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Ram rocks with new diesel

by Bill Cawthon on

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The Ram 1500 pickup has been on a roll recently as, Chrysler group designers and engineers have developed what is arguably 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 Motori powerplant installed 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 playing well into V8 territory. In the truck market, torque is what counts: it’s what gets you and the load moving.

There aren’t any EPA figures, but Ram brand CEO Reid Bigland says they’ve been getting about 20 mpg city and 27 mpg highway in testing, phenomenal for a big American pickup. Compare that to Chevrolet’s highly-touted 4.3-liter EcoTec3 V6 that produces 285 horsepower and 305 lb-ft of torque while delivering an EPA estimated 18/20/24 mpg city, combined and highway, respectively. Ford’s V6 doesn’t even do that well: a 3.5-liter V6 that gets 16 mpg city, 22 mpg highway and 18 mpg combined. (By comparison, the Ram 1500 with the 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 and eight-speed transmission is EPA-rated at 17/20/25.)

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With the observed fuel economy, an EcoDiesel Ram 1500 could have an operating range of about 700 miles. That’s enough to get from Detroit to Boston or almost to Atlanta on one tank of fuel. In Texas terms, the Ram would get you from Houston almost to El Paso.

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.

I’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.

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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.

Bill Cawthon grew up in the auto industry in the 1950s. His Dad worked for Chrysler and Bill spent a number of Saturdays down on the plant floor at Dodge Main in Hamtramck. Bill is also the U.S. market correspondent for just-auto.com, a British auto industry publication, and a member of the Texas Auto Writers Association, which has named the Jeep Grand Cherokee the “SUV of Texas” several times and named the Ram 1500 as the “Truck of Texas” two years running.

Bill has owned five Plymouths (including the only 1962 “Texan”), one Dodge and one Chrysler and is still trying to figure out how to justify a Wrangler. He also has owned at least one of every 1:87 scale model of a Chrysler product. You can reach him directly at (206) 888-7324 or by using the form.


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