By Keith Buglewicz
Half-ton pickups are more capable than ever, but heavy-duty 3/4- and 1-ton models are where you'll find the serious towing and payload numbers. And in that race for the biggest numbers, the 2016 Ram 2500 and 3500 HD models currently sit in front of their Ford F250/350 and Chevy Silverado/GMC Sierra HD rivals. For example, the Ram 3500 equipped with the high-output Cummins turbodiesel with its class-leading 900 lb-ft of torque can tow up to 31,210 pounds. Yet despite its capability, the big Ram trucks are comfortable thanks to a multi-link rear suspension. The standard Cummins diesel is available with a manual transmission in addition to the automatic, filling out a wide range of choices that make the Ram a best pick for heavy-duty chores.
Bragging rights may be nice, but the reality is that those numbers translate to real-world capability. On top of that, you can configure a Ram HD as either a durable work space or plush retreat.
Truck buyers tend to be fiercely loyal, and it's unlikely you'll ever buy a Ram if your heart already belongs to Ford or GM. New buyers should know that Rams don't have the same reputation for resale and reliability as their domestic rivals.
In addition to an upgraded high-output Cummins turbodiesel, the 2016 Ram 2500 and 3500 HD models get a new switchable rear camera and front park assist to help maneuver these big beasts in parking lots. There's also a new center console design, and Bluetooth connectivity on entry-level radio systems.
It's a tale of the tape for heavy-duty trucks like the 2016 Ram 2500/3500 HD models, and for these big Rams the tale is pretty awesome. In the 2500, the...
... standard 5.7-liter Hemi V8 can tow up to 13,900 pounds, while the bigger 6.4-liter Hemi V8 can haul a dizzying 16,320 pounds. But for serious towing there's the new Ram 3500 HD with the available 6.7-liter Cummins turbodiesel and its 900 lb-ft of torque. Properly equipped, this beast can tow up to 31,210 pounds, and that's certified using SAE J2807 testing criteria; serious truckers know what it means. Yet it does all this while offering some of the nicest, most comfortable cabins ever to grace a work truck. The Ram HD's coil-spring rear suspension helps deliver an impressively smooth and controlled ride, and the overall feeling on the highway is similar to that of a 1500 model.
We're big fans of the UConnect system found in so many Ram, Chrysler, Dodge and Fiat products. The big 8.4-inch touch screen, good voice recognition, and big easy-to-tap on-screen icons make it one of the most intuitive full-featured units available.
CLASS-LEADING POWER AND TOWING
How could you not love a truck that can tow up to 15 tons? To put it in context, that's more than two fully grown male African elephants, or about as heavy a duty as you could expect from an HD pickup.
You might expect something with "Heavy Duty" in the name to be utilitarian, but the 2016 Ram HD pickups are surprisingly polished. If that's not enough, the higher-end Laramie models are downright luxurious, with leather-lined and climate-controlled seats, a heated steering wheel, high-quality interior materials, and so on. The long and deep center console is massive enough to swallow a larger laptop or multiple tablets; it can even hold a set of hanging files. Reclining rear seats are one of the perks to be had with the Mega Cab, while Crew Cab owners enjoy convenient under-floor storage compartments.
Despite the nice interior, "elegant" isn't a word we'd use to describe the exterior of the 2016 Ram Heavy Duty trucks. These tough-looking trucks share a basic similarity with the smaller Ram 1500, but are even brawnier. The Ram HD trucks come in three cab configurations – 2-door Regular Cab, 4-door Crew Cab and 4-door Mega Cab – while bed lengths vary between 6 feet, 4 inches and 8 feet, depending on cab style. The rear axle can be configured with two or four rear wheels for maximum capacity. Note that these are enormous, and you should measure your garage carefully.
New this year on all Ram HD models is a revised center console design, but in the base fleet-manager Tradesman form, the 2016 Ram 2500 and 3500 HD come pretty sparsely equipped. There's a 40/20/40-split front bench seat with rear storage, air conditioning, vinyl flooring, cruise control, a driver-information center, automatic on/off headlights, a tilt steering wheel, even manual windows and door locks. The 6-speaker audio system features a USB port for digital music players, and all audio systems get Bluetooth this year. Safety features include six airbags and a full complement of electronic-stability aids.
We'll forgo the multiple bed-and-cab pairings available on the 2016 Ram HD, otherwise we'll be here all day. Instead, note that the Ram HD lineup offers tech-savvy options such as touch-screen navigation, conversational voice recognition, a 10-speaker premium sound system by Alpine, backup sonar proximity sensors, power-folding trailer-tow mirrors and a rearview camera for easier trailer hookups. If you upgrade to the SLT, Outdoorsman, Laramie and Power Wagon models, an integrated trailer brake is also standard equipment.
Standard on the 2016 Ram 2500 and 3500 is a gasoline-powered 5.7-liter Hemi V8, with an upgrade to a 6.4-liter Hemi V8 available. These strong engines are good, but serious haulers and towers should pick one of the Cummins turbodiesel engines. Two versions of the Cummins inline-6 are available in both the 2500 and 3500, one with 660 lb-ft of torque, and another with 800 lb-ft of torque. New this year is an even higher-output version, exclusive to the 3500, that puts out an incredible 900 lb-ft of torque. Gasoline-powered Ram HD models get only a 6-speed automatic, while the diesel buyers can choose between that or a segment-exclusive 6-speed manual transmission. Diesel models also feature exhaust braking for added stopping power.
5.7-liter V8 (Ram 2500)
383 horsepower @ 5,600 rpm
400 lb-ft of torque @ 4,000 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: N/A
6.4-liter V8 (Ram 2500, 3500)
410 horsepower @ 5,600 rpm
370 horsepower @ 4,600 rpm (Mega Cab only)
429 lb-ft of torque @ 4,000 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: N/A
6.7-liter turbocharged diesel inline-6 (Ram 2500, 3500)
350 horsepower @ 2,800 rpm (manual)
660 lb-ft of torque @ 1,500 rpm (manual)
370 horsepower @ 2,800 rpm (automatic)
800 lb-ft of torque @ 1,600 rpm (automatic)
385 horsepower @ 2,800 rpm (Ram 3500 only)
900 lb-ft of torque @ 1,700 rpm (Ram 3500 only)
EPA city/highway fuel economy: N/A
The 2016 Ram 2500 Tradesman, with a regular cab and standard bed, starts with a Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) of $32,700; add about $500 if you want the 3500 model. You have to move up to the SLT trim to get the 2500 Mega Cab for about $42,000. However, keep clicking options and you'll find yourself well past $60,000 for a fully loaded Laramie Longhorn. That's pretty spendy, but it's in line with competitive models from Chevy, GMC and Ford, which also span the low-$30,000 -to-$60,000-and-above range. Whatever you decide, check out KBB.com's Fair Purchase Price tool to see what others in your area are paying for their heavy-duty pickups. The downside is that the Ram HD trucks don't have the resale strength of its Ford, Chevy and GMC competition.