WHEN DODGE set out to make a new heavy-duty pickup truck, it did its market research. Such vehicles are purchased by two groups: vocational buyers and recreational buyers. Vocational buyers include farmers, ranchers, and construction workers, while recreational buyers are looking for something beefy enough to tow trailers for boats, snowmobiles, and ATVs, on up to RV trailers.

So Dodge set out with a three-part objective. The new trucks had to be aimed at capability, and have standout styling and unexcelled ride quality. A choice of two powerful new engines and greatly improved torsional rigidity and platform stiffness take care of the capability. The revised, in-your-face, taller chrome grille, with the familiar crosshairs underlined by a one-piece stamped chrome wraparound bumper, and Ram's “big rig” attitude take care of the styling. And a much-improved interior with redesigned seats, soft surfaces, and expansion into full crew-cab size hit the comfort and convenience bull's-eye.

Dodge introduced its third-generation Ram 1500 pickup truck as a 2009 model, and although it won a drawerful of awards, it also gained more than 20% of market share as well as some best-initial-quality awards. For an encore, Dodge defied the overall industry sales slump and introduced its entirely new Ram Heavy-Duty pickup for 2010.

Ultimate power

Available in both 2500 and 3500 classes, the new Ram Heavy-Duty trucks can reduce the heaviest challenges into elementary chores.

The 5.7-liter Hemi gasoline V8, named for its similarity to the old hemispherical-head high-performance engines of the 1960s and '70s, has been refined to improve fuel economy. Its major revision for 2009 includes the addition of variable valve timing, with a 15% horsepower increase to 383, peaking at 5,600 rpm, and an 8% boost in torque, to 400 ft.-lbs., at a peak of 4,000 rpm.

For the heaviest of the heavy-duty models, the 6.7-liter Cummins turbo-diesel engine has 350 hp at 3,000 rpm, and a whopping 650 ft.-lbs. of torque at a mere 1,500 rpm. A new particulate filter eliminates almost all but a trace of particulates, and nitrogen oxides have been reduced by 90%.

The Hemi gets a five-speed automatic transmission, and the Cummins has a six-speed. All of that power relates directly to the towing and hauling performance. The 2500 (three-quarter-ton) model comes with the 5.7-liter Hemi standard and begins in 4 × 2 form, while the Cummins turbo-diesel is standard in the 3,500 (one-ton model).

The 2500 has a towing capability of 9,600 lbs. and a payload of 3,160 lbs. The 3500 has a 17,400-lb. trailer capacity, with a 5,150-lb. payload.

Need more? The ultimate Max Tow package hikes the 3500's towing maximum to 18,500 lbs. and increases the gross combined weight rating to 24,500 lbs.

Comfort and convenience

The 2500 and 3500 Rams build on the Ram 1500's interior success, with adjustable pedals, a 30-gigabyte hard drive for the Uconnect Multimedia, heated and ventilated seats, heated steering wheel, and 42 storage bins. The rear seat of the truck's Crew Cab wasn't overlooked, getting its own heated seats, plus three-channel rear-seat television.

While the 2500 is strong, and the 3500 overpowering, both trucks run smooth and are free of anything resembling harshness on the highway. The coil-spring front suspension and multi-leaf rear combine to keep everything firm, stable, and yet compliant.

Dodge also has engineered extra stopping power with its exhaust-brake system, which converts back-pressure from the turbo to brake power and can allow a slow, controlled descent without the driver actually touching the brakes. In addition, a trailer brake control helps keep any size trailer properly in tow, and a readout on the dash navigation screen lets the driver keep an eye on the trailer's action.

The Mega Cab is even larger than the Crew Cab and has several inches of space behind the rear seat for more storage. Dodge used to have the Quad Cab but chose to replace it with the roomier Crew Cab, because almost 50% of all heavy-duty pickups are crew-cab size.

Prices start at $28,165 for the two-wheel-drive, regular-cab base ST; $31,415 for the Crew Cab; and $36,865 for the basic Mega Cab. The first upgrade is to the SLT, then the off-roading TRX, the Power Wagon, and the top-shelf Laramie. The Crew Cab 4 × 4 can be had for $39,430.