In the year 1853, a 3-year-old horse named Darley bolted before the start of his first race. It was a good warmup – Darley led the pack for every second of the actual event. His performance impressed one Richard Ten Broeck, who purchased him and renamed him after the city of his birth – Lexington, Kentucky. He became responsible, at least in part, for making Lexington known as the horse capital of the world, a reputation that has led to a longstanding partnership between the Kentucky Derby and Ram trucks. If you can get your hands on one of the used Ram trucks in Lexington or any other city in America, it’s a high-value purchase as Ram maneuvers to position itself as the world’s premier truck brand.
Though sales still lag behind Ford and GM’s ridiculously popular pickups, Ram has been steadily growing in popularity over the past decade and may soon close that gap. Like the horse Lexington, who won six of the seven races he ran, Ram trucks use a combination of power and speed to leave a big impression. But “Big Lex’s” claim to fame wasn’t just the races he won – it’s the success of those he sired that cemented his legacy around the world. For 16 years, he led America’s sire list – including twice posthumously – which is a record that still stands today. Similarly, the Ram truck brand is not only known for legendary trucks like the trendsetting 1991 Ram 250 with its 5.9L Cummins diesel engine, but for continuously building on its success and pushing the truck market in new directions.
Consider the 2019 Ram 3500, whose diesel engine reached unprecedented heights and achieved a best-in-class towing capacity (at the time). And don’t neglect older models like the 2011 Ram 2500, which delivers some of the highest-value diesel performance with signature comforts you’ll rarely find on a three-quarter-ton truck. Then there’s the iconic Ram 1500, which has claimed various best-in-class titles on its way to being named the 2020 Luxury Car of the Year, a remarkable achievement that could have seemed inevitable with special examples like the Kentucky Derby Edition preceding it.
The Biggest Guns
Truck design is virtually an arms race between Ford, Ram, and GM. Each maker has its sights set on more powerful engines with astounding towing capacities year in and year out. Nobody holds the best-in-class horsepower, torque, or towing titles for long, but there’s no unwriting the historical achievements that certain models can claim. The 2019 Ram 3500 is one such truck. While its maximum towing capacity of 35,100 lbs has since been surpassed, its 6.7L high-output I-6 Cummins was the very first pickup engine to achieve 1,000 lb-ft of torque, making it a permanent feather in Ram’s cap.
The best part is that as a Ram product, even the toughest 3500 can be had with a cavernous Mega Cab, luxurious heated and cooled front seats, advanced driver assistance features (including a 360-degree bird’s eye view camera for easier parking), and an 8.4” or even 12” Uconnect touchscreen interface. It’s hard to imagine, but this monstrously capable vehicle is also a luxury car when properly equipped. Uncompromising shoppers will be rewarded for tracking down just such a truck. There’s simply nothing better for easily hauling a stable-sized trailer while traveling with the entire family in comfort.
Bang for Your Buck
If we look to the other end of the used truck spectrum (that is to say, older vehicles), you’ll sacrifice modern tech and capability to some degree but find substantially less expensive rides. Consider the 2011 Ram 2500 with the 6.7L Cummins diesel engine equipped. With mid-range models selling in the $25,000 neighborhood, you could easily find yourself in a 350 hp truck with over 15,00 lbs of towing capacity for a third of the price of a loaded 2019 Ram 3500.
The mechanical reliability of the diesel engine is superb, so the age of the truck isn’t much to worry about. If you’re the hands-on type, you’ll even find that it’s relatively easy to modify the 6.7L Cummins for improved engine outputs. Still, it’s not a necessity in order to achieve excellent working capability. Plus, Ram was already on the path to luxury status in the early 2010s and was working hard to make its trucks quiet and comfortable drivers. The premium features we noted for the 2019 Ram 3500 are all available – except the touch screens and cameras – in the 2011 model. Even integrated trailer brake controllers and backup sensors can be found on select trims if you’re willing to sift through listings to find them. Overall this makes the 2011 Ram 2500 with a diesel engine one of the best used Rams on the market in terms of features and capability per dollar.
Leading the Way
The Ram 1500 is now legitimately considered a luxury vehicle in its high trim setups, indicating ride comfort and a features list worthy of comparison to Europe’s best offerings. On its path to achieving status as Luxury Car of the Year in 2020, its iterations have strived to deliver a better experience to all its drivers. Early 2010s Ram 1500s lay claim to some of the highest towing abilities among half-ton pickups of the day. Fuel efficiency is also good, and the Pentastar V-6 engine that was introduced in 2013 has been rated for up to 20 MPG city and 25 MPG highway. In 2014 an even more efficient option appeared in the form of a 3.0L turbodiesel, making a used Ram 1500 an excellent choice for fuel-conscious drivers.
At the other end of the performance spectrum, the HEMI V-8 in the 2013 Sport R/T model can run 0-60 mph in 5.4 seconds. Ram trucks dressed and tuned for race-like performance are not uncommon, thanks to trucks like this. But real track enthusiasts would love to get their hands on the fastest production pickup truck ever built – the 2004-2006 Dodge Ram SRT-10, which had the Viper’s V-10 engine and topped out at 155 mph.
The Ram 1500 already sported a smooth, comfortable ride before introducing an air suspension in 2013, but that innovation simultaneously gave it the best step-in height and ground clearance numbers for any half-ton truck. The Uconnect infotainment system was available on an 8.4” screen as far back as 2013 as well, delivering surprisingly modern technology at a discount in used Ram trucks. Special editions have long been a staple of Ram 1500 production. From Rumble Bee and Daytona sport trucks to Power Wagon and Rebel off-roaders, truck drivers who are deeply passionate about track driving, drag racing, or off-road running can always find a Ram that caters to them.
Since we’ve spotlighted Lexington, we’re going to point out that even horse lovers have a Ram of their own – the 2019 Kentucky Derby Edition. Celebrating ten years of sponsoring the world’s most famous horse race, it’s a package for the Limited trim with special styling notes highlighted by a rose and horseshoe Kentucky Derby logo near the tailgate on both sides. Two-tone leather seats, a spacious crew cab, and a 12” touch screen are some of its highlights. While we can hardly say it’s a must-buy since the changes are limited to cosmetics, the small volume run of trucks is special for what it represents, and we’d be remiss not to discuss it while relating the Ram truck story to Lexington’s.
Dodge started making pickups a long time ago; the Ram nameplate has been in use for forty years. The Ram of the late 1980s and early 1990s was a significant performer, just like the horse named for the city of Lexington. The popularization of diesel engines makes the 1991 Dodge Ram a crucial figure, the sire of a diverse lineup of trucks that could do more and do it better than the competition. The parallelism to Lexington’s legacy is strong; used Ram trucks from the past two decades are some of the best, most exciting pickups ever built.
Does that mean the 1991 Dodge truck will be responsible for Ram being named the best truck brand in the world the way that the city of Lexington is the horse capital of the world? Well, we mentioned that the 2020 Ram 1500 was already named the Luxury Car of the Year – so which horse is your money on?