Bluetec logo (Dodge Ram HD)Enlarge Photo
On quiet residential streets, the 2009 Dodge Ram Heavy Duty is about as far from subtle as you can get. From the front it looks like a (slightly) scaled-down semi, its hoodline almost at average eye level; and in the week we had the Ram, we actually looked down on a Suburban that was just ahead of us at the traffic light, and feared all week of sideswiping another vehicle with the huge, protruding towing mirrors.
I'm a lanky six-foot-six and had to heft myself -upward- to get into the truck. That's a rarity. Anyone normal sized will want to get running boards, or at least a step, installed.
And on a trip to the park, a worried-looking woman minding the grandkids on an adjacent side street actually asked politely if I would park that behemoth in front of another house, please.
Perhaps she'd heard us around the block because we had just been playing with the "jake brake"—that's a big-rig-style brake that effectively increases engine braking—delivered up with a little extra clatter. It's engaged with a simple press of a dash button. Jake wouldn't be our monkey whenever we wanted to hear the sound, though, so there was probably something we missed (perhaps in the owner's manual).
The big 6.7-liter in-line six is made by Cummins. The engine, which was introduced for 2008, makes 350 horsepower and 650 pound-feet of torque and is much, much cleaner-burning than the engine that preceded it.
The Cummins engine costs $6,100 on the 2009 Ram 2500 (a 5.7-liter Hemi V-8, making 355 horsepower and 395 lb-ft, is standard), while it's standard on the 3500.
And especially of note: the diesel Heavy Duty 2500 is good for carrying more than three-quarters of a ton and towing 13,600 pounds (up to 16,850 pounds in some 3500 versions).
It's not so surprising that the huge truck and huge engine were most at home on the highway, when the turbo could be kept at least at a simmer; the powertrain is happy lugging along in top gear and simply wafting up to speed, turbo whistling up and down just like a big rig—no need to downshift unless you're carrying a heavy load. In stop-and-go, the powertrain isn't quite as easy to live with. Tip into the throttle just off idle with some moderation, and the engine confidently churns out torque like…well, like a locomotive. But mash the pedal to the carpet and it's a letdown for a moment—you can almost feel the big intake as the turbo spools up—but a moment later, as you're up to 5 or 10 mph the rear tires will come loose there's so much torque. Much the same, low-speed response out of a corner often feels flat; the engine and tranny aren't good with quick transitions, but that's not their reason for being.
Just starting the engine is a bit of an event compared to other trucks. Twist the ignition key to the on position, and there's no need to wait there for glow plugs and such; the big diesel will start right up even when cold. But the big diesel shakes the entire truck as it's cranking, and it requires more cranking time than typically required, even when it's hot.
Though the Dodge/Cummins diesel carries the Bluetec emissions badge, it doesn't use a urea-injection system like other Bluetecs from German automakers. Instead, it utilizes a diesel particulate filter plus an adsorber catalyst to eliminate cut NOx by up to 90 percent. There's no doubt it clatters, but it's clean; even on a cold start there's no puff and no odor at the tailpipe.