While I prefer to write about my guilty pleasure, hot hatchbacks, I’m a truck guy. I popped my truck cherry with a ’97 GMC Sierra short bed. I added exhaust, tires, and completed numerous doughnuts. I once got lost in the Rocky Mountains, missed my turn, and drifted my way through a gravel parking lot in that truck. I miss her.
I moved from the Sierra to an ’04 Jeep Wrangler (the truck equivalent of a convertible) while I lived in FL, drove an ‘05 V8 Tundra for the life of that lease, and have finally settled with the truck version of the minivan; a GMC Yukon XL Denali.
Despite this inner “truck guy”, I recycle, wear bamboo clothes, try not to fart too much, eat cows to help eliminate methane gas, and genuinely love the environment. I don’t know where the truck guy comes from… Maybe the truck guy is my dark side? I need more metachlorians (if you get this reference, we can be friends.).
Well, I’ve found myself in a truck that erases (or at least eases) the guilt of driving a big gas guzzler; the 2012 Ram 2500 Heavy Duty CNG Crew Cab. The name is a mouthful, but for a massively large truck, it isn’t a handful. The Ram has Hemi power, burns natural gas, only costs $25 to fill the CNG tanks, and could flatten most family sedans without batting an eye. It’s a set of 36’s away from being a Monster Truck. So here are the basic stats.
Base Price: $32,400
As Driven: $57,342
Engine: 5.7L Hemi V8 CNG, 383 horsepower & 400 ft-lb of torque
Transmission: 6-Speed Automatic
Wheelbase: 169.4 inches
Curb Weight: 5,995 lbs.
MPG rating: < 13 city/< 19 highway (This is a guess because no one has published the Ram 2500 mpg rating and it isn’t on the sticker).
With that, on to the review.
The interior of the Ram is styled as a work truck: utilitarian and functional. The plastics feel rugged and not cheap. Everything feels like it was designed to be abused. It could be the perfect vehicle for my two boys. We treat everything rough, but the Ram handled them with ease.
There is plenty of room in the 2500. It has seating for six in the crew cab; three seat belts on the front bench and space for three more passengers in the back. It is quite roomy, rear legroom is 42.9 inches. Both of my boys’ car seats fit well in the back and left enough room between their legs and the driver’s seat to allow an adult to slide past them to sit comfortably in between. Remember comfort is relative. A sardine would find the fit in the rear middle seat incredibly relaxing, while a Bentley Mulsanne* owner would be offended that they might have to come into contact with another human in the back.
With the bench seat in the front you have the option of having your wife/girlfriend/mistress/hooker sit closer to you. Antics could ensue… Or you could use it like we did and just stash some of the shopping from the local bulk store between my wife and I. When you lift the center armrest/console, there is a ton of room up front. I eventually curled all 6’4” of me into the front bench for a refreshing nap, while my wife finished up shopping on Black Friday. It was quite lovely.
There are storage compartments everywhere. The center console, under the front middle seat, on the floor in front of the rear side passengers, all four doors have storage cubbies, two glove compartments up front, and there’s also half a long bed open for storage in the back. Human traffickers could increase their profits by at least three to four people per trip using the interior storage of this truck.
Ride height is very noticeable. You must add the side step bars as a very necessary option. If not, no one will ever ride with you. The 2500 has amazing ground clearance and was taller than almost everything on the road. The only vehicles larger were dump trucks and semis. I did not fear any deer in this truck. If I would’ve hit a deer with the Ram, there might have been a slight tremor, but I wouldn’t expect anything else. While all other vehicles experience deer through the windshields; 98.4% of the carcass would be deflected under the truck.
This truck is long. The reason is the crew cab and the 8 foot bed (half is taken up by CNG tanks) on the back. While driving the Ram east, it feels like the cab is in the Central time zone, but the bed is back in the Mountain time zone. It’s a very long truck. It doesn’t drive like a long truck though. The Ram handled well. It was easy to navigate in traffic, but I wouldn’t want to try and win a race in it. A calm, relaxed driving style is needed to navigate it through traffic easily.
The side mirrors are the size of decent TV’s. Part of the mirror is a regular rear view mirror and the outside three inches are blind spot mirrors. Both provided a ton of visibility to aid in lane changes and reversing the truck. The right side mirror does not have the “objects are closer than they appear” warning on it. The warning isn’t there for a very good reason. Ram, Dodge, or maybe the Italians from Fiat have worked some kind of dark magic on the mirror (or Science) that makes the image look bigger than reality.
The tech in the 2500 Heavy Duty is understated. You don’t notice the tech immediately because of the casual utilitarian look of the interior. The Ram does have a 6 inch touch screen with the infotainment system in the middle of the dash. It does have satellite radio, a CD player, an auxiliary input, 2 USB jacks, a 110 Volt electrical outlet with a ground, and AM/FM radio. Navigation is included in the infotainment package. The navigation is powered by Garmin and very easy to use. Small Garmin GPS units are so prevalent that having the same software in Dodges makes the factory Nav very easy to use.
The backup camera was very helpful in navigating “Black Friday” parking lots. Using the camera, I exercised an amazing amount of patience and generosity. I didn’t run over or bump anyone’s cars, even though the rage monster inside wanted to…
The instrument cluster is easy to read. The dual fuel gauges for the unleaded and CNG fuel are front and center over the information center. There is a lack of information in the information center, so it’s more of just a center. There are two trip computers and an odometer. There isn’t a current or average mpg meter anywhere that I could find. I even had to RTFM (that’s “Read the F-ing Manual for the uninitiated.)!
Nothing anywhere on a mpg meter. The only way I know my average for the CNG is because I reset the trip computer, filled the tanks, and did some Math. You do get tire pressures, transmission temperature, and other fun statistics for when you’re pulling a heavy load. Hehe, load. I like Ford’s cluster better than the Ram’s. Ford’s has high-res graphics, displays, mpg meters, trip computers, vehicle diagnostics, etc. I haven’t seen GM’s cluster in their heavy duty trucks.
The performance of the Ram 2500 HD CNG varies. It really depends which fuel you are using. Other than that I had zero issues with the performance for the Ram. It was assertive, but not overly aggressive. Poised, but not flashy and I only hit one curb with it over the whole week.
The 5.7L Hemi V8 makes 383 horsepower and 400 ft-lb of torque. That’s a lot, but the 2500 weighs as much as a small whale. The mpg numbers are also harder to find for the Ram. The Hemi V8 is listed at achieving 14 city and 20 highway, but that’s in the 1500 4×2 regular cab. The 4×4 version achieves 13 city and 19 highway. The 2500 is probably averaging close to the 4×4 numbers. No one lists mpg numbers for the 2500… No one. Not even Dodge, Ram, Fiat, Jeep, or Chrysler.
The 5.7L Hemi V8 that I drove was actually an upgraded option. The 5.7L V8 does come standard with the 2500 Heavy Duty, but my tester had the $11,000 optional 5.7L Hemi V8 with CNG compatibility. There are twin 3600psi CNG tanks in the bed behind the cab. I drove on Compressed Natural Gas for a couple days before having to refill the tanks. There is only one CNG station in the Kansas City area. One. Talk about a monopoly… I paid $1.69 a gallon to fill the CNG tanks. I put in 14.36 gallons of CNG for a total of $24.41. I drove 180 miles on the first tank of CNG and drove about 195 miles on the second.
There is also an optional 35 gallon regular unleaded fuel tank. The standard regular unleaded tank is only 8 gallons. This is an option that you must check. With CNG stations so spread out and only eight gallons, you’d be lucky to travel more than 350 miles between the two fuel types.
Now for some Math. With a 35 gallon tank and an average of 19mpg on the highway, that’s a range of 665 miles. At $3.19 a gallon (the price I drove past this morning in KC), that’s $111.65 for a full tank. I bought CNG for $1.69 a gallon for a total of $25 and traveled an average distance of 185 miles (combine city and highway) for a full tank. That’s four fill-ups with CNG to get to same amount of money spent as the regular unleaded and a distance traveled of 740 miles.
That’s 80 more miles on CNG, and I saved $11.65. Factor in about 4 more gallons of regular petrol to close the distance gap, and the cost difference-per-tank of fuel becomes about $24.50. If you were to run only CNG, it would take approximately 450 fill-ups to make up for the $11,000 price difference. Yet unlike EVs, CNG vehicles have a wider appeal, though acceptance is still taking some time.
Overall, I liked the Ram 2500 Heavy Duty CNG. It’s got a long name, and that’s fitting on a truck that feels like it is a thousand feet long. The CNG is a very good option, albeit an expensive one that could take the entire life of the vehicle to repay. As it becomes more readily available and the technology refines itself, we should see more of these vehicles. The CNG does require you to fill up more frequently, but you’re still saving money. It just matters how much your time is worth.
*The Mulsanne reference is me sucking up to Bentley, so they’ll invite me on the next press launch. They won’t, but I thought I should at least explain the reference.
Christopher Tracy maintains the blog Every Man’s Auto where he passionately blogs about cars from the boring to the badass.