Payne: Ram 3500 Heavy Duty is king of the beasts

Henry Payne
The Detroit News
King of the Beasts. The Ram 3500 Heavy Duty boasts Herculean towing ability — yet is still comfortable to drive with a quiet interior.

There are the horsepower wars and there are the torque wars.

At the horsepower end we have a sports-car arms race to 1,000 horsepower: Dodge 717-horse Hellcats, 755-horse Corvette ZR1s, 759-horse Lamborghini Aventador SVJs, 840-horse Dodge SRT Demons. And at the top of the heap, the 1,500-horsepower Bugatti Chiron, which is more expensive than Buckingham Palace, goes zero-60 mph in 2.3 seconds and will hit 261 mph if you can find an airport runway long enough.

I was born with the need for speed. I drool over these numbers, but I’ll admit they are irrelevant to daily driving. There’s not a public road in Michigan where you can explore these vehicles 200-plus mph magnificence. Boasting more horsepower than a NASCAR, they must be tracked to be appreciated — and even then, they’ll bite your head off if you aren’t careful.


The torque wars, on the other hand, are much more practical, as evidenced by their more sober model nomenclature. Think 250, 350, 3500, 4500.

Consider the new 2019 Ram 3500 Heavy Duty, the first pickup to reach the holy grail of 1,000 pound-feet of torque.

That low-end grunt translates into figures as gob-smacking as the horsepower kings. The Ram can tow 35,100 pounds, which is about the weight of a Class A mobile home.

Or a Case 580C front-loader backhoe and a pallet of bricks on a flat-bed, gooseneck trailer. I know that because I just hauled it up a 5-degree grade for four miles in Nevada. At 40 mph. On a two-lane public road.

For someone hauling construction equipment or a horse trailer or race cars (me), that’s about as relevant to daily use as it gets.

Ram spokesman and gearhead Nick Cappa likes to describe horsepower as the key to a 100-meter dash — but torque is key to winning the 100-meter dash while carrying 500 pounds on your back. Torque is the true definition of automotive muscle.

Heavy-duty trucks are the torque kings, and Ram is the new King of Heavy Duty with its 6.7-liter Cummins diesel.

It’s King Kong, but with a degree from Henry Higgins' charm school.

Kong 3500 Heavy Duty follows on the heels of Ram’s 1500 light-duty pickup that swept the 2018 awards season and swept men off their feet in the process. If your husband has gone missing, he’s likely at a neighbor’s house ogling their 1500.

For the sequel, Ram’s designers have supersized to 2500 and 3500 Heavy Dutys without losing the light duty’s DNA. (Housekeeping note: Heavy Dutys come with a smorgasbord of options — six trims and three engines — which would take us all day to discuss. So this missive concentrates on the top-dog 3500 with 1,000-torque oil-burner.)

The grille is taller and wider — 30 percent wider than the last-gen 3500 — but still dripping with chrome and nicely integrated with the headlights. There is a wonderful simplicity of form in the Ram compared to its competitors. The Chevy Silverado’s design, for example, has inspired its own social media memes as people try to figure it out. There is no such confusion with Ram, a result exterior designer Mike Gilliam credits with Ram’s divorce from Dodge a few years back — a split that forced Ram to come up with its own identity.

The attention to detail is admirable. Sensors were carefully hidden, for example, in plastic fog-light housings so as not to distract from the larger aesthetic.

Speaking of distractions, the interior is a rolling living room isolated from the heavy lifting going on outside. It’s a different animal from my trusty 2003 turbo-diesel Ram 3500 race-car hauler with its unmistakable wokka-wokka-wokka diesel soundtrack.

The new Ram is whisper-quiet by comparison, the diesel only noticeable under heavy throttle. Chief engineer Rod Romain says comprehensive sound deadening — laminated front and side glass, anti-vibration devices, active noise-cancellation, the works — has cut interior noise by 10 decibels, or half that of the previous truck.

Cupped in silence, passengers can admire the interior details like twin glove boxes and branded dash logo on the upper-trim Longhorn model. There are sub-floor rear storage buckets, a 12-inch quick-response, Tesla-like screen is available in the Limited and Longhorn models.

My favorite interior detail is the Mega Cab, which suits this truck’s mega-capabilities. If you’re not content with the already-palatial Crew Cab, the mega-cab will allow your worn-out construction mates to man-sprawl in the backseat, complete with reclining seatbacks.

This interior refinement is in contrast to the raw muscle under Kong’s skin.

Drive around town in an unladen diesel Ram 3500 and it instantly feels different from the light-duty. The shifter is on the steering column, not the console as with the 1500’s rotary version. The stalk is necessary to accommodate the 6-speed Aisin transmission that's designed to tame the 6.7-liter Cummins gorilla under the hood. The ride is choppier, too, thanks to good ol’ rear-leaf springs (coupled with an air suspension) to deal with the Herculean loads. There is no maddening stop/start system, hooray — but plenty of mpg-friendly tweaks like cylinder deactivation and class-best drag co-efficient.

Put your foot in it and the Cummins responds with low-end diesel grunt before the turbo kicks in above 2,000 rpms. The 8,000-pound truck practically explodes down the road. My old 2003 model peters out over 2-grand, but the new truck is just getting interested.

Hook this locomotive up to a 16,000-pound horse trailer on a long grade and it’ll pull to the moon.

From a full stop on a graded two-lane near Lake Mead, the Ram heavyweight clean-and-jerked the trailer like an Olympic gold medalist. Then it kept going: 30 mph. 40 mph. 50. Good grief, what a specimen.

Riding shotgun with me was Ram boss Jim Morrison, who tows horses with his Ram HD. Romain, Cappa, Morrison ... this is a truck developed by people who use them.

Under the full load of 35,100 pounds, Kong pulled at a steady 40 mph up the four-mile grade before finally tailing off to 33 mph at the top.

Tow these kind of numbers with 1,000 pound-feet of torque and businesses become more efficient. More horses can ride in trailers. And auto racers can tow more sport cars to the race track where we can safely push the limits of 700 horsepower.

The Ram 3500 Heavy Duty boasts Herculean towing ability — yet is still comfortable to drive with a quiet interior.

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne. Catch “Car Radio with Henry Payne” from noon-2 p.m. Saturdays on 910 AM Superstation.

2019 Ram 3500 Heavy Duty

Vehicle type: Front-engine, four-wheel drive, five-passenger pickup

Price: $35,090 base, including $1,695 destination fee ($86,300 3500 Laramie Dualie as tested) 

Powerplant: 6.4-liter Hemi V-8 (standard engine); turbocharged, 6.7-liter, inline 6-cylinder Cummins diesel

Power: 410 horsepower, 4,429 pound-feet of torque (Hemi V-8); 370 horsepower, 850 pound-feet of torque (standard diesel); 400 horsepower, 1,000 pound-feet of torque (high-output diesel)

Transmission: 8-speed automatic (Hemi V-8); 6-speed Torqueflight automatic (standard diesel); 6-speed Aisin automatic (high-output diesel)

Performance: 0-60 mph, NA; maximum towing, 35,100 pounds

Weight: 5,477-8,396 pounds

Fuel economy: EPA: NA (Heavy-duty trucks are outside EPA weight classes) 

Report card

Highs: Monster with manners; 35,100-pound towing — need we say more?

Lows: Have to pay for standard safety features found on a $25,000 sedan; towing fuel consumption will suck your wallet dry

Overall: 4 stars