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Ram and tech vs tech

by David Zatz on

Developing direct injection, turbocharging, supercharging, and other engine technologies, and using materials like high-strength steel, aluminum, and magnesium, automakers are finding new ways to increase acceleration, safety, and load capacity (in trucks).

Some claim that Ram is behind in the tech race, failing in buzzword compliance, against with GM’s direct injection, Ford’s turbochargers (’course, Chrysler pioneered modern, high-volume turbocharging in the 1980s), and everyone’s hybrids, fuel cells, and electric cars.

Ram has been working along different lines, to a degree. The eight-speed automatic, for example, is superior not because it has eight speeds, but because it has a wide range, and both shifts and locks up extremely quickly, with light weight for its torque capacity. The results are better acceleration and better highway economy, coming both from gearing and from overall efficiency.

Ram has been cutting back on sources of drag and parasitic waste, from warming up the transmission fluid faster to varying fluid pressures to computer control over the alternator so it can pick the best times to charge. All wheel drive systems in cars and SUVs are now an efficient disconnecting-axle design.

The Pentastar Six was dubbed one of the world’s ten best engines by Ward’s for three years running — a rare accomplishment, without direct injection or forced induction. Some of the magic is the relatively cheap variable valve timing system, which uses dual cam phasers; Fiat’s MultiAir is superior in efficiency, but danged expensive to build and to fix, and presumably harder to program. The Pentastar’s modular design has also helped Chrysler to slash its bewildering array of V6 engines and parts, changing only what needs to be changed to fit into each car and purpose — and quite probably spurring Toyota’s current engine-part commonality project, just as the Neon spurred all sorts of activity at Toyota and Honda some 20 years ago.

Ram Ford Chevy
Base Six 17/25 (20) 17/23 (19) 18/24 (20)
Economy Six 18/25 (21)
Diesel 20/28 (23)
Turbo V6 16/22 (18)
Base V8 14/20 (16) 15/21 (17) 16/23 (19)
Top V8* 15/22 (17)
(8 speed)
13/18 (15)
(6.2 liter)
15/21 (17)
(6.2 liter)

Ram has the two top spots in fuel economy for half-ton pickups, beating even the compact Toyota Tacoma and Nissan Frontier. Ram “cheated,” in a way— they used a VM diesel engine, with the torque of a 5.7 Hemi, that will deliver good mileage even when towing (unlike a  turbocharged gasoline engine). It’s buzzword-compliant, but a large part of its efficiency comes from being paired up with that Torqueflite 8 transmission, as well as all that waste-reduction work.

It seems that Ram has been doing well by working at the little things; while the diesel would no doubt do well on its own, with everything else thrown in, the Ram 1500 diesel is a full-size that beats compact four-cylinder pickups in economy.

Ram 1500 does well even without the diesel; shows that Ram and Chevy are tied for best mileage for a base V6 (though GM has a price advantage), but Ram also has its more efficient HFE V6 pickup — the most efficient gasoline pickup sold, despite Ford’s rhetoric and reputation — which adds stop-start, grille shutters, and other tricks.

Ford’s turbo V6 competes with the base V8 models from all three makers, and does a good job of it in day-to-day driving, but is still beaten by Chevy’s new V8. Various testers claim that the gas mileage of Ford’s turbocharged six suffers under a heavy payload; Ram’s diesel solution is expected to respond better to serious use.

Ram’s 5.7 liter V8, though the least economical of the three eights, suddenly becomes more economical than the Ford V8s, and close to the turbo six, when paired with the eight-speed automatic. The capable transmission is an alternative to turbocharging, and comes in close to GM’s newer powertrain.

Looking at cars, we get a similar situation. The Charger V6, thanks to the eight-speed automatic and time in the wind tunnel, ended up beating the front wheel drive Ford Taurus and Hyundai Azera in fuel mileage (all have 19 city; Dodge has 31 highway, compared with 29 for the Ford and Hyundai). Going up to high-performance V8s, we see the 2014 Charger SRT beating the Chevrolet SS, despite Dodge’s older, five-speed automatic, which is being replaced in the ’15s by an eight-speed. Both cars have 14 mpg for the city, but Dodge’s 23 highway beats Chevy’s 21.

It seems that, despite being buzzword non-compliant in some cases, Chrysler engineers have been able to keep up and beat the competition. One wonders what will happen when the rumored Hemi refresh and direct-injected V6 come into play… possibly before GM and Ford start using their own ten-speed automatic.

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