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2021 Ram 2500 and 3500 aim to hold their own against newer Ford, GM rivals

2021 Ram 2500 and 3500

What changes will make the 2021 Ram 2500 and 3500 Heavy Duty different?

Feature tweaks and new paint colors will likely be the extent of what’s new for the 2021 edition of Fiat-Chrysler Automobiles’ (FCA) heavy-duty (HD) pickup trucks. This review covers the Ram 2500 and 3500 series, which are designed for folks who need more power, towing, and payload capacity than available in the lighter-duty Ram 1500.

The current-generation Ram HD lineup premiered for the 2019 model year. Like the similarly redesigned Ram 1500, the 2500 and 3500 boasted revised styling, a new chassis, improved road manners, and advanced connectivity features. Towing and payload got a boost as well, with maximum ratings of 35,100 and 7,680 pounds, respectively, when the truck is appropriately equipped. FCA also became the first of its peers, which include General Motors and Ford, to offer a turbodiesel engine with1,000 pound-feet of torque.

All Ram variants are selling well. FCA does not separate heavy- and light-duty sales numbers, but during 2019, the Ram brand accomplished something once thought inconceivable: It passed GM’s Chevrolet Silverado to become America’s No. 2-selling full-size pickup. Demand for Ram trucks remains healthy, with the revamped HDs serving as worthy complements to the brand’s outstanding 1500 series.

Should I wait for the 2021 model or buy the 2020?

No reason to wait because these trucks will still be relatively new, and no significant updates are expected for several model years. For 2020, their second model year on the new platform, the Ram 2500 and 3500 received some minor content updates along with new paint colors Olive Green and Hyrdo Blue. Expect a similar level of alterations for model-year 2021.

Body-style choices shouldn’t change. Returning will be the Regular Cab with two doors and an 8-foot cargo bed; the Crew Cab with four full-size doors and choice of 6-foot, 4-inch or 8-foot bed; and the segment exclusive Mega Cab. Mega Cabs are essentially longer Crew Cabs with additional passenger and storage space. They exclusively use the 6-foot, 4-inch bed.

The carryover grade structure will start with the Tradesman and ascend through the Big Horn (called Lone Star in Texas), the Laramie, the Laramie Longhorn, and the Limited. Exclusive to the 2500 will be the off-road-optimized Power Wagon, which will again slot between the Big Horn and Laramie models.

Engine choices will remain a gasoline V-8 or a turbodiesel inline 6-cylinder engine. Rear-wheel drive will be standard on all models except the Power Wagon, which will come with the part-time 4-wheel drive (4WD) that’s optional on the other Ram HDs. The 4WD system includes low range gearing for severe off-road use but it should not be left engaged on dry pavement. Single-rear wheel (SRW) and dual-rear wheel (DRW) configurations are available for the 3500.

Will the styling be different?

Unlikely. The redesigned 2019 2500 and 3500 received an exterior design makeover similar to that given the new-for-‘19 Ram 1500. The changes were more evolutionary than revolutionary, so these rigs cut a profile similar to that of the 2009-2018 HD generation. Grille designs can vary based on trim level, but all boast “RAM” text stamped front and center.

The 2021 Ram HD Limited will remain the dressiest of the lot, with satin-finish trim conveying a sophisticated, almost urban vibe. Prominent use of earth tones should again make the Laramie Longhorn feel as if it belongs on a ranch estate. The ’21 Power Wagons will continue to look ready to tackle the demanding Rubicon Trail, and their elevated ride height, chunky off-road tires, and built-in winch delivers on that promise.

For 2020, FCA followed the path of the Nissan Titan XD Midnight Edition by offering its own “Night Edition.” This option for the Big Horn and Laramie included black 20-inch wheels, black exterior badging, and a black interior. Count on the package to return for 2021.

As with the exterior, the Ram HD’s interior saw similar updates to its light-duty sibling. Cabin trimmings would continue to span work-truck basic in the Tradesman all the way to luxury-sedan rich in the Limited. Power Wagons will again have prominent bolsters on the front seats with the vehicle name stitched in. The upholstery should again use a fun yet tasteful tire-tread pattern to help it stand apart from other off-road-oriented pickups.

All 2021 Ram 2500 and 3500 models will return with a straightforward instrument cluster, albeit one not quite as comprehensive or configurable as that in the Ford F-Series Super Duty. A point in Ram’s favor: models equipped with the turbodiesel engine get a very helpful analog gauge that monitors the level of the mandated exhaust treatment fluid.

All ’21 RAM HDs would again be available with Chrysler’s intuitive Uconnect software interface with support for Apple CarPlay and Google Android Auto. Available again will be up to five USB Type-A and four USB Type-C power points. High-end models will offer the expansive 12-inch touchscreen display pioneered by the Ram 1500. Set in a portrait orientation, this system can be customized to show a variety of information, including smartphone, climate, and imbedded GPS navigation.

For 2021 and beyond, we’d ask FCA to bring back the discrete heated/ventilated seat and heated steering wheel buttons that were available on the 2009-2018 heavy-duty models. You must use the infotainment screen to control these features on the 2019-2020 editions.

That slight inconvenience would be our only major gripe with the Ram HD’s interior. Seat comfort in all positions should remain best-in-class. The limo-shaming rear seat in Mega Cabs would boast an extra 3 inches of rear legroom over the Crew Cab, with seatbacks that can recline and fold flat. They also have room for a row of grocery bags behind the seatbacks. Interior storage on all 2021 Ram HDs will again include an available center console that can accommodate 15-inch laptop, expansive door pockets, and dual gloveboxes.

Any mechanical changes?

Very unlikely. With the 2019 redesign, Ram HDs exchanged a standard 5.7-liter V-8 engine for the previously optional 6.4-liter V-8. For 2021, expect it to again produce 410 horsepower and 429 pound-feet of torque. Smartly coupled with a fine eight-speed automatic, this is an impressive powertrain, and copes very well with this truck’s mass. Acceleration is smooth and strong, throttle response prompt, and the engine is whisper quiet at highway speeds.

Though it’ll still be a very costly option, the available turbodiesel engine is a tempting alternative. This 6.7-liter inline 6-cylinder manufactured by Cummins will again generate 370 horsepower and 850 pound-feet of torque in its standard output configuration. A high output version will remain available on the 3500, where it’ll again have 400 horsepower and 1,000 pound-feet of torque.

Ram Heavy Duty loyalists lament the loss of the previously available six-speed manual transmission. The current gen’s sole transmission has been a six-speed automatic. We don’t foresee this changing for 2021. That’s unfortunate because based on our test drives of a diesel-powered HDs we don’t think this gearbox makes the most of the prodigious power on-tap – it even seems to leave some of that eye-popping 1,000 pound-feet on the table. Note that diesel-powered versions of the redesigned 2020 Chevrolet Silverado/GMC Sierra HD and Ford F-Series Super Duty employ a more sophisticated 10-speed automatic.

Still, a Cummins Ram HD should be deceptively fast. Unladen, the truck won’t jump off the line, but it builds speed more quickly than you might realize. The engine probably will continue to produce the expected diesel racket, but it starts up quickly and neither smokes nor smells.

Returning on 2500 models should be a class-exclusive five-link coil rear suspension, a design similar to that on the light-duty Ram 1500. That should goe a long way to helping the ’21 Ram 2500 defend its standing as the best-riding truck of its type, especially when you add the optional load-leveling air suspension. There’s virtually no tail hop or skitter, even when driving over rough pavement. The ’21 Ram 3500 will reprise a more traditional leaf-spring rear suspension, though it, too, should continue to offer an air leveling option that helps overall composure when empty, laden, or towing.

Handling should again be a selling point. Expect steering to remain on the slow side, but turn-in would be good, with these rigs having surprising maneuverability. You’ll still want to avoid downtown areas in big cities, but a Ram HD has no trouble negotiating less congested suburban streets and mall lots, and certainly is at home at the farm or on the range.

Will fuel economy improve?

No. The EPA does not require trucks this size to participate in its fuel-economy ratings program but expect real-world fuel economy for the gasoline V-8 to average somewhere in the 12-15-mpg range. Our 2500 diesel averaged an outstanding 19.9 mpg in our suburban test loop.

The 6.4-liter V-8 would use regular-grade 87-octane gasoline. The turbodiesel would use ultra-low-sulfur fuel and require the use of an exhaust treatment system. Its urea-based fluid would require periodic refilling, which can be done by the end user.

Will there be new features?

It’s possible we’ll see some equipment shuffling on the 2021 Ram HD. For example, FCA could make some driver assistance features standard across the board, such as forward-collision warning and autonomous emergency braking that can bring the truck to a complete stop to avoid a rear-end collision even with a trailer attached. For now, though, we are grateful that these important assists, along with adaptive radar cruise control, blind-spot alert, rear cross-traffic detection, and automatic high-beam headlights are available at all, even on the entry-level Tradesman.

As with all full-size trucks, count on the 2021 Ram HD to be available with as few or as many features as a buyer wants, depending on their needs. For example, you should be able to continue to order a Tradesman with vinyl upholstery, manual locks, and hand-crank windows. At the opposite end of the spectrum, the Limited could be decked out with the trappings of a high-end luxury car with leather seating surfaces, heated and ventilated front seats, heated outboard rear seats, heated steering wheel, surround-view camera, and a 17-speaker Harman Kardon-brand audio system.

Will 2021 prices be different?

We can just about guarantee they’ll be higher. Note that our base-price-range estimates factor in the mandatory manufacturer destination fee. This charge was $1,695 on the 2019 Ram HD.

Figure base prices for gas-powered 2021 Ram 2500 models to span about $36,500 for a rear-drive, Regular Cab Tradesman to nearly $70,000 for a 4WD Mega Cab Limited.

Among 3500 models with the V-8, a rear-drive, Regular Cab Tradesman should also start around $36,500, with the Mega Cab Limited approaching $75,000. 4WD should to add another $3,500, with the turbodiesel engine retailing for $9,500-$13,000, depending on model.

Option pricing would vary based on body style and model selection. The 4WD 2500 Crew Cab Big Horn will likely be the most popular among recreational buyers. It would carry a sticker price of roughly $55,000-$65,000, depending on engine selection. At a projected base price of about $57,000, the Power Wagon would be an intriguing choice, though it adding options to it would quickly send its window sticker well past $65,000. At the top of the pecking order, loaded Limited models could see their asking prices top $90,000.

Thanks to stiff competition, you’ll likely be able to take advantage of generous factory and dealer incentives that will bring the cost down to a more palatable level.

When does it come out?

Look for a fall 2020 release date for the 2021 Ram 2500 and 3500.

Best competitors

Chevrolet Silverado HD, Ford F-Series Super Duty, GMC Sierra HD, Nissan Titan XD

About Chuck Giametta

This nationally recognized, award-winning writer brings to Carpreview.com two decades of automotive testing and reporting for newspapers, books, magazines, and the Internet. The former Executive Auto Editor of Consumer Guide, Chuck has covered cars for HowStuffWorks.com, Collectible Automobile magazine, and the Publications International Ltd. automotive book series. This ex-newspaper reporter has also appeared as an automotive expert on network television and radio. He’s a charter member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, the president of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Media association, and a juror for the annual Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year awards. Chuck writes from Colorado Springs, Colo. If you have a question for Chuck, write to him at [email protected]