The latest crop of redesigned HD trucks are rolling off the assembly line now, and all three of the big truck manufacturers rolled into the 2019/2020 model year with refreshed or all-new models. Sales are up, prices are up, and we were curious to see if our impressions of the latest 2019 Ram HD truck were up higher than they have ever been. After all, Ram engineers and designers threw a ton of new and significantly redesigned elements into the 2019 Ram 3500 HD model, and it sure looks like a winner from the “features and benefits” sheet. Is this the case in real life?
To determine if this is the case, we put together a 2000+ mile towing trip that would test three main elements of the new Ram HD lineup. First, it would test the towing ability. When we look at HD trucks these days, a vast majority are bought with a diesel engine and dual rear wheels for the highest towing capacity. With both of these features on our test truck, we put together a 2000+ mile Rocky Mountain route to test it out. Second, enjoying long distance cabin comfort is also a standard thought in today’s truck buyer’s mind. Ram has been upping the ante in the truck market with premium features in its cabins – do they work and benefit the occupants when on the road? Third, we wanted to test the overall user friendly features that come with these trucks – do they really make your life easier and more efficient on the road?
All-New for 2019
The first thing you’ll notice on the 2019 Ram 3500 HD is the revised front and rear styling of this truck. Gone is the crosshair grille up front. It has been replaced by stylish looking grille options across the entire lineup. Our Laramie Longhorn tester had chrome accents throughout the outside of the truck that were tastefully put together. The hood and front fenders have also been redesigned to retain that bold, Ram look, but they are also a bit more stylish, a la Ram 1500 design influence. The HD cab is actually the same as last year’s model from the front doors back. However, when you couple the front and rear redesigned elements with the existing cab, there aren’t many things that look “familiar” about this truck. It looks and feels fresh, just like it should.
On the inside of the truck, the Ram 1500’s luxurious cabin has also made its way to the HD lineup. We had the massive 12” Uconnect center display in our tester, and it is a thing of beauty dominating the center stack of the dashboard. The good thing is, the screen is very user friendly, and it shouldn’t deter anyone from looking at a Ram based on the fact that this truck has “too much” technology. The customization options in Uconnect are very intuitive for anyone operating the system. In addition, you don’t have to select the option box for the biggest screen – Ram trucks have two smaller center display options if you like those more.
The revised driver’s instrument cluster in the 2019 Ram 3500 HD is a thing of beauty for anyone towing a trailer because it gives you the option to put the gauges that you want to see, where you want to see them. The display is completely reconfigurable, and it blends well with the analog tach and speedometer gauges. When you couple the digital technologies with the functional attributes of this interior, like the multi-functional center console that features a three-position adjustable center tray, there really isn’t a more user friendly interior on the market. Oh, and did I mention there are plenty of charging ports for your devices? Those of you who have a wireless charging phone, there’s a spot for that, too…
Yes, the aesthetic revisions and interior upgrades are the things that make our eyes yearn for the truck, but it’s the powertrain and towing capabilities that will make our minds say, “Heck yeah!”
Case-in-point, there is an available, all-new 6.7-liter I-6 High Output Cummins diesel engine attached to a heavily revised Aisin AS69RC 6-speed automatic transmission (gone is the manual option), all bolted into a high strength steel frame. We knew someone would reach the milestone, and it was Ram that did it first – 1000 lb-ft of torque! To make this much torque and 400 horsepower, the block, cylinder heads, cylinders, rings, forged connecting rods, exhaust valves and springs, rocker arms, bearings, exhaust manifold, and variable-geometry turbocharger are all things on the “new” list for this engine. To prove that this engine can hold up to maximum boost pressures and deliver all of its torque to the rear wheels, Ram dialed up the boost pressure to max output of 33psi. The only possible downsides are this engine is only available in the 3500 models, and it comes with a hefty $11,795 price tag. But, if you want the best of the best offered in the Ram lineup, then you’ll be happy to pay for this engine and transmission combination based on how much it can tow. And, frankly, the performance is inspiring. Read on…
If you’re not in the market for a 3500 dually with the 1000 lb-ft Cummins diesel option, don’t worry because the other powertrain systems were upgraded for the 2019 model year, too. The standard engine is now the 6.4-liter HEMI V-8 gasser, which is mated to a new TorqueFlite eight-speed automatic transmission. An e-shift rotary dial is included on the dashboard with this powertrain setup instead of a column-mounted shifter. In the middle of the powertrain lineup is the standard output 6.7-litger I-6 Cummins diesel engine, which is rated at 370 horsepower and 850 lb-ft of torque. This diesel has also received several updates and a significant bump in power from last year’s model, plus it gets a revised 68RFE six-speed automatic transmission. This transmission includes new variable-force solenoid controls for the torque-converter clutch, new reverse accumulator for improved shift feel, and refined hydraulic control of the entire system.
Both the transfer cases and axles were upgraded to handle the increases in power and payload/towing capacities of these new trucks. In trucks equipped with the HO Cummins diesel option, an all-new party-time Borg Warner transfer case is included, and it is designed to handle over 35,000 pounds of towing capacity. In addition, there is an optional 12” AAM rear axle that should have no trouble transferring all the power to the ground. The base diesel and HEMI powertrain options get the choice of either electronically- or manually-controlled transfer cases depending on the model.
All of these changes would just be big fluffy numbers if the structure wasn’t there to back it up. As I mentioned earlier, Ram made sure the frame was up to the task of towing as much as 35,100 lbs and hauling 7680 lbs of payload. The frame of the 2019 Ram 3500 HD is made out of 98.5-percent high-strength steel, and it is built with six separate crossmembers, hydroformed main rails, and fully boxed rear rails. You can also get a 30k Mopar direct-mount fifth wheel towing hitch, along with a gooseneck hitch, from the factory when you check the box for the “Max Tow Package”. At $3695, this is a heck of a deal because it comes with those items and a 4.10 axle ratio, auto-leveling rear air suspension, and a cargo view camera, among other safety items, to complete the package. If you’re planning on towing a gooseneck or fifth wheel trailer, it’s an option box that we would highly recommend checking at the dealer for the value that it brings.
So, with all of these upgrades and changes for the new year, how does all of this work in the real world with the 2019 Ram 3500 HD?
Let’s be honest, the reason you buy a 3500 dually with a diesel engine isn’t just to run around town and use it as a grocery getter… No – you use a truck like this to tow anything and everything you possibly can! So, that’s just what we did. In our case, we hooked up a 24’ enclosed car hauler and loaded it down with 2 UTVs. In total, the setup weighed approximately 12,000 pounds, and we drew our towing route to include a ton of high altitude climbing and steep downhills to break up the mundane freeway driving, which, let’s be honest, doesn’t test the true capabilities of a truck like this. So, to the Rocky Mountains we go!
I would like to note that the trailer features on our 2019 Ram 3500 HD are great to work with when you are getting ready to tow. The air suspension gives it a smoother ride around town, and the ability to lower the rear hitch with bed-lowering mode makes it extremely easy to hook up a bumper pull trailer, or any trailer in that case. The hi-def rear camera offered me a clear view of the hitch when I was backing up, and I was able to hook up the trailer without any assistance. When you couple all of these features together, your attaching/detaching trailer life becomes an easy practice.
Starting off from the deserts of Arizona, our drive immediately went from 450 feet in elevation to approximately 5000 feet over a long climbing period. To no surprise, the steep 6% climbs from about 2500 feet to 5000 feet were no problem at all for the 2019 Ram 3500 HD. In fact, the six-speed transmission didn’t even downshift going up these grades, and I was finding myself slowing down for the uphill corners more often than not. Having too little power when you are towing can be a downside because you are trying to keep up with the flow of traffic, but too much power just puts a smile on your face and it eases any tension that you may get when pulling a trailer. Personally, I was put at ease knowing that our trailer wasn’t weighing down the truck up these grades. Plus, with a dual rear wheel setup, there was no question that the trailer was tracking straight and true. It just feels extremely confident motoring down the road.
Honestly, the dual rear wheel setup can be a bit cumbersome to negotiate parking lots and tight spaces (try taking one through a tight drive-through sometime…), but the setup pays off in leaps and bounds when towing, no matter what you are towing. If a tire lets go on your trailer, the dually truck gives you confidence that you’re going to keep tracking straight. Plus, six tires allow you to have more traction on the ground compared to four tires, thus giving you confident braking performance.
Speaking of brakes, Ram claims that the brakes are all-new on the 2019 Ram 3500 HD with bigger everything and more stopping power. I can attest to the fact that the pedal feel is much improved over the last generation, and, again, my driving confidence with the braking performance is top notch. Along our journey, plenty of stop lights crept up on me and there wasn’t one instance that I couldn’t stop in time. The integrated trailer brake controller does a good job of modulating the trailer brakes based on your brake input – it is smooth so the trailer tires don’t lock up unexpectedly. I found there to be plenty of trailer brake adjustment built into the system, too – I kept our settings around 6 for gain and that seemed to be the money setting for my needs.
The suspension systems on any dually are often criticized for being harsh when unloaded and jarring when loaded, especially with air bags pumped all the way up. It is true that this truck still rides and handles like it is a dually truck (aka much rougher than your coil spring suspension on a Ram 1500), but gone are the days where every single road bump is harsh when you’re driving around in a dually unloaded. With the air system, Ram was able to build in more suspension compliance when loaded or unloaded, and our trip showed us that the 2019 Ram 3500 HD does a very admirable job at navigating the bumps in the road without jarring passengers. When you hook up a trailer, the increased pressure in the air bags does give you a stiff ride over the big bumps, but it isn’t jarring, just well managed. The front suspension does allow the truck to rebound a bit going down the road, but in no way does it make the truck uncontrollable. It is smooth and controlled.
In terms of elevation, the highest point we found on our trip was about 10,900 feet. As you can imagine, the road up to this elevation was a two-lane highway that was full of twists, turns, and steep grades. Honestly, going up this hill with trailer in tow didn’t even work the 2019 Ram 3500 HD. Temperatures all stayed where they should be, and even with the trailer, I was catching passenger cars. The surge of bottom end torque spinning out of this turbo diesel engine is just insane. That’s really the only word for it. I suppose if you hooked up 30,000 pounds to this truck and took it over the grade, then it might be challenged, but with our measly 12,000 pounds hooked up, it never even broke a sweat. The transmission performed well on the grades, never missing a shift and always downshifting with firm engagement. We found that “tow/haul” mode was a bit overzealous on the big grades with this load – it slowed us down too much. Instead of keeping it in “tow/haul” mode the entire time, I found that leaving the exhaust brake in Automatic mode kept the transmission in just the right gear that I wanted and didn’t slow us down too much. And, if I wanted to manually control the gears to better control our speed, I could do so with the handy gear selectors on the steering wheel. Excellent engineering right there.
The Cummins diesel engine is revered by many because of its torque-rich powerband at low RPMs. This diesel chugs along and doesn’t mind the heavy loads. Some drivers like the more HP-rich feeling of the Ford or Chevy diesels. But, having driven them all and knowing the differences, the Cummins’ surge in power and low-end grunt is awesome when towing. It just feels good in the chassis, has seemingly endless pulling power, and remains smooth the entire time. Some will always say that they’d rather have that instant power of the other diesels, but the chugging along feeling of this Cummins makes it so appealing. Plus, with an inline engine layout, this diesel is more user friendly to work on than competitor’s diesels. Maybe that’s why so many long distance hauling companies are buying these Ram trucks at the moment.
When the mountains turned and we headed down the hills, I found the same confidence in the 2019 Ram 3500 HD’s powertrain system going down the hills as I had going up. Tow/Haul mode was a bit too restrictive for the amount we were towing – it’s made for the heavier loads. Having the exhaust brake in Automatic mode gave us just the right of resistance so we didn’t have to use the brakes except on the really tight corners. Brake performance in these situations was phenomenal with a direct pedal feel that didn’t waiver no matter how long the hill was. And, if you’re going back and forth on the exhaust brake option box, don’t even consider not checking it if you’re going to be towing loads over about 12-15,000 pounds. It is well worth the investment.
DEF (diesel exhaust fluid) and MPG (miles per gallon) – these two items are common conversation starters when you look at modern diesel automobiles. In our 2000+ mile, towing-heavy trip in the 2019 Ram 3500 HD, we went through about 3.5 gallons of DEF. This was a bit more than we were expecting, but towing in the Rockies will inherently use more fluid. Luckily, the fill is right in the diesel fill area, making top offs easy. When everything was said and done, we averaged 11.1 MPG. For towing, that is an exceptional number. As a reference, the last 2017 Ram 3500 we towed this trailer with (again loaded down with 2 UTVs) managed only about 9.5 MPG. Is it the revised Cummins or just more efficiency as a whole? I’m not sure, but the numbers we got are exciting.
In modern day trucks, it seems as if cabin comfort is just as important as having a powertrain system that can tow 30,000 pounds up the biggest hills a driver can find. Of all the brands on the truck market right now, Ram has taken its truck interiors to new, luxury car heights.
This shows through when you first enter the 2019 Ram 3500 HD where there are soft touch leathers and a firm closing thunk when you shut the door. Inside, the Laramie Longhorn interior is a very pleasant place to be with bolstered leather seats and that oh-so-handy center console. How many ways do you need a center console to adjust? Well, this one, with its sliding top tray, can pretty much do whatever you want it to do, including hold a 15” laptop. We found it extremely useful for storing items, hiding important things when you leave the truck in the store parking lot, and giving our phones a place to charge and stay secure while out on the road – no external mounts needed. When you look up from the center console, the massive 12” screen greets you with high definition satisfaction. The user friendly operating system will keep you coming back for more, and the way that the software engineers laid out this system just makes it work for everyone. When we looked at it more closely, we said that any buyer could definitely get by with a smaller screen, but this one is so user friendly that you’ll kick yourself if you don’t get the bigger screen. Especially when it’s paired to the 17-speaker Harmon Kardon sound system. Does anyone else want a concert in their truck? Sign me up – it’s like the live show comes to you in the truck with clarity, depth, and plenty of bass.
When driving the 2019 Ram 3500 HD, I found that all of the buttons that I needed to access quickly – exhaust brake, trailer brake, lighting, etc… – were all within easy reach. The adaptive LED lighting that we had on this truck really worked well on the backroads we traveled, giving me the ultimate view of the road ahead.
The only oddity that I found with the cabin is it lacks a telescoping steering wheel. Sure, the pedals are adjustable and the driver’s seat has plenty of adjustment built in, but a telescoping steering wheel just puts the icing on the cake as far as driver comfort.
When I look at Ram trucks, I’m always thinking that the Mega Cab is the biggest and baddest cab configuration on the market. Well, I’m right that it is the biggest, but is it really necessary? After spending over 2000 miles with this crew cab truck, we came to the conclusion that the crew cab is just fine for 99% of most peoples’ needs. Unless you need a large amount of interior storage and don’t care about a long bed, the Mega Cab is not necessary. This crew cab model still has pull outs to make it a flat floor when the seats fold up. And, there are plenty of storage areas in the back to make room to bring all of your necessities on an adventure. No matter which cab configuration you choose, the highback rear seats are comfortable for long distance travels, just like the front seats.
Creature Comforts – Bringing It All Together
As a whole, this 2019 Ram 3500 HD performs at the top of its class in terms of powertrain performance, interior comfort, and hauling capabilities. In the Laramie Longhorn that we tested, several other things came to light that make this truck very useful on the road.
Simple things like the LED bed lighting with a sealed, push-button switch in the bed make unloading and loading the truck at night a simple and bright task.
The easy-to-use bed step folds in and out from underneath the driver’s side rear bumper and gives anyone a sturdy place to climb up into the bed. If you’re like me and enjoy a clean exterior design on a truck without cutouts and other things cluttering up the truck, then you’ll appreciate this bed step that you don’t even see when it’s retracted.
The optional power running boards – they work well, are built very well, and make ingress/egress easy. Most people won’t be off-roading in a dually, so you don’t need to worry about them protruding down even when retracted. It would be nice if there were a bit faster when you get in/out of the truck in a hurry, but overall they work as they should.
And, it’s not really a creature comfort, but how about that Walnut Brown Metallic paint?! It’s a keeper, and I’m not usually a brown car color kind of guy… It looks incredibly sharp in person and will wear well with dirt and mud. Just look at our 2019 Ram 3500 HD test truck in the pictures after a few storms and more than a couple dirt roads. It still shines!
With all due respect to the other HD truck manufacturers, but the 2019 Ram 3500 HD is setting new standards for luxury, powertrain capability, and overall refinement in this market. After towing with this 3500 HD truck and putting it through its paces on an all-American road trip, it shined through with flying colors in almost every way. Does that make it worth it’s $86,300 as-tested price tag?
Here’s the deal – if you have the money to spend on a truck like this and you need it for towing heavy items, you’re going to spend that much money because this is a truck that you keep for many years. It’s a workhorse, and it is built to take you and your family from work trips to play trips, all without breaking a sweat. That’s exactly what the 2019 Ram 3500 HD does, and it makes you appreciate it and what the Ram engineers have accomplished with this truck for the entire journey. It is truly a “keeper truck” and not the one you think about selling five years down the road.
Personally, if I bought one of these trucks, I don’t think I’d ever need to sell it. It has the power; it has the technology; it has the cabin comfort; and, it has all of the capability to tow anything I want now and well into the future. Doesn’t that check all of the boxes?