Driven: 2009 Dodge Ram 2500 Heavy Duty Bluetec Page 2

August 14, 2009

2009 Dodge Ram Heavy Duty

The engine is ever-present, if not always in sound, in harshness. The engine's percussive idle when cold settles to a loud, pulsing thrum when it's hot, but that takes some time. The floor shudders and vibrates as you hear the ripples of certain resonant frequencies come and go. And there isn't much else refined about it; the steering reminds us of how most pickups drove just 15 or 20 years ago and demonstrates how significant the recent changes in light-duty trucks have been.

In fact, the 2009 Dodge Ram 2500 reminds us through and through why we don't provide you with full reviews of heavy-duty trucks.

The Heavy Duty gets an entirely different instrument panel than the soft, refined, and well-designed one now used throughout the light-duty Ram 1500 lineup. It's quite the piece of hard-plastic real estate, with lots of hard edges and sloppy injection molding. If Chrysler sent us this one with so many jagged edges, you have to wonder. On the bright side, most of the controls are large and grippy enough for hands in work gloves, and it looks like it would clean up easily.

The cabin is vast, and accommodations are more than ample. The front seats are very generous—perhaps ideal for the obese as I had two inches on either side of my hips—and adjustable for a very wide range of driver sizes. In back, it's a bit tight in the Crew Cab for grownups; there's not quite enough legroom tall folks but kids will be comfy back there all day. The center console is large enough to store a laptop or a small toolbox, and the thinner upper compartment itself is probably large enough for a netbook.

A redesigned 2010 Dodge Ram Heavy Duty, which looks like it will have a much-improved interior, along with better handling and cues that bring it in line with the new 2009 Dodge Ram 1500, is still due later this fall.

Most of these trucks will probably be sold to ranchers, backcountry business owners, construction foreman, and people with really serious towing needs.

Let's not forget, many of these buyers want luxury features. Our test truck was equipped with both a navigation system and a rear DVD entertainment system that included a remote and wireless headphones. Our $55,200 test truck, the 2009 Dodge Ram 2500 Laramie Quad 4x4, started at $41,450, but it had a host of options, including the nav and DVD systems, upgraded audio, leather upholstery, and remote start, in addition to the upgraded powertrain. Surprisingly though, side-curtain bags are optional.

Heavy-duty engines like the Cummins Big-Rig Six, as we nicknamed this one in our weeklong drive, really wouldn't be that appealing in 'normal' pickups. For one, they aren't particularly fuel-efficient; we just cracked 10 mpg in ours (seven gallons over almost 75 miles of city driving). Though admittedly a gasoline engine capable of this type of work would be down in the single digits. Secondly, they aren't up to the standards of noise and vibration that most personal-use buyers expect.

Yet diesels are especially great for towing, hauling, and highway use, and they should be offered in more sensible forms in light-duty trucks. So why aren't they?

Unfortunately Chrysler has temporarily sidelined its Cummins light-duty diesel for the Dodge Ram 1500, General Motors has shelved its 4.5-liter Duramax diesel V-8, which was slated for the light-duty Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra, and even Ford has cancelled the new 4.4-liter diesel V-8 that it was just short of launching early next year in the 2010 Ford F-150 (along with the most of its other full-size trucks).

The reason? Gas prices (until recently) had come down, lower than diesel, and with the economy as it is, automakers aren't sure that shoppers are really that willing to pay much extra for diesels.

Our time with the Ram 2500 proved yet again that heavy duty trucks don't work so well as personal or family transportation. They're just too ridiculously cumbersome—and a little scary. But a clean diesel in a light-duty pickup is a fuel-saving option that automakers certainly should reconsider.

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