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2014 Dodge Ram 1500 Diesel Reviews / Quick Road Tests

The Ram 1500 pickup has, arguably, become the best full-size pickup on the market today. An unprecedented second consecutive win as Motor Trend’s “Truck of the Year” and a repeat performance as “The Truck of Texas” show the Ram is outpacing the competition, including the newly overhauled (at great cost) Chevrolet Silverado/GMC Sierra twins from GM.

For the 2014 model year, Ram added icing to the cake with the new V6 EcoDiesel engine, the first diesel offered in a light-duty American pickup for many years. Based on the same VM powerplant in the Jeep Grand Cherokee, the EcoDiesel cranks out 240 horsepower, which doesn’t sound like much for a full-size truck, and 420 lb-ft of torque, which is well into V8 territory. In the truck market, torque is what counts: it’s what gets you and the load moving.

ram 1500 diesel gas mileage

The official EPA figures came out at 20 city, 28 highway (23 combined). Compare that to Chevrolet’s highly-touted 4.3-liter V6, with 285 horsepower and 305 lb-ft of torque and an EPA estimated 18/20/24 mpg city, combined and highway. Ford’s V6 doesn’t even do that well: Ford’s 3.5-liter V6 gets 16 mpg city, 22 mpg highway and 18 mpg combined. (Ford’s best effort is easily beaten by the Ram 1500 with the 3.6-liter Pentastar V6, EPA-rated at 17/20/25 — numbers which roughly match Chevrolet’s, albeit with more horsepower and less torque.)

An EcoDiesel Ram 1500 has an operating range of about 700 miles, enough to get from Detroit to Boston or almost to Atlanta on one tank of fuel, as long as you don’t hit traffic. In Texas terms, the Ram would get you from Houston almost to El Paso.

Ram-EcoDiesel-2-Web

Those familiar only with older diesels or big rigs may be conjuring up images of lots of smoke, lots of clatter and 0-60 times that include lunch breaks. The Ram EcoDiesel is the new breed. It’s 50-state emissions compliant, unobtrusive, and, thanks to the torque coming in at 2000 rpm and the eight-speed gearbox, has plenty of juice to play in traffic. Combine that with the fuel economy and it’s not surprising that the EcoDiesel and eight-speed were voted “Best Powertrain” at the 2013 Texas Truck Rodeo, garnering twice as many points as the runner-up GM EcoTec.

defI’ve had two opportunities to try out the new diesel, but the longest drive was in the foothills of the Santa Monica Mountains northwest of Los Angeles. The truck had good acceleration, good response, plenty of power to climb dirt roads up the hillsides, and was just like driving a pickup with a conventional engine. With the Ram’s outstanding suspension and the creature comforts of the Laramie crew cab, the 1500 EcoDiesel was such a pleasure to drive, I wanted to keep on motoring just for the enjoyment of it.

Noise was minimal and unobtrusive, even at startup.

Black smoke has been consigned to the bad old days with the addition of a diesel oxidation catalyst, diesel particulate filter, and selective catalyst reduction: it’s “California-clean.” For even lower greenhouse gas emissions, the EcoDiesel can operate on biodiesel fuel.

In addition to lower fuel costs, the EcoDiesel should have lower maintenance costs, including oil changes every 10,000 miles. Unlike some past attempts at building a diesel for a light vehicle, the Ram EcoDiesel was designed to be a diesel: it’s not adapted from a conventional engine. This means components designed from the beginning to handle the pressures required by the diesel system. Even though it’s a V6, the Ram EcoDiesel weighs about 20 pounds more than the 5.7-liter HEMI V8.

Ram-EcoDiesel-3-Web

The downside to the EcoDiesel is its price. Official figures haven’t been announced, but Bigland said the diesel would carry of premium of about $4,000 over the base engine and about $2,800 over the optional HEMI V8. That sounds like a lot, but it’s half the price of adding the Cummins diesel to a Ram 2500, and the payoff comes in reduced fuel and maintenance costs and an engine designed for the long haul.

The EcoDiesel will be an option for all Ram trim levels and body styles except the standard cab with the short bed. This means fleet buyers can get it in the base Tradesman and rack up some serious reductions in operating costs.

The Ram 1500 EcoDiesel is due in dealer showrooms in March 2014. Anyone seriously considering a full-size pickup should add it to their shopping list.

Comparison: 2014 Ram 1500 Hemi

A friend and I went to the LA Auto Show this year in my new 2014 Ram 1500 Laramie Crew 4x4, 8-speed Hemi, with air suspension. It was the truck’s second road trip, about 250 miles round trip to bring the odometer to 1,400 miles.

air suspension

All I can say is, what a truck! The ventilated and heated leather seats are quite comfortable, and even soothing, making the pre-Thanksgiving LA traffic fight a minor irritation, instead of nerve-racking (also thanks to Uconnect-Nav, we were able to avoid most of the huge snarls of the day).

The Alpine sound system is astonishing in its flexibility and sound quality (the pitiful 64k-encoded Sirius satellite transmissions were processed to be better than FM-stereo sound, unlike my 2009 300C and 2010 Town & Country 730 UConnect satellite radios). The transmission is wonderfully smooth. A friend calls the truck “the limo” for its smooth shifting, luxurious interior, pneumatic ride, and extraordinary quietness - measured at 63 dB at 65 MPH on LA freeway-hop roads.

The electric power steering is nothing like that in other cars I’ve driven. There is no evidence that it’s electrically boosted. Nothing artificial in feel, whatsoever. Only the lack of pump noise and elastic-feeling stops at maximum lock say it’s electrically boosted.

transmission dial

The structural stiffness of the chassis and apparent precision of installation of the steering rack makes the truck a very precise and confidence-inspiring handler of smooth and rough roads, alike. The pneumatics make for a wonderfully-compliant ride, as well.

I got 20 MPG for the trip, while doing 70-75 climbing the 5000 foot-relief Tehachapi mountains over the Grape Vine route. All-in-all, I can’t believe anyone could find a better truck, or, for the most part, a better passenger car. It’s that good.

laramie interior

At the Show I went looking for the 2014 Mercedes S550, it being the big news for Benz this year. I walked past the 550 on the floor a couple times, thinking it was an E-class or CLS. Quite unimpressive. Of greater import was the construction quality. The general quality of the materials is easily matched by cheap Asian econoboxes. The door handles feel nasty in your hand — not smooth or expensive or rich-feeling. Overall, I’m thinking Mercedes’ cheapening of the S-class materials will repeat the similar cheapening debacle of the early 2000s S-cars. What a come-down, unless you simply have to have a fragrancer for your car with heated armrests, and just have to pay $100,000 and up. I’ll take my Ram. It’s going to be remembered as the better-than-S-class machine!

I’d like to see Chrysler add more options or features to the high-end Ram, however. HID headlamps, adaptive cruise, cross path detection, automatic fold-in-fold-out rear-view mirrors, the 6.4l Hemi as an option, power-retractable running boards, and a powered tonneau cover. Maybe, for grins, a softer-yet ride with greater travel and even more noise isolation to kick the tail of the new Sierra Denali.

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