear passenger space. Two box lengths were 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 were 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 could 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 came in Quad Cab Laramie spec’ level, which was quite luxurious. Standard equipment included 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 converted to a cargo area and a friction-coated cargo tub with lighting and fixed tie-downs.

An optional RamBox pack featured a lockable side bin on each side of the cargo tub. These 240-litre capacity bins were lined and were 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 were movable tie down tracks and cars, and a movable cargo divider.

All 2500 pickups came 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 were under the RAM 2500 bonnet.

The near seven-litre Cummins took up most of the longitudinal space and its bulky turbo, exhaust and intercooler plumbing took up most of the available width. What little space remained was filled by a huge brake booster, large coolant reservoir, air cleaner, washer bottle, two batteries, ABS module, computer stack and fuse box.

There was a fuel filter, but it was 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 was a five-micron main unit – not a two-micron impossibility like the ones fitted to most common-rail diesels  – and was preceded by a 30-micron pre-filter and water separator that was located in front of the rear axle, above the (aluminium)
propshaft.

 

On  and off road

We picked up the RAM2500 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 wouldn’t leave much change out of $3200, but they were 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 was 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 wasn’t sufficient for serious rock hopping, but there are other models in the RAM catalogue that target extreme off-roading. They were 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 was 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.’

Check out our OTA test video:

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