One of the great things about this website is the interaction I get with readers. One question asked of me several times during 2014 is why I bought a new truck just two years after writing a glowing review of my 2011 Ford F-250? The answer really came down to three things: First, I needed a truck with more payload to haul my toys. The payload of my F-250 was simply maxed out and left me with few options for towing and camper upgrades. Second, I needed a 4×4 drive train for exploring more remote off-road trails. And third, I wanted a diesel. I simply missed the fuel economy and torque that a diesel engine provides.
When I started looking for a new truck, however, I soon found myself in a dilemma. My last three trucks were all Fords with few if any problems. I believe in brand loyalty. I really like Ford trucks, but with the spotty reliability of Ford’s Scorpion 6.7L PSD engine and what I found to be the excessively high cost of the 2013 F-350s, it was time to look elsewhere. After hours of research, several test drives, and much deliberation, I decided to pass on a Ford and Chevy and purchase my first Dodge in over 30 years, a 2013 Ram 3500 4×4 short-bed pickup truck. After 9,000 miles and one year of use, I finally feel like I can give an honest and complete review of this truck. It’s hoped this review will be more useful than those provided by the major auto publishers who drive a vehicle for only a few days or a week before writing their reviews.
ONE WORD: CUMMINS
The main reason for choosing the Ram 3500 over the competitors really came down to one word: Cummins. The Cummins name has been synonymous with quality since the 1950s and their current offering, the 6.7L I6 turbo diesel, is no different. Introduced in 2007, the Cummins 6.7L turbo diesel has proven to be a winner. Due to the EPA’s strict new diesel emission requirements, however, the company was forced to make several changes to the engine. These changes include an EGR (exhaust gas recirculation) system, a variable geometry turbocharger (VGT), and a diesel particulate filter designed to reduce diesel particulate matter by more than 90 percent. In addition to these changes, the engine also employs a new, higher-pressure version of the Bosch direct injection system, and in 2013 SCR (selective catalytic reduction) with DEF (diesel exhaust fluid) injection became standard with the high output version of the engine (more about DEF later).
Aside from the outstanding reliability that comes with the Cummins name, what I really like about the 6.7L turbo diesel is that it offers class leading horsepower and torque. The inline 6 cylinder, cast iron engine offers 350 horsepower and 660 pound-feet of torque when coupled to the G56 manual transmission, 370 horsepower and 800 pound-feet of torque when mated to the 68RFE automatic transmission, and 385 horsepower and 850 pound-feet of torque when coupled with the AISIN AS69RC high output transmission. In order to reach and safely maintain these eye popping power levels, the engine features dual transmission coolers, dual radiators, a higher efficiency inter-cooler, larger capacity EGR system, and a higher efficiency, 11-blade mechanical fan. The engine also offers an active-intake airbox which has the ability of pulling the coolest air around the engine to minimize power-level drop-off in hot weather. This is a great feature to have for those who, like me, live in the desert.
In order to keep down the cost after deciding to buy the Cummins 6.7L turbo diesel (a $7,995 option), I opted to buy a Tradesman, the lowest trim line offered by Ram. The truck was located in Prescott, Arizona, so a dealer trade was required before I could make the purchase. The additional options that came with the truck included a six-speed 68RFE automatic transmission, a 3.42:1 differential, remote start, spray-in bed liner, carpeting, backup tailgate camera, cruise control, power windows, Sirius satellite radio, the fifth wheel gooseneck towing package, chrome grille, and chrome tubular side steps. After rebates and other incentives, total cost out the door was $41,600. Not too shabby and a good $10,000 less than a similarly equipped Ford XLT F-350. My dealer also threw in a lifetime powertrain warranty (an incentive they provide for all of their new vehicles) which really sealed the deal for me.
ABOUT THE TRUCK
The 2013 Ram 3500 is a good lookin’ pick-up truck. The exterior styling is muscular yet sleek and is a significant improvement over Ford’s current ugly block styling. Up front, Ram’s grille is taller than the company’s previous offerings and the front bumper styling is new. The 2013 Ram trucks also feature updated quad lens headlamps, and the Laramie trim (the highest in the Ram lineup) now sports halogen projectors with LED turning indicators. Along the side, engineers improved the truck’s appearance by including improved badging and full-length tubular step bars. Around back, new LED tail lights and reverse lights adorn the truck and are a big improvement over the truck’s previous hardware. Buyers can also opt for a cab-mounted rear camera to line up a fifth wheel or truck camper when loading, a terrific option I wish my Tradesman had.
Inside, you’ll see some nice improvements as well. You won’t see anything real fancy with the Tradesman, lots of plastic and cloth seats, but overall you’ll see an intelligent layout with all controls easy to reach. The control knobs and buttons are large and easy to manipulate even for those who are wearing bulky gloves. The versatile 40/20/40 front beach seat can accommodate a sixth person by allowing the center armrest to be folded up. The console’s center stack features the UConnect 3.0 AM/FM radio with the 3.5 inch Electronic Vehicle Information Center (EVIC) display with the climate controls, trailer brake controller, exhaust brake, and tow haul mode stashed below them. The Borg Warner 4×4 transfer case is floor mounted and easy to reach and shift. Headroom and legroom is abundant and the amount of storage inside is excellent. The rear bench seat can be folded up for additional space and beneath the rear floor mats are two smaller compartments with snap-tight lids where additional items can be stashed out of view. The armrest even opens up for additional storage up front.
With a curbweight of 7,891 pounds, the Ram 3500 SRW short-bed pickup is big. It measures 19.7 feet with a width of 79.5 inches and a height of 78.4 inches. The 149.5 inch wheelbase coupled with an improved steel frame featuring wider front rails provides a steady, rock solid platform for both hauling and towing a heavy load. The only complaint I have with the exterior build is with Ram’s 6 foot, 4 inch short-bed—it’s the shortest in the industry, 3.75 inches shorter than Ford’s. This is certainly a negative for truck camper owners who want maximum support for their campers, but with my lightweight truck camper it wasn’t a deal breaker for me.
Pickup trucks are made to haul things. Whether it’s a load of brick or a 3,000 pound truck camper, the 2013 Ram 3500 will handle the extra weight with ease. The GVWR of my truck is 11,700 pounds, which after subtracting the official curb weight, yields an official payload of 3,809 pounds, an impressive figure even with the payload robbing options of having a crewcab, a 6.7L turbo diesel, and a 4×4 drivetrain. Fortunately, with my truck camper mounted, I’m still 500 pounds below my rated payload which is what I was aiming for when I first contemplated buying the truck. If that amount of payload still isn’t enough, you can purchase a 2013 Ram 3500 DRW long-box with a 4×2 drivetrain with a mind-bending payload of 6,190 pounds (Ram’s 2015 model offers an even greater payload of 7,300 pounds).
The towing capabilities of the Ram 3500 are impressive as well. The truck comes standard with a 17,000 pound rated Class V tow hitch receiver, a 4- and 7-pin wiring harness, and a built-in brake controller with anti-sway control. My truck, which according to the official Ram literature can tow a whopping 17,160 pounds, pales in comparison to a Ram 3500 regular cab, DRW long-box which can tow an industry leading 30,000 pounds. Impressive! In addition, the aforementioned EVIC allows the owner to electronically pre-program up to four trailers based upon the type of brakes with which the trailer is equipped, thus saving time during set-up. The truck is also outfitted with manual, flip-out side view mirrors to improve visibility when hauling a truck camper or towing a trailer.
Found exclusively with the Cummins 6.7L turbo diesel, the smart brake is one of my favorite features. Think of it as an exhaust brake on steroids. The smart brake uses a sliding-nozzle turbine design, like Cummin’s previous offerings, but it’s now controlled by a more sophisticated software mapping program. This new software effectively allows for three different settings, all controlled by a single button located on the lower switch panel on the center stack. A single push of the button engages the exhaust brake into the standard, least aggressive exhaust brake mode. A second push of the button engages the smart brake or auto mode, which employs a more stringent and aggressive mapping configuration. According to the owner’s manual, the smart brake will “automatically provide a variable amount of engine braking in an attempt to maintain a constant vehicle speed.” The smart brake target speed is set when either the truck’s brake or the gas pedal is released. A third press of the button turns the exhaust brake off.
A total of 45 safety and security features have been built-in to the Ram 3500. These include advanced multi-stage driver and front-passenger air bags and seat-mounted side pelvic-thorax air bags. The truck also features standard Electronic Stability Control (ESC) technologies, including all-speed traction control, trailer-sway control, hill-start assist, and Anti-lock Brake System (ABS). The truck is also equipped with the Enhanced Accident Response System (EARS). This system makes it easier for emergency personnel to see and reach occupants in the event of an accident by turning on interior lights and hazard flashers, unlocking doors after air-bag deployment, and shutting off the flow of fuel to the engine.
The fluid and tank capacities of the 2013 Ram 3500 are pretty standard for a one-ton truck. My short-bed truck came with a 31-gallon fuel tank. If you buy a long-bed model you’ll get the slightly larger 32-gallon tank. The oil capacity of the Cummins 6.7L inline 6 is 12 quarts. Fortunately, the oil-change interval has been pushed out from 7,000 miles to 15,000 miles thanks to the aforementioned diesel particulate filtration improvements.This is good news for owners, but it also means you need to keep your eight-gallon DEF reservoir topped off rather than waiting for your next oil change. I’m told that the DEF should last 8,000 miles, but I’ve never achieved that figure. I can usually go 4,000 miles before I need to refill it. Fortunately, an analog DEF level meter is located on the dash where you can see at a glance what your current DEF levels are.
HOW IT PERFORMS
So how does the Cummins 6.7L turbo diesel perform in real life? Well, thanks to the EPA’s more stringent emission standards, the truck’s fuel economy isn’t what it could be. Still, it’s pretty impressive for a truck weighing close to four tons. Ram engineers claim that a 10 percent improvement in fuel economy was achieved in 2013 using the DEF system. Unloaded, I’m able to get 21 MPG on the freeway doing 60 MPH, while hauling a 3,000 pound truck camper at the same freeway speed I can average 14 mpg. City driving without the camper I can consistently get 16 MPG. Again, these figures are pretty dang good for a heavy duty truck, but a bit disappointing in light of the new federal regulations. Hopefully, engineers can develop the technology in the coming years to improve fuel mileage yet stay within the new federal guidelines. And speaking of these new guidelines, there’s no doubt that having to keep the DEF reservoir topped-off places an additional burden on diesel ownership, but there’s also no denying that the 6.7L turbo diesel burns cleaner and produces zero smell compared to older diesel engines.
The handling of the 2013 Ram 3500 is pretty impressive. Compared to other heavy duty trucks I’ve owned and test driven, the 2013 Ram 3500’s ride is silky smooth and quiet. The 68RFE six-speed automatic transmission shifts smoothly and efficiently, though on rare occasions it can be a bit jerky when descending at low speed. The steering is effortless on the highway with no wandering whatsoever, and the truck screams up steep mountain passes like a bat out of hell even with the 3.42:1 differential. The smart brake works exceptionally well in keeping the truck’s speed in check when descending down steep mountain passes, though I wish the button to access it was easier to locate in a pinch like on the steering column. One characteristic I really like is that the truck can practically turn on a dime. This really comes in handy when parking and doing U-turns and on heavily-wooded mountain trails that suddenly come to a dead-end.
As for the ride, the 2013 Ram 3500 gets an excellent grade. I found the ride to be firm and free from any jiggling and jarring. With my camper mounted, I did experience some roll on turns and winding mountain passes, but I was able to alleviate this by installing a Hellwig Big Wig rear sway bar (the Ram 3500/2500 comes with a factory front sway bar only). Surprisingly, the OEM shocks work well and don’t require an aftermarket upgrade to Bilstein or Ranchos. As expected, the truck’s heavy duty leaf springs handle my 3,000 pound truck camper with ease with zero sag. How does the truck perform on long road trips? Very well. Long drives of 8 hours can wear you out, but I found driver fatigue to be minimal after driving the Ram 3500. Overall, the truck is fun to drive and has proven to be very dependable—not one visit to the dealer has been required in the 12 months I’ve owned it.
In conclusion, you can probably tell that I’m a big fan of the Ram 3500. Fortunately for me, the switch from Ford to Ram was pain free. It’s true that there are a few aspects about the Ford heavy duty trucks that I like better, but in my mind, the Ram trucks fare better overall, primarily because of the reliable Cummins turbo diesel. The Cummins engine was reason enough for me to go with Ram in the first place. The fact that Ram produces a quality truck that is significantly lower in cost than a Ford was just icing on the cake. Fortunately, with the Ram 3500 pickup truck, you can have your cake and eat it, too.
Note: This is an independent review. I do NOT get paid to review products on this website. I will only recommend products in which I use and believe in and which I think will benefit my audience. The views expressed in my own personal views and are written without any influence, whatsoever. That said, I reserve the right to engage in paid affiliate marketing and promotion with brands, companies and individuals whose products I review.