No words, no matter how many, can adequately describe RAM’s heavy-duty 3500 pickup. But I’ll try.
Check in the dictionary under “cowboy Cadillac” and I’m pretty sure you’ll see an image of my fancy metallic walnut brown test truck. This was the RAM 3500 Laramie Longhorn Crew Cab with four-wheel-drive and a long bed, just one notch down from RAM’s top-level Limited.
Riding along with strains of George Strait, Loretta Lynn, and Texas Swing music blaring from the powerful 17-speaker Harman Kardon premium sound system seemed to bring this heavy-duty beast of burden to life. And it only seemed right, because the interior was decked out to make any cowboy or rider of the range feel as at home.
Get this, inside the RAM (formerly known as the Dodge Ram) was decked out with saddle bags on the front seat backs. That’s right, and complete with big chrome buckles. But that’s just one of many custom cowboy cues.
The two-tone brown and tan leather interior is plush and glitzy in a honky-tonk meets Hollywood style that brought everything from gasps to laughs from a variety of test riders. One asked if a mechanical bull was optional for the bed. Not yet!
There’s rough-cut wood trim on the dash and doors lending a distinctly outdoorsy motif. Plus, there’s contrasting stitching in the leather seats and leather grips on all the truck’s big assist handles on its pillars front and rear. Brushed metal trims the center stack with a gloss black face around the tall infotainment screen. A soft padded Texas-sized armrest up front is coated in dark brown leather.
And then there’s the driver’s instrument panel with all the gauges trimmed in carved chrome that remind of fancy scrolling and designs on a cowboy’s dress-up belt. Only the big turquoise stone is missing. Even the floor mats have fancy chrome Laramie badges.
The look was impressive.
Beyond all that, and it’s tough to get beyond all that when describing this street-legal, heavy-duty towing machine, but I must move on. Know that this RAM is not for everyone, nor is it what anyone would drive around town as their only vehicle.
The 3500, like its 2500 cousins, is meant for towing and hauling. But with its crew cab it also will easily haul five adults anywhere in supple comfort. A 3500 is meant to have a big trailer behind it, be it one hauling a bunch of horses, or a large luxury house trailer. Don’t confuse this with RAM’s large and impressive 1500 pickup, the one urban cowboys drive. The 3500 is meant for the country and work.
It’ll pull 14,360 pounds and carry a 4,300-pound payload. That’s not weekend gardening supplies.
No, this thing’s a brute with a 6.4-liter Heavy-Duty HEMI V8 that pumps 410 horsepower and an even more impressive 429 lb.-ft. of torque. When you put your right foot down, the four rear tires (yes, it’s a dually) jump into action, sometimes literally chattering on the pavement. An eight-speed automatic transmission quickly puts the power to the pavement.
Standard to aid trailering are 18-inch truck tires and trailer sway dampening, plus the usual stuff like traction and stability control. But the tested RAM added a $995 towing technology group package, including center high-mount stop lamp with a cargo view and 360-degree camera, and trailer reverse guidance system. There also was a $95 skid plate to protect the underside when the truck is off-road, which it should be regularly if you’re using it properly.
There’s also a $445 fifth wheel/gooseneck towing prep kit to accommodate serious trailering. A $1,595 auto leveling rear suspension will help you tow more easily and the dual rear wheels (17- by 6-inches), 17-inch steel spare wheel, premium aluminum wheels, box and rear fender clearance lamps, chrome side steps, and all-season tire upgrade are key. They add $1,295.
General safety is improved with a $795 safety group package that adds adaptive cruise control with a stopped and forward collision warning system, plus blind-spot and cross-traffic detection systems.
Handling is easy on the road, tough in parking lots as the big RAM has a 47.5-foot turning radius. There’s a fair amount of play in the steering wheel, which is common in large trucks.
The ride is, well, downright bouncy. The RAM 1500 I’d tested earlier this year was much more pleasant. But it was aimed at city driving while the 3500 is meant for country roads and long highway tows with a goodly amount of weight hooked on the back.
While discussing its work features, I should mention the RAM’s lined bed and fine tri-fold cargo bed cover ($695) that will keep valuables dry, if needed.
Inside, as mentioned earlier, are comfy leather seats and all the luxury trimmings you’d expect in a high-end truck. Five adults will fit, and climbing aboard isn’t as daunting as it looks due to power running boards that automatically fold down whenever a door is opened to provide a step up.
While I found the 12-inch infotainment screen a bit hard to tune while driving a previous RAM, I caught on to this one more quickly. It could be improved, but boy is it easy to see. Instead, I was more annoyed by the many adjustments to be made via buttons on the steering wheel hub. Simplification is needed.
The steering wheel is only a tilt model too, not tilt and telescope. Instead, RAM goes with power-adjustable brake and accelerator pedals. That helps, but I’d prefer the wheel adjust both ways too.
Seats are flat but comfy and are both heated and cooled. The steering wheel is heated too.
Overhead is a sunroof ($1,095) to brighten the RAM.
There’s also a Longhorn level 1 option package that adds that fancy Harman Kardon sound system, Uconnect with 4C navigation, the 12-inch display, power running boards, wireless charging pad, SiriusXM radio and blind-spot and cross-traffic detection systems. The package adds $3,495 to the grand total.
Know too that the 3500 weighs in at 6,399 lbs., so there’s a lot for that HEMI to haul even before it’s loaded. I didn’t have a trailer attached or major cargo in the bed and still managed just 10.9 mpg in a week’s drive. At $3 a gallon, that was a budget buster. But if you’re hauling regularly you know that gas is going to be a major expense.
Then there’s price. A base RAM 3500 Tradesman starts at $39,995 and is two-wheel drive. But there are multiple trim levels in the 1500, 2500 and 3500 models.
This Laramie Longhorn Crew Cab 4X4 Long Box, with delivery, started at $62,445. It ended up at $73,150 after adding options, including $200 for its metallic paint.
Heck, the RAM’s name is nearly as long as the truck, but if you need serious pulling power this is a fancy but solid way to go.
Hits: Big, roomy and cowboy comfy. Long-bed and heavy-duty grunt for serious hauling and towing. Power running boards, huge vertical infotainment screen, sunroof, heat/cool seats, heated wheel, 360-degree camera, power pedals and safety group. Lined bed and cargo bed cover.
Misses: Embarrassing fuel economy, too many adjustments made via steering wheel buttons, major wheel play and bouncy ride.
Made in: Saltillo, Mexico
Engine: 6.4-liter Heavy-Duty HEMI V8, 410 horsepower
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Weight: 6,399 lbs.
Length: 237.3 in.
Wheelbase: 149.5 in.
Payload: 4,300 lbs.
Tow: 14,360 lbs.
MPG: N.A., 10.9 (tested)
Base Price: $62,445 (includes delivery)
Major Options: Walnut brown metallic paint, $200
Package 2ZK (towing tech group, center high-mount stop lamp w/cargo view camera, surround-view camera, trailer reverse guidance), $995
Safety group (adaptive cruise control w/stop, forward collision warning plus, blind-spot and cross-traffic detection), $795
Transfer case skid plate, $95
Fifth Wheel /gooseneck towing prep, $445
Longhorn level 1 group (17-speaker Harman Kardon premium sound system, Uconnect 4C nav w/12-inch display, power running boards, wireless charging pad, SiriusXM with 360L, blind-spot and cross-traffic detection), $3,495
Tri-fold cargo cover, $695
Power sunroof, $1,095
Auto level rear suspension, $1,595
Dual rear wheels (17- x 6-inch wheels, 17-inch steel spare wheel, premium aluminum wheels, box and rear fender clearance lamps, clearance lamps, chrome side steps, all-season tire upgrade), $1,295
Test vehicle: $73,150
Sources: RAM, KelleyBlueBook.com
Editor's note: Mark Savage's auto review column, Savage On Wheels, looks at a new vehicle every week and tells consumers what’s good, what’s not so good, and how the vehicle fits into the marketplace.