2013 Ram 1500

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2013 Ram 1500 review

By Tom Wilson of MSN Autos
Rating: 9.4

Bottom Line:

Ram carefully but extensively updated their 2013 personal-use pickup, with an emphasis on electronics, V6 models and 8-speed transmissions. The result is a thoroughly modern, fuel-conscious, full-size pickup that is equally good for work or play.
Pros:
  • New V-6 sips fuel
  • Excellent, info-rich interior
  • Best-riding pickup
Cons:
  • Not a ton of reserve power
  • Hump on passenger floor limits foot room
  • The 4x4 is tall just to be tall

What's the most important attribute of a pickup truck? That it can tow a lot (cars, boats, motor homes, whatever)? Haul more than its weight in cargo (tools, plants, junk from the local Lowes or Home Depot, whatever)? Or transport the whole crew (family, friend, whoever) in style and comfort? Can it leap tall buildings in a single bound?

Apparently, while all of the above are important traits of a proper four-wheeled workhorse, they pale in comparison to getting good gas mileage. That's right: In today's uncertain economy, fuel efficiency is even important in the rough and tumble world of pickup trucks, which is why Ram has completely reengineered its lineup to be the category's de facto fuel misers.

Take the Ram 1500, for instance. It doesn't look like much has changed here; stylewise, it's almost the same vehicle as the outgoing model. However, under the skin it's a different story. From the frame up, every aspect of this truck has been tweaked to eek more miles out of every gallon of gas. Surprisingly, Ram didn't have to sacrifice any amenities or capabilities to achieve better fuel economy. In fact, the truckmaker improved both areas.

But are the improvements significant enough to make the Ram a more competitive pickup? You bet.

Model lineup
With the midsize Dakota no longer available, Ram is motivated to offer a wide range of 1500 models. Thus, the 2013 Ram 1500 lineup includes the fleet-only ST, followed by the value-conscious Tradesman and Express, then the mileage king HFE, and topped by the high-volume bread-and-butter SLT, Big Horn and Lone Star trims. More specialized are the Outdoorsman, Sport, Laramie and Laramie Longhorn. You might also run into Mossy Oak Editions for hunters or the Ram Laramie Limited at the country club. In short, there's a Ram 1500 for everything from farming and light-industrial use up to luxury personal use.

Under the hood
Ram is emphasizing its state-of-the-art entry-level 3.6-liter V6 engine this year. Replacing last year's 3.7-liter engine, the Pentastar V6 is a huge step forward, offering 42 percent more horsepower, 13 percent more torque, and approximately 20 percent better fuel economy.

It's an all-aluminum, 60-degree, 3.6-liter with double-overhead cams, four valves per cylinder and variable-cam timing. Naturally aspirated, the 3.6 relies on a healthy 10.6:1 compression ratio to make 307 horsepower and 269 lb-ft of torque.

Because the 3.6-liter engine is considerably more powerful than last year's 3.7 — a full 90 horses more powerful — Ram is fitting the 3.6 to the heavier 4x4 and Crew Cab trucks as well as standard and extended-cab 2-wheel-drive models. That relegates the older 4.7-liter 310-horsepower V8 as standard only in the utilitarian Tradesman and optional in the garden-variety SLT for improved towing capacity, thanks to its 330 lb-ft of torque. A 5.7 Hemi V8 engine with 395 horsepower and 407 lb-ft of torque is also widely available across the Ram 1500 line.

In addition, Ram is first to market with an 8-speed automatic transmission. It is the only V6 transmission offering, and will be the only V8 transmission offering starting in the second quarter of 2013. There are no manual transmissions in the 2013 Ram 1500 line.

Other fuel-saving tricks include reduced weight throughout the truck, electric power-steering assist, grille shutters, and on V6 trucks a thermal management system that shuttles coolant to rapidly warm the engine and transmission oils to reduce drag. A stop-start feature is also available on some V6s and V8s.

Ram 1500s are also unique as the only full-size pickup with a 5-link, coil-spring rear suspension. This offers a smoother ride than traditional leaf-spring rear axles, and is augmented in 2013 by an optional air suspension that delivers an even smoother ride. Lifted from its sister brand, the Jeep Grand Cherokee, the air suspension boasts automatic load leveling, kneels when parked, lowers about an inch at 60 mph or higher, and raises for off-road ground clearance. Also optional are two 4-wheel-drive systems — one part-time, the other full-time — each with low-range gearing.

Inner space
Everything inside is new — materials, design and electronics — with first-class execution. The Crew Cabs are especially useful, with good passenger room, as well as flip-up seat cushions revealing a cargo floor that opens to even more storage beneath.

The new UConnect electronics suite covers all the bases, both wirelessly and through a usefully large 8.4-inch screen in the center console; a second, optional 7-inch display in the instrument cluster adds even more information. It's available on SLT trims and is standard on Sport, Laramie and Laramie Longhorns. UConnect is easily upgradeable and customizable, and supports the Ram's navigation, HD and SiriusXM Radio interfaces. There are also numerous 12-volt, SD card and USB ports, plus built-in trailer-brake controls and Sprint wireless support. Even the mirrors are optionally power-folding.

On the road
The new Ram pickup continues the brand's excellent ride, handling and steering, making it a pleasure to drive over any kind of road or terrain. The new 3.6-liter V6 engine is very smooth and, if lightly loaded, the 1500 is commendably relaxed and quiet. Opting for the V8 brings on a throatier exhaust and more useful towing power, but it's a burlier experience and not that much faster when accelerating.

For light towing such as with a modest family runabout boat, the V6 gets the job done. But you'll definitely hear the engine working harder and there won't be much reserve power for hills. In 4x2 and standard cab trim, the 1500 is rated to tow up to a best-in-the-naturally-aspirated V6-class of 6,500 pounds. Add 4x4 and a Crew Cab and the tow rating falls to a still healthy 5,850 pounds. Ideally configured with the standard cab and the 5.7-liter V8, the Ram 1500 is rated to tow up to 10,450 pounds.

Right for you?
If the Ram's rugged looks appeal to you there are few reasons not to buy one. Pricing is unannounced, but Ram says the new 1500 will sell for little more than the 2012 models: approximately $22,500 to north of $45,000. Certainly from feature and ride standpoints the Ram 1500 is a class leader, and is competitive across the myriad of configurations full-size trucks are offered in.

It's definitely worth a look, even as a V6.

(As part of a sponsored press event, the automaker provided MSN with travel and accommodations to facilitatethis report.)

Longtime Road & Track contributor Tom Wilson's credits include local racing championships, threetechnicalengine books and hundreds of freelance articles.

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BB02 - 8/28/2014 12:20:02 AM