Time to get heavy
Super-size pickup is rebuilt here to tow your boat or horse float
“NICE truck!” the beaming kid says, leaning out of the back window of his dad’s SUV as I pull up alongside.
He’s got it in one. The RAM Laramie is, for the moment, one of a kind on Australian roads: a factory-backed, warranted and ADR compliant right-hand drive conversion of an American icon — the super-size pick-up.
RAM is a truck brand of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, spun off from Dodge in 2009. Walkinshaw Automotive in Melbourne does the conversion.
It’s a full body-off remake, with locally sourced interior and factory-made (in Mexico) front-end components.
At $139,500 drive-away, the RAM Laramie 2500 appeals to a niche group of buyers who want to tow heavy trailers.
The RAM makes Ford’s Ranger look like a bonsai truck. It is more than six metres long, almost two metres tall and two metres wide. It weighs 3577kg — almost two Mitsubishi Tritons.
The tub is almost two metres long with 1.3 metres between the wheel arches, so you can carry a couple of motorcycles with the tailgate closed.
Its hauling credentials are even more spectacular. It will pull up to 3500kg — currently the heaviest legal trailer weight for production one-tonners and 4WD wagons in Australia — with a 50mm towball on the standard receiver hitch. You can add another tonne with a 70mm towball. With a pintle (tow ring) or a gooseneck in the tub, it will pull up to 6989kg.
So you can tow one caravan for yourself, hook up another behind it for the kids, plus a trailer with a few bikes! Sorry, that’s illegal. Bummer.
Gross combined mass — the number that really counts, because it includes the truck, trailer and everything else, including occupants — permits a maximum payload of 913kg. This applies even without a trailer, and some smaller one tonners will carry more.
You can drive the RAM 2500 on a car licence. Its maximum gross combined mass, hitched and loaded to the last legal kilogram, is 11,479kg. That’s nine and a half Toyota Corollas.
No matter how tall you are, you have to use the side steps and grab handles for the ascent to the luxurious, leather wrapped, heated and cooled driver’s seat.
The view from up here is impressive. You’re almost eyeball to eyeball with the big boys in their Kenworths and Western Stars, and it’s impossible not to feel just a tad superior to the hoi polloi in their little HiLuxes and Rangers.
The right-hand drive dash is so well done I would have picked it as factory fitted. It remained squeak and rattle free on test, and there are no obvious compromises to functionality, either.
Myriad storage options include five large covered compartments upfront and removable, waterproof tubs under the 60-40 split folding rear seats; these also fold up to make a handy cargo bay in the rear of the cabin.
The front armrest/storage box can be raised to create a middle seat, so you can carry up to five. Rear seat space is vast, though the centre occupant sits knees up on a hard perch.
Around Sydney, the 6.7-litre Cummins turbo diesel averaged 18.0L/100km. I used to curse truck drivers for the amount of space they take up on Sydney’s tight streets. Now, I feel their pain.
ON THE ROAD
I apologise for all the numbers in this test but they are noteworthy because they come from a unique world of bigness. How about 1084Nm of grunt? That’s more than double the torque of the Ranger’s 3.2-litre engine but the Cummins, though completely effortless in its performance, delivers the goods with a similarly lazy response to the pedal.
It revs to just past 3000rpm, so it’s designed to haul, not hurry. The 0-100km/h times are irrelevant.
A six-speed column shift auto, part-time 4WD and dualrange transfer case are standard. Off road, the RAM’s major limitations are its limited rampover angle (18.2 degrees) and low (188mm) ground clearance.
Specific heavy-duty towing features include an effective exhaust brake that also makes a great sound, a trailer brake controller with manual override and a Tow/Haul transmission shift mode that minimises hunting on hills and keeps the transmission cool.
Unladen, you can get 9-10L/100km on the highway.
Handling? If you drive it slowly the RAM won’t frighten you or fall over when you go around a corner and the steering is well weighted and surprisingly precise.
That’s about as complimentary as I can be, really, but it’s consistent with the RAM’s design brief and purpose and it would be unfair to expect anything else.
The ride is inevitably rugged too, again because it’s a truck. It would improve with a decent load on the back, which would also quell the rear end’s twitchiness on rough roads.
If you need a truck that can easily and reliably pull three tonnes or more, nothing can touch the RAM Laramie 2500. Its credentials are unarguable. The numbers say so.