Say what you will about Gov. Rick Perry – the guy has guts. Not many politicians will question evolution in an open forum and claim that Texas should be its own country. When you drive the 2011 Ram 2500 Laramie Longhorn Mega Cab, you might start to understand why this state of 24 million people tends to think outside the box. Decked out in rawhide leather, with huge buckled compartments on the back seats where you can stow your slab of chewing tobacco, the Longhorn is a mean machine. The growl from the Turbo Diesel engine alone causes fissures to develop on newly paved roads.
Of course, whether it stacks up well against the Ford Super-Duty F250, GMC Sierra Denali, or the Chevy Silverado 2500 HD is partly a matter of taste and partly an exercise in brand marketing.
The Ram does not claim to be best-in-class in every category. The main advantage with the Longhorn Mega Cab we tested, which costs $49,120, lies in the powerful Cummins Turbo Diesel engine. Now, other HD trucks offer both turbo and diesel, but the Longhorn uses a new technology that removes harmful emissions before spewing the exhaust. The Ram has not only met existing EPA guidelines for diesel emissions, it meets the regulations until 2013. Other HD trucks require that you add a “diesel exhaust fluid” treatment about every 3,000 miles.
The Longhorn also has powerful brakes that actually benefit from the engine compression. Essentially, the truck engine helps slow you down, which can be a major aid when you are pulling a massive camper or maybe a modular house. In our tests, braking was smooth and gentle, never touchy like some HD trucks. You can feel the engine slowing down when you brake.
This truck is also available in a manual transmission, which is one of its most unique features. Ford, Chevy, and GMC do not offer a manual, although most trucks use an electronic selector for down-shifting. (The automatic we tested had plus and minus buttons on the gear select.) The manual is for people who need to control shifting based on the RPMs of the engine, which is most useful on hilly terrain. By the way, this is one of the only trucks we have tested that has a hill assist that holds you in place when you are driving up a hill and need to stop, and also has a heated steering wheel.
Inside the cab, you’ll find a roomy interior that feels more like a Suburban than a crew-cab truck. The rear seats can actually recline about 9-inches, and there’s an extra storage area behind the seats. (You do have to move the seat forward to stick gear back there.)
For tech features, the Longhorn has some interesting add-ons. One is that there’s a pop-down TV screen for rear passengers. Ram told us that the provider for the TV signal, Sirius, is not going to be providing that service anymore, but it worked fine in our test truck for several cartoon stations. Like many Chrysler minivans, the Longhorn offers the UConnect system for connecting your phone. In our tests, music would sometimes play on fast forward for no reason over Bluetooth. Connected by USB, an iPhone 4 would sometimes drop the connection for no reason (most automakers blame Apple).
The Alpine audio system sounded good, not great. The interior is not well-suited to stunning audio replication, since it is so spacious and the music tended to bounce around. A few test songs, mostly country hits, boomed fine but had a slight distorted effect compared to our favorite in-car audio systems in the Jeep Grand Cherokee and the top-of-the-line Audi A8 system.
Driving the Longhorn is quite an experience. This is a massive truck that weighs 6,669 pounds, so it doesn’t really roll over a highway – it seems to push it out of the way. There’s an odd sense in this vehicle compared to the Ford F150 (which we tested recently) in that the Longhorn is tank-like and yet feels weightless at the same time. That’s not because the ride is smooth – it is a bit bumpy – but due to the large size of the cab and the height (about 78 inches tall). Going 75 felt like 55. The heavy and powerful truck comes at the price of fuel economy – about 14 mpg on average in our tests.
While the ride is not smooth, we found that the vehicle responded smoothly to large bumps and divots in the road, gliding over like the truck was not even going to blink. Cornering also felt smooth. In a thick mud pile on a farm road, the Longhorn pushed through with exceptional ease and never even considered slipping. On a rough gravel road freshly “paved” with dirt, we had no slippage at all, even though the Ford F150 actually did have a bit of tail swagger on the same road at times.
The 6.7-liter engine has 800-ft-lbs of torque and a towing capacity up to almost 23,000 pounds. That’s over 8 tons, or more than enough for most drivers. The Ram 2500 is also available with the Power Wagon option that adds rear-wheel differential locks (they spin at the same time) and a winch.
The truck has a 6-foot 4-inch box, which was not quite big enough for a Polaris RZR XP 900 racing UTV (utility terrain vehicle) but was big enough for an older Polaris ATV.
Is there anything the 2011 Ram 2500 Laramie Longhorn Mega Cab can’t do? Well, a few things. The Ford F150 had automatic running boards that slide out when you unlock the truck. (When we first started testing the Longhorn, we put a foot up and waited to the running boards to slide out. We would have waited a long time – they do not move, and are recessed back a bit more.) The F250 also comes with an included fifth-wheel trailer hitch. With the 2500, you have to install one.
The F250 also has a few extras to think about. There is an option that uses RFID tags to keep track of your gear (similar to what Ford does with their Transit Connect), and there’s a built-in steel cable you can use for securing your gear. The Silverado HD has a higher horsepower of 397 compared to 355 for the Longhorn. The Silverado also has a front independent suspension as standard.
What prospective truck buyers want to know is: Which truck is the best? In the end, that depends on what you need. The turbo diesel engine exceeds EPA regs better than other trucks. The interior is top-of-the-line and wins hands-down for styling. We liked the drop-down TV and the rear seating area, which is cavernous. The ride on the F150 was smoother, and the specs on the Silverado for engine size and standard HD offerings for towing capacity are better – which is why it won truck of the year. For those who want the most luxury around in a truck, with some turbo diesel perks and a lot of room to stretch out, the Longhorn is a step up from the competition. A big step up.