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Car reviews - Ram

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Our Opinion

We like
Monstrous torque and towing ability, top-notch right-hand drive conversion, spacious cab and tray, beefy brakes
Room for improvement
Hefty fuel consumption, fussy ride on some surfaces

Ram logo15 Dec 2016

By STUART MARTIN

Price and equipment

At the time of writing there is a drive-away deal of $139,500 for the Ram 2500 Laramie, which buys a large road footprint and the brawn to move it quickly.

The big US six-seater dual cab ute asks around $15,000 more than the top-spec LandCruiser 200 Sahara diesel but there’s a features list to bring the price tag into something approaching perspective.

It sits on 18-inch alloy wheels with 265/70 Michelin tyres and the infotainment system is accessed with a colour 8.4 inch Uconnect touchscreen familiar – for better or worse – from other products within the Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) family.

Much of the car’s features and functions are controlled from the touchscreen – phone, radio, USB and Bluetooth media inputs, even the trailer brakes, front seat heating and cooling, the latter having been switched over to RHD on the dash-mounted buttons but still in LHD format within the touchscreen menus.

Also within the touchscreen system is satellite navigation, although on more than one occasion it was confused about its location and took a “stop, ignition off, lock and walk away” pause – seen by some as the automotive equivalent of a hard reset – to shake the foggy memory.

The seating is expansive and trimmed in leather, with ten-way power adjustment for the driver (with memory) and six way adjustment for the front passenger, as well as a heated, leather-wrapped steering wheel with integrated audio controls behind the spokes, as well as cruise, phone and centre display controls on the front.

The features list also includes remote central locking (including the tailgate), remote engine start-stop, dual zone climate control, tinted power windows, a nine speaker sound system with a subwoofer taking up some of the underfloor storage under the rear seat, which is covered by a clever fold out lid to double as a storage space.

The centre stack also has a 240-volt 100w inverter for domestic power plug use (with an Australian three-pin) and there are power-folding heated exterior mirrors, a sunroof, a rear sliding window.

Interior

Space is not the final frontier but a given something this big (it is a bit like piloting the Enterprise, or the U.S.S. Nimitz) and after you’ve made the climb up the standard side steps, the cavernous interior awaits, re-engineered for right-hand drive with a major dashboard refit using locally-made components for a clean fit in its new guise.

Much of the switchgear has made the journey across to the right hand side, although the integrated brake controller, which is easy to use, remains toward the left-hand side of the centre stack.

Tilt only steering isn’t ideal but the ability to adjust the pedal box, as well as a reasonable range of adjustment for the driver’s seat means a serviceable driving position is possible.

The driver can still easily reach most of the buttons for tow/haul mode and the exhaust brakes, as well as the rotary dial for the 4WD system.

The driver gets a stack of information from the centre display and secondary gauges, including the diesel and urea tank levels, as well as boost and exhaust brake information, towing set-up and other engine readouts.

There’s also a broad centre console and armrest (where the USB input is for the sound system), which can be folded up to reveal the sixth seat between the two front occupants if required.

The rear seats fold up or down for gear storage in lieu of passengers, with some underfloor storage and large door pockets also offering no shortage of interior storage.

Engine and transmission

The heart beating beneath the 6m long behemoth’s snout is a growling but smooth turbocharged 6.7-litre Cummins diesel overhead valve in-line cast-iron six-cylinder engine responsible for delivering 276kW at 2800rpm and mammoth 1084Nm at 1600rpm, a torque figure possessed by only a handful of vehicles on the market in Australia.

The 24-valve engine is fed by high-pressure injection and a variable-geometry turbocharger, as well as using a particle filter and what Ram calls a ‘next generation’ diesel exhaust fluid urea SCR system to clean up oxides of nitrogen emissions.

There’s also the brand’s Active Air intake system which monitors ambient conditions to draw air from the best source – the grille or the lower bumper intake – and an exhaust brake to reduce the workload for the disc brakes.

Fuel use during our time in the 3.5-tonne ute wasn’t frugal, as it drank from the 117-litre tank at a rate of 18 litres per 100km with a 28km/h average speed a number that includes some low-range 4WD work, serious towing work and suburban sprawl commuting.

Cruising on the open road with minimal load aboard would see that number drop out of the teens without doubt, with the six-speed column-shift (still on the RH side of the steering column) 6th gear translating to around 1200rpm when hovering around the state speed limit.

But previous experience in a diesel V8 LandCruiser suggests that number would be within the realms of possibility with a similar workload, and the Ram can pull a lot more if so desired.

Ride and handling

Normally something as big as the Ram with numbers on the side has aircraft landing on its roof, but the drive experience is less nautical than expected.

There’s not a leaf spring in sight under the rump – that’s the 3500’s realm, which has a payload closer to two tonnes and requires drivers to have a truck licence.

The 2500 has a three-link coil-spring front suspension layout and a five-link coil-spring rear suspension, boasting multi-rate coils and heavy-duty twin tube dampers mounted in the outboard position.

The high-strength steel ladder-frame chassis emits little creaking when working the ute hard, but laden or unladen, the live axle set-up can get unruly over rigorous road ruts and bumps.

Certainly you’d expect this from a truck of this ilk, and perhaps a bit more localisation work on dampers and springs might settle it down, but the engineering team has – in the course of the changeover to right-hand-drive – taken some of the vagueness from the front end.

A thicker sway bar and changes to the steering and pedal set-up all appear to have been properly re-done for RHD, even down to re-engineering the footwell to allow for a footrest – something the parent brand had been unable to achieve in right-hand drive vehicles ex-factory.

Off-road clearance is on the low side and a low-slung front trim piece brings concerns on narrow rutted tracks, as does the chance of hanging the big American up on something underneath, but if powering out of trouble is the best course of action, then there’s no shortage of grunt to shove the Ram.

A listed approach angle of 21.8 degrees, 18.2 degrees ramp-over and a 22.3-degree departure angle aren’t the worst off-road numbers, but clearance of 188mm and hefty curb weight isn’t class-leading.

Also restricting its off-road use is the physical size, although a 13.4m turning circle is only 0.3m wider than a Jeep Wrangler Unlimited four-door.

Engine braking when in low-range first gear wasn’t really effective enough, but this machine is more about towing and toiling than taking things off the beaten track.

With a 50mm ball on the tow bar, towing capacity is rated at 3500kg braked and a laden horse float didn’t exceed that but still represented a significant load.

The tow/haul mode teams the auto (that changes down earlier) with the clever exhaust brakes to minimise work for the disc brakes given the size of the truck, it tracks comfortably and pulls up without concern on steep downhills.

Ascents and flat-road running are completed without any need for slow vehicle lanes, easily maintaining posted speed limits even on steeper sections of open road.

A 70mm towball ups the maximum braked load to 4500kg more serious towing apparatus in the spray-lined tray (which is nearly 2m long, half a metre deep and 1295mm wide between the wheel arches) adds more than two tonnes to that number.

Safety and servicing

Four-wheel disc brakes with twin-piston callipers fore and aft, backed by multi-mode and clever exhaust brakes provide excellent stopping performance and an important safety feature for a vehicle focused on towing.

The driver also has an integrated dash-mounted trailer brake controller, tailored from the touchscreen to suit the braking system in operation on the trailer.

It hasn’t made the switch to the RH side of the vehicle but it’s still just within reach to allow the driver to adjust the amount of force being applied to the trailer brakes.

Teamed up with the automatic transmission that has a “tow/haul” mode, the exhaust brakes take plenty of the load when required on steep downhill sections.

The system even has merit when not towing, allowing gentle descents without a touch of the brake pedal, which will no doubt appreciate the break from having to bring 3.5 tonnes to a halt on a regular basis, a process which does require a solid shove from the driver.

Electronic safety aids include stability control with a trailer sway mitigation function, as well as front, front-side and curtain airbags and a tyre pressure monitoring system.

The Ram also gets automatic headlights and rain-sensing wipers, front and rear parking sensors, two rear cameras (one on the rear bumper and one above the rear tray for goosenecks hitching) and an adjustable auto-dimming centre mirror.

Warranty coverage stands at three years or 100,000km – which ever comes first.

Verdict

There is no doubt the extra effort involved in bringing the steering wheel across to the right side of the car has paid off for those bringing Ram to Australia.

The engineering and attention to detail makes the Ram a better drive and while it is an extra $15,000 over a top-spec LandCruiser 200 diesel, the considerable towing prowess will be worth the extra outlay for those hauling big loads on a daily basis.

Some extra attention in the spring and damper department would complete an accomplished package.

Rivals

Ford F-250 Lariat dual-cab, from $149,990 before on-road costs.
The best selling pick-up on the planet and a top-seller in its home market, the ‘Effy’ cranks out an enormous 328kW and 1166Nm from its 6.7-litre diesel V8 and runs a similar six-speed auto with part-time 4WD system. It is also similarly well-equipped and, depending on the tow bar set-up, is rated to 5000kg braked towing.

Chevrolet Silverado 2500HD LTZ, from $144,990 before on-road costs.
Not quite punching as hard as the Ford, the Chev is still not short of grunt with 296kW and 1037Nm of torque from its 6.6-litre diesel V8, which also runs a six-speed auto and part-time 4WD. The Chevy’s towing capacity is down a little on the Ford, but well above the norms for Australia. There’s at least 4500kg of braked towing capacity depending on what’s fitted to the tail for towing.

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