2014 Ram 1500

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2014 Ram 1500 EcoDiesel review

By Tom Wilson of MSN Autos
Rating: 9.6

Bottom Line:

For years buyers have been ready for a light-duty pickup with diesel power. Ram with its 1500 EcoDiesel is the first to address this eager market, and they’ve done well.
Pros:
  • Finally, a diesel half-ton pickup
  • Fuel economy and power
  • Generous amenities and clever features
Cons:
  • Nonlinear throttle response
  • Precise but numb steering
  • No telescoping steering column

Fewer combinations have been as eagerly anticipated as a diesel engine in a half-ton pickup truck. Now Ram — the truck formerly known as Dodge — has beaten the competition to market with a modern 3.0-liter turbodiesel V6 engine coupled to an 8-speed automatic transmission. It's resetting the bar for pickup performance and fuel economy because it combines better than 25 mpg highway fuel economy with 9,200 pounds of trailer-towing muscle in a refined package.

Model lineup
A premium engine, the 3.0-liter EcoDiesel is optional primarily in the higher trim levels of Ram's extensive 1500 model line. For working applications the diesel is listed as an option for the vinyl-floormatted Tradesman, but skips the basic personal-use Express and HFE trims.

View Pictures:  2014 Ram 1500 EcoDiesel

The diesel reappears as an option in the well-equipped personal-use Big Horn and Lone Star trucks, as well as the similar Outdoorsman. It's also optional in the loaded, near-luxury Laramie, Laramie Longhorn and Laramie Limited trims.

Regular folks intent on diesel power should consider the Big Horn and Lone Star models where midlevel finishes such as carpeting and premium cloth seats (either bucket or split bench) are standard. The Laramie trims are where power leather bucket seats are the starting point, rising to heated and ventilated seats, along with real wood, heated steering wheels and other luxuries as you climb the option ladder. The higher-level Ram trucks are truly posh inside and priced accordingly.

Under the hood
Ram, which is part of Chrysler and thus part of FIAT, has been able to tap the immense diesel-building expertise of VM Motori in Italy. They designed and built the 3.0-liter V6 EcoDiesel, which uses an iron block, aluminum cylinder heads, dual overhead cams and 24 valves.

Turbocharged and intercooled, and meeting emissions regulations in all 50 states, the diesel is rated at 240 horsepower at 3600 rpm and 420 lb-ft of torque at 2000 rpm. It carries a 5-year/100,000-mile warranty. The sole transmission choice is the 8-speed automatic.

Ram has long had one of the best, most sophisticated chassis in the half-ton segment. It uses an A-arm front suspension and a 5-link, coil-spring rear suspension. An air suspension is optional, and Ram has added front park assist for 2014.

Inner space
Ram 1500 interiors range from the vinyl-floormatted Tradesman to the silver-saddled Laramie Limited. There is generous room for adults in the standard and more common Quad and Crew Cabs.

The Ram feels and drives bigger inside than it appears from the outside. The ride heights are tall in 4x2 and 4x4 variants, with a large hood and cowl limiting visibility close ahead.

Getting comfortable is not a problem, but a lack of a telescoping steering column might be noticed by long-legged drivers, although adjustable foot pedals are available. Storage is very good — there are two glove boxes and numerous cubbies — plus power outlets and other connectivity options.

On the road
The first thing you notice about the 3.0-liter EcoDiesel engine is that you don't notice it. The engine is nearly silent at idle and absolutely odor free. There's a muted clatter outside the truck, but nothing that will raise eyebrows at yacht or country clubs. The exhaust note is silent as well.

Put the Ram 1500 under a light load at low speeds and it is just possible to hear a soft metallic patter from beneath the hood, but it is so quiet that it disappears from perception within minutes. Otherwise it's nearly impossible for passengers to tell they're in a diesel.

The driver senses the diesel's power signature, however. The 3.0 muscles up as soon as you roll into the accelerator, holds zippy V8-like power through the middle of the rpm range, then drops off just before up-shifting and re-energizing the acceleration all over again. The shifting is extremely smooth.

Easygoing drivers will sense only that the diesel makes big power right away, maybe more than they're used to for so little accelerator movement. Hard-charging drivers who mat the accelerator when the light goes green will sense a definite lag, then a big rush of torque. The effect is nowhere as linear as a naturally aspirated gasoline engine, but the effect shows up meaningfully only during aggressive driving.

We've yet to tow with the new Ram, but passing acceleration and hill-climbing are athletic. Because the "little" 3.0-liter revs faster than its locomotivelike siblings in the 2500- and 3500-series trucks, it feels more eager if not ponderously, overwhelmingly muscular. It zips and clearly has plenty of reserve power.

The rest is good Ram truck dynamics. The handling is very good, like a sedan, albeit a tall one. The steering is near surgically precise but numb, so sports car maneuvers on back roads aren't exactly telepathic. The ride is equal parts plush through major undulations and truck-stiff on little jiggles, but it is never harsh. The Ram 1500 diesel makes a good daily driver.

And yes, the fuel economy is good. Using the instrument cluster mileage readout, we saw 22 mpg at a steady 75 mph and at least 26 mpg poking along at 55 mph. Official mileage ratings were still being determined at our deadline, but a guess at real-world daily average fuel economy is in the low-20 mpgs. That's tremendous for a pickup with real muscle underneath the hood.

Right for you?
In short, Ram isn't hampering the diesel 1500 with too high a price, and we predict fast sales.

Ram has not announced pricing other than to say the 3.0-liter diesel is a $2,860 premium over a 5.7 HEMI, which reflects the diesel's more expensive construction. Therefore, the $33,820 Ram 1500 Big Horn, which comes nicely equipped with the 5.7 HEMI 8-speed automatic, dash display, leather-wrapped steering wheel, UConnect with Bluetooth, receiver hitch and 20-inch chrome wheels would be $36,680 with the diesel. The same reasoning would make the luxurious Laramie Longhorn $47,645 with the diesel.

Assuming moderate-to-high annual mileage, the diesel option pencils out against the gas engines well enough over time for the higher fuel economy to offset the increased initial price. Depending on gas prices, miles driven and the type of driver you are, the diesel could break even in under two years — three, for sure — of driving. That's a far better return on investment than a hybrid sedan, and you get a truck in the bargain.

(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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BB06 - 9/19/2014 11:12:23 PM