Test drivin’

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One of the lucky (and, unfortunately, very rare) perks of my job is getting the opportunity to test drive trucks for an extended period of time. In this particular case, we’re talking about a 2011 model Ram 3500 Laramie crew cab, decked out with a Dakota contractor body on the back.

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It’s as nice a piece of iron as any fleet or single-truck owner could ask for, but of course, most commercial customers don’t order the Laramie trim package, which includes leather interior, an in-dash screen that serves as navigation console and Sirius satellite radio, as well as other goodies such as heated seats and steering wheel.

All in all, though, even with the upgraded trim package, it’s still priced fairly reasonably. The base model 2011 model Ram 3500, which comes standard with a 383 horsepower 5.7 liter V8 gasoline-powered engine, starts at $30,810.

The version I’m tooling around in, even with the upgraded interior and exterior, costs $43,440. But that’s still well priced well below the premium spec’d pickups I’ve test driven in the passed – trucks that don’t come with contractor bodies, a beefed up dual rear wheel axle, or heavy duty shock absorbers fore and aft, mind you.

For the 2011 Ram 3500 Chassis Cab, larger front axle U-joints were developed, and front GAWR was increased on diesel trucks to 5,500 pounds from 5,200, which boosted front weight-carrying capability for this truck to allow for the use of larger snowplows.

It also results I a lot more solid steering and handling, especially in rough road conditions as I am discovering (more on that in a future post).

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That better steering also results from a recirculating ball system that provides precise response and an on-center steering feel through lower internal friction – both for the Ram 3500’s two-wheel and four-wheel drive models (I’ve got the two-wheel drive version, by the way).

Even though the interior is way, WAY fancier than any fleet might spec, there are a lot of features worth a second glance. One that isn’t in the video below is a 115-volt outlet with good old electrical plugs, so no fancy adapters for the “cigarette lighter” style outlets are necessary.

Power memory seats and lumbar support are also good additions, especially in terms of improving operator comfort.

With a gross vehicle weight rating of 12,500 lbs., the Ram 3500 version I’m using offers maximum payload of 5,130 lbs. and maximum towing capacity of 12,000 lbs.

I seriously doubt I’ll put either of those numbers to the test, but I do have it loaded down with about 500 lbs. worth of ungainly items (couch, carpet, chairs, and tree limbs) all headed for the local dump. We’ll see how the truck handles the twists, turns, and speed dumps on the way south to the big landfill, for starters – and whatever other adventures we encounter along the way …

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