2016 Ram 2500 Laramie Review

The Ram 2500 Laramie fills a market niche occupied by few.

For some, a conventional 4x4 ute such as the Toyota HiLux or Ford Ranger won’t cut it. That’s where oversized American pickups such as the Ram 2500 Laramie roll in.

This king of the road can, when properly equipped with a fifth-wheel setup, tow about double the weight of any mass-market dual cabs, courtesy of a massive turbo-diesel engine with more than double the torque output of the class-leading Holden Colorado.

All of this while offering cabin space, comfort and equipment that betters the average luxury SUV. Don’t even get us started on the all-consuming road presence thanks mostly to that vast chrome grille. The Ram is more than six-metres long and two-metres across, and weighs about 3.6 tonnes — almost as much as two Rangers.

The flip-side? At $139,900 plus on-road costs, the Ram 2500 also costs more than two fully-loaded Ranger Wildtraks, with a bonus Fiesta hatchback thrown in for good measure.

The story behind how this remarkable vehicle got here is an interesting one. Ram's parent company Fiat Chrysler doesn’t make it in right-hand drive, because it’s designed almost exclusively for North America where it sells hundreds of thousands a year.

However, it is willing to sell Rams off the Mexican factory floor to an Australian joint-venture called American Special Vehicles (ASV), which comprises Sydney distributor Ateco and famed Melbourne-based tuner Walkinshaw, which re-engineers them to RHD.

Read all about that process, and the scale of the operations. In short, Walkinshaw has employed 15 new workers for the full-time assembly line and done 30,000 hours of validation testing, and spent millions of dollars. A full re-engineering job takes around 20 hours.

The end result is the monster you see here. Its only rivals are fellow converted US trucks from other third party operations such as Performax or Harrison F-Trucks. The $140K price is competitive — in fact, it actually undercuts many, though Performax currently has a Ram 2500 Laramie on sale for $138,000 with 50km on the clock (ASV's licence means it is now the exclusive converter).

Here are the numbers. Under the bonnet is a 6.7-litre inline-six (we’re surprised it’s not a V8, too) turbo-diesel engine sourced from Cummins, pumping out a vast 276kW of power at 2800rpm and an earth-moving 1084Nm of torque from 1600rpm.

This is matched to a heavy duty six-speed automatic gearbox. There’s also a BorgWarner transfer case controlling the part-time 4x4 system. Just remember, the Ford F-250 converted by Performax we tested here, and which you can have in Lariat spec for about $150K, features a 6.7-litre common-rail diesel V8 with an even bigger 328kW of power and a stonking 1166Nm of torque.

The end result for the Ram, though, is a towing capacity on a conventional 50mm tow ball of 3500kg, which is the same as the HiLux, Ranger, BT-50, Colorado, D-Max and co, but more importantly, a maximum rating of — wait for it — 4500kg on a 70mm ball, or just shy of 7000kg with a fifth-wheel setup that you can add as an accessory. Yes, that’s about 7.0 tonnes. Massive.

In other words, it tows double what any Thai-made dual-cab ute will manage if properly equipped. Or, more likely, it will tow a 3.5-tonne load with contempt, where something from the HiLux/Ranger class might feel the burn.

We know this because we hitched the mean looking boat you see in the photos up the page (thanks to our friends at MY Marine in Dromana for the help) — way more than $200,000 worth, and nudging 3.0-tonnes on the trailer — and went for a cruise. We scarcely noticed it was there. Neither the ride or engine response was particularly impinged upon. It certainly required little extra effort to drive.

The Cummins truck engine is brutal. Despite the momentous kerb weight of the Ram 2500, it absolutely hammers. It’s fairly instantaneous in its torque delivery — it also delivers some trademark driveline shunt that is to be expected — and offers a nice meaty truck-like diesel rumble. The six-speed gearbox with column shifter rarely put a foot wrong either.

Fuel use over our mostly highway and towing run, with some city work, was surprising. We returned 12.3 litres per 100km, which is frankly not all that bad, considering. The 117L tank should give a decent range.

The full exhaust brake setup that’s most obvious in the truck’s haul model is a necessary supplementary system, alongside the trailer brake unit. The regular brakes have a fairly wooden and uninspiring pedal feel, and aren’t the last word in stopping power.

As with the F-Series truck, the Ram’s steering is wooly and vague, but that’s fit-for-purpose. It’s also easy to twirl about if for some reason you want to tackle the inner city like we did. The Ram is actually surprisingly easy to place on the road, and while it’s colossal, visibility is sufficient to know and press your limits.

American Special Vehicles developed a unique steering box as part of the RHD conversion. We did notice the tiller leering about 5 degrees to the left on straight-ahead at times. But this was one of the few very small gremlins we found.

The general ride is fairly compliant for a truck, but the rear does skip about when unladen if you tackle cobbles or potholes with veracity more than some of the class-leading smaller utes, despite being a five-link rather than leaf-sprung setup.

What really impressed about the Ram 2500 was its noise suppression at speed. Road noise from the Michelin LT265/70 R18 on/off-road hybrid tyres is kept well at bay, while wind noise is also very controlled and the engine burble kept distant by ample firewall insulation. It’s hushed like a luxury car in the cabin, with the only reason to raise your voice being the sheer bloody size.

Clambering into the six-seater cabin for the first time is an event. Plant a boot on the chrome side step, grab one of the fixed handles and haul yourself into the proverbial clouds. If commanding driving positions are your thing, the Ram is king.

It’s fairly straightforward to get yourself comfortable once ensconced in the large leather seat (with its eight-way electric adjustability, memory and heating/cooling functions) despite the lack of telescopic steering wheel adjustment, since the pedals can be moved at the push of a button.

The large embossed steering wheel has a ton of buttons front and rear that you adjust to quickly enough, while the instrument binnacle comprises six analogue gauges and a dominant 7.0-inch digital screen in the centre with trip computations (including a digital speedo). To the right of said wheel is a large, old school column-shifter for the automatic gearbox.

Once familiarised, you’re greeted by a wide, expansive dash dominated by an 8.4-inch touchscreen with sat-nav functionality, and a fascia trimmed in fake wood, silver and chrome bits. Most of the interior is trimmed in tactile plastics, but some of the surface materials feel on the cheap side — one example being the wobbly plastic surrounding the starter button.

The highlight feature of the centre screen is the way it displays not just a reverse-view camera, but also vision from a tray-view camera, via a lens fitted above the cargo area. The tray itself (which comes with a protective liner) is 1939mm long, 511mm deep and 1295mm wide between the arches — about 400mm longer than a Ranger’s, though its 913kg payload isn’t anything special.

This nifty tray camera feature is complemented by other amenities such as an electric rear sliding window, a sunroof and a proper Australian powerpoint fitted up front. The nine-speaker sound system with a sub is ample as well.

The vastness of the cabin is illustrated by the distance between you and the front passenger. The huge padded centre console flips up into a third front seat (with a lap belt only). Good thing the NVH is so great, because driver and passenger are hardly rubbing shoulders.

Cabin storage is fantastic. There are deep door pockets and shallower ones above, a sliding drawer under the fascia, a cubby atop the dash, two closing gloveboxes, that vast centre console and three cupholders ahead and lower-mounted phone holders above the driveshaft.

The rear seats are predictably spacious, with family SUV levels of head/leg/shoulder room, though with limited toe room. The large side windows and sliding rear window give good outward visibility, while you get rear vents and plenty of storage. The downside is that very short centre squab, which at least has a three-point lap-sash belt.

The Ram comes with front, side and head-protecting airbags for front occupants and curtains for rear passengers. While not ANCAP-rated, it has been safety tested by Walkinshaw engineers, and apparently performs to factory standard.

Boosting the cabin practicality, the seat bases flip up easily into the seat backs, and a flip-out cargo floor can be lowered. This turns the Ram into an oversized king cab, with storage space for a handful of large suitcases.

There are a few ergonomic oddities. The seat heating/cooling buttons work fine, but the mirroring function on the touchscreen hasn’t been reversed, so you control the driver’s seat by pushing the passenger section on the touchscreen. No big deal. Less great is the foot-operated park brake mounted to the right of the throttle, necessitating static left-foot braking at times.

All said, though, the conversion undertaken by Walkinshaw is fairly good. Panel gaps and other creaks and gremlins are largely non-existent. It feels 99 per cent factory fit, and for $140K you’d expect at least as much. You can lean on the three-year/100,000km warranty and roadside assist plan that’s provided if in doubt.

Having driven the smaller new Ford F-150 in the States recently, your correspondent was pretty impressed by the Australian-ised Ram 2500. The conversion jobs feels very decent on first impressions, and despite the cost, the 2500 can do things no dual cab sold through official channels can.

Is there a space for the Ram 2500? Well, the company has registered 34 this year, and is targeting 500 units this year, 90 per cent being the 2500 (the 3500 needs a truck licence, after all). And you still see a number of older F-Series truck around, not to mention converted trucks from the other sources such as Performax, which are also worthy.

But with its mighty Cummins engine, huge towing abilities and cosseting dynamics, the Ram 2500 is a standout driving experience no matter how you cut it.

Click the Photos tab to see more images by Tom Fraser. Thanks again to MY Marina in Dromana for use of one of its boats.