Pros: Robust Cummins turbodiesel inline-6 with available manual transmission, impressive capabilities all around.

Cons: Doesn't quite have the house-hauling strength of GM's full-size trucks (if you're keeping score at home).

Introduction

The 2012 Dodge Ram 2500 and 3500 will be the first to tell you-it's hard being a heavy-duty truck these days. Thanks to the full-fledged arms race taking place between Dodge, Ford and GM, it seems like there's a new "most capable full-size truck" every month. This is especially apparent among turbodiesel trucks, where bumping up power and torque is as simple as rewriting some software. The madness will have to stop at some point, but right now the Ram HD's 6.6-liter Cummins turbodiesel is at a ridiculous 800 lb-ft of torque. And counting.

Coming up with real demerits for these trucks is kind of like criticizing eighteen-wheelers. The fundamental fact to keep in mind is that they're all exceptionally capable-and almost certainly up to whatever task you might throw their way. Sure, we miss the Ram 1500's smooth-riding rear coil springs (the HD remains a leaf-spring loyalist), but that's a heavy-duty truck for you. It's a tool to get the most challenging jobs done, not a sofa on wheels.

So it's hard being heavy-duty these days, yes, but not because there are heavy-duty differences between these trucks. Our advice? Ignore the numbers-based marketing and go with the truck you like best. And if that ends up being a Ram HD, rest assured, it's probably got more firepower than you'll ever need.

Comfort & Utility

The 2012 Dodge Ram Heavy Duty is offered in either standard 2500 or "dually" (dual rear wheels) 3500 form. There are three cab options: two-door Regular Cab, four-door Crew Cab and extended four-door Mega Cab. The Regular Cab comes only with a 96-inch long bed, while the Crew Cab comes with either the long bed or a 76-inch short bed, and the Mega Cab only comes with the short bed.

The Ram HD is available in three basic trim levels: ST, SLT and Laramie. The ST gives you 17-inch steel wheels, air conditioning, manual windows and door locks (power in Crew and Mega Cabs), vinyl upholstery, a 40/20/40-split front bench seat, Bluetooth connectivity and a six-speaker CD sound system with an auxiliary audio jack. The SLT steps up to 17-inch alloy wheels, chrome trim for the bumpers and grille, power heated mirrors, power windows and locks, a power-sliding back window (not available on Regular Cab), keyless entry, cruise control, cloth upholstery and satellite radio. The fancy Laramie (Quad and Crew Cabs only) tacks on a two-tone exterior color scheme, dual-zone automatic climate control, wood-grain interior trim, a heated leather-wrapped steering wheel, power driver adjustments with memory, a heated power front bench seat, leather upholstery and a 6.5-inch touchscreen infotainment system with hard-drive music storage. Some of the higher trims' standard equipment is optional on lower trims.

Notable packages include the adventure-oriented Outdoorsman, the off-road-ready Power Wagon and the ultra-luxurious Laramie Longhorn.

The Ram HD's front seats-generally a three-person bench, though the Laramie also offers two individual buckets-are about what you'd expect in a big rig, providing plenty of space for a wide range of physiques. Front passengers will notice that the Ram HD's dashboard is very similar to the Ram 1500's, which means there's genuine style and respectable materials quality here. The controls are ergonomically sound, and they're even operable by a gloved hand in most cases. The touch screen, however, is considerably less straightforward (see "Technology," below).

In addition to the two-door Regular Cab, the Ram HD offers two four-door configurations. The Crew Cab provides plenty of room for adults, while the limo-like Crew Cab has got so much legroom, it might as well come with rear ottomans.

Technology

Pleasantly, the base Ram HD comes standard with Bluetooth connectivity-a nice touch for tech-savvy contractors. The central technology topic has to be the available 6.5-inch touchscreen display, which includes about 30 gigabytes of digital music storage. That's an unusual perk in a truck, and the system's feature set is pretty competitive across the board. Ergonomically, however, it's a bit of a mess, as it lacks the crisp colors and friendly smartphone-style icons that make Dodge's new 8.4-inch touchscreen (as seen in the Charger and Journey, for example) so appealing.

Performance & Fuel Economy

The Ram 2500 comes standard with a 5.7-liter V8 rated at 383 horsepower and 400 lb-ft of torque. The transmission is a six-speed automatic. The Hemi V8 is smooth and strong, with enough grunt for all but the most taxing jobs. For those, you'll want the 6.6-liter Cummins turbodiesel inline-6, which is optional on the 2500 and standard on the "dually" 3500. The Cummins cranks out 350 horsepower and 800 lb-ft of torque through either a six-speed automatic or a six-speed manual. It's hugely capable, and it adds entertainment value by making the Ram sound like a commercial dump truck. GM's Duramax diesel is probably a bit more forceful all-around, but the Cummins is a beast.

Note that while rear-wheel drive is standard on the Ram HD, these trucks can be converted into accomplished off-roaders via available four-wheel drive, which even offers electronically locking front and rear differentials. The Power Wagon model takes these enhancements to their fullest if you want a factory-prepped rock-crawler.

Towing capacity peaks at 22,750 pounds on Ram 3500 models, while the 2500 tops out at around 15,000 pounds. The EPA doesn't test heavy-duty trucks for fuel economy, but don't get your hopes up as far as fuel costs go.

Safety

The 2012 Dodge Ram Heavy Duty comes with four-wheel antilock disc brakes and four airbags (front and full-length side-curtain).

While heavy-duty trucks don't get crash-tested, we think it's safe to say you'll be on the winning side of most collisions.

Driving Impressions

The Ram HD is like the Ram 1500's bodybuilding older brother. It's not nearly as refined-trading in the 1500's rear coil springs for the HD's industrial-grade leaf springs will have that effect-but man, is it tough. If you ask us, the coolest thing about the heavy-duty Ram is that you can get a manual transmission with the turbodiesel. Plenty of truck guys still like to shift for themselves, but the Ram HD is the only truck that lets you do it.

Other Cars to Consider

 

Ford F-Series HD - The F-250, F-350 and F-450 lineup is arguably the most complete among heavy-duty trucks, and the F-450 still lays claim to the highest towing capacity on the consumer market.

Chevrolet Silverado HD - The Silverado's calling card is its Duramax turbodiesel V8, which is probably the best all-around diesel engine in this class, though not by a huge margin.

AutoTrader Recommends

Since we don't need a dually, give us the Ram 2500HD with the Cummins turbodiesel and the manual shifter. We'd be reminded of our truck's uniqueness with every gratifying throw of the six-speed lever.

author photo

Josh Sadlier is an automotive journalist based in Los Angeles and has contributed to such publications as Edmunds.com and DriverSide.com. He holds arguably the most unexpected degree in his profession: a master's in Theological Studies.

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