Ricky and Lucy answered the call of wanderlust with a 1953 Mercury convertible in the classic film “The Long, Long Trailer.” But pulling a 32-foot home on wheels with a 125-horsepower passenger car just doesn’t cut it today.
Long, long trailers are now pulled by long, long pickups with hundreds more horsepower than a passenger car.
And this year, there will be a battle of the heavyweights as Dodge, Ford and General Motors launch new or revised heavy-duty pickups. The Detroit Three will go tow-to-tow for the commercial segment — and for what’s left of the weekend warriors and retiring baby boomers.
The Ram is on sale now. Ford will debut a redesigned Super Duty in spring and General Motors will also release sharpened versions of its Chevy Silverado HD and GMC Sierra HD.
HD pickups are heavily steeled versions of their light-duty counterparts. But the HD models for 2010 have benefited from the input of users who put in a lot of seat time. Available features on the new Ram include: a heated steering wheel, heated and cooled front seats, wireless internet access, voice-activated phone, stitched leather, soft-touch materials and a media center with navigation traffic updates and hard-drive music capacity for 4,250 songs.
According to Chrysler’s marketing research, one in nine vehicles on the road today is a truck, and 30 percent of those pickups are heavy dutys. The buyers are primarily men who spend four to five hours a day driving from job site to drive site — and they want the comfort features, a spokesman said.
No matter the brand, these are shaggy beasts of burden with stunning strength abilities. But in a recent week with a diesel Dodge Ram 2500 Laramie Mega Cab 4WD, I found silk boxers under the work clothes.
Fasten your seat belts, but it’s not going to be a bumpy ride.
More than once as I tooled about, I pondered: How can a truck this big be so quiet and smooth? The steering is remarkably refined and sensitive to input. The Mega Cab back seat has 45.3 inches of legroom, which is several inches more than most luxury sedans.
Compared to cars, pickups once had an acceptable margin of build-quality sloppiness because they were … trucks. Now, even these thick-necked pullers are showcases of precise manufacturing and layers of technology for safety, fuel-economy, durability and comfort.
For the 2010 redesign, Dodge set out to create the ultimate tow vehicle. Enhancements include an integrated trailer-brake controller and a standard class IV trailer hitch with integrated four- and seven-pin connections, installed up high to keep the connections clean.
The bouncy ride that can occur from frame flexing was tamed by a hydro mount placed at the back of the cab between frame and body. It dampens the vertical up and down movement (bounce) that can be so wearing on occupants.
Four-wheel disc brakes with ABS were upgraded with a larger swept area at the front. The seats have more support for days-long driving.
“The customer who buys this is towing something big and the less stress you have helps you do the job,” Ram spokesman Scott Brown said.
The Ram HD 2500 and 3500 are different from the light-duty, 1500 Series in several ways. The rear suspension uses leaf springs for dual and triple weight ratings; the light-duty Ram has rear coil springs. The cab is the same, but the whole front end is unique, including fenders, hood and grille to accommodate the size and breathing needs of the diesel engine. The range of tires and wheels can be larger for commercial-grade trucks.
PRICING AND MODELS
There are five trim levels in regular, crew cab and Mega Cab body styles. There are choices of single or dual rear wheels, four-wheel drive, 6.4- or 8-foot beds, two engines, three transmissions, including the standard six-speed manual, and a range of gear ratios.
Pricing for the 2500 line (three-quarter ton) ranges from $28,165 for the basic work truck with Hemi V-8 and six-speed manual transmission to $44,100 for the top-line Laramie. Add $7,615 for the turbocharged, inline-six-cylinder Cummins diesel.
The 3500 series (1-ton and up) ranges from $35,630 to $51,095.
The Power Wagon 2500 is a weapons-grade off-roader with 6.4-foot bed, Hemi V-8 with five-speed automatic and a rock-crawling 4.56 rear axle ratio. Pricing starts $45,780, which includes electric, locking front and rear differentials; electronic disconnecting sway bar; Bilstein shocks; 32-inch BFGoodrich off-road tires; underbody skid plates; and Warn 12,000-pound winch, with a cable and hook that feeds out through the front bumper.
The 2500 Mega Cab 4WD diesel test truck was $56,895, which included such options as a sunroof, cab lights, leather-trimmed seats, rear DVD system, navigation and 30-gig hard-drive audio system.
The base, 383-horspower Hemi V-8, with 400 foot-pounds of torque at 4,000 rpm will be acceptable for basic work applications.
The ultimate in towing will require the Cummins diesel. A fully functioning “toy hauler” travel trailer (with garage space for power-sport vehicles such as ATVs) can weigh 9,000 to 12,000 pounds. Add a hundred gallons of fresh water, fill up the refrigerator and storage lockers and that puts another half ton on the axles. That’s when the Cummins becomes the value choice.
The inline, turbocharged and intercooled six-cylinder diesel has 350 horsepower and 650 foot-pounds of torque at 1,500 rpm.
These trucks do not have to comply with EPA fuel economy ratings, but there is still competition to build power with fuel economy. According to the test truck’s computer, I was averaging 13.3 to 13.8 miles per gallon in combined city/highway. I did not tow nor tote cargo and logged no more than 200 miles behind the wheel. This engine earns its keep on long highway runs, where mileage can creep into the upper mid-teens.
It will take the Cummins up to 10,000 miles to break in and get peak fuel economy, Brown said.
Depending on final-drive gear ratios, the test truck was suitable for trailers ranging in weight from 9,350 to 12,350 pounds. The Laramie 3500 model ups that to 10,950/16,500 and some models will tow up to 18,500 pounds.
Without a load, the diesel loafed along at cruising speed and barely cleared its throat. With its nearly 7,500 curb weight, the acceleration was deliberate off the line. The hitch-yanking 4.10 gear ratio, which the serious hauler would use, will give a sharper launch.
THE CUMMINS DIFFERENCE
The Cummins diesel is unique for at least two features.
— No urea treatment: The engine does not require urea injection to meet air-quality standards, as do the GM and Ford diesels. Instead, Cummins engineers’ devised a NOx “trap” with precious metals that converts the oxides of nitrogen into inert gases. The Ram and others also use a particulate filter in the exhaust system to further clean the air.
The Ram’s simplified system meets all federal requirements and could give it a price advantage at the dealership. Urea-treatment systems cost more.
— Exhaust brake: It not only looks like a big rig, the diesel Ram now has an engine-exhaust-brake feature to help save on brakes and enhance control. Working with the exhaust brake, the tow-haul mode initiates a downshift to make more use of the added braking effect.
The Mega Cab 2500 4WD is big. The 160-inch wheelbase has 13 feet between the front and rear wheel centers. Total length with the 6-foot-4-inch bed is almost 21 feet. It is more than 6 1/2 feet wide, and with 4WD stands 6 1/2 feet tall. Running boards are recommended.
A 21-foot Ram is most at home in big spaces and on the open road. The turning circle, understandably, is 46.8 feet, but two-wheel-drive models can be up to 53 feet. Rear leaf springs give a jiggly ride that could be smoothed by a few hundred pounds in the bed. Rear parking sensors, which alert with tones to nearness of objects, are helpful, but a front system wouldn’t be excessive. And as the optional rearview camera acts as eyes in the back of the head, a front-bumper view would be nice, too.
These heavy-duty trucks used to be status symbols of power and were often bought by the guy who didn’t need it, but wanted it. Instead of a Corvette, it was a big truck — for about the same money.
The market may be half the size of what it was, but it is still a huge market, Dodge says. And for those planning a dream truck for retirement, it’s better to go big or just stay home.
2010 Dodge Ram 2500 Laramie Mega Cab 4WD
Body style: five- or six-passenger heavy-duty pickup with 6-foot-4-inch bed
Engine: 6.7-liter, turbocharged and intercooled six-cylinder Cummins diesel
Horsepower: 350 at 3,000 rpm
Torque: 650 foot-pounds at 1,500 rpm
Transmission: six-speed automatic
EPA estimated fuel mileage: Not rated, but mid to upper teens expected
Fuel tank: 34 gallons
Standard equipment includes: dual-zone air conditioning, remote locking with remote start, rear park-assist system, locking tailgate, voice-command Bluetooth phone connection, 115-volt power outlet, overhead console with garage-door opener, nine-speaker Alpine audio system, fog lamps, seven- and four-pin trailer tow wiring, 17-inch aluminum wheels
Safety equipment includes: front air bags and side-curtain air bags, four-wheel disc brakes with ABS
Wheelbase/length: 160/248.4 inches
Towing capacity: 11,300 to 12,350 pounds, depending on transmission and gear ratio
Front head/leg/shoulder room: 41/41/66 inches
Rear head/leg/shoulder room: 40.3/45.3/63.2 inches
Curb weight: 7,495 pounds
Payload: 2,100 pounds
MSRP: $44,100, including $950 freight charge; price as tested, $56,895.
Options on test truck included: Cummins diesel, $7,615; roof-mounted clearance lights, $80; power sunroof, $800; leather-trimmed seating, $500, including heated back seats and heated and cooled front seats; six-speed automatic transmission, $405; limited slip rear differential, $325; media center, $800, includes DVD and Sirius traffic
Warranties: five years/100,000-miles limited powertrain coverage; five-years/100,000-miles limited coverage on Cummins engine; three-years/36,000-miles basic coverage with 24-hour towing
Where assembled: Saltillo, Mexico
(set image) may022310-vis.jpg (end image) (set caption) In the three-way battle for heavy-duty truck domination, Dodge will emphasize the Ram’s styling, refined interior quality and a diesel engine that does not require urea treatment of exhaust to meet current diesel emissions standards. (end caption)
Mark Maynard is driving in cyberspace at Mark.Maynard@uniontrib.com.
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