Test Drive: 2017 Ram 3500 Crew Cab 4x4

“I need you to drive the Ram Heavy-Duty,” my editor said, “but I don’t want you just hauling air with it. I want you to work it.”

Numbers only tell half the story.

Well, I don’t camp, boat or snowmobile, so I didn’t have any big recreational stuff lying around. But I do own a Ram 1500 that’s 22 years older than the 2017 one-ton that needed to work up a sweat, and so I figured the young pup could pull the old dog around.

While I didn’t have the largest possible model for my tester, I certainly didn’t get the runt of the litter. The Ram HD comes in 2500 and 3500, and in Regular Cab, Crew Cab, or the dance-floor-sized Mega Cab. I had the 2017 Ram 3500 Laramie Crew Cab 4x4 with dual rear wheels.

Engine choices are a 5.7L V8, 6.4L V8, or as mine was equipped, a 6.7L Cummins inline-six turbo diesel that makes 385 horsepower, along with 900 lb-ft of torque at 1,700 rpm. Most will choose the six-speed automatic with the diesel, but on some trims, you can also opt for a six-speed manual. It’s the only heavy-duty currently on the market with a stick shift.

The Cummins’ power puts this truck close to its rivals: Ford’s 6.7L V8 diesel makes 440 horsepower, plus 925 lb-ft of torque at 1,800 rpm, while GM’s 6.6L V8 makes 445 horsepower and hits its 910 lb-ft of torque at 1,600 rpm. I have ten bucks riding on somebody cranking out 1,000 lb-ft by 2019 at the latest…

Equipped with the diesel, the Ram can tow a maximum of 31,210 lb (14,157 kg), but as with all towing numbers, there’s a catch. Since capacity is based on the combined weight of truck and trailer, a heavier truck scrubs away at the trailer’s heft. That highest number belongs to the 3500 Regular Cab 4x2, the one hardly anyone buys. My truck, with an optional 4.10 rear axle, was rated a maximum 30,320 lb (13,732 kg), but heavier Mega Cab models can rate as low as 16,600 lb (7,530 kg). Be sure you know the capacities before you make your selection.

And numbers only tell half the story. There’s also how the truck feels when towing: how it brakes, accelerates, and handles the load. The Ram is impressive. For the most part, it didn’t feel like Old Ram was even tethered to the rear. Acceleration with a load is brisk but it’s also smooth and well-moderated. The front end stayed well-planted, and handling didn’t feel appreciably different than without a trailer.

The mirrors swivel, so you put them down for everyday driving, or push them up for towing. Simple is very good.

The Ram includes a particularly hearty exhaust brake that does a great job of slowing everything down on deceleration. It sounds great, too, brapping like a mini-Kenworth, but you can shut it off if you don’t want to wake the neighbours. Brake pedal feel is linear, and the Ram comes to a stop as smoothly as it accelerates. The ride is stiffer than I recall from its rivals, but it’s no worse than I’d expect from a dual-wheel one-ton.

Other than a day’s towing, I spent most of my week without anything on the hitch, and averaged 17.3 L/100 km. I don’t know how that would stack up against official figures, since Natural Resources Canada doesn’t yet require them of any truck with a GVWR over 8,500 lb (3,856 kg).

If I could put anything on my wish list, it’s that the big models adopt the Ram 1500’s manual shift mode. On that smaller model, which comes with a dial-type gearshift lever, there are buttons on the steering wheel to tap the gears manually up or down. On the 2500 and 3500, which use a column-mounted shifter, it’s a toggle on the lever. It just makes more sense to flip up or down without taking your hands off the wheel.

As good as the Ram is, nobody makes a bad truck in this heavy-duty segment (which is limited to the Big Three at this level, although Nissan’s Titan XD is meant to bridge the gap between a half-ton and three-quarter-ton model). While it’s been a while since I’ve towed with Ram back-to-back with Chevrolet, I love the way GM’s Duramax diesel and its Allison transmission work so beautifully together.

I’ve also driven the all-new Ford Super Duty, but have yet to tow with it. Its engine is the quietest of the three, while the Ram is definitely the noisiest, but that’s an observation, not a complaint. Some people like a quiet truck, while I love a diesel with a raw rumble.

The diesel is not an impulse buy. My Laramie Crew Cab started at a base of $65,995, but the Cummins is an additional $9,345 and its transmission is $4,155. Throw in $1,200 for the dual wheels, and you’re piling $14,700 on top to get a heavy hauler. Ah, the good old days…I only paid $22,000 total when I took Old Ram off the showroom floor back in the day.

My truck was also equipped with an auto-levelling rear air suspension, which added $1,595. This isn’t the four-corner system available on the Ram 1500, which the driver can raise or lower as needed. Instead, it automatically adjusts the rear end to keep the truck level when there’s a load in the bed.

It’s never wise to consistently tow at the maximum, unless you really like wearing out your truck, but the 3500 is Ram’s final choice at the consumer level. A 4500 is available, as well as a 5500, but only as a chassis cab. Ford’s F-450 is the only model available as a complete drive-it-away-and-you’re-done truck, while GM’s next step up is a Low Cab Forward chassis model. Of course, at that level, you’re either a professional, or you should be hiring one to get your really big stuff where it’s going.

But if you just need to move an old truck around for a while, Ram’s 3500 big boy is more than enough to do it.

2017 Ram 3500 Laramie Crew Cab 4x4
Engine displacement: 6.7L
Engine cylinders: I6
Peak horsepower: 385 hp @ 2,800 rpm
Peak torque: 900 lb-ft @ 1,700 rpm
Fuel economy: All of it.
Cargo space: 8' box
Pricing: 2017 Ram 3500 Laramie Crew Cab 4x4
Base Price: $65,995
A/C Tax: $100
Destination Fee: $1,795
Price as Tested: $89,980
Optional Equipment: $22,090 – 6.7L Cummins diesel $9,345; 6-speed AISIN heavy-duty automatic $4,155; 4.10 rear axle ratio $125; dual rear wheels $1,200; Black Crystal pearl paint $225; Leather-faced ventilated seats $1,400; fifth-wheel prep group $500; fifth-wheel hitch $1,275; Proximity key with starter button $300; centre high-mount stop lamp with camera $325; Uconnect with navigation $700; Rear auto-levelling air suspension $1,595; Remote starter $395; Spray-in bedliner $550
Optional Equipment
10 0
Scoring breakdowns 8.0
8 Styling
9 Powertrain
8 Quality
8 Comfort
9 Practicality
8 Drivability
8 Usability/Ergonomics
7 Fuel Economy
8 Features
7 Value