We’ll make the announcement right here: Move over Ford F-450 Super Duty King Ranch, there is a new Supreme Hauling Champion in town. The only problem is this new king of all things towing may not become a reality — that is, if Ram Truck makes a horrible mistake.
When Ram Truck gave us the chance to get behind the wheel of the magnificently large Ram Long-Hauler along with a 15,000-pound trailer, we jumped at the chance, and asked if there was any mileage limit to our time with the combination. Ram officials said no, so we said good.
The Test Truck
For those who may not have seen this before, this was a custom concept vehicle produced by Ram Truck engineers in a secret location. Their job? To produce the ultimate tow vehicle with their existing parts bin. That meant taking a MegaCab from a Ram HD and grafting it on a 5500 chassis cab with a 197.4-inch wheelbase.
The Long-Hauler uses the Cummins 6.7-liter inline-six-cylinder turbodiesel that’s down-rated to 305 horsepower and 610 pounds-feet of torque like other commercial haulers (3500/4500/5500) and the Aisin AS68RC six-speed transmission running through a Dana S111 axles with 4.88:1 gears. The truck rides on a custom heavy-duty Kelderman airbag suspension and offers 170 gallons of fuel through three separate tanks. That means, theoretically, the fuel tanks would be able to hold out much longer than our bladders (and we’re known for big bladders — just ask my daughters).
The route we chose was one of the easiest decisions we’ve made in a while, opting to duplicate the Heavy-Duty Hurt Locker Shootout drive route we took with the three one-ton truck turbodiesels. As you might recall, we ran several tests on that king of the hill outing, and if there ever was a king of the hill contestant, this Ram 5500 Long-Hauler was it.
Naturally, we understand this isn’t an exact apple-to-apples comparison with those one-ton dually diesel 4x4s, but it’s pretty close. To start, we wanted to make sure we got all the weights as close as possible to our Hurt Locker comparison. To do that, we first weighed our Long-Hauler by itself with the fuel tanks topped off.
As you might imagine, filling the tanks took quite a while, especially when you factor in that our credit card’s auto shutoff limit was quickly hit. We had to call the credit card company to let them know exactly what we were doing (and we had to explain it to them several times). Add to that the need to fill up the DEF tank, which on the Ram 5500 necessitates filling the seven-gallon exhaust fluid tank. More than $650 in fuel and over $30 in DEF later, we were ready to weigh our tow vehicle on the scales. The total? A whopping 11,400 pounds when empty, which left us with a comfortable 8,100 pounds of payload. Ram tells us this concept truck has a gross vehicle weight rating of 19,500 pounds.
Next, we had to hook the trailer up and weigh the pair. That totaled just over 25,500 pounds, meaning our trailer, which was equipped with a one-off concept Jeep loaded in back along with several monster 4x4 tire and wheel options (and repair gear), weighed about 14,000 pounds. To get us to a similar on-the-road total weight as we had for our Hurt Locker Shootout, we needed to add about 2,000 pounds to the trailer.
We bought 52 bags of rock salt at Home Depot and evenly distributed the sacks over the trailer’s axles and the gooseneck. Our driving weight for the 2,200-mile trip would be just under 28,000 pounds yet well below the GCWR of the truck and trailer of 30,000 pounds. That’s the number Ram gave us, but we expect the true number is closer to 37,000 pounds.
The Test Route
Once our total weight was sorted, it was north on Interstate 15 out of Los Angeles, through the gauntlet of Las Vegas and further north through St. George, Utah, until we hit Interstate 70, heading east. Once in Colorado, we started to hit some fierce weather at the higher altitudes, but eventually made it to the Eisenhower Tunnel (underneath the Loveland Pass). That’s where we hit the really bad weather, as well as spring break traffic headed to the local ski areas. It was not a good situation to try to get some steep elevation mountain climb data from Dillon to the summit.
After a few attempts to duplicate our “full-pull” runs up the Dillon-side of I-70, we had to call it undoable because of all the snow near the top of the 11,000-foot summit. At each attempt, we had to proceed cautiously since the lanes were covered in snow and ice and we searched for the best traction. We even had to navigate around quite a few big-rigs who were having trouble pulling their loads — some with chains, some without. Local authorities weren’t requiring chains, but the changing weather was beginning to make it a close call.
Once we realized we weren’t going to get any test runs done to compare with our winning GMC Sierra 3500 HD run (or the Ram 3500 HD for that matter), we headed straight to Davis Dam -- just two states away in Arizona -- to try to get a few test runs in there. It’s worth noting the exhaust brake on the detuned Cummins Long-Hauler worked exceptionally well with the truck-and-trailer combination down the mountain’s backside. If we didn’t know better, we’d say the Aisin transmission computer was even smarter than the powertrain setup we tested in the Ram HD Hurt Locker test, which also did very well.
Our trip west on I-70 brought us to U.S. Highway 191 in Utah, where we turned south, headed through Moab, eventually getting into Arizona and through Kayenta, Tuba City and finally to Flagstaff. Our final destination was Kingman, where the turn to Bullhead City and the Davis Dam grade were impatiently waiting for us. Once finished with our unobstructed test runs up the grades (details later in story), we headed south again, eventually meeting up with Interstate 40 and heading west to meet up with the I-15 once again. That brought us back to our original starting point.
The route and tests took four full days and another half-day of prep work during the test’s pick-up and drop-off phases. We wouldn’t recommend it for amateurs, but it did allow us quite a bit of uninterrupted pulling time in the truck — more than enough to glean a few impressions.
Our Favorite Parts
We know this is a concept truck, which means this was a custom-built one-off with features that may never see the light of day. If we could have just one wish, it would be to make sure the heavy-duty Kelderman air suspension system makes it to production somewhere (and preferably everywhere) into the Ram HD lineup. We cannot overstate how well-dialed in and comfortable this Class 5 truck’s ride was with this setup. The truth is, we’ve driven our fair share of Class 4, 5 and 6 trucks and we know what they’re built for and how they ride as a consequence. Because of that, we weren’t looking forward to spending so much time – it turned out about 800 miles a day -- in a 5500. But we were wrong, and it didn’t take long to figure that out.
Only on the worst sections of expansion joints, cracked pavement and construction zones did the big axles have trouble settling the vibrations. The system also had a special “dump” feature that allowed us to drop the rear axle onto the bump stops and pull the trailer right out from underneath without having to extend the gooseneck too high. The system also worked well when hooking up the trailer and lifting the ball into the gooseneck receiver instead of the other way around. It’s not foolproof -- I proved that once -- but it did make dropping and hooking up the trailer a fairly simple one-man operation.
You might know that there is no MegaCab-chassis cab model in the Ram HD 3500/4500/5500 lineup of work trucks, so that meant Ram Truck had to create this one from scratch. No surprise there. What may surprise you is how much time the truckmaker must have spent creating the custom Long Horn interior, how comfortable the custom rear reclining bucket seats were and how clever the design team was with hidden extras like the center console fridge, Wi-Fi hotspot, electronic readouts for each of the three fuel tanks. It even had a gun safe. Other standout features we liked were the front and rear bumper air compressor hookups, custom fifth-wheel cutout tailgate and 19.5-inch big-rig-style alloy wheels.
Our Least Favorite
The Long-Hauler came equipped with a standard-looking Long Horn Ram HD dash and gauge cluster, complete with navigation screen and satellite radio; unfortunately, neither worked for this outing. Thankfully we knew exactly where we were going and our memory was full of childhood sing-a-long songs and nursery rhymes from when our kids were little. The only other problem encountered along the way was the fuel gauge seemed to wander a bit in cold weather; it had letting us know exactly how much fuel was in each tank.
Each of the three tanks (100, 38, 32) had separate sending units that monitored fuel levels and pumps to keep all the tanks as evenly filled as possible. We’re guessing somewhere in those electronics a connection or two didn’t like some of the extreme temperatures we saw during out high-altitude drive section and started to give us faulty readings.
Just outside of Dillon, Colo., on the wrong side of midnight, we saw our vehicle temperature reading in the single digits with our console-mounted digital readouts swinging from 58 gallons to 12 gallons and back in the course of minutes. That meant we needed to get to a comfortable bed in a town with plenty of fuel choices, just in case.
Once we made it to the lower elevations, closer to Grand Junction, Colo., our tank sensors stabilized.
Testing the Long-Hauler
For the Hurt Locker Shootout, we took each of our combatants up the 11.17-mile uphill grade on Ariz. Highway 68, starting at McCormick Boulevard and finishing at the Union Pass summit at 3,571 feet above sea level (the run’s base has an elevation of 565 feet). Over the course of our 11-mile run, we rolled up and down steeper and gentler grades (averaging a 5% grade over the 3,000-foot elevation climb), finishing our run on a cool-down glide over the backside of the Highway 68, headed to Kingman, Ariz.
For those with excellent memories, you’ll recall the GMC Sierra 3500 HD pulled up the hill with its 27,540-pound combined weight in 11 minutes, 11 seconds. The Ford F-350 had a GCW of 27,820 pounds and ran the route in 11 minutes, 51 seconds. The slowest of our trio was the Ram 3500 HD, pulling its 27,440-pound truck and trailer load up the route in 12 minutes, 54 seconds. Clearly, that particular test had a lot to do with how impressed our judges were with the GMC, and it ultimately helped us declare the GM HD the winner of our Heavy Duty Hurt Locker Shootout.
For exhaust-brake testing, we duplicated the Hurt Locker test. We came from the opposite direction on Highway 68 (heading toward Laughlin), making sure to have the truck and trailer at 55 mph at the Union Pass summit and then let gravity take over. With an exhaust-brake button (or not in the Super Duty’s case) engaged, we ran each of the trucks downhill to our finish line. If the vehicle’s speed reached 60 mph, we’d slow the truck down to approximately 48 mph and let the cycle begin again. During our Hurt Locker Shootout, the Ram HD won that particular test with only two brake touches in the 11-mile stretch, while the GMC had four and the Ford five.
For our wide-open throttle runs with the Long-Hauler up the hill, we got some interesting results. With our 27,460-pound (right inside the range of the Hurt Locker test) Long-Hauler 5500 Ram HD truck and trailer combination, we got a best run up the course of 12 minutes, 49 seconds, beating the Ram 3500 HD by just five seconds but not coming close to the Ford or GMC trucks.
During the exhaust-brake test, duplicating the exact procedures, the Long-Hauler beat the Hurt Locker competitors without a single touch of the brakes warranted down the Davis Dam grade. We expect the much deeper 4.88:1 ring and pinion, a slightly detuned Cummins engine and unique transmission mapping were probably the main reasons behind the performance. Still, the control and confidence the Long-Hauler showed up and down the hill was impressive to experience.
As to other types of performance testing we conducted with Long-Hauler, we also tried to duplicate the zero to 50 mph pulls, as well as pulling the best 30 to 50 mph times. Both times were calculated with truck and trailer attached.
In the zero to 50 mph pulls, our Long-Hauler ran 18.57 seconds, with a best 30 to 50 mph run at 9.95 seconds (Hurt Locker numbers: Ford -- 21.05/12.64; GMC -- 20.60/11.39; Ram HD -- 23.09/13.90). You can see that the best time for the Long-Hauler was a good bit better than each of the Hurt Locker competitors. We should note here that the testing was not done at the same Arizona Proving Ground facility and did benefit from a slight tailwind. Still, it’s worth noting that whereas our Hurt Locker trucks were at 92% and 94% of their GCW, the Long-Hauler was somewhere more realistically in the 75% to 80% range.
In duplicate zero to 60 mph runs (without the trailer), the Ram 5500’s strength off-the-line was not nearly as pronounced. Our best zero to 60 mph time was 12.85 seconds, with a best 30 to 60 mph time of 8.04 seconds (Hurt Locker numbers: Ford -- 9.53/5.76; GMC -- 9.23/5.37; Ram HD -- 10.40/6.46). We’d be guessing, but there might be something in the transmission shift logic or traction control that is able to know when more power is needed and better traction is possible.
Our final test number collected on the 2,300-mile tour of the most Hurt-Locker-friendly Western states was to complete our fuel-economy data. By the end of the trip, we bought almost 300 gallons of diesel fuel, five gallons of DEF fluid and too many truck-stop beef jerky packets to count. Overall, we averaged 7.8 mpg, with our best stretch of 300 miles registering just over 10 mpg. We tried to keep our speeds between 65 and 70 mph and used the cruise control as much as possible. We didn’t do this to get great fuel economy while pulling a good load. We wanted to see how this 5500 HD concept truck could handle the same course and tests we used for our ultimate heavy-duty shootout — and we think it passed with flying colors.
Is there a place for a vehicle like this in the world of personal-use heavy haulers? We think as long as this air suspension is part of the deal (and Ram Truck sure seems to be interested in airbag suspensions lately), this could be the new towing-and-hauling king for those with monster camper trailers or gooseneck horse trailers or high-dollar car-hauler companies.
To be honest, we’ve driven half-ton pickups with suspensions much more punishing than this. We don’t know what magic Kelderman was able to do for this Long-Hauler concept, but it works. Ram would be stupid not to green-light this project right away. They won’t sell tens of thousands of them, but we’re guessing there’s a good market of Class 4, 5 and 6 drivers out there that want this type of high-lux work truck. We know this because they kept walking up to us every time we stopped the Long-Hauler.