2016 Ram 2500 Laramie Road Test, Features And Full Analysis
WHEN IT COMES TO LUGGING LARGE LOADS, FEW DO IT BETTER FOR SHEER SIZE THAN THE NORTH AMERICANS.
While many of the light-commercial utes lay claim to 3500kg of braked towing capacity, there are compromises to be made when it comes to what goes in the tray and how many rumps are in the cabin.
If the towing and payloads are key among the purchasing factors then the mainstream brands have largely let the Australian new vehicle market down, which is why several companies have looked to the US for a truck that can do the job.
The North American pick-up truck market overshadows the sales of many entire new vehicle markets, in the same way the vehicles within it loom large over conventional vehicles.
So far this year the US market has had a three per cent increase in full-sized pickup truck sales to record more than 1.6 million sales – that’s more than the all-time vehicle sales record for Australia.
We’re sampling the smaller of the two Ram vehicles on offer by American Special Vehicles – a joint-venture between automotive importer Ateco Automotive and the Walkinshaw Automotive Group.
The 2500 Laramie can be driven on a car licence, while the 3500 with its leaf springs and much larger payload needs a light rigid licence.
The price tag strewn down the side of the 2500 spruiks a $139,500 drive-away deal, which buys an awful lot of road coverage and the muscle to get it moving with intent.
The big US six-seater dual cab ute asks around $15,000 more than the top-spec LandCruiser 200 Sahara turbodiesel but towing capacity and payload offset the difference; there’s also a features list to bring the price tag into something approaching perspective.
Sitting larger than life on 18-inch alloy wheels with 265/70 Michelin tyres, the big Yank takes up a lot of space – 6m long, 2m wide and tall – but has a 6.7-litre Cummins turbodiesel overhead valve in-line cast-iron six-cylinder engine producing 276kW at 2800rpm and mammoth 1084Nm at 1600rpm.
That all comes from the 24-valve engine is fed by high-pressure direct-injection and a variable-geometry turbocharger, as well as using a multi-path air intake system and a particle filter and a ‘next generation’ diesel exhaust fluid urea SCR system to clean up the NOx.
A clever exhaust brake system and towing mode for the six-speed auto also work well to reduce the workload for the disc brakes, if not the thirst.
Fuel use during our time in the 3.5-tonne ute wasn’t what you’d call frugal, as it drank from the 117-litre tank at a rate of 18 litres per 100km with a 28km/h average speed.
That includes some low-range 4WD work, plenty of serious towing duties and suburban sprawl commuting.
Cruising on the open road would see that number drop out of the teens without doubt, as the six-speed auto’s 6th gear equates to around 1200rpm when near the state limit.
But previous experience in a turbodiesel V8 LandCruiser suggests that number would be within the realms of possibility with a similar workload, and the Ram can pull a lot more if so equipped.
Anyone familiar with the touchscreen-controlled infotainment system from elsewhere in the Fiat Chrysler empire will know the features and foibles of the colour 8.4 inch Uconnect unit.
Many of the truck’s features are controlled from the touchscreen – phone, radio and USB and Bluetooth media inputs, trailer brakes, sat nav and front seat heating and cooling among them.
The latter have switched over to RHD on the dash-mounted buttons, but are still in LHD format within the touchscreen menus.
The satellite navigation did on more than one occasion lose track of its own current location and it needed a complete shutdown and restart to eventually find itself.
The cabin is cavernous, with good-sized leather-trimmed seating for six; ten-way power adjustment for the driver (with memory) and six way adjustment for the front passenger, as well as heating and cooling.
The driver gets a heated, leather-wrapped steering wheel with integrated audio controls behind the spokes, as well as cruise, phone and centre display controls on the steering wheel face.
One quirk of the changeover that does get a little tiresome – a foot-operated park brake on the far right can mean a two-step move to engage it if you don’t want the transmission (operated by a RH side mounted selector) taking the strain.
The features list also includes remote central locking (including the tailgate), remote start-stop, dual zone climate control, tinted power windows and a nine-speaker sound system with a subwoofer.
The sub does take up some of the underfloor storage beneath the right hand rear seat, which also (along with the left hand side) has a clever fold out lid to offer flat floored storage.
The centre stack also has a 240-volt 100w inverter for domestic power plug use (with an Australian three-pin, unlike some other conversions) and there are power-folding heated exterior mirrors, a sunroof and a rear sliding window.
Warranty coverage stands at three years or 100,000km, which ever comes first and in terms of shopping lists there’s not a lot of competition in this size bracket.
Ford’s F-250 Lariat dual-cab is priced from $149,990 and while it’s not that expensive in its home market, it is the best selling pick-up on the planet and a top-seller in the US.
The ‘Effy’ delivers 328kW and 1166Nm from its 6.7-litre turbodiesel V8 and runs a similar six-speed auto part-time 4WD system; it is also similarly well-equipped and depending on tow bar set-up is rated to 5 tonnes braked towing.
Not quite as powerful as the Ford is the Chevy Silverado, which is no weakling with 296kW and 1037Nm of torque from its 6.6-litre turbodiesel V8.
It too runs an old-school six-speed auto and part-time 4WD and there’s at least 4.5 tonnes of braked towing capacity depending on what’s fitted to the tail for towing.
2016 RAM recommended drive-away pricing from:
RAM 2500: (auto): $139,500
RAM 3500: (auto): $146,500
COMPETITOR PRICE COMPARISON (base model 4X4 crew cab pricing shown):
Ford F-250 Lariat dual-cab: (auto): from $149,990
Chevrolet Silverado 2500HD LTZ: (auto): from $144,990
IF THE 2500 WERE GREY, THE NUMBERS ON THE SIDE MIGHT HAVE MILITARY AIRCRAFT TRYING TO FIND A CATCH CABLE ON THE REAR TONNEAU.
The drive experience itself is less like an aircraft carrier than expected, but the bigger surprise might come if you look under the tail.
Leaf springs are the 3500’s realm, which has a payload closer to two tonnes, as well as requirements for a truck licence, but the 2500 has a three-link coil-spring front and a five-link coil-spring rear suspension bolted to the ladder-framed chassis.
The live axle kick front and rear is a little intrusive with or without a load on board and gets unruly over rigorous road ruts and bumps.
From a truck of this ilk it’s not unexpected, but perhaps a bit more work on dampers and springs might settle it down.
The engineering team has however – in the course of the changeover to right-hand-drive – taken some of the vagueness from the front end.
A thicker sway bar and changes to the steering and pedal set-up all feel to have been properly re-done for RHD, even down to re-engineering the footwell to allow for a LH footrest, something the parent brand had been unable to achieve in right-hand drive vehicles ex-factory.
The large truck does shrink around the driver a little in traffic but the rugged ride remains a factor off-road as well.
Clearance is on the low side and a low-slung front trim piece brings concerns on narrow rutted tracks, as does the chance of hanging the big Yank up on something underneath.
A listed approach angle of 21.8 degrees, 18.2 degrees ramp-over and a 22.3 departure angle aren’t the worst off-road numbers, but clearance of 188mm at curb weight isn’t class-leading.
Also restricting its off-road use is the physical size, although a 13.4m turning circle is only 0.3m worse than a Jeep Wrangler Unlimited four-door.
Engine braking when in first gear low range wasn’t really slow enough, but this machine is more about towing and toiling than taking things off the beaten track.
With a 50mm ball on the tow bar it is rated at a 3500kg braked towing capacity and a laden horse float represented a significant load.
The tow/haul mode teams the auto (that changes down earlier) with clever exhaust brakes to minimise the load on the four-wheel discs.
As a result, it tracks comfortably and pulls up without concern on steep descents; climbs and flat-road running are completed without any need for slow vehicle lanes at all.
The driver also has an integrated dash-mounted trailer brake controller, tailored from the touchscreen to suit the braking system in operation on the trailer.
It hasn’t made the switch to the RH side of the centre stack but it’s still within reach – just – to allow the driver to adjust the amount of force being applied to the trailer brakes.
The system even has merit when not towing, allowing gentle descents without a touch of the brake discs, which will enjoy a break from halting 3.5 tonnes.
Electronic safety aids include stability control with a trailer sway dampening function, as well as front, front-side and curtain airbags and a tyre pressure monitoring system.
The Ram also gets automatic headlights and rain-sensing wipers, front and rear parking sensors, two useful rear cameras (one of the rear bumper and one above the rear tray for gooseneck hitching) and an adjustable auto-dimming centre mirror.
The extra effort involved in engineering for right hand drive has paid off for those bringing Ram to Australia. The attention to detail makes it a better drive – rugged ride aside – and while priced at $15,000 over a top-spec LandCruiser 200 turbodiesel, the considerable towing prowess will be worth the extra outlay for those hauling horses or dragging big boats on a daily basis. Some extra attention in the spring and damper department wouldn’t go astray.
Got a RAM 2500? Tell us what you think of it.
Engine: 6.7-litre OHV turbo-diesel six-cylinder with common rail high-pressure fuel injection
Power/Torque: 276kW @ 2800rpm / 1084Nm @ 1600rpm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic, part-time 4WD
Suspension: front – three-link coil-spring, rear – five-link coil-spring rear suspension; heavy-duty outboard twin tube dampers
Steering:hydraulically assisted rack-and-pinion; turning circle: 13.4m
Brakes: 360mm front discs; 358mm rear
Fuel consumption claimed: 8.6 l/100km; tested: 18 l/100km (suburban, highway, towing and off-road driving)
Wheels and tyres:18 inch aluminium/265/70R18
Approach/departure/ramp-over angles: 21.8/22.3/18.2 degrees
Ground clearance/wading depth: 188mm
Tow rating: 3500kg towing on 50mm ball, 4500kg on 70mm ball; 6989kg on pintle; GCM (gross combined mass) is 7990kg (50mm), 8990kg (70mm) 11,479kg (pintle); payload 913kg, maximum rear axle load 3176kg.