Diesel: Power and Luxury

Check out our comparison of three diesel trucks.

Power, economy and durability are traditional reasons for choosing a diesel pickup. The new breed of heavy-duty trucks offers several more. A perfect example? during a day of touring and towing, the Dodge Ram 2500 HD proved to be as docile as it was rugged.

Rated to tow up to 13,450 pounds, the 2500 HD made neat work of hauling an 8,500-pound camper. It took off from stops with no strain and accelerated into the passing lane with more control and confidence than I could get with a gas truck — and I ought to know, since I tow a comparably heavy boat with a gas pickup. The Ram showed 10 mpg towing at 55 mph; my late-model V-8 gas truck gets about 8 mpg. When not towing, the Ram’s standard digital display showed an average 17 mpg at 50 mph on a twisty back road, and 22 mpg at 70 mph on the highway. My truck, and similar full-size gas pickups in published reports, are some 20 percent less efficient.

Though I generally prefer a standard transmission for heavy-duty towing (you can get one for the Ram and take $1,170 off the list price), the six-speed automatic my test truck boasted showed no vices. Plus, I didn’t need to downshift on grades, thanks to the standard exhaust brake.

The 2500 HD approaches the sound and vibration levels of a gas truck. The only time mild diesel clatter arose was when I put my foot to the Cummins. A new front end better carries the weight of diesel. Saline-filled dampers cancel the effect of frame and body jouncing out of sync. Despite the massive stack of rear leaf springs — the front axle rides coils — I never felt rattled. The grille, bumpers, wheel wells and sills have been aerodynamically tweaked to eliminate wind noise.

With three cabs, including the new crew cab I drove and both 6-foot-4-inch (short bed) and 8-foot (long bed) box lengths, the Dodge 2500 HD can be purchased for work, play or both. Its power, efficiency and technology make it an ideal big-boat tow vehicle.

Dodge Ram 2500 HD SLT 4x4 Crew Cab

Towing Lowdown: Maximum rating is 13,450 pounds. A 350 hp Cummins 6.7-liter diesel inline-six delivers 650 foot-pounds of torque. A unique exhaust brake creates engine braking using turbocharged back pressure. Options include a rearview camera and 7-by-11-inch folding tow mirrors. Class IV hitch and light harness inlets are standard.

Inside Scoop: The interior of the RAM 2500 HD is all tight seams, with a nice mix of textures and surfaces. Gauges are chromebezeled, the shift lever is booted, and there's a 110-volt AC outlet plus two 12-volt DC receptacles. Boaters will appreciate the insulated stowage hatches in the rear floor.

Bottom Line: With the 350 hp 6.7-liter Cummins turbodiesel ($7,615) and a six-speed automatic transmission, the Dodge Ram 2500 HD 4x4 Crew Cab with a 6-foot-4-inch cargo box retails for $47,450. Warranty: 100,000 miles/five years.

**

**

Chevrolet Silverado 2500HD LT 4x4 Crew Cab

Towing Lowdown: Maximum rating is 13,000 pounds. A 365 hp 6.6-liter V-8 Duramax turbodiesel delivers 660 foot-pounds of torque. The Allison transmission includes automatic grade braking. Options include a rearview camera, a seven-wire trailer harness and a variety of hitch receivers. Add $100 for a heavy-duty 4.10 axle ratio.

Inside Scoop: The Silverado 2500HD is upgraded for 2010. It's slick, yet comfortably understated — light on chrome, heavy on neat fits. There are a pair of 12-volt outlets and a double glove box. A convenient passthrough rear seat creates SUV-like cargo stowage and security in the cabin.

Bottom Line: With a 365 hp 6.6-liter V-8 Duramax turbodiesel ($7,195) that includes a six-speed Allison automatic transmission, the Chevrolet Silverado 2500HD 4x4 Crew Cab with a 6-foot-5-inch cargo box retails for $47,550. Warranty: 100,000 miles/five years.

**

**

Ford F250 Super Duty

Towing Lowdown: Maximum rating is 12,500 pounds. A 350 hp 6.4-liter V-8 Power Stroke diesel delivers 650 foot-pounds of torque. Options include a reverse sensing system that warns you if your rear bumper nears an object. Telescoping, heated towing mirrors and Class IV hitch are standard.

Inside Scoop: The F250 Super Duty's cab is more Crown Victoria than monster truck, with subtle color contrasts and a neat center tower in the dash that houses audio and optional navigation screens. The 60/40 rear seat combines seating flexibility with stowage options.

Bottom Line: With a 350 hp 6.4-liter V-8 Power Stroke diesel ($7,835) and a fivespeed automatic transmission, the fourwheel- drive Ford F250 Super Duty Crew Cab with a 6-foot-¾-inch-long cargo box retails for $46,490. Warranty: 36,000 miles/three years.