CC Review: 2019 RAM 2500 Tradesman Crew Cab 4X4 Power Wagon – Clifford Rides Again

Within a day of receiving this truck, my kids named it Clifford.  As you may or may not recall, Clifford is the hero of a series of children’s books in the form of an amiable family dog, he happens to be extremely red and extremely large but also extremely well tempered.  It’s the first time that the kids have named any of our vehicles, let alone one that we were merely fostering for a week after FCA dropped it off for me.

But such was the truck that it was difficult not to like.  Much like Clifford the dog, there were times when it was a little frustrating or more than what was needed, but overall a ride in the truck was a good time and welcomed by all.  Whether it took us all to the County Fair (it did) or to the Post Office (that too), or out to look at some land in the boonies served by unpaved roads, it was unflappable.

This truck is a little different from many of the media vehicles in that while it was still a 2500 series Heavy Duty truck, it was the base Tradesman version, albeit with one very comprehensive and expensive option package, that being the Power Wagon Package.  Usually the test vehicles seem to have every possible option, so this was refreshing.

As a Tradesman level truck this one had cloth seats, a minimal 5″ infotainment screen, no phone chargers or plugs in the back row, no heated seats or steering wheel, no dial or buttons for various 4WD system options, only partially powered mirrors (the big portion), six passenger seating via the flip and fold center front seat/armrest combo, no center console, only one camera, very minimal “nanny” devices and not much else, certainly not as compared to the 3500 Dually from a few weeks ago.  But you know what?  It didn’t need all that extra stuff.

What it did include in this case was the Crew Cab format with oodles of passenger space both front and rear and a 6’4″ bed, the standard Heavy Duty 6.4liter Hemi V8 Engine (410hp, 429lb-ft of torque), an 8-speed transmission, the ability to tow 17,130 pounds of your favorite junk, a floor-mounted manual transfer case lever like your grandpappy used to use (or your teenage daughter in her Jeep Wrangler), power windows and locks and not much else.  Base price is listed at $39,850 in the above format and likely to be lower once you step on the lot of your favorite dealer.

Oh, and that major Power Wagon option?  For $7,995 (20% !) that gets you the bigger 17×8″ black wheels with 285/70-17 Goodyear Wrangler Duratrac All Terrain tires, a 4.10 axle ratio as opposed to the standard 3.73, chrome bumpers, fender flares, fog lights, an electrically disconnecting stabilizer bar, a 12,000lb capacity WARN electric winch with a remote controller, Bilstein performance shocks, tow hooks, some skid plates, and Tru-Lok (electrically locking) front and rear diffs.

Some (a lot of that stuff actually) is available for quite a bit less with judicious juggling and choosing of optional items rather than just going for the whole package.  In true U.S. truck form, spending a little time on the RAM “Build and Price” website is lots of fun but an easy way to simply make hours of an evening disappear.

I fibbed a little above, this truck did have a few other little options, the main ones being the Tradesman Level 2 Equipment Package which for $995 gets you the cloth seats as opposed to vinyl, the split front seat, carpeting instead of vinyl flooring, rear defroster and power sliding rear window, remote keyless entry and satellite radio.

For under a grand, those are well worthwhile if you are driving this instead of your employee.  It also had the spray in bedliner, a tonneau cover, some bed lighting, trailer-tow mirrors and the rear park assist system; all told that added another $1700 or so.  In sum, this particular one rang up at $52,450 including destination charges bit before any discounts etc.

I will say I felt a little self-conscious driving this rig, while I did like the bright “Flame Red” exterior color (one of two no-charge colors, the other being white; but there are 29 color options in total!), I’m not a big fan of black wheels, but overall think RAM did a great job with the styling vs the intended market.  For once here is a VERY capable truck able to move five or six people in comfort, and able to traverse very rough ground with minimal worries.  Think oil-patch worker.  Or perhaps rancher.

Of course the downside of that capability is evident as well when it isn’t being used for that.  This truck sits higher than many others and getting in without any steps or running boards, well, I somehow mastered the heave-ho lateral/vertical jump needed to get my 215 pounds behind the wheel.  My youngest son looked more like he was trying to get out of the pool without a ladder as he clambered in, and my 5’2″ wife, well, let’s just say that if I was married to Britney Spears (I’m not), the paparazzi would have been camped out at our house all week as there was no graceful way for her to enter or exit and wardrobe malfunctions were a distinct possibility.

On smooth pavement it rides great (duh), but on some of our concrete interstates a pitching and bobbing motion due to the empty back end quickly became very tiresome and had me jiggling like Jell-O.  Of course that’s my fault for loading myself up instead of the truck and driving it empty, can’t really fault the (work) truck for that, even with its coil rear suspension.

Gravel roads were good as well as far as the ride goes, the ones I drove on were fairly well graded with minimal washboarding, speeds of around 50mph were easy and felt quite stable, with the exception of hearing the odd rock go pinging around somewhere due to the tires.

The 6.4liter engine lets out a magnificent growl on startup, and moves this truck with authority.  While no rocket, it never felt lacking in power.  The transmission is a peach, shifts were imperceptible, and it never felt like it was “hunting”, just seemed to be in the right gear and not something to be thought about.  This time I drove more in town than on the highway (70/30 or so?), and averaged just under 15mpg.

In town the mileage was poor and when on the highway at over 70mph it was difficult to get it out of the high teens as well, likely due to the lifted aspect and the large wheels and tires.   At speeds around 60-65mph with a very gentle foot it seemed to return over 20mpg though especially as the engine went into 4-cylinder mode which was imperceptible aside from the little dashboard light.

As an aside, the tires were not loud at highway speeds at all, but were faintly noticeable at around town (40mph) speeds as a slight hum. Nothing overly objectionable, I’ve been wanting to see how Duratracs performed from a noise level perspective and this was a good opportunity to do so with tires that had just over 10,000 miles on them (as did the truck, of course).

Inside, while not as luxurious as some of the other RAMs, is still an exceptionally nice place to be.  I made a point of touching more of the plastic pieces than I usually would, and while they are mostly hard, they don’t look that way.  RAM has finally figured out (alone among the big three) how to make or buy plastics that LOOK and FEEL rich.

Years ago I read somewhere in a book, (perhaps a Lexus history?), about plastics and the difference between good looking hard plastics and cheap hard plastics is the addition of various amounts of talc and a little bit of money.  If that’s the case, these pieces used a lot of it, they looked good, way better than what Ford or GM are offering, and worth every penny spent.

The seat fabric is another case in point – this fabric, while undoubtedly durable, feels and looks good.  (My pictures do not do it or the plastics justice).  Not shiny, not coarse, but with good hand feel and excellent texture I’d be happy to ride on this fabric for the rest of my life.  The rest of the interior had everything you need, and nothing you don’t, i.e. a couple of charge ports and a few cupholders in front and the infotainment was the smallest on offer at RAM, with a small but capable 5″ screen.

Once set to my favorite satellite station, I didn’t mess with it too much besides getting my phone to sync with it in order to use the Bluetooth for phone calls (excellent sound quality in that mode in both directions).  The speakers though were quite good, or perhaps just quite loud, I had no problem playing whatever I wanted (Tom’s Diner by Suzanne Vega/DNA in this case) at much higher volumes than I usually would.

Oh, and the shift knob?  Second nature by the end of the week and puts itself in park by itself if you push the ignition button off.  If anything this is even more out of the way than the column lever version.

As is probably obvious, overall I did like this “base” version a lot.  It was excellent to use, will likely keep a lot of its value, and isn’t overboard with stuff to break down the road.  If I needed a 2500 (and I don’t), this might be the way I’d equip it, or perhaps I’d actually skip the Power Wagon Package and just get a regular 4WD one and save a lot of money, the basic package is just that good.

After sampling the 3500 and now the 2500, I’m really itching to try the 1500, preferably with the e-Torque V6.  Or maybe I’m not as I think it would probably end up being the Goldilocks truck for my own use case and I don’t need a car/truck payment…Clifford was great for a week, but for me in the long run something a little more relaxed would be preferred.  You, though, might think different, and you could do a lot worse than this RAM 2500 (and hardly better).

Related Reading:

2019 RAM 3500 Limited Crew Cab 4×4

2019 RAM 2500/3500 HD Intro-Sampler

1978 Dodge Power Wagon