This weekend my assignment was to shake down America's first three home-grown sub-compacts -- the AMC Gremlin, the Chevy Vega, and the Ford Pinto -- for Motor Trend Classic in Amherst Massachusetts, but the Pinto lived over twice as far away as the others and the car was an exceptionally low-mileage original example, so I offered to tow his trailer from greater Buffalo. What better vehicle could there be for this duty cycle than Motor Trend's reigning Truck of the Year, the 2010 Ram Heavy Duty?
Naturally I requested an example equipped with the $7615 650-pound-foot 6.7-liter Cummins diesel, with its 9600-pound gross vehicle weight rating and 12,600-pound towing capacity. The $230 integrated trailer-brake controller should be probably be lumped in free along with the class IV receiver hitch on any heavy-duty diesel, as buying one of these to tow a pop-up camper or Hobie-cat (which do NOT need trailer brakes) would be like killing flies with an ACME anvil. In fact, I almost felt the need to apologize to fellow motorists and ecological Canadians for running this big honkin' truck empty while shortcutting from Detroit across Ontario to Buffalo, but at least the Cummins stretches a gallon of diesel for a respectable 17-plus miles when unencumbered.
This figure drops to around 12 once you hook up a 20-foot-long steel-chassis box trailer with a 2255 pound Pinto inside (figure about 5000 pounds total plus a big aero drag) and start driving up and down the hills of upstate New York. But lazy drivers (or those who aren't paying for the fuel) can set the cruise control at the 65-mph speed limit and the Cummins powers happily up and down those hills with minimal fuss or transmission gear hunting. The shifts are occasionally a bit harsh, but that seems acceptable given the vehicle's ultra-heavy-duty mission.
The no-cost optional trailer towing mirrors are sort of worth what you pay for them. They include an extension with a parabolic mirror that can be adjusted separately (manually) from the normal mirror. I was not able to get these mirrors aimed to give me a satisfactory view of what's immediately behind the trailer. Ford's idea of extending the mirrors out when towing is a better one. I also found myself wondering why I have to depress the Tow/Haul button every time I restart when the info display reminds me that it has detected trailer brakes. If the trailer's still there, let's keep Tow/Haul switched on, huh? That system does a great job of keeping the truck in the right gear, holding lower gears on acceleration, and grabbing them early when braking. And my passenger was ever so impressed with the Jake Brake button, which came in handy for comfortably slowing the rig for the many toll booths along our way. Furthermore, it's quiet enough that it could probably even be used in those "no engine braking" areas.
Our overall fuel economy for the 1403-mile trip calculates to 13.2 mpg -- about a third of what the Pinto might have done on its own, but the three passengers were way more comfortable in the truck - especially with the rig hooked up. When it's empty, the ride punishes the occupants to remind them this truck is designed to bear heavy burdens. Pick up the Summer issue of Motor Trend Classic in August to see how the Pinto stacks up against its Nixon-era sub-compact rivals.