Editor’s Note: As an industry employee, I received a discount when purchasing this truck. However, I have not received any financial compensation for the opinions expressed in this article.
The Expedition Portal full-size truck projects continue with the addition of a 2021 Ram 2500 Tradesman (with a 6.7-liter Cummins engine) to the Expedition Portal fleet of editor vehicles.
When selecting a vehicle for overland and recreational use, it’s important to start the process by identifying what your primary use will be. For instance, Scott Brady chose the full-sizedGMC AT4 platform for a handful of reasons, including its payload capacity (to accommodate a Scout Kenai slide-in camper), and the excellent fuel economy of the Duramax diesel engine.
In my case, one of the primary motivations behind selecting the Ram 2500 Cummins platform was so that I could tow a 25-foot Airstream travel trailer (and tow it easily). The 2021 Ram 2500’s towing capacity is rated at 20,000 pounds thanks to its 6.7-liter I6 turbo-diesel Cummins engine which generates an impressive 370 horsepower and 850 foot-pounds of torque. A secondary consideration for my purchase was overall value, with the Tradesman and Cummins engine combo (4×4, crew cab, 6.4-foot bed) starting at approximately $53,000.
Initial Impressions of the 2021 Ram 2500 Tradesman Cummins
Having already accumulated almost 10,000 miles on the odometer, 75 percent of those miles while towing the Airstream through the Rocky Mountain states, my initial driving impressions are largely positive. To date, we have performed two oil changes and two tire rotations and have experienced no error codes or issues with the vehicle performing as expected. The truck’s steering and alignment have not wavered, and the transmission continues to shift smoothly and predictably.
The basic Ram 2500 Tradesman trim feels plush and comfortable, which has resulted in low driving fatigue on long days. Some upgrades that our particular vehicle has (purchased off the lot) include an 8.4-inch touch-screen infotainment display, 400-watt AC outlets (in both the center console and rear driver’s side of the bed), LED bed lighting, Mopar rubber floor liners, and Mopar spray-in bed liner. All of these features have been used regularly and appreciated.
Cab comfort is excellent.
The upgraded 8.4-inch touch screen infortainment system.
The bed utility group includes spray-in Mopar bed liner, LED lighting, and a 400-watt AC power port.
In the way of improvements, I’d love to see built-in storage and folding rear seats offered as an option with the Tradesman as well as the 12-inch navigation screen (only an option with the Bighorn trim level and up). I also think that instead of having five USB outlets (yes, five) located in the front of the truck, at least two should be relocated to the rear of the center console so that the back seat passengers could access them. Finally, it would be nice if the infotainment system’s navigation worked via Bluetooth instead of a wired connection to my smartphone. At least this last gripe can be solved with a variety of aftermarket options.
The rear seats offer a tiny bit of storage underneath, but they don’t fold. Note the rubber floor liner which helps preserve the truck’s carpeting.
Overall, I am highly pleased with the Ram’s interior and have found it equally comfortable (albeit less fancy) to the interiors of both Ford and Toyota’s higher trim levels.
Piloting the Ram on city streets as well as the highway is a pleasure. The 6.7-liter turbo-diesel Cummins rumbling to life puts a smile on my face every time I step on the accelerator and provides ample power. The only unpleasant reality of this massive power plant is its fuel economy. In our two months of ownership, we’ve averaged around 17 mpg (as high as 19 mpg) on the highway without any load and about 11 mpg while towing. City and stop-and-go driving reduce these numbers.
The layout of the truck’s cockpit works well for me, and, generally speaking, all features are easy to find and operate. Electronic shifting is performed via two buttons located on the right side of the steering wheel, which I would prefer to see relocated to the shifting lever to more easily facilitate shifts while turning the wheel.
Electronic shifting buttons are located on the right side of the steering wheel.
The exhaust brake (standard with the diesel engine), tow/haul mode, and the trailer brake controller are all located on the center console below the infotainment screen and are easy to reach while driving. The on-the-fly transfer case, which allows you to switch in and out of four-wheel drive, is easy to operate and includes a hill-descent mode for automatic acceleration/braking on steep and technical terrain.
Left: Trailer brake controller, exhaust brake, and tow/haul mode buttons below the center console. Right: on-the-fly transfer case.
The 6.4-foot bed has provided ample storage space for our paragliding and other outdoor equipment, and it offers a sufficient amount of tie-down points to secure unstable or larger loads. Still, the addition of two more tie-down points in the center of the bed would be welcome. The retractable step, which deploys from the rear driver’s side (under the corner of the truck), makes stepping up onto the tailgate easier, although I think that I’ll continue to be envious of the integrated tailgate steps in the GMC and Ford trucks.
Finally, as dog owners, choosing the crew cab was a pretty easy decision. In addition to our pup, Royal, every human who has climbed into the rear bench seat has looked around in admiration while commenting on the amount of space they have. All said, the cab of the Ram 2500 has room for five passengers in addition to the driver, thanks to front and rear bench seating.
To say that I’ve been impressed with the 2500’s ability to pull our travel trailer would be an understatement. This truck crushes the towing game. After putting 10,000 miles on the Ram, I feel extremely confident going up or down steep grades, and in general, highway miles are a delight.
This Tradesman came standard with an exhaust brake (I cannot overemphasize the value of this feature for towing safety) and also has a multi-mode trailer brake controller in addition to tow/haul mode. With these tools, trailering has been pleasant, and more importantly, safe.
The only feature that does not come standard on this truck that could further improve the already positive towing experience would be a set of airbags; however, they can be added as a factory option. It’s worth mentioning that given the 2500’s payload capacity of 2,300 pounds, combined with the Equal-i-zer brand weight distribution hitch that we’re using, the tongue-weight of the Airstream has resulted in a minimal suspension droop in the rear of the truck. Furthermore, the HD suspension actually rides and handles more comfortably with the trailer attached. I’ve had the truck up to 85+ mph while towing with complete confidence and a smooth ride.
I have been pleased with the Ram’s off-highway abilities as a stock vehicle, and I haven’t yet experienced any limitations.
I only wish I could say the same about the off-highway comfort of this truck. Our rig came with the off-road package which adds HD tow hooks, a transfer case skid plate, and a tuned suspension. Unfortunately, the HD suspension is still extremely stiff and unforgiving if you attempt to overcome an obstacle too quickly. Slow and steady is crucial with this truck. To enhance the ride comfort, I often air down the tires, but this introduces some logistical challenges without an onboard air compressor installed yet.
Even though it’s built like a tank in many aspects, the truck has some obvious vulnerabilities, including the massive differentials and turbo intercooler. The length and width of the truck are also inherent limitations on the trail, but in the end, this vehicle was never expected to be an extreme rock-crawler. In practice, I’ve felt comfortable driving it on narrow roads.
Almost at the summit of Rollins Pass in Colorado.
This particular truck was optioned with an anti-spin rear differential (a locking differential is not a factory option) with a 3.73 gear ratio, and in my experience, it has provided sufficient traction on the trail. This 2500 Tradesman also has a hill descent mode (only available when 4-low is engaged) which is a pleasure to use on steep terrain. It performs gas/brake automatically, with speed adjustments performed by the driver via the electronic shifting buttons on the steering wheel.
Imogene Pass road, Colorado.
Exploring some rocky alpine terrain in the San Juan Range, Colorado.
One additional upgrade we are happy to have gotten by chance (this was a dealer-ordered truck, not a special order) was the snow plow prep package. It adds (among an engine block heater) a 220-amp alternator, a piece of equipment that will help us power auxiliary equipment like trail lighting and a winch.
Planned Modifications and Additions
While this truck’s primary job is to tow the Airstream, I also want enhanced performance and protection when I leave the pavement. Some of my goals in upgrading the truck with aftermarket parts are as follows:
- Protection of vulnerable areas like rocker panels and rear quarter panels
- Enhanced performance for accessing remote destinations and tackling semi-technical off-highway trails
- Secure, weatherproof storage and sleeping space in the bed of the truck
- Independent auxiliary power system
As to protection and enhanced clearance in off-highway applications, I will be adding Rangemax Ultra HD bumpers from Utah-based fabricator Expedition One. The front bumper will include a full bull bar to protect against animal strikes, and the rear bumper will incorporate a swing-out with a full-sized spare mount and a swing-out ladder for accessing racks that will be mounted to the cab and roof of a bed canopy.
When it comes to bed canopies, I wanted something that primarily provides secure storage for equipment and can also offer shelter from the elements if we decide to sleep in the truck bed. There are many quality options on the market, but because we wanted an enhanced capacity for carrying equipment on a rack, we’ve settled on the South-African-made RLD Designs stainless steel bed cover, which can support a 700-pound dynamic load. Additionally, the bed cover’s integrated cabinets will be utilized for auxiliary systems such as onboard air and electrical infrastructure.
I also plan to switch out the stock 18-inch rims for 17-inch replacements (currently considering AEV) with larger all-terrain tires. In my research, it appears that I can install a 35-inch tire without needing to address leveling or trimming, but additional delving will be required to fully understand the implications of a larger wheel setup in regard to towing.
Finally, a selection of LED lighting from Lightforce will be installed for off-highway use once the bumper installation has been completed.
Purchasing a vehicle for overland and recreational use can be a complex decision, especially with so many options available. Having carefully considered my personal goals and needs, I selected the full-sized Ram 2500 Tradesman (with Cummins diesel engine) for its combination of towing capability and value, and overall I have been very satisfied with my decision.
The 2500 lets me confidently and safely tow our 25-foot Airstream, and once separated from the trailer, the truck has been very capable on the pavement as well as in off-highway driving scenarios.
While I have some criticisms, mostly focused on interior design elements, I think it is a well-designed truck. I’m excited to begin adding aftermarket upgrades to enhance its performance when venturing farther down the trail.
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