By Bruce W. Smith
There are hundreds of Hurricane Katrina survivor stories from the Mississippi Gulf Coast where I live that capture hearts and minds. This isn’t one of them—at least in the sense of Reader’s Digest-like drama. It’s about a diesel-powered four-wheel-drive pickup.
Dodge had lent me one of their new Cummins-powered Quad Cab Ram 4x4 pickups to evaluate and road test. As fate would have it, the truck arrived just a few days before Hurricane Katrina materialized out in the Atlantic.
Life in the fast lane of an automotive writer is actually pretty straightforward: You get a vehicle, drive it around for a week, tow a boat or try the vehicle out in some way that makes sense if you are going to buy one, take a lot of photos, then write up your observations and test results. It’s pretty routine stuff.
So, when the big red Ram arrived late on a Tuesday afternoon, I dutifully whipped down to my friendly boat dealer and borrowed a 23-foot Triton bay boat, which was the biggest “fishing” boat he had on the lot for me to tow at the time. The next morning I headed to Gulfport (Mississippi) Dragway to see how the diesel-powered Dodge performed under ideal track test conditions—with and without boat in tow.
I am getting more and more fond of diesels. The more I drive them, the more I am impressed with their downright boat-pulling power and ability to cruise at the upper limits of sane freeway speeds all the while being better on fuel than gas rigs of similar size and performance.
The 325hp turbocharged Cummins inline-six, with its 610 foot-pounds of torque, is no exception. It easily moves the heavy 2500-series Dodge Ram 4x4down the road when you need to make haste—and one hardly notices when there’s 4,200 pounds of boat in-tow.
Track numbers on a Stalker Radar gun showed 16.8 seconds to get through the ¼-mile and at a speed of 79mph, and it accelerates from 0-60mph in 9 seconds. It took just 16 seconds to get Triton it was towing to freeway speed (60mph), which is remarkably good for a gross combined weight of nearly 11,000 pounds.
The Heavy Duty Ram’s brakes are just as impassive, bringing boat and trailer to a straight-and-true halt from 60mph in an impressive 210 feet.
During the remainder of the week the Quad Cab served dutifully as a comfortable four-door commuter vehicle, being driven in and around the area as one would any rig they have as a primary driver.
I thought the road test was finished by Friday, that is until Katrina literally knocked on my front door over the weekend.
In the hours, days, and weeks after Hurricane Katrina’s eye swept overhead, I saw first-hand how valuable a diesel-powered Dodge Ram 2500 Quad Cab 4x4 can be when the world around you crumbles from under Nature’s wrath.
The very first task it handled was being a “crew truck” as my friends and I took on the task of clearing some five miles of a paved country road leading from the shelter we were in to the Interstate. It was a formidable task. But with the help of a couple chainsaws and the brute strength and traction of the four-wheel-drive Ram the job was handled like pros.
Few who saw the Ram realized it was a 2006. Not surprising. The restyled front sheetmetal, new headlights, and billet-style chrome grille with the Ram’s head dead-center are the only external differences between old model and new.
The large, angular headlamp modules on the new Heavy Duty Ram are the same as the new Durango and utilize halogen bulbs that provide 22-percent more light intensity and 40-percent improved beam spectrum than the previous Dodge Ram. The greatly improved lighting was evident during the weeks that followed as I had to venture out on the dark, narrow, debris-choked roads left in Katrina’s wake.
Dodge’s top-of-the-line Ram Quad Cab 4x4 Diesel worked remarkably well in other ways, too. Although it rides a little rough on the solid axle housings, the new Ram Quad Cab delivers a sense of civilized spaciousness.
Dodge Ram Quad Cabs have always been known for their spacious interiors. Nothing changes in ’06 in that regard. What does change is the interior décor of the 2006 HD Ram is all new—from the center console that offers an array of new entertainment features to the addition of all-new seats, including optional bucket seats that provide substantial bolstering and generous support. Dodge also incorporates fresh materials, including leather and wood accents that create a rich and inviting environment.
Other interior changes make it very driver friendly. For example, the redesigned instrument panel cluster is placed underneath a cluster brow to reduce glare, and an all-new, wide center stack contains a new audio system and new heating, ventilation and air-conditioning controls that are very easy to reach while driving when road and traffic conditions warrant close driver attention.
During the tree-clearing adventure, we were constantly getting in and out of the big four-door cab, our rain-soaked clothes and wind-blown rain wetting the leather-trimmed interior. The leather handled the soaking as effortlessly as the Ram handled pulling downed trees off the roadway. A cloth interior would not have been so forgiving.
During the month we used the Ram for a variety of tasks we came to appreciate a number of other features. It has a Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) of up to 12,200 pounds, and that load capacity was barely tapped when we had to make a 200-mile round trip to pick up a 55-gallon drums of gasoline and emergency generators for neighbors and friends.
The new Ram has improved and quicker steering as well, which came into play a lot during the aftermath when making tight turns or maneuvering a trailer in close quarters—driving situations which I faced nearly every day during the month I ended up having the new Dodge.
Then there’s the beauty of diesel. Finding fuel of any type was near impossible along the Gulf Coast because there wasn’t any power. But that never fazed me because with a 34-gallon fuel tank and the Cummins Turbodiesel I had more than a 450-mile cruising range in city driving.
And when long-distance runs were needed, the diesel gives the Ram 2500 4x4 the ability to get 20-plus miles-per-gallon on the highway, or near 600 miles of range on a full tank.
It’s during those long hauls where you really notice how far along diesels have come in the last few years. They are cleaner, more efficient, and, as the case with the new Ram, far quieter both inside and out. For example, Dodge really increased sound deadening materials in the new Heavy Duty Rams, reducing interior quietness to that akin to a luxury sedan.
In fact, other than the step-in height being quite high without the optional step bars, there’s a lot to like about the 2006 Heavy Duty Dodge Ram Quad Cab 4x4. It just took a catastrophic hurricane to give me time to really live with it to realize the big four-wheel-drive diesel is good at a lot more things than just towing heavy loads.—Bruce W. Smith
Vehicle: 2006 Dodge Ram 2500 Quad Cab 4x4
Base price: $33,240
Price as tested: $41,250
Major options (est. cost): “SLT Quick Order Package 2UG” ($9,000); includes vehicle with standard equipment, auxiliary transmission oil cooler, High Output 5.9L Cummins turbodiesel inline 6-cylinder engine with 325 hp @ 2900 rpm and 610 ft-lbs of torque @ 1400 rpm, 750 amp maintenance free battery, current generation engine controller, electronically controlled throttle, GVWR of 9000 lbs and 4-speed automatic transmission.
Drivetrain: Part-time four-wheel-drive
Engine: 325hp 5.9L H.O. Cummins Turbodiesel I-6
Transmission: 4spd Automatic
Axle ratio: 4.10 w/ limited-slip
Suspension: Live axle housings, Coil front / leaf springs rear
Track F/R: 68.6/68.2
Overall length: 227.7”
Curb weight: 6,989 lbs.
Body: 4-door Pickup
Seating capacity: 6
Bed length: 6’3” (tailgate up)
Fuel capacity: 34 gals.
Observed fuel economy: 17 city / 21 highway
GVWR: 9,000 lbs
Payload capacity: 2,010 lbs.
Towing capacity: 12,850 lbs. when properly equipped