With the new Ecodiesel engine, the 2014 Ram 1500 adds a bit of a European flavor to the most American vehicle of them all – the fullsize pick-up truck. So, how does one look from the view of an European?
Here, I must admit to not being a typical European, when it comes to American cars. As you may already know, I drive a Panther now, and I daily drove a GM B-body for several years. I even paid (little) money to own a Ford Tempo (don’t ask),. but I still live in Europe and drive lots of European cars, so I still have a good idea of what an average European will think about this truck.
First of all, it’s interesting to note that pickup trucks are one of the most common American vehicles here in Czech Republic – and probably even in surrounding countries like Germany or Austria. When you discount for the officially imported stuff – mostly diesel Jeeps, diesel Chrysler minivans and diesel Chrysler 300Cs, the most popular American cars are the pony cars trio, Corvettes, and then the fullsize trucks and luxury SUVs, like Escalade or Navigator. You will never see a Dodge Dart here, and probably not even fullsize sedans like Taurus or Impala. Even the typical US crossovers are extremely rare here – and if something gets imported, it’s usually the “butch” stuff. A Charger. A Durango. But no Equinox or Explorer.
So large American trucks are not exactly unheard of here. They’re definitely not common, but odds are at least two or three Rams (most popular), F-150s, Silverados or Sierras will be running at any larger town (like mine, with 100,000 people). And in the capital, you’ll probably see one or two every day.
Most of these trucks are highly optioned, shiny V8 ones, never used for any serious work. Most of them probably tow a trailer from time to time, but hardly any will ever get its bed dirty. Quite a big portion of them get converted to LPG, but there are many owners who consider it a “disgrace” to American V8 and insist on pouring loads of gas into their truck. These same people usually frown upon diesel engines, and are probably not the ones who will buy the new Ecodiesel, as it burns the wrong fuel and doesn’t produce the right sound.
So, to succeed in the European market, the Ram 1500 Ecodiesel needs to cater to several types of customers. It has to persuade the US car crowd that even with the Italian diesel, it’s still American enough and represents a way to finally get into truck ownership without rigging the car with high pressure LPG tanks. And it also has to impress the typical pickup/SUV owner that it is European enough in its frugality, sophistication and road manners.
As you can see from my recent Suburban review, it’s not easy for an American truck to impress an European driver – even one who is rather fond of American automobiles. Suggest buying something like the Ram 1500 to the typical customer in Europe, and you will quite certainly hear something about “primitive technology”, “agricultural suspension” or “ugly, cheap interior”. Not to mention terrible fuel consumption.
But if you follow the suggestion by forcing said person to sit in a Ram 1500 Laramie for a while, the whining will probably quickly stop. While it’s still no Audi when it comes to interior quality, the materials, the craftsmanship and ergonomics are leaps above what an average guy in Europe would expect from American truck. And quite on par with what Europe offers at this price point – a loaded Laramie Ecodiesel costs about $80k incl. VAT, which is about 20% more than a four-cylinder VW Amarok, or about the same as similarly equipped Touareg V6 TDI. And it’s definitely comparable.
Above: My 6′ 6″ boss in the front, and then in the back…
The Ram rids itself of the typical problems of older American automobiles – one that is still noticeable in the last generation of Suburban – that they are smaller on the inside than on the outside. The space inside is stunning. I’ve seen my boss, who is about 6′ 6” sit “behind himself” in the Ram, without having any problems with head or leg room.
With the air suspension and the new coil-sprung four link rear suspension, the Ram even drives well enough for European customers to be satisfied. Above all, the ride is supremely comfortable, and even the handling isn’t half bad, considering the sheer size and weight of the thing. Of course, there can be no talk about steering feel, balance and so on, but the Ram feels stable enough even in mildly swift driving (say, 60-70mph on a backroad). The steering wheel feels much more car-like than truck-like, with just enough assistance and the right size.
But, even without driving the other big US pickups, I can guess that the competition will be on the same level as the Ram. And yet it’s not very likely that F-150s and Silverados start appearing on European roads en masse. The real difference, which can make or break the US pickup on the European roads, is the Ecodiesel engine.
I have already experienced it (albeit shortly) in Lancia Thema, and I did quite like it, although it certainly wasn’t at the top of its league. Here, the story is a bit different. The Ecodiesel is still not the best V6 diesel out there – and it certainly can’t hold a candle to the likes of BMW 35d or VW/Audi 3.0 TDI biturbo. But in a fullsize pickup truck, it has no direct competition.
This means that even though it’s a little less sophisticated than some of the competitors, it’s still much quieter than any other truck diesel engine. And while it’s not as powerful or as frugal as other V6 diesels, it’s still much more torquey than the V6 Pentastar, much more frugal than the 5.7 Hemi, and still powerful enough to make the Ram lively enough. The ZF eight-speed gearbox is quite smooth and doesn’t seem to shuffle around for gears, like the six-speeder in the last-gen Suburban does.
If the Ecodiesel fulfills its promise – and everything looks like it will – of being able to run on less than 10 liters per 100km on the highway, it will be the first American fullsize pickup to really make sense in Europe, at least in the last 70 years or so. Its combination of utility and comfort may be enticing for certain European buyers, and the fuel consumption shouldn’t scare them away this time. Yes, the Ram 1500 is still ungodly big, and will be a royal pain to park and drive in countries like UK or France. But here in Central Europe, it’s fairly livable, and, even with taxes and customs added, quite cheap – the top-of-the-line Laramie still costs about the same as a poverty-spec Touareg. The bad thing, though, is that you have to make do with the short bed – the bigger one makes the 1500 truck under EU regulations, increasing the custom duty from 10% to 20%. But it would be too long to park, anyway.
So, will the Europe be flooded by diesel American trucks in the near future? I don’t think so. But I’m willing to bet money that Rams will become much more common (less uncommon) here. And I would venture to say that of the current FCA portfolio, the Ram 1500 would be one of the more successful vehicles on European market. Certainly they would sell more of them than Lancia Themas. And likely even more than Lancia Deltas (I have seen about two of those in the wild, ever).
And if the VM Motori power plant doesn’t turn out to be a turd, like the 1990s four-cylinder in the Jeeps and Chryslers was, I may be buying one in a few years, to replace the Town Car.
@VojtaDobes is motoring journalist from Czech Republic, who previously worked for local editions of Autocar and TopGear magazines. Today, he runs his own website, www.Autickar.cz and serves as editor-in-chief at www.USmotors.cz. After a failed adventure with importing classic American cars to Europe, he is utterly broke, so he drives a borrowed Lincoln Town Car. His previous cars included a 1988 Caprice in NYC Taxi livery, a hot-rodded Opel Diplomat, two Dodge Coronets, a Simca, a Fiat 600 and Austin Maestro. He has never owned a diesel, manual wagon.