Over the last five years, Ram not only completely changed its identity, creating entirely new Ram Truck and Ram Commercial brands, but it has revamped its entire half-ton and heavy-duty lineup. Add to that the introduction of a few completely new products like the Ram ProMaster and 4500 and 5500 chassis cabs, and you begin to see why this is the fastest growing pickup truck manufacturer in the U.S.
Even with all that new product, Ram doesn’t seem to be slowing down when it comes to improving its current HD pickups. Simply put, it is offering so many models, powertrains choices, and technology that it should be making its competition nervous. No one else is coming to offering this kind of support to the HD market. At least not yet.
We recently had the chance take a closer look at some of the more significant changes for the 2014 Ram HD models at a Los Angeles press event and we found plenty of exciting upgrades and changes for the 2014 model year, with some of the biggest changes centered on the often-ignored three-quarter-ton trucks.
Before we start, it probably makes sense to quickly note how we got here. Last year, Ram Truck announced at the 2012 State Fair of Texas that it would be upgrading the Ram 3500 front suspension and frames to give it the largest GCWR and towing capacities in the heavy-duty segment. Its one-ton duallys got a much stronger 3-link coil front suspension and 50,000 psi frames--the strongest in the industry. Additionally, the 6.7L Cummins turbodiesel engine got a new class-leading 850 lb.-ft of torque and a bulletproof Aisin six-speed transmission. Let’s not forget the class-exclusive three-setting Smart Exhaust brake either. But that was last year.
If 2013 was the year of the Ram 3500, which we’ll be testing against the 2013 Ford F-450 in our upcoming King of Beasts story, than 2014 looks to be the year of the Ram 2500.
Changes for Ram 2500
As noted, the biggest changes to the 2014 Ram HDs are focused on the three-quarter-ton model, the Ram 2500 HD. All 2500s get the new, higher-strength steel frames the 3500 duallys got last year, but now they are offered on all single rear wheel versions. In fact, both a new 3500 single-rear-wheel and select 2500 models can now be optioned with a factory-offered fifth-wheel or gooseneck trailering package. This is especially interesting because all Ram 2500 will have a completely new front and rear suspension setup, eliminating the rear leaf springs in favor of heavy-duty tapered rear coil springs (a segment first). The frontend will get rid of old five-link in favor of the much stronger and more stable (and we’re talking massive lower control arms) new 3-link system.
If this wasn’t enough of a revolution—no one has ever tried something like this that wasn’t a military vehicle—Ram 2500 will also offer an optional set of rear heavy-duty airbags that allows for load-leveling and driver-controlled, independent adjustments. The big bags will replace the coil springs in the rear and be controlled by a separate air compressor and leveling pressure sensor. An air bag system will be offered on 3500 dually models, but only as a supplemental piece of the maximum tow package, working in tandem with the existing multi-pack leaf springs. The 3500 system will also offer load leveling; pricing has not been finalized for either system.
More significant news for 2014: the addition of the all-new 6.4-liter Hemi V-8, available for both the 2500 and 3500 models. This new, bigger Hemi shares almost 70 percent of its construction and design with the 5.7L Hemi, but because of the stronger horsepower and torque numbers (410 hp @ 5,600 rpm, and 429 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,000 rpm) the engine is able to incorporate cylinder-deactivation technology that was only possible in the light-duty applications of the smaller Hemi. Having this feature will be beneficial for those Ram HD drivers that spend much of their truck-driving time with an empty truck or on hilly routes. As if to make the point Ram Truck has a mountain of faith in the durability of this new engine, the 6.4-liter gas engine will get the same five-year, 100,000 mile warranty the 6.7-liter Cummins gets.
How this bears out remains to be seen but it makes sense since the bigger Hemi is built from most of the same tried-and-true parts from the 5.7L Hemi, taking advantage of that development head start could pay off in fewer engine problems down the road.
The Cummins motor is not changed for 2014 as the G56 manual transmission continues to be an option for the Ram HDs, but only in the down-rated version, which means it produces 350 hp at 2,800 rpm and 660 lb.-ft. of torque at 1,400 rpm. When mated to the 68RFE six-speed automatic, output jumps to 370 hp at 2,800 rpm and 800 lb.-ft. of torque at 1,600 rpm. Additionally, no matter the engine and transmission combination, all 2500 models have been upgraded from the 10.5-inch rear axle in 2013 to an 11.5-inch rear axle for 2014. Only the 3500 models will get the high-output Cummins option (385 hp/850 lb.-ft.) that includes the behemoth 11.8-inch rear axle. All Cummins engine-equipped Ram HDs will run 3.42:1 axle gears.
Our Drive Time
We had the chance to drive several versions of the new Ram 2500 HD over a wide variety of mountain highways and open road. We even got to do a good bit of towing and a little bit of backcountry off-roading. Every 2500 we drove had four-wheel drive, the new front three-link suspension, and coil springs in back. We heard from several engineers that the stronger frame foundation allowed them to do a better, more precise job of tuning the front and rear springs and we could feel that immediately. The two massive lower control arms keep the front live axle locked to the pavement almost as well as it allows it to quickly absorb and swallow nasty ruts on choppy dirt roads. Steering feel in particular is responsive, yet firm, something we couldn’t always say when driving washboard ruts with the 2013 model. Gone are the hard hits and shakes that we prepared ourselves for when heading toward potholes and deep ruts. The frontend has a heavier feel and the rearend coils did a much better job of quieting most of the axle hop we experienced with other leaf sprung (even the Ram’s) setups.
Our Big Horn crew cab test unit had the 6.4-liter Hemi and trusted 66RFE six-speed transmission and felt very good on the open rural roads, especially as our route took us up and over the coastal mountains. Some of those canyon roads have a lot of back-to-back twisties and can cause larger transmission to have fits as they try to stay in the right portion of the powerband. For the 6.4 Hemi, the sweet spot seems to be right around 2100 rpm. We found the throttle instantly responsive, with the transmission quick to downshift when we put our foot into it. We’re pretty sure the fact that Ram packaged our Big Horn with 3.73:1 gears didn’t hurt either. During our unscientific fuel economy run, we found our big truck (probably around 7,600 pounds) showing 15.7 mpg on its fuel economy readout. Our route offered a mix of uphill and downhill grades, along with a good portion of freeway driving. Still, we weren’t babying the accelerator.
Head to Head
To its credit, Ram provided us with a few competitive vehicles during our test drive, so we got a chance to drive the 2013 Ford F-250 Crew Cab 4x4 with a 6.2-liter V-8, as well as a 2013 Chevy Silverado 2500 Crew Cab 4x4 with its Vortec 6000 (6.0-liter) V-8. We were familiar with each truck, but to have them in a back-to-back drive over the exact same road was revealing. We drove all three over two separate stretches of dirt road, and then moved to a three-mile section of unobstructed paved country road that offered several short hill climbs and valley descents.
After getting into each truck over the prescribed sections, the Ram was clearly the hands-down winner. Both the front- and rear-ends of the truck felt more solid and controlled, better able to absorb the irregularities of the dirt and pavements.
The Chevy felt the lightest of the three and as a result had the most trouble keeping the backend of the truck quiet when the dirt road became choppy and rutted. The frontend felt comfortable at slower speeds and during cornering, but it couldn’t keep the rear axle from jumping and wanting to slide from side to side when the chatter hit.
The Super Duty had a much better frontend feel but seemed in need of a load in the bed. It experienced the worst shudder and shake over the small washboard section of the dirt road at 25 mph. Likewise, on pavement, the Super Duty had the most trouble dealing with the rippled pavement at 50 mph, as it sent the back end into a short seizure that took a second or two to settle out. We know both the Ford and Chevy designs have tapered leaf springs that are designed to offer a softer ride when empty and firmer characteristics as more weight is loaded, but the fine-tuning was not there, especially when unladen.
The Ram’s coil springs, which narrow at the top and bottom of the coil, as well as have thinner-diameter steel there, did a better job dissipating the inputs after the initial hit, as well as controlling continuous shocks to the wheels. The back end was noticeably superior to the leaf setups, where the frontend, although still taking some jolts, seemed much more solid and quick to eliminate suspension vibrations than its competitors. Our only regret is that we didn’t have 2,000 pounds to load in each and drive the same loops.
By the end of our quick and dirty comparison test, there is no contesting that coil-spring tuning has advanced beyond the capabilities of the traditional leaf spring. The Ram had the better feel and control over the exact same terrain on similarly equipped trucks, although we’d guess along with the extra frontend weight came some more overall weight, which could have helped the Ram. Maybe that’s why they worked so hard to get the cylinder deactivation into the new 6.4L.
What About Power Wagon?
We were told at the event that more information would be forthcoming about the 2014 Power Wagon but Ram did tell us that it would come standard with the 6.4-liter Hemi, which should offer slightly better fuel economy numbers now that it has multi-displacement capability. Additionally, because there’s more torque and horsepower as well, shoppers could also bump down to more fuel-efficient 4.10:1 axle gears as well. Of course, the addition of rear coil springs could make things a little more interesting as well.
The formula here is pretty simple, and the Power Wagon may be the most obvious example; Ram is trying to throw everything it can at both the light-duty and heavy-duty markets to give its customers (and maybe the competition’s customers who feel a little frustrated) as many choices and options as possible: Coil springs and airbags on the 1500; heavy-duty coil springs and airbags on the 2500; heavy-duty leaf springs and load-leveling airbags on the 3500. All of that doesn’t even mention the new Hemi, new configurations, and better towing technology.
We like the new 2500 because it looks like the right people have invested in the right technologies to benefit the most truck customers who want to get their work done as efficiently, safely and comfortably as possible. These changes are definitely a step (or two) in the right direction. You can bet we’ll have more when we put together our next three-quarter-ton PickupTrucks.com head-to-head challenge.
To read the full 2014 Ram 2500/3500 press release, click here.
To check out the most up-to-date specifications for the 2014 Ram 2500, click here.
To check out the most up-to-date specifications for the 2014 Ram 3500, click here.
Test Vehicle Specification
Model: 2014 Ram 2500 Big Horn
Configuration: Crew Cab 4x4
Engine: 6.4L OHV V-8 Horsepower: 410 @ 5,600
Torque: 429 @ 4,000
Transmission: 66RFE six-speed
Wheels: 18x8 forged aluminum
Tires: 275/70R18 Firestone Transforce HT
Brakes: 4-wheel discs
Axle ratio: 3.73:1
Suspension, front: 3-link, coils with track bar
Suspension, rear: 5-link, coils with track bar
Base price: $40,815
As tested: $49,965