The Truth About Cars » Ram http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Thu, 17 Apr 2014 22:57:46 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8.1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars editors@ttac.com editors@ttac.com (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Ram http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com 2014 Ram Power Wagon Looks To Make The Raptor Extinct http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/2014-ram-power-wagon-looks-to-make-the-raptor-extinct/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/2014-ram-power-wagon-looks-to-make-the-raptor-extinct/#comments Wed, 09 Apr 2014 13:00:52 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=790553 2014 Ram Power Wagon

 

Dodge is set to revive the Power Wagon as a high end heavy-duty truck option for Ram buyers.

Based on a Ram 2500, the Power Wagon packs a 6.4L V8 making 410 horsepower and 429 lb-ft. Power is put to the ground via a 6-speed automatic.

Additional features include  a reworked suspension with an additional two inches of lift, locking differentials and a 12,000-pound winch. New for 2014 (and standard for all Ram HD trucks) is a front axle disconnect system for an additional 1 mpg of fuel economy.

Bilstein shocks are featured at all four corners, and a sway bar disconnect system can be engaged in four-wheel drive at speeds below 18 mph. At the rear, the 2500 adopts the Ram 1500′s coil-spring suspension.

While the Raptor is more of a single-purpose truck (meant for driving around off-road, specifically in sand) the Power Wagon looks to revive the heavy-duty/off-road capable truck that has been the traditional positioning of the Power Wagon. The adoption of the coil-spring suspension will likely prove controversial for many truck die-hards.

 

2014 Ram Heavy Duty 6.4-liter HEMI® 2014 Ram Heavy Duty 6.4-liter HEMI® V-8 2014 Ram 2500 Heavy Duty rear axle 2014 Ram Power Wagon front axle 2014 Ram Power Wagon front axle 2014 Ram Power Wagon 2014 Ram Power Wagon 2014 Ram Power Wagon 2014 Ram Power Wagon 2014 Ram Power Wagon 2014 Ram Power Wagon 2014 Ram Power Wagon 2014 Ram Power Wagon 2014 Ram Power Wagon 2014 Ram Power Wagon 2014 Ram Power Wagon 2014 Ram Power Wagon 2014 Ram Power Wagon 2014 Ram Power Wagon 2014 Ram Power Wagon 2014 Ram Power Wagon 2014 Ram Power Wagon 2014 Ram Power Wagon 2014 Ram Power Wagon 2014 Ram Power Wagon 2014 Ram Power Wagon 2014 Ram Power Wagon 2014 Ram Power Wagon 2014 Ram Power Wagon 2014 Ram Power Wagon 6.4-liter HEMI® 2014 Ram Power Wagon 2014 RamBox 2014 Ram Power Wagon 2014 Ram Power Wagon 2014 Ram Power Wagon 2014 RamBox 2014 Ram Power Wagon interior 2014 Ram flat load floor 2014 Ram Power Wagon Articulink 2014 Ram Power Wagon sway-bar disconnect ]]>
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Chevrolet Offers Incentives, Extends Truck Month To Take Back Sales Crown http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/chevrolet-offers-incentives-extends-truck-month-to-take-back-sales-crown/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/chevrolet-offers-incentives-extends-truck-month-to-take-back-sales-crown/#comments Mon, 07 Apr 2014 13:02:44 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=788658 2014-Chevy-Silverado _12_

Though Ram knocked Chevrolet off the monthly sales throne for the first time since August 1999, the brand is ready to reclaim their part of Truck Mountain by offering incentives and extending their annual Truck Month into April.

Automotive News reports brand vice president Brian Sweeney threw down an additional $1,000 on the hoods of 2014 Silverado double-cabs in pursuit of “the heart of the pickup market.” Furthermore, Chevy’s second Truck Month boosts incentives offered last month, dropping a maximum discount of $8,974 into the bed of the Silverado 2500 HD crew cab or $8,162 for the light-duty double cab V8 model.

Lease offerings were also boosted for the reclamation battle, as one email from a Northeastern United States gave details for a regional lease agreement of $269 per month with $1,900 due upon signature; the Ram’s terms were $259 per month, but with a higher down payment of $2,999 upon signature.

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QOTD: Ram Beats Chevrolet For The First Time Since 1999, GM Gets Pouty http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/qotd-ram-beats-chevrolet-for-the-first-time-since-1999-gm-gets-pouty/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/qotd-ram-beats-chevrolet-for-the-first-time-since-1999-gm-gets-pouty/#comments Tue, 01 Apr 2014 22:06:20 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=785777 2014-RAM-1500-Eco-Diesel-Exterior-001

For the first time since 1999, Ram trucks outsold Chevrolet in a monthly sales period, with Ram edging out the bowtie brand by just 285 trucks.

With 42,532 trucks sold in March, Ram just edged out Chevy’s 42,247 trucks, but lagged Ford, which moved just under 71,000 F-Series trucks.

GM spokesman Jim Cain issued a rather acid-tongued statement to Automotive News, telling the trade paper

“The 1980s called. They want their marketing strategy back…It’s really easy to deeply discount your truck, mine the subprime market and offer cheap lease deals to buy market share.”

Although I am a dubious authority figure when it comes to withholding sharply worded responses, I can’t help but wince when I see this quote by Cain, as well as his other comments about the Chevrolet Colorado rendering other trucks “obsolete”. Clearly, things aren’t going well over in GM’s truck department, but reacting with a response best left for a “deep background” conversation at a Detroit-area watering hole only serves to further telegraph that fact.

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Cain’s Segments: Trucks Redux http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/cains-segments-trucks-redux/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/cains-segments-trucks-redux/#comments Tue, 11 Mar 2014 05:47:39 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=769570 450x244x2014-Chevrolet-Silverado-1500-Exterior-006-450x244.jpg.pagespeed.ic.zAXX8qzO80

February 2014 sales of America’s six continuing full-size pickup lineups grew 1.8%, but GM’s truck twins, the newest trucks on the block, fell 8.9%. Ford, Ram, Toyota, and Nissan combined for an 8.7% year-over-year increase to 94,225 units. The Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra’s decline equalled a loss of 4960 units compared with February 2013.

These full-size trucks accounted for 12.2% of the U.S. auto industry’s total February 2014 volume, up slightly from 11.9% in the equivalent period one year earlier.

Although the F-Series’ gain of 2.6% appears slight, this improvement occurred in an auto market which grew not at all. Moreover, a 2.6% increase for the F-Series adds 1393 extra units of a very profitable vehicle, more added sales than the Chevrolet Volt managed in total.

Total Ford brand sales slid more than 7% in February as car volume plunged 16.8% and sales of the Blue Oval’s five utility vehicles dropped 4.3%. Ford’s car division outsold the F-Series by just 1354 units; the F-Series outsold the utility vehicle lineup by 3040 units. 30.5% of the new vehicles sold by the Ford Motor Company last month were F-Series pickups.

At the Chrysler Group, where car sales dropped 14.7% and generated just 29% of the company’s February sales volume, the Ram Pickup range’s 28.4% improvement was more than welcome. And it was also expected. Over the eleven months leading up to February, the average year-over-year Ram P/U sales increase weighed in at 25.5%. From 16.3% in February 2013, Ram’s share of the full-size truck market (extinguished Escalade EXT and Avalanche excluded) rose to 20.2% in February 2014.

Often mocked for its inability to crank out sales like the top-selling Detroit trucks, the Toyota Tundra continues to be a somewhat popular vehicle by conventional automobile standards. Through the first two months of 2014, it ranks 41st among all vehicles in total U.S. sales, having ended 2013 as America’s 43rd-best-selling vehicle. Tundra sales have increased in each of the last five months, but the current pace won’t have Toyota matching 2007’s high-water mark. Toyota could easily sell more than 120,000 Tundras in 2014 – 196,555 were sold in 2007.

Analyzing the Nissan Titan’s market penetration as it begins its eleventh full year without any meaningful refresh is like studying the merits of a veteran linebacker’s knack for sacking in the twilight of his career. The Titan has for the most part become irrelevant, a fact which won’t make the reintroduction process an easy one when the new Titan arrives. Titan sales reached their peak in 2005 at 86,945 units, fell below 20,000 units four years later, and totalled just 15,691 in 2013. Titan volume is down 33.8% this year and February market share in the category fell below 1%.

From a market share-losing perspective, the Chevrolet Silverado’s decline was worse. (Obviously, the Silverado is America’s second-best-selling vehicle. The Titan is not.) 29.2% of the segment’s sales were Silverado-derived at this time last year, but last month, that figure fell to 25.2%. GMC Sierra market share declined by only a hair, from 9.9% in February 2013 to 9.8% last month.

As a whole, the pickup truck segment generated 11% of its February 2014 sales with small/midsize trucks, on par with results from the equivalent period one year earlier. Thank the Nissan Frontier. Sales of the Titan’s little brother shot up 112% to 5791 units.

Truck
Feb.
2014
Feb.
2013
%
Change
2 mos.
2014
2 mos.
2013
%
Change
Ford F-Series
55,882 54,589 + 2.6% 102,418 101,330 + 1.1%
Chevrolet Silverado
36,584 41,643 - 12.1% 65,510 77,088 - 15.0%
Ram P/U
29,303 23,289 + 25.8% 54,374 43,763 + 24.2%
GMC Sierra
14,232 14,133 + 0.7% 25,350 26,979 - 6.0%
Toyota Tundra
7923 7306 + 8.4% 15,813 14,310 + 10.5%
Nissan Titan
1117 1634 - 31.6% 2004 3028 - 33.8%
Total
145,041
142,494 + 1.8% 265,469 266,498 - 0.4%

 

Truck
Feb.
2014
Share
Feb.
2013
Share
2 mos.
2014
Share
2 mos.
2013
Share
Ford F-Series
38.5% 38.2% 38.6% 38.0%
Chevrolet Silverado/GMC Sierra
35.0% 39.1% 34.2% 39.0%
Ram P/U
20.2% 16.3% 20.5% 16.4%
Toyota Tundra
5.5% 5.1% 6.0% 5.4%
Nissan Titan
0.8% 1.1% 0.8% 1.1%
Full-Size Share Of
Total Pickup Truck Market
89.0% 87.6% 88.7% 87.2%
Full-Size Pickup Share
Of Total Industry
12.2% 11.9% 12.0% 11.9%
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Japanese Brands Dominate Consumer Reports Rankings, Detroit Three Struggling http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/japanese-brands-dominate-consumer-reports-rankings-detroit-three-struggling/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/japanese-brands-dominate-consumer-reports-rankings-detroit-three-struggling/#comments Wed, 26 Feb 2014 15:30:54 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=754369 2014 Lexus GS 450h Hybrid Exterior-004

Though quality and performance have improved as of late for products made by the Detroit Three, they still have a ways to go to beat the Japanese brands dominating Consumer Reports‘ current rankings.

Automotive News reports seven of the top 10 brands rated for overall reliability and road-test performance as conducted by the magazine are Japanese, while the two top Detroit brands — Buick and GMC — tied for 12th; Ford and Jeep tied for last place.

The top-rated brand for the second consecutive year was Lexus, scoring 79 out of 100 for their lineup deemed “quiet, plush, and very reliable” by Consumer Reports. Following the luxury brand were Acura, Audi, Subaru and Toyota (tied for fourth place), Mazda, Honda, Infiniti, Mercedes-Benz, and BMW and Volvo (tied for 10th).

As for where the remaining Detroit Three brands landed, Chrysler took up the 14th position while Chevrolet, Cadillac, Dodge and the aforementioned Ford and Jeep rounding out the bottom of the rankings behind Nissan, the lowest ranked Japanese brand in a tie with Volkswagen for 19th.

Ford and Jeep’s dead-last ranking is the result of technology woes for the former’s MyFord Touch infotainment system, and a “crude and outdated” lineup — including a Grand Cherokee suffering from weakened reliability, and a Cherokee that the magazine says “isn’t that competitive” — for the latter. Ford, in particular, is a “sad story” according to CR director of auto testing Jake Fisher:

The Ford Fusion, not only does it look, but it drives like a good European sports car. It really does. The problem is the reliability, and that’s what’s dragging down that brand.

Meanwhile, Fisher notes that if General Motors had “a whole lineup of Impalas,” considered the best large sedan based on road tests conducted by the magazine, the automaker would be at the top of the rankings. Overall, Fisher believes the Detroit Three as a whole are “going the right way” in terms of reliability and performance.

Regarding individual models, the Ram 1500 was rated the Best Pickup over the Silverado/Sierra twins in part due to the lack of reliability information for the latter two, while Hyundai captured the trophy Best Mid-Size SUV for their Santa Fe, Subaru holding off the Honda CR-V with their Forester for Best Small SUV, and Tesla, whose Model S holds the highest overall score ever given by the magazine: 99 out of 100, takes home the Overall trophy.

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GM’s Truck Market Share Slides In January http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/gms-truck-market-share-slides-in-january/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/gms-truck-market-share-slides-in-january/#comments Wed, 12 Feb 2014 14:00:09 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=739609 450x299x2014-Silverado-02-450x299.jpg.pagespeed.ic.NG9-c_eHse

U.S. sales of full-size trucks slid 4.5% in January 2014 as the two leading manufacturers of pickups reported falling sales of all their big trucks.

Typically the slowest month of the year for new vehicle sales, this past January should be no different, as the U.S. auto industry generated 32,000 fewer sales than it did one year ago. Although minivans, commercial vans, and the vast SUV/crossover segment all expanded, passenger car sales plunged, year-over-year, and truck volume declined, as well.

Despite the Ford F-Series’ slight 1% (305 fewer units) drop in January sales, the market share of America’s best-selling vehicle in its own vehicle category expanded by more than a percentage point compared with January 2013.

FCA’s Ram pickup range improved its January market share by more than four points to the level where one out of every five full-size trucks sold were Rams. Year-over-year, Ram sales jumped 22%.

The only other big truck to report higher totals this year than last was the Toyota Tundra. Toyota has recorded four consecutive months of Tundra increases; only once in 2013 did the Tundra decline. But Tundra volume is well off the pace Toyota set in pre-recession 2007 when nearly 200,000 were sold – Tundra sales jumped 11% to 112,732 in 2013. January market share didn’t rise as much as Ford’s even as Toyota sold 886 extra Tundras.

GM’s losses were the bigger story during a disappointing January for trucks. Silverado sales plunged 18%; Sierra sales fell 13%. In total, GM sold more than 10,000 fewer full-size pickup trucks this January than in January 2013, a 20% drop.

Jointly, the Silverado/Sierra decline to 40,044 January sales resulted in a market share tally of 33.2%, down from 38.3% in January of last year. The GM twins outsold the Ford F-Series by 1450 units in January 2013, the second of three consecutive months in which the pair had outsold the F-Series. They have not done so since.

If we are to assume the two trucks themselves are to blame, rather than some combination of inside and outside forces, we can surely place some responsibility on the conservative nature of the redesign. Perhaps the exterior changes from one generation to the next needed to be as different as the changes made under the skin. It’s true, the serious truck buyer is well aware of the newness of the Silverado and Sierra. But the family truck buyer – a big reason for the mass expansion of the truck market – may not wish to pay more money in order to park a pickup in their driveway that doesn’t look much different from the pickup their neighbors bought two years prior.

Thus, with plenty of trucks on dealer lots and concern about losing market share to Ford even before the F-150 is replaced by the more boldly-designed 2015 model, GM will ramp up incentives with a long-running Presidents Day promotion, according to Automotive News. Clearly, for General Motors to avoid going head-to-head against Ford without F-150-like incentives would have required a more significant leap forward with the 2014 models. There’s a belief that truck buyers will pay more for the better truck, but how much better does that truck need to be?

Truck
January
2014
January
2013
%
Change
January
2014
Market
Share
January
2013
Market
Share
Cadillac Escalade EXT
25 172 - 85.5% 0.02% 0.1%
Chevrolet Avalanche
31 1939 - 98.4% 0.03% 1.5%
Chevrolet Silverado
28,926 35,445 - 18.4% 24.0% 28.1%
Ford F-Series
46,536 46,841 - 0.7% 38.6% 37.1%
GMC Sierra
11,118 12,846 - 13.5% 9.2% 10.2%
Nissan Titan
887 1394 - 36.4% 0.7% 1.1%
Ram P/U
25,071 20,474 + 22.5% 20.8% 16.2%
Toyota Tundra
7890 7004 + 12.6% 6.5% 5.6%
Total
120,484
126,115 - 4.5%
Total (Excluding EXT/Avalanche)
120,428
124,004 - 2.9%
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2014 Ram 1500 EcoDiesel Pulls 28 MPG Highway http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/2014-ram-1500-ecodiesel-pulls-28-mpg-highway/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/2014-ram-1500-ecodiesel-pulls-28-mpg-highway/#comments Wed, 05 Feb 2014 16:32:26 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=733673 2014 Dodge 1500 EcoDiesel

Truck Mountain may still be held by the soon-to-be-lightened Ford F-150, but the fuel-efficiency battle in the valley below is already underway, thanks to Ram’s 1500 EcoDiesel pulling the highest mile-per-gallon highway rating of any light truck in the United States at 28 mpg.

Through an announcement made by the Environmental Protection Agency’s FuelEconomy.gov website, the 1500 EcoDiesel also nets 20 mpg in the city to create a combined rating of 23 mpg; the four-wheel drive variant offers 27 mpg on the highway, 22 combined.

Fighting alongside its brother, the 1500 HFE’s 3.6-liter V6 gasoline powerplant puts out 25 mpg on the highway, 18 in the city, and a combined rating of 21 mpg.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles began assembly in late January at their Warren Truck Assembly Plant in Detroit, with deliveries expected by dealers — who will be allowed to place their orders February 7 — later this month. Once on the lot, expect to pay $30,465 to start, just $2,850 more than to purchase a 1500 that could answer the question about whether or not it has a Hemi. Trim levels available with the powerplant include Tradesman, SLT (both excluding short-bed/regular cab combos), Outdoorsman, Big Horn, Laramie and Laramie Longhorn.

The light-duty diesel pickup — the first to be offered since General Motors sold such trucks in the mid-1990s — is powered by a 3-liter V6 made by FCA subsidary VM Motori S.p.A. in Italy, and produces 240 horsepower and 420 lb-ft of stump-pulling torque, which is sent through a TorqueFlite eight-speed automatic to the bed and bonnet.

Aside from being fuel efficient, the 1500 EcoDiesel is also green thanks to its ability to use B20 biodiesel, and its urea-enhanced exhaust treatment system. The system, which comes with a particulate filter and selective catalyst reduction as well, reduces smog-producing nitrogen oxide emissions, allowing the truck to be compliant with pollution standards in all 50 states. The urea used to treat the exhaust must be replaced every 10,000 miles.

As far as sales are concerned, FCA has high hopes for demand of the 1500 EcoDiesel. Ram boss Reid Bigland estimates that up to 30 percent of 1500 sales will be diesel-powered.

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Chrysler Weighs Third Pickup Plant Marchionne Doesn’t Really Want http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/chrysler-weighs-third-pickup-plant-marchionne-doesnt-really-want/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/chrysler-weighs-third-pickup-plant-marchionne-doesnt-really-want/#comments Tue, 04 Feb 2014 11:00:15 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=732618 rampickups

Automotive News is reporting that last week’s conference call on Chrysler’s quarterly financials and the structure of the newly merged Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, CEO Sergio Marchionne said that Fiat Chrysler managers were considering whether or not to build a third pickup truck assembly plant to cope with high demand for Ram light and heavy duty trucks. Marchionne had earlier vowed to never build another assembly plant in North America and in the conference call he reiterated his preference to run existing pickup plants in Warren, Mich., and Saltillo, Mexico, “flat-out.”

Marchionne said he believes Chrysler can increase pickup truck production by 15-20% without requiring an additional factory, placing the odds of building a new plant “under 50 percent.”

Sales of Ram pickups, which were redesigned for 2013, out performed the market last year. Ram pickups were Chrysler’s best selling vehicle, up 21% in 2013 to 355,673, compared to the pickup market in general, which was up 17% over 2012 figures.

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Cain’s Segments: Trucks In 2013 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/cains-segments-trucks-in-2013/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/cains-segments-trucks-in-2013/#comments Wed, 08 Jan 2014 14:00:28 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=694169 2014-Silverado-02-450x299

The 234,066 extra new truck registrations in 2013 came about despite the loss of 70,077 sales from trucks that had either died off, been discontinued, or were on hiatus in 2013.

Excluding the Chevrolet Avalanche, Chevrolet Colorado, GMC Canyon, Suzuki Equator, Ford Ranger, and Dodge Dakota from the equation results in a 16.4% year-over-year increase in truck sales.

America’s top-selling vehicle line, the Ford F-Series, owned 35% of the truck market in 2013, up from 33% in 2012. F-Series volume was higher than it’s been since 2006, when nearly 800,000 were sold. (Ford sold more than 900,000 F-Series pickups in 2004 and again in 2005.) In each of the last eight months, Ford sold more than 60,000 copies of the F-Series, a feat Ford had accomplished only three times in the previous 40 months. In fact, Ford sold more than 70,000 F-Series’ at three different junctures in 2013: May, August, and December, the highest-volume month of all.

GM truck sales tanked in December, as the Silverado and Sierra combined for a 13% decline. But the transition period from GMT900 to GMTK2XX didn’t harm GM’s volume in 2013. Joint Silverado/Sierra market share in the whole truck category increased by one percentage point to 31%. 2013 marked a six-year high for the Silverado, although sales haven’t returned to the 2005 glory days when 706,000 were sold. Meanwhile, GMC’s Sierra last topped 2013’s 184,389-unit achievement in 2007, when 204,243 were sold. GMC sold more than 200,000 Sierras annually from 2004 to 2007.

Chrysler’s Ram truck lineup accounted for 20%, or one in five, Chrysler Group sales in 2013, up from 18% in 2012. December’s 11% increase marked the 44th consecutive month in which Ram sales have improved, year-over-year. This many Rams haven’t been sold since 2007. In 2003, 2004, and 2005, Chrysler sold more than 400,000 Ram trucks annually.

America’s leading non-full-size truck, sales of the “midsize” Toyota Tacoma shot up to a six-year high in 2013. (The Tacoma was America’s 14th-best-selling vehicle in 2006; 24th in 2013.) Not often was a small truck sold in 2013 that wasn’t a Tacoma – it owned 65% of the small/midsize truck market, the part that didn’t already belong to the F-Series, Silverado, Ram, Sierra, Tundra, Avalanche, Titan, and Escalade EXT. That’s up from 51% in 2012, when the Colorado and Ranger put up small but meaningful numbers.

Sales of the Nissan Frontier and Honda Ridgeline increased in 2013, at 13% and 26%, respectively. Yet two Tacomas were sold for every one Frontier or Ridgeline. In 2006, the year that the Tacoma became America’s 14th-best-selling vehicle, the Chevrolet Colorado ranked 51st, ahead of the Ford Ranger but 81,475 sales back of the Toyota.

The Frontier-based Suzuki Equator died in 2013. Sales of the dying Chevrolet Avalanche – 15,618 through the first three quarters; just 908 in the fourth quarter – were an afterthought. The Avalanche and its Cadillac sibling, along with the Nissan Titan and Toyota Tundra and the four big “domestics”, controlled 89% of America’s truck market in 2013, up from 86% in 2012, up from 84% in 2011.

Naturally, this leads to questions regarding the chance for Colorado success in 2014 and 2015. Basing expectations on what we’ve witnessed over the last twelve months, while not pointless, may prove to be lacking a solid foundation.

The truck market, strong as it is, with 14% of the auto industry’s sales, has been in a perpetual state of upheaval. Nameplates are being killed off left, right, and center. The dominant midsize truck isn’t exactly fresh as a daisy. The best-selling truck, Ford’s F-Series, will feature an awful lot of aluminum later this year. There’s now a light-duty diesel option.

There appears to be more than enough evidence to point to a continuation of this trend, the trend that shows potential truck market growth fuelled by full-size trucks. But there are chips up in the air, and with countless variables, we don’t really know where they’ll fall.

Rank
Truck
2013
2012
%
Change
#1
Ford F-Series 763,402 645,316 + 18.3%
#2
Chevrolet Silverado 480,414 418,312 + 14.8%
#3
Ram Pickup 355,673 293,363 + 21.2%
#4
GMC Sierra 184,389 157,185 + 17.3%
#5
Toyota Tacoma 159,485 141,365 + 12.8%
#6
Toyota Tundra 112,732 101,621 + 10.9%
#7
Nissan Frontier 62,837 55,435 + 13.4%
#8
Honda Ridgeline 17,723 14,068 + 26.0%
#9
Chevrolet Avalanche 16,526 23,995 - 31.1%
#10
Nissan Titan 15,691 21,576 - 27.3%
#11
Chevrolet Colorado 3412 36,840 - 90.7%
#12
Cadillac Escalade EXT 1972 1934 + 2.0%
#13
GMC Canyon 929 8735 -89.4%
#14
Suzuki Equator 448 1966 - 77.2%
Ford Ranger 19,366 - 100%
Dodge Dakota 490 - 100%
Total
2,175,633 1,941,567 + 12.1%
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Vellum Venom Vignette: 2013 Awards Edition http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/12/vellum-venom-awards-edition/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/12/vellum-venom-awards-edition/#comments Tue, 17 Dec 2013 14:00:00 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=682274 tesla

In a few days, TTAC’s editors will present their best and worst automotive picks of 2013. Today, Sajeev Mehta brings you his winners and losers in the field of design. Winners and losers below the jump.

Best Styled Car of 2013: Tesla Model S.  What happens when you have no rulebook, no badge engineered platform to start with?  Tesla’s impressive engineering and PR Buzz machine aren’t the only factors in the Model S’ shock and awe: it embodies the classic long hood and short deck proportioning that’s made so many cars so classically lovely.  It’s the same gospel spoken by everyone from Edsel Ford to Ettore Bugatti. The similarly styled Porsche Panamera only dreams of this low stance, subtle detailing and 1970s Italian concept car like flair in those hatchback hindquarters. Which proves that a clean sheet of vellum is a beautiful, beautiful place to start.

Worst Styled Car of 2013:  Not as easy, but the Honda Fit fits the bill. Not only is the second generation Fit a bloated redesign, the small Honda’s once quirky and cute details now suffer from gigantism. The biggest problem? Super excellent DLO FAIL, stealing defeat from the hands of victory: cars in this class justify a day light opening with a black plastic triangle (Sonic, Accent) with their low asking price.  Or be outstanding like the Ford Fiesta, using sheets of glass instead.  But no, the Honda Fit liked both ideas, having a huuuge DLO FAIL with both the plastic triangle and a rather large sheet of glass ahead of the front door. Congratulations, you’ve witnessed The Failing At Fail.

 Best Styled Truck of 2013: The RAM dodges Chevrolet’s cliché truck overstyling and Ford’s “Blue Collar Audi” design sensibilities for something…logical. Yes, the RAM is another modern truck that’s a caricature of its former self.  But in a world where cars jack themselves up to mimic CUVs, CUVs try to look like trucks and trucks imitate Peterbuilts, the RAM keeps some semblance of sensibility with subtle head/tail lights, logical hood/fender/bed flares and a gunsight grille that doesn’t try to be cool…because it’s been cool for almost 20 years.

 Worst Styled Truck of 2013: The Infiniti JX is one of the best examples of “overstyling” in modern automotive history. With every clumsy lump and flabby fold, the JX embodies everything wrong with the Crossover Utility Segment: trying too hard to evolve from the gritty blue-collar machines from whence they came, yet still remaining in the classic 2-box SUV design.  The ridiculous kink in the D-pillar’s quarter window says it all: you gotta know when to walk away from the vellum.

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Turbos, Diesels Rule Top 10 Engine List in 2014 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/12/turbos-diesels-rule-top-10-engine-list-in-2014/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/12/turbos-diesels-rule-top-10-engine-list-in-2014/#comments Fri, 13 Dec 2013 11:30:57 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=678850 Audi 3.0 TFSI Engine

‘Tis the season for year-end Top 10 lists celebrating and lamenting all things in the world of life, and the automotive industry is no exception. Ward’s Automotive has announced its list of the 10 best engines for 2014, and it’s a turbodiesel-intercooled festival of power this year.

The winners on the 20th anniversary of this list are as follows:

  • 3.0L TFSI Supercharged DOHC V6 (Audi S5)
  • 3.0L Turbodiesel DOHC I6 (BMW 535d)
  • 3.0L Turbodiesel DOHC V6 (Ram 1500 EcoDiesel)
  • 83 kW Electric Motor (Fiat 500e)
  • 1.0L EcoBoost DOHC I3 (Ford Fiesta)
  • 2.0L Turbodiesel DOHC I4 (Chevrolet Cruze Diesel)
  • 6.2L OHV V8 (Chevrolet Corvette Stingray)
  • 3.5L SOHC V6 (Honda Accord)
  • 2.7L DOHC H6 boxer (Porsche Cayman)
  • 1.8L Turbocharged DOHC I4 (Volkswagen Jetta)

Of note, Ford’s three-pot EcoBoost marks the first time an automaker won a spot on the list with only three cylinders, while Fiat scores a first-time win with its 83 kW electric motor found in the 500e. On the other end, only two engines from last year’s list returned — Audi’s 3.0-liter TFSI and Honda’s 3.5-liter V6 — while six of the 10 are oil-burners, a first for Ward’s.

General Motors scored two wins this year for the first time since 2008 with the Cruze’s 2-liter turbodiesel I4 and the new Corvette Stingray’s 6.2-liter naturally aspirated V8. Among trucks, the Ram 1500 EcoDiesel is the sole winner, based on the strength of its 3-liter turbodiesel stump-puller.

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Ram to ProMaster the City in Late 2014 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/12/ram-to-promaster-the-city-in-late-2014/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/12/ram-to-promaster-the-city-in-late-2014/#comments Tue, 03 Dec 2013 15:57:34 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=669458 Fiat Doblo

On the heels of “the biggest thing to happen in the commercial world” that is the Ram ProMaster — whose page links back to our review, of course — the Italo-American truck division has announced the introduction of the ProMaster City in late 2014.

The ProMaster City is expected to go up against the Ford Transit Connect and the Nissan NV200/Chevrolet City Express in the battle for the hearts and wallets of many a florist, caterer and cable installer.

Much like how the Fiat Ducato provided the framework for the ProMaster, the Fiat Doblo will provide the foundation for the ProMaster City as it becomes an Americanized delivery machine. The treatment will include adding more transmission/engine combos, an automatic transmission as an option, and slight changes to the design to appeal to the North American market.

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Review: 2014 Ram 1500 Eco Diesel (With Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/12/review-2014-ram-1500-eco-diesel-with-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/12/review-2014-ram-1500-eco-diesel-with-video/#comments Mon, 02 Dec 2013 15:00:28 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=664570 2014 RAM 1500 Eco Diesel Exterior-005

There’s just something about a diesel pickup truck that makes grown men regress into Tonka-loving children. Even my Prius-driving environmentalist friends in Berkeley admit they secretly want a diesel pickup. The problem of course is that diesel pickups are expensive (the cheapest diesel Ram 2500 is $36,975 and it doesn’t have an automatic transmission, the cheapest oil-burning F-250 is $38,250) and, for the majority of us, the high payload and towing capacities are overkill. While economical in a specific sense, the large diesel trucks aren’t “fuel-efficient” either. Until now. Mark your calendars folks, The 2014 Ram 1500 Eco Diesel is the half-ton truck in America sporting a small diesel engine.

 

Click here to view the embedded video.

Exterior

Although new in 2010 and refreshed for the 2013, the 1500 is undeniably a Ram. That’s because Chrysler prefers evolutionary rather than revolutionary styling when it comes to their volume truck. That’s not a bad thing, since the 1994 style cues that have lived on were sexy back then, and still attractive today. The big-rig  front end still captures my attention, but despite my family’s Ram addiction, I find the 2014 Silverado’s nose to be the better looker. As with most redesigns, the front end got bigger, brasher and has more chrome than ever before.

As you’d expect from Chrysler’s best-selling vehicle, you can get your Ram in a bevy of configurations. There are 9 trim levels, three cabs and three bed sizes available. Mix and match them and you can drive for miles without seeing an identical Ram. Of course two of those 9 trim levels cannot be injected with some diesel love. Thankfully however the trims are excluded are the Sport and Express, meaning the base Tradesman trim is diesel eligible, bringing the diesel pickup entry point down to $28,465, $8,150 less than the cheapest diesel truck in 2013. Interestingly, nothing outside calls attention to the engine under the hood aside from the EcoDiesel badging on the front quarter panels. Out back, we get twin chrome exhaust tips, just like the V8 model and the engine idles so quietly most people assumed a gasoline V6 was under the hood. More on that later.

2014 RAM 1500 Eco Diesel Laramie Interior-002

Interior

As I said in my Silverado review last week, I was surprised that GM didn’t delay the Silverado launch to spend some time polishing up the interior. Despite the re-tweaked 2013 Ram being on the market a year before GM’s truck launched (and the basis for that interior landing in 2010) the Ram still has the best interior in the segment. Your level of interior refinement varies by trim level with the entry-level Tradesman model using plenty of hard plastics while the top-end Ram coats in the interior in stitched leather and real wood trim. In an interesting move, SLT and Laramie models can be optioned to have the same two-ton dash as the top-end Long Horn edition although the real wood and a few other niceties are skipped. Regardless of the trim, controls are conveniently located and easy to operate. While certain models keep a traditional column shifter, most Ram 1500s will be equipped with Dodge and Ram’s Jaguar-like rotary-knob shifter. While I agree that it saves console space vs a console mounted unit, it strikes me as “gimmickier”. I found it tricky to use at first but did become used to it after a week.

Front seat comfort in the Ram is excellent, but a hair behind the Silverado. That’s thanks largely to someone at Chrysler’s ergonomics department that has a concave posterior. All of Chrysler’s latest seat designs have a pronounced (and firm) bottom cushion that feels like you’re sitting on an exercise ball. Although less of a problem in the Ram than in the Chrysler 200, the problem is still present. Despite this I had no issues driving the Ram for 2 hours at a time and I still found it a better place to spend my time than an F-150. Rear seats are lower to the floor than in Chevy’s new truck and slightly less comfortable as well.

2014 RAM 1500 Eco Diesel Laramie Interior-005

Infotainment

Things start off with uConnect 3.0 which is a basic head unit with a 4-line monochromatic display. Similar to Ford’s basic SYNC system, uConnect 3.0 offers full MP3/iDevice integration for media without the fancy graphics. Next we have uConnect 5.0. While this middle tier system may look like the uConnect system we have seen before, it’s actually unrelated. Running on a Microsoft embedded OS and not QNX (a UNIX variant), the unit is more sluggish than the 8.4-inch system but offers many of the same features excluding navigation. While other Chrysler and Fiat models will have the option to add TomTom navigation later, that doesn’t appear to apply to the Ram.

Our Laramie model was equipped with the second generation uConnect 8.4 system. The second generation system adds smartphone app integration, emergency crash notification and 911 assist (along the lines of OnStar). The big deal here is the inclusion of a dedicated Sprint cellular modem integrated into the system. This allows the head unit to function similarly to OnStar in that you don’t have to have a paired Bluetooth cell phone to get emergency services (like you do with Ford’s MyFord Touch). uConnect can also act as a 3G WiFi hot spot if you pay for the right subscription. Software updates can be downloaded over the air and the user can buy/download apps via the integrated app store, just like a smartphone. The standard 6-speaker sound system is not much to write home about, but the seven or nine speaker Alipne system that comes standard with the 8.4-inch touchscreen on most models has a balanced and natural sound.

2014 RAM 1500 Eco Diesel 3.0L V6 Turbo Diesel Engine-001Drivetrain

Base models still have a 305 horsepower 3.6L V6 borrowed from Chrysler’s passenger cars, good for 269 lb-ft of torque. That’s about the same as Ford’s 3.7L V6 but well below GM’s truck-only 4.3L engine. Shoppers can still get some HEMI-love by checking the box for the second generation 5.7L V8 making 395 ponies and a healthy 410 lb-ft of torque. But gasoline engines aren’t what’s new, it’s the diesel burning 3.0L V6 that we’re all here to talk about. But first we need to walk back in time.

In 2007 GM purchased 50% of the Italian engine maker VM Motori. The logic was that GM needed a smooth Euro compliant diesel engine for the Cadillac CTS (and other models) in order to compete with the Germans. Sadly, GM declared bankruptcy between the engine being designed and the engine actually being used so it sat on a shelf. In 2011 Fiat bought the other half of VM Motori and found the engine gathering dust. Fiat had some quick tweaks done to the engine to make it more suitable for their use and the EcoDiesel V6 was born. While there was much talk about GM getting their hands on this same engine for Silverado duty, Fiat recently snapped up the other half of VM Motri making this a Fiat/Chrysler engine in every way that matters.

2014 RAM 1500 Eco Diesel 3.0L V6 Turbo Diesel Engine

The high revving single turbo aluminum-block V6 engine produces 240 horsepower and a stout 420 lb-ft of torque. If those numbers sound impressive, consider this. The first 5.9L Cummins engine Chrysler used in the 2500 and 3500 series RAM trucks produced 94 fewer ponies and 20 fewer twists. In the biggest statement of progress I have seen in a while, that Cummins also delivered its power via five fewer gears.

Like the rest of the Ram 1500 lineup (except for one model with a 5.7L HEMI), all 1/2 ton Rams now use ZF’s 8-speed automatic transmission. If you’re worried it’s just a passenger car transmission that’s not up to the task, ZF’s 8-speed transmissions are also found behind the insane twin-turbo V12s that the Germans love so much.

2014 RAM 1500 Eco Diesel Exterior

Towing & Payload

The 2014 Silverado’s 1,875 to 2,100 pound payload easily bests the Ram’s 1,340-1,620 pound range and even the F-150′s 1,510-2,090 is superior depending on how you align the trim level comparisons. (Ford still offers a “Heavy Duty” package on the F-150 which gives it a stronger frame comparable to the F-250 but Ram and GM have killed similar packages on their models.) Likewise the Ram Eco Diesel’s 9,200lb tow rating pales in comparison with the Silverado’s 12,000lb towing rating. Until you actually tow or haul that is.

Drive

Unless you need those extra pounds of payload capacity (a valid point to be sure), most shoppers will be better off with the Ram. Why? Because of how it tows and hauls. Let’s start with the 8-speed automatic. Even if you don’t choose the diesel engine, the 8-speed automatic’s greater ratio spread and faster gear changes more than bridge the 30-36 lb-ft divide between the Silverado and the Ram V6 and V8. That ratio spread and the high 4,800 RPM redline of the small diesel engine combine to make the Ram drive more like a gasoline V8 truck around town. With my 7,500lb trailer (loaded) attached, the 1500 Eco Diesel pulled effortlessly up steep grades with the transmission cranking out shifts like a Gatling gun. The small diesel and tall final gear allowed the 5,800lb pickup truck to average an impressive 24.2 MPG during my week with the truck which included out towing, hauling and 0-60 tests. On the open highway it had no trouble averaging 29 MPG at 70 MPH.

This is going to sound nuts to some, but I’m actually disappointed with the way the engine sounds. Chrysler fitted an ultra quiet exhaust system and more foam padding than a teenager’s bra to the 3.0L V6. This means that aside from a glow-plug icon on the dash that flashes for a millisecond, you’d be hard pressed to know a diesel is under the hood. After the engine has been started you get a brief moment of diesel clatter before it settles down to a quiet idle. When pressed, the engine clatters a hair more but it never sounds like a 3/4 ton diesel. Pity.

2014 RAM 1500 Eco Diesel Exterior-010

Ram raised eyebrows when they announced that their half ton truck would use coil rather than leaf springs in the rear suspension. The change has been lauded by some and vilified by the folks with Calvin-peeing-on-Ram stickers on their trucks. The truth is of course somewhere in the middle. Coil springs are more complicated to design because the spring doesn’t locate the rear axle, making trailing arms and other links necessary. Coils also handle overloading poorly when compared to a more traditional leaf setup. On the flip side, coils weigh less, provide a better ride, greater articulation and help in reducing wheel hop when the bed is empty. The simple truth is that the vast majority of pickup trucks spend their time with an empty bed. The spring rate chosen is an obvious trade off to deliver the RAM’s class leading road manners but it does result in payload capacity being about 400lbs lower than the Silverado at a maximum. Thankfully Chrysler’s 5-link suspension design, adapted from the previous generations of Grand Cherokee, maintains its poise when fully loaded (unlike GM’s 1960s attempt at coils.)

The bigger benefit of using a four-corner coil suspension is that it was relatively easy for Chrysler to adapt the Grand Cherokee’s height-adjustable air suspension system to the 1/2 ton truck. The $1,695 system is available on all quad cab and crew cab models, in all trims and in every driveline and engine configuration. In my opinion, the air suspension and $230 integrated trailer brake controller are worth every penny. Yes, the suspension allows you to vary the RAM’s ride height from 6.7 inches to 10.7 inches, but the real reason I’d pay money for it is that it also load levels. Keeping the suspension at the middle of its travel results in a better ride and more effective damping whether your truck is loaded or not.

2014 RAM 1500 Eco Diesel Exterior-009

The Eco Diesel is listed as a $4,000 option over the V6, but there are a few “hidden” costs. The only model that can’t get the 3.0L wonder is the short bed, short cab Tradesman meaning you’ll have to pay $385 for the 8-foot bed to be eligible. You’ll also have to pay $500 extra for the heavy-duty version of the 8-speed automatic bringing the total up to $28,465. That means the true premium is $4,885 at the Tradesman level. Versus the 5.7L HEMI, you’ll pay $3,350 more. When you run the numbers, the diesel won’t save you much over the 3.6L V6 but the V8 is a different matter. Even at the high fuel costs in California (and considering the cost of urea) the diesel would save nearly $750 a year in fuel resulting in a possible payback in under 5 years at 15,000 miles a year.

Even without the Eco Diesel, the Ram is the first choice in the half ton market unless you needed the maximum towing or payload capacities delivered by the 2014 Silverado. It doesn’t hurt that the Ram is slightly cheaper than the Ford or Chevy when comparably equipped. Toss in the first small diesel, the only 8-speed automatic, a load leveling air suspension system and you have quite simply the best tow vehicle in the half-ton segment. Considering that the Ram Eco Diesel is only $2,720 more than a V8 F-150 and $2,560 more than a V8 Silverado, your pay back window is even shorter than compared to Ram’s own HEMI. Or for folks like my dad who are looking to replace their 15 year old RAM 2500 Cummins but are suffering from modern 3/4 ton sticker shock, the 1500 diesel makes an interesting proposition. Compared to that generation of Ram 2500, this Ram 1500 is more capable in nearly every way. Thanks to GM needing a European market diesel Caddy and Chrysler’s bankruptcy and resurrection by Fiat, we have quite simply the most exciting vehicle I have driven this year.

 

Chrysler provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of diesel for this review

Specifications as tested

0-30: 2.38 Seconds

0-60: 7.75 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 16.03 Seconds @ 84 MPH

Cabin noise at 50 MPH: 67 dB

Average Observed Fuel Economy: 24.2 MPG over 765 miles

 

2014 RAM 1500 Eco Diesel 3.0L V6 Turbo Diesel Engine 2014 RAM 1500 Eco Diesel 3.0L V6 Turbo Diesel Engine-001 2014 RAM 1500 Eco Diesel 3.0L V6 Turbo Diesel Engine-002 2014 RAM 1500 Eco Diesel Exterior 2014 RAM 1500 Eco Diesel Exterior-001 2014 RAM 1500 Eco Diesel Exterior-002 2014 RAM 1500 Eco Diesel Exterior-003 2014 RAM 1500 Eco Diesel Exterior-004 2014 RAM 1500 Eco Diesel Exterior-005 2014 RAM 1500 Eco Diesel Exterior-006 2014 RAM 1500 Eco Diesel Exterior-007 2014 RAM 1500 Eco Diesel Exterior-008 2014 RAM 1500 Eco Diesel Exterior-009 2014 RAM 1500 Eco Diesel Exterior-010 2014 RAM 1500 Eco Diesel Exterior-011 2014 RAM 1500 Eco Diesel Exterior-012 2014 RAM 1500 Eco Diesel Laramie Interior 2014 RAM 1500 Eco Diesel Laramie Interior-001 2014 RAM 1500 Eco Diesel Laramie Interior-002 2014 RAM 1500 Eco Diesel Laramie Interior-003 2014 RAM 1500 Eco Diesel Laramie Interior-004 2014 RAM 1500 Eco Diesel Laramie Interior-005 2014 RAM 1500 Eco Diesel Laramie Interior-006 2014 RAM 1500 Eco Diesel Laramie Interior-007 2014 RAM 1500 Eco Diesel Laramie Interior-008 2014 RAM 1500 Eco Diesel Laramie Interior-009 2014 RAM 1500 Eco Diesel Laramie Interior-010 2014 RAM 1500 Eco Diesel Laramie Interior-011 2014 RAM 1500 Eco Diesel Laramie Interior-012 2014 RAM 1500 Eco Diesel LCD Instrument Cluster ]]>
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The Legend of Ford’s Truck Czar’s Rule Over Truck Mountain http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/11/the-legend-of-fords-truck-czars-rule-over-truck-mountain/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/11/the-legend-of-fords-truck-czars-rule-over-truck-mountain/#comments Tue, 12 Nov 2013 07:59:30 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=648954 Doug Scott

Once upon a time, one man rose from the realm of sales to helm Ford’s truck division. With his iron fist, he divided the F-150 range into several specialized units, reaping the rewards as his dominion over the light truck market expanded.

That man is Doug Scott, and this is the tale of how he came to be the Sovereign of Truck Mountain.

Though his title is humble, Ford’s Truck Group marketing manager has brought in $22 billion in revenue over the years, bettering his competitors through offering an F-150 for everyone. For example, contractors and landscapers just starting out could have the STX for just over $26,000, while businessmen making the big bucks off the Bakken could opt for the top-of-the-line Limited for around $54,000, and hardcore off-road prerunners can feel like a reptile in their Raptor beginning at $45,000.

This strategy has not only paid off for Ford, but has inspired General Motors and Chrysler to play follow the leader, with the Italo-American alliance spinning off the Ram brand from Dodge for greater focus while GM’s bowtie has unveiled their own luxury pickup to go up against the F-150 Platinum Edition. Meanwhile, the F-150 has lived at the summit of Truck Mountain since 2010, picking up $4,000 per truck than GM per Kelley Blue Book.

With 2013 sales on track to hit 700,000 units, and recording the best October since 2004, Scott aims to keep his competitors on their toes. His latest from the F-Series is a sport truck dubbed the Tremor, whose 3.5-liter turbocharged V6 will push the superbeast from zero to 60 in 6.4 seconds, just over one second slower than the V6 version of the Mustang.

The Tremor, like the King Ranch, the Raptor and all of the other F-150s, were born from the collaboration between the marketers and engineers within the truck group, who, in turn, gathered their information on what customers want from the customer relationships built through events and organizations, such as the Professional Bull Riders Association and the Future Farmers of America. The result: a 34.6 percent share of the truck market through September 2013, with the Chevy/GMC tag team a close second at 30.7 percent, and Ram a distant third with just 16.3 percent.

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Review: 2013 & 2014 RAM 3500 Diesel (With Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/review-2013-2014-ram-3500-diesel-with-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/review-2013-2014-ram-3500-diesel-with-video/#comments Tue, 08 Oct 2013 12:00:59 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=532417 2013 RAM 3500 Exterior, Side, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Nothing is more American than the pickup truck. If the stars and stripes thing ever gets old, they will probably get replaced by a RAM / GM / Ford montage.  The other thing that’s quintessentially American is an arms race. No, I’m not talking military hardware, I’m talking about the eternal RAM vs Chevy/GMC vs Ford tuck wars. Who has the best frame? Who has the best engine? Who can haul the most? Be prepared to draw your weapons and click past the jump. Chrysler sent me a 2013 RAM 3500 for a week and then invited me to taste test the refreshed 2014 model for a day.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Exterior

What can we say about the exterior? It’s pickup truck shaped. Aside from that revelation, the RAM can be had with three different cabs and two different bed sizes. Regardless of the options you choose, the RAM “big rig” styling that rocked the pickup world in 1994 is still with us although it’s been softened slightly. 2013 brings new headlamps and more chrome but keeps the seriously large grille which is raked slightly forward. Fear not, there is ample room to install a set of horns on the front.

2013 RAM 3500 Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. DykesInterior

I was initially a little perturbed, I had asked for a Tradesman trim of the RAM 3500 because I have a thing for the stripper commercial vehicles. Instead I ended up with a top-of-the-line Laramie Long Horn Edition in the driveway. If I’m honest the interior is a little over the top in my book, but I’m much more of a minimalist when it comes to interior design. Regardless of how you feel about the bedazzled instrument cluster, the RAM exudes quality. I’ll say that again, the RAM exudes quality. How exactly Chrysler went from crafting the cheapest feeling interiors to some of the best on the market is anyone’s guess but the result are stunning and boil down to one decision: stitched leather.

I breezed by my local RAM dealer to checkout the Tradesman, and the difference is marked. The Tradesman has an attractive interior design, but the Long Horn takes it up several notches with an injection molded dash that features real stitching, real wood trim that isn’t heavily lacquered and genuine cow hide on the doors and seat backs. The front seats are large and supportive in all versions of the RAM but don’t offer much lateral bolstering.

Rear seat comfort has been a new focus for pickup trucks owing to their increased use as family haulers and daily drivers. The RAM’s rear seats are higher off the ground than in the Ford pickups which I found more comfortable, but those with short legs may complain. Although the seats in the back don’t recline and they are slightly more upright than any other vehicle type, they proved comfortable for an hour trip. Instead of folding down, the seat bottom cushions flip up revealing storage compartments and, in our Longhorn Edition, a subwoofer. In addition to the swanky interior trappings, the RAM 3500′s cabin is almost luxury sedan quiet at 71 db at 50 MPH.

2013 RAM 3500 Interior, uConnect 8.4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Infotainment

uConnect 2 is the first major update to Chrysler’s 8.4-inch touchscreen system that launched in 2011 and the first version found in the RAM 1500. Based on a QNX Unix operating system, the system features well polished graphics, snappy screen changes and a large, bright display. In addition to extensive voice commands for USB/iDevice control, uConnect 2 offers smartphone integration allowing you to stream audio from Pandora, iHeart Radio or Slacker Radio. You can have text messages read to you and dictate replies (if your phone supports it) and search for restaurants and businesses via Yelp. In addition to all the smartphone-tied features, uConnect 2 integrates a CDMA modem on the Sprint network into the unit for over-the-air software updates and access to the new “App Store” where you will be able to buy apps for your car. Since there’s a cell modem on-board, uConnect can be configured to act as a WiFi hot spot for your tablets and game devices as well.

Completing the information assault is SiriusXM’s assortment of satellite data services which include traffic, movie times, sports scores, fuel prices and weather reports. As with uConnect data services, there’s a fee associated after the first few months so keep that in mind. 2014 also brings uConnect Access which is Chrysler’s answer to GM’s OnStar providing 911 assistance, crash notification and vehicle health reports. Garmin’s navigation software is still available as a $500 add-on and it still looks like someone cut a hole in the screen and stuck a hand-held Garmin unit in the dash. The interface is easy to use but notably less snazzy than the rest of the system’s graphics. If this bevy of techo-wizardry hasn’t convinced you that Ram is now in the 21st century, consider this: our tester didn’t have a CD player. If the bevy of USB ports has you confused, you can rock your John Denver CD by paying $395 for a single-slot disc player jammed into the center armrest.

2013 RAM 3500 6.7L Cummins-001

Drivetrain

The standard engine for both 2013 and 2014 is Chrysler’s ubiquitous 5.7L “Hemi”  V8 tuned to 383 horsepower and 400 lb-ft of torque. Unlike the refreshed 1500, the 2500 and 3500 don’t get the Chrysler/ZF 8-speed automatic instead relying on the Chrysler 66RFE 6-speed to put the power to the ground.

Our tester had the optional 6.7L Cummins turbo Diesel engine we at TTAC have come to know and love. The 6-cylinder oil burner comes in three flavors depending on the transmission you select. The 6-speed manual (a class exclusive) gets the lowest tune at 360 ponies and 660 lb-ft. Checking the box for the Chrysler 68RFE 6-speed transmission bumps power to 370 HP and torque to 800 lb-ft. If that’s not enough a new Aisin AS69RC 6-speed automatic can be selected which gets you 385 HP and a whopping 850 lb-ft. The new Aisin transmission is capable of handling a PTO, should you need it.

2014 brings a new truck version of Chrysler’s SRT 6.4L V8. RAM was quick to say the engine isn’t just an SRT transplant and a high percentage of parts are unique. The “big gas” as RAM is calling it is good for 410HP and 429 lb-ft which may not sound like a huge increase over the 5.7 but looking at the torque curve the larger engine has considerably more grunt. The 6.4 is an alternative to the expensive Cummins for most applications and it can be paired with the 66RFE automatic or the Aisin 6-speed if you need a PTO.

If you’re buying a 4×4 pickup and fuel economy is a factor, the 2014 RAM models include a front axle disconnect system. By essentially decoupling the front right wheel and front left wheel from one another, parasitic losses inside the front differential are greatly reduced. This is similar to the rear axle disconnect system employed on the new Jeep Cherokee.

2013 RAM 3500 Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Payload and Trailering

Thanks to the revised drivetrain and that new Aisin 6-speed automatic, the RAM reaches new (and insane) heights in towing with a 30,000lb tow rating when properly equipped. This isn’t just a slight increase in towing ability, this is a whopping 6,800 more than GM’s 2014 trucks and 8,800 more than Ford’s F-350. True to RAM’s commercial heart, the maximum tow rating can be had in all trim levels of the 3500, including the stripper Tradesman. All you have to do is select the Cummins and Aisin combo and be willing to spend $38,895.

What’s it like to tow that kind of weight? I wish I knew. It’s illegal in California (and many states) to tow more than a 10,000lb trailer without a class C license so I hooked up my 7,500lb trailer at home with the 2014 and RAM provided a 9,999lb trailer with the 2014 model for testing. Shoppers should know that the 66RFE and 68RFE transmissions are related to the 65RFE that I have frequently complained about. However, the reason for my complaint had to do with the 65RFE’s gear ratio spread, this is not a problem in the 66RFE or 68RFE as they use a different set of ratios. Even so, the Aisin transmission is the transmission of choice for towing and hauling as it has a notably lower first and second gear and is capable of torque converter lockup in first. As you would expect, 7,500 lbs of trailer is no match for 850 lb-ft of torque and the Cummins felt like it wasn’t even trying as I climbed up a 2,200ft mountain pass.

2013 RAM 3500 Interior, 4WD controls, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. DykesIf you’re the kind of guy who does serious towing or hauls heavy payloads, forget the 2013 RAM and tell your Ford and GM friends to join you at the RAM dealer for the 2014 3500 with a rear air suspension. This is not the same system used on the RAM 1500 which is a four-corner height adjustable  system, the 2500 and 3500 are rear load leveling only. 2500 trucks get a new 5-link coil suspension standard with available air suspension while the 3500 gets a beefier multi-plate leaf spring standard and optionally a single leaf with a set of air bags. Aside from being totally cool, leveling suspensions improve ride as well as suspension dynamics by keeping the suspension in the middle of its travel so that jounce and rebound (check?) are optimized. The air suspension also allows the maximum payload to creep up to 7,320 lbs in the 3500 for 2014 and the truck will perform better while under load.

In addition to the new rear air suspension, 2500 models get an entirely new frame and a new front suspension setup based on the 3500′s multi-link front suspension. I was worried this would decrease the 2500′s ride quality but impressively the opposite was true.
2013 RAM 3500 Interior-020

Drive

The 5.7L V8 isn’t a bad engine by any stretch, but the RAM isn’t a light weight hauler. Our Cummins model rang in at 6,799lbs ad the V8 isn’t that much lighter. Put a few thousand pounds of concrete in the bed and you’re in for a slow slog up the hill. If you can’t bring yourself to pay for the diesel, my suggestion is to drive the RAM 1500, 2500 and 3500 back to back and seriously ask yourself what your towing and hauling needs are. The 1500 isn’t just 1,800lbs lighter, it has that new 8-speed automatic which makes towing a breeze. If however you’re a serious hauler, then nothing but the 6.7L turbo diesel will do.

As much as I love manuals, and as happy I am that the Cummins can still be mated to one, the automatic is the transmission you want. Not only does it make trailering easier, you get 140 lb-ft more twist for your $500 as well. Anyone serious about towing (and anyone with a class C license) will want to step up to that Aisin transmission. Aside from getting an extra 50 lb-ft, you get higher torque rated internals, more evenly spaced gear ratios and a lower first gear.

If you notice, I haven’t spoken to the way the RAM drives yet. That’s because driving manners are secondary to the mission in a heavy-duty pickup truck. Even so 2013 brings a notable improvement to the RAM and opting for the air suspension in 2014 takes things up to the next notch. If you’re upgrading from a half-ton truck, keep in mind that 2500 and 3500 trucks will have a rougher ride in general thanks to the heavy-duty suspension components.

2013 RAM 3500 Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

RAM was the first to market with an exhaust brake in 3/4 and 1 ton trucks and they continue to lead with one of the best on the market. This system shouldn’t be confused with the “Jake Brakes” found in Cummins’ big-rig engines, the system Cummins employs here is sometimes called a “potato brake” because it operates by closing the vanes of the variable geometry turbo charger to increase back pressure and thereby increasing engine braking. This type of engine brake is rate in horsepower for some reason and the 6.7L diesel now brakes to the tune of 225 ponies which has a big impact on brake pad life if you tow in mountainous terrain.

When it comes to pickup trucks, especially heavy-duty trucks, shoppers are extremely brand conscious and extremely brand loyal. Think about it, how many people do you know that rotate around pickup brands with every purchase? As a result it would be easy to say the RAM 3500 is a great truck for RAM loyalists and the other trucks are all lovely too. However, the 2014 RAM might be the first truck since 1994 to sway hearts and minds. Not only does the RAM deliver the best interior and infotainment system in the segment, but it also delivers 30,000lbs of bragging rights, a stellar Cummins engine and a rear air suspension that is nothing short of revolutionary for the heavy-duty pickup market. If you’re looking at an F-350 or eagerly waiting that new Silverado 3500, swallow your pride and give the RAM a test drive. You’ll thank me later.

Chrysler provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of diesel for this review.

Specifications as tested

0-30: 3.39 Seconds

0-60: 8.72 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 16.76 Seconds at 85.7 MPH

Sound Level: 71 db @ 50 MPH

2013 RAM 3500 Interior, 4WD controls, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 RAM 3500 Interior-021 2013 RAM 3500 Interior-013 2013 RAM 3500 Interior-004 2013 RAM 3500 Exterior-006 2013 RAM 3500 6.7L Cummins 2013 RAM 3500 Exterior-005 2013 RAM 3500 Exterior, Side, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 RAM 3500 Interior, uConnect 8.4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 RAM 3500 Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 RAM 3500 Interior-012 2013 RAM 3500 Interior-011 2013 RAM 3500 Interior-020 2013 RAM 3500 Interior-019 2013 RAM 3500 Interior-010 2013 RAM 3500 Interior-001 2013 RAM 3500 Exterior-003 2013 RAM 3500 Exterior-002 2013 RAM 3500 Interior 2013 RAM 3500 Interior-018 2013 RAM 3500 Interior-009 2013 RAM 3500 Exterior-001 2013 RAM 3500 Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 RAM 3500 Interior-008 2013 RAM 3500 Interior-017 2013 RAM 3500 Interior-016 2013 RAM 3500 Interior-007 2013 RAM 3500 Exterior-009 2013 RAM 3500 Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 RAM 3500 6.7L Cummins-002 2013 RAM 3500 6.7L Cummins-001 2013 RAM 3500 Exterior-007 2013 RAM 3500 Exterior-008 2013 RAM 3500 Interior-006 2013 RAM 3500 Interior-005 2013 RAM 3500 Interior-014 2013 RAM 3500 Interior-015 ]]>
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Capsule Review: Ram 1500 EcoDiesel http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/capsule-review-ram-1500-diesel/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/capsule-review-ram-1500-diesel/#comments Thu, 03 Oct 2013 18:49:00 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=594393  

2014-Ram-1500-diesel-grille

The most important year for the American pickup truck might have been 1996. Although the tenth generation Ford F-Series would debut that same year, the biggest development for the segment had nothing to do with trucks. It was the death of the General Motors B-Body sedan.

A perennial best-seller in America through the 1970s, the B-Body’s demise left American consumers with only one choice for a traditional full-size sedan, the Ford Panther cars. Conventional wisdom states that SUVs subsequently picked up the slack as America’s family hauler of choice, but there’s a case to be made that it was the half-ton crew cab pickup truck that truly replaced the large sedan as America’s family hauler. From 2002 onward, domestic full-size SUV sales began to trend downward, as pick-up sales, well, picked up.

The crew cab era began in earnest right around that time, with the Ford F-150 SuperCrew and a subsequent GM crew cab trucks debuting in 2002. Over a decade later, and both GM and Chrysler have replaced the rear-hinged doors on their extended cab models with a shorter crew cab model, supplemented with even bigger crew cab models that feature massive rear doors.

Shortly before we were invited to test out the Ram 1500 EcoDiesel CrewCab (the bigger of the two 4-doors in Ram nomenclature, with QuadCab being smaller) shown above, TTAC was loaned another Ram 1500 CrewCab – a Pentastar V6 Outdoorsman model, which featured the 8.4″ UConnect system, the lockable Ram Box storage system and a rather spartan interior with drab hard plastics and cloth upholstery (appropriate given the nature of the truck, but a little surprising given the $46,000 pricetag).

The timing of the Outdoorsman test coincided with a reunion for the summer camp I attended as a youth. Located roughly 200 miles from Toronto, the route to the camp is largely composed of rural two-lane highways with some decent grades and winding roads – a good place to put the Pentastar V6 and the new 8-speed automatic to the test.

With its enormous interior space, the CrewCab Ram acquitted itself well with my passengers, all of whom were over 6’2″. No sedan could possibly give them this much space to stretch out, not even the legendary Town Car Signature L. The air suspension provided an effortlessly smooth ride along the less-than-perfect stretches of pavement we traversed. But the Pentastar V6, as refined as it may have been, was a little lacking in power, especially when passing on two-lane highways. Some leeway has to be granted, on account of the Ram hauling a combined weight of 840 pounds of human cargo, plus the associated detritus, but the Pentastar’s power delivery wasn’t quite effortless. Last time we traversed these roads, we had used a friend’s Sierra 2500HD with a 6.6L Duramax diesel, and I found myself wishing for that kind of turbocharged torque that one can find in a diesel or an Ecoboost Ford.

2014-Ram-1500-diese-logo

Two months and 2547 miles later and I’m staring face to face with Mopar’s answer for how to get some real grunt without sacrificing n the green front. The Ram EcoDiesel is indistinguishable from the regular Ram, save for the fender mounted emblem shown above. Under the hood is a 3.0L V6 made by VM Motori. Originally planned for the Cadillac CTS, the diesel engine puts out 240 horsepower (43 less than the Pentastar V6) and 430 lb-ft (20 more than the 5.7L Hemi V8). Drawing comparisons to a Cadillac might be a bit of a stretch, but the V6 oil burner is incredibly refined. There is very little clatter at start-up or at idle, and the traditional diesel noises are largely kept in check. One noteworthy change is the addition of a Diesel Exhaust Fluid gauge in the cabin. DEF is used as part of the emissions control package, and the fluid is meant to be replenished at 10,000 miles (the same interval as the engine’s oil). However, regulations require that the engine must be disabled when the DEF supply is exhausted, so keeping an eye on its levels is essential.

Most of the seat time in the diesel Ram came in the form of various stop-and-go scenarios as part of the city driving loops, with the diesel returning a very impressive 24 mpg according to the vehicle’s trip computer. While the Pentastar V6 is said to add about a second and a half compared to the Pentastar Ram’s 7.5 second 0-60 time, the diesel felt much stronger, with plenty of torque available throughout the rev range. Merging and passing was a cinch, with the feel resembling that of a boosted gasoline engine. In a blind taste test, nobody would confuse the Pentastar, the Hemi or the diesel, but the oil-burner’s overall feel is closer to that of the Ford EcoBoost V6 than a traditional heavy-duty diesel engine. Although towing wasn’t a part of my drive, Ram claims that the diesel can haul up to 9,200 lbs with the right equipment.

The biggest sticking point for the diesel is likely the amount of time it will take to break even on the $4,500 premium the diesel commands. Based on a national average prices of $3.62 for gasoline and $3.97 for diesel, the payback over the Pentastar V6 will take decades. When the diesel is put up against the Hemi, the proposition makes more sense, taking about 5 years to pay off.

Nevertheless, rationality doesn’t always play in to these kind of purchasing decisions, as evidenced by the legions of buyers who frequently opt for fuel-efficient vehicles that in reality take lots of time to provide any kind of ROI. The notion of a diesel half-ton pickup will likely prove alluring for many in terms of curb appeal, and the powertrain’s combination of brawn and refinement will win buyers over on the dealer test drive. Otherwise, there’s very little to distinguish the diesel from gasoline powered Ram 1500s. And that’s hardly a bad thing.

Ironically, Ram wasn’t even supposed to be the first one to market with a diesel. At the end of the last decade, Ford reportedly shelved a 4.8L twin-turbo diesel V8, fearing that it would steal sales away from the Super Duty trucks.  They won’t be the second one either, since Nissan will release a half-ton diesel Titan within the next year or two. It appears that in this marketplace, the Super Duty trucks are gravitating towards the traditional heavy-duty users, while half-ton trucks are creeping upmarket, serving as replacements for all manner of large cars. Features like four full-size doors, better ride characteristics and lots of passenger space helped spur this trend – and the increasing push towards better fuel economy will only keep it going.

Chrysler provided airfare, accommodations and meals for the event. Photos courtesy AutoGuide.com

 

 

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Review: 2014 RAM ProMaster Cargo Van (With Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/review-2014-ram-promaster-cargo-van-with-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/review-2014-ram-promaster-cargo-van-with-video/#comments Tue, 01 Oct 2013 16:00:44 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=524961 2014 RAM ProMaster Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

I have driven more cars than I can count this year but strangely enough, none of them excited me as much as the Fiat Ducato we had in July. Why? Well, my snazzy new retaining wall that arrived pallet-by-pallet in the Ducato certainly helped, but the real reason is: the Ducato serves as the basis for the 2014 RAM ProMaster. Yes, I know I have an odd place in my heart for commercial cargo haulers, but hear me out. The ProMaster quite simply the biggest thing to happen in the commercial world in my lifetime. The only thing that could have surpassed the intrigue of a front-wheel-drive cargo hauler would be a front-wheel-drive BMW M5. I know Europeans have had these things for a while, but let’s revel in the American novelty as we click past the jump.

Click here to view the embedded video.

First things first. The ProMaster isn’t a Ducato with a RAM stuck on the front. Instead, Fiat and Chrysler decided to do their most interesting joint venture project thus far: refresh/re-design the Ducato with the North American market in mind. Why bother? Because major changes needed to be made to meet US legislation so the team took the opportunity to tweak just about everything. If you’re a Ducato fan, keep reading because I suspect that many of the American market changes will trickle back to the EU over time.

Exterior

With cargo haulers, it’s important that form follow function. The “box-on-wheels” is eminently practical. Because of this not much has changed externally from the Euro version and shoppers still have three body choices: a cargo van with or without windows, a chassis cab or a cutaway. Up front we still have the utilitarian dark grey bumper covers in a three-piece arrangement. The logic is that if you’re in a minor scuff-up, you can replace just the portion of the bumper you need to instead of the whole thing. Since they are all the same color regardless of the color of the van, parts costs are kept low and you can afford to have one or two in inventory.

Breaking from American tradition, the rear bumper is thin and shallow. While this makes me wonder what kind of body damage happens when the van gets hit in the rear, it makes forklift loading easier and keeps the van’s dimensions down. When it comes to dimensions, the ProMaster breaks from the mold. Rather than having an identical bodies in 1500, 2500 and 3500 versions, RAM’s ”levels” dictate  which of the four bodies, three wheelbases and two roof heights you get. The 1500 is the only version available with a low roof in two different lengths. The 2500 and 3500 are high roof only and all that really changes is the wheelbase and body length. The shortest ProMaster is 29 inches shorter (body length) than a GM standard van while the longest is 26 inches longer than GM’s largest van. Regardless of body, you get 16-inch wheels wrapped in 225/75R16 rubber. The small tires and wheels are a result of the Euro roots and the contrast between the small wheels and enormous body make the ProMaster look a little like a pregnant roller skate.

2014 RAM ProMaster Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Cargo Hauling

The slab sides mean we get a large square rear opening almost as large as the van’s cross-section. This is significant change from GM and Ford’s existing vans where the rear portal is notably smaller than the cargo area. At 62 inches wide and 60 inches tall, the rear opening in the low-roof ProMaster is 5-inches wider and 13-inches taller than a GM/Ford van. Similar to Mercedes’ Sprinter, the ProMaster’s side doors swing 260 degrees and latch nearly parallel to the side of the van. The ProMaster’s sliding door rolls on an external stainless track for easy maintenance and thanks to the 49-inch wide, 60-inch tall (low roof) opening it reveals, you can insert one pallet in the side and one in the rear, something you can’t do in an E-Series or Savana. You can add a driver’s side sliding door for a reasonable $575 or $650 with glass, but if you prefer the side “barn doors” in your cargo hauler, look elsewhere. The RAM is sliding only.

Once you get beyond the unorthodox looks, you begin to realize how enormous the ProMaster is. At 283 cubic feet, smallest ProMaster (1500 short wheelbase) swallows one cubic foot less than GM’s biggest factory van. Need more? RAM’s positively ginormous ProMaster 3500 will haul 530 cubes, nearly twice the capacity of GM and Ford’s largest factory option. In fact when you look at the numbers, the ProMaster 3500 extended body extended wheelbase will schlep more than the average 12-foot box truck and nearly as much as the elusive 14-foot box truck.

A unique offering (so far) in the ProMaster is the factory installation of a steel bulkhead between the cargo and passenger compartment. GM and Ford offer a few dealer installed options but the total cost is higher than the ProMaster’s reasonable $495 for the partition with a window (about a hundred bucks less if you don’t want to look behind you.) Adding the partition not only improves safety but because of the factory fit and seal, it reduces cabin noise and improves air-conditioning performance. (An important consideration when you operate a black fleet in Phoenix.) 2014 Ram ProMaster 3.6 liter chassis with Pentastar V-6

Construction & Payload

Cargo volume without payload capacity is useless, and this is where the ProMaster’s Euro roots become obvious. The RAM doesn’t follow the American convention when it comes to payload scales. Not only can the 1500 haul as many widgets as an extended Ford or GM van, the payload capacity is just 111 lower than GM’s sturdiest cargo hauler and a full ton more than a Ford or GM 1500 series van. Scaling up to the 3500, payload increases to 5,290lbs. That is nearly 900lbs more than the highest payload Ford or GM. As a result it is more realistic to compare the base ProMaster to the GM 2500 series extended vans in terms of capability. Logically the ProMaster is also priced in this fashion starting about the same as that 2500 extended van.

How can a front wheel drive unibody cargo van haul that much stuff? Easy. It’s not really a unibody. Unibody haters can put down their pitchforks, the ProMaster is a hybrid, which explains how they can slice those enormous doors into the side of the van without it collapsing like a house of cards. Essentially bonded to the vehicle’s floor, is a heavy-duty rail system that stretches from bumper to bumper. For the US market this frame has been beefed up for higher payloads and rougher roads. You can see the FWD benefit in the picture above: by using a FWD drivetrain, the load floor doesn’t have to sit on-top of the transmission, driveshaft or differential allowing it to hug the ground. At 21 inches the ProMaster’s load floor is 7-inches lower than the closest competitor and even the forthcoming Ford T-Series won’t improve on this much because of the RWD layout.

2014 RAM ProMaster Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Interior

American cargo vans have never been known for modernity, creature comforts or leg room. The ProMaster, like the Nissan NV breaks the mold but the two vans do it in different ways. The Nissan puts the engine under a long hood while the ProMaster’s mill is transverse mounted freeing up leg room. The difference is night and day and my right leg remained un-cooked even after a 2 hour drive.  The first thing you’ll notice about the interior is how utilitarian it is. Easy to clean plastics span the interior (read: hard plastic), there’s a clip board integrated into the dash and instead of carpet you get a hard plastic floor with some textured grips. The second thing you’ll notice is how high off the ground you are. The passenger floor is 6-7 inches higher than the cargo load floor because everything that the ProMaster needs to move is located in front of or beneath the passenger compartment. This has two benefits, it allows the load floor to be lower to the ground and it also makes chassis cab and cut-away up-fitting easier. There are two access panels in the floor, one allows access to the battery (it’s the large one you can see in the picture above) and the other allows access to the fuel sending unit. Anyone who has a fleet of GM vans will tell you that replacing a fuel pump is a royal pain because you have to drain and drop the tank to get to it. In the ProMaster you just pop the cover off and have at it.

Chrysler decided to upgrade the headrests to a car-like fabric design instead of the rubbery Euro versions but the rest of the seat design is the same. This means we have a spring-loaded driver’s seat that adjusts for height, tilt, recline and fore/aft. Sadly the steering wheel is not as adjustable as it telescopes but does not tilt. In an interesting twist, the three-across seating option has made it across the pond for a very reasonable $225. This isn’t a bench seat, it’s a two-person seat that replaces the single passenger seat so the driver retains the more comfortable throne. While I think the Nissan NV’s thickly padded seats are the most comfortable commercial seats ever designed, the ProMaster takes an easy second place. If you want a splash of luxury, you can heat the seats for $170 a pop, adjustable lumbar support for $50, and a leather wrapped tiller for $145. If you hate your employees, vinyl seats can be had for $100.

 

2014 RAM ProMaster Interior, uConnect 5, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Infotainment

In Europe the Ducato doesn’t get much techno-love, but we Americans are a different lot so we get Chrysler’s 5-inch uConnect system as an option. While not radical by itself, the fact that there is the option of a well-integrated touchscreen navigation and entertainment system available in a commercial cargo van is practically earth shattering. The closest this segment comes is the Nissan NV which can be had with the Nissan Versa’s “Low Cost Navigation System” for $795, but only on certain models. The ProMaster on the other hand is very ”ala carte” allowing you to add just the $395 touchscreen system with a CD player, XM radio, iPod/USB integration and voice commands, or option all the way up to the navigation software for an additional $395.

The 5-inch uConnect system is the result of the Fiat/Chrysler/Microsoft relationship and while the software looks like the larger uConnect 8.4 system, it’s entirely different under the hood. Sadly the system isn’t as responsive ad uConnect 6.5 or 8.4 but it gets the job done better than most systems. Voice commands are logical and the system had no troubles with my music library commands. Sound quality was nothing to write home about, it is a commercial vehicle after all, but it won’t bring you to tears either. In preparation for any impending legislation, the ProMaster can be equipped with a backup cam for $230 and parking sensors for $250.

 

 

 

2014 Ram ProMaster 3.6 liter Pentastar V-6

Drivetrain

The looks, front wheel drive layout and hybrid unibody aren’t the only things that set this van apart. The engines ans transmissions are unique to cargo vans as well. First off, there is no V8. Things start out with Chrysler’s 3.6L V6 engine in every body style. Yes, even that enormous 3500 with 5,291lb in the back and a 5,100lb trailer attached. Sending the 280 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque to the ground is a Chrysler 68TE six-speed automatic transaxle. This compact slushbox is the same transmission found in the Chrysler minivans except they swap in a much lower final gear ratio for ProMaster duty along with seriously upgraded cooling hardware.

For $4,000 you can toss in an Iveco/Fiat 3.0L four-cylinder turbo diesel. Before you laugh, this is the same engine found in certain medium duty Mitsubishi Fuso trucks, so it’s a solid heavy-duty contender. The oil burner cranks out 180 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque, about the same amount of torque you get from GM’s 4.8L V8. This engine is mated to Fiat’s M40 transmission which is a 6-speed robotized manual transmission. Chrysler tell us that they have heavily revised the shift logic and control systems for the American market and as a result this will be a late availability option hitting around January of 2014. If you recall my review of the Ducato, my biggest complaint about the diesel drivetrain was the time it took to complete a 1-2 shift. Chrysler promises this has been corrected and they have also altered the torque pattern for American tastes.

The diesel has a few advantages over the gasoline V6. Oil change intervals stretch out to 18,000 miles, low-end torque is improved, first gear is lower (19:1 including final drive) to help you get off the line with heavy loads and the fuel economy is excellent (based on our Ducato experiences). Oddly enough, that M40 transmission is also a selling point. Because it doesn’t have a torque converter the fluid change intervals are lengthy and the cooling demands are reduced. Fiat tells us the single plate clutch kit for the Ducato is about $150 in Europe and I expect the parts to be about the same price on our shores. How easy is it to replace? That’s the wild card as I haven’t seen a repair manual yet.

2014 RAM ProMaster Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Drive

Thanks to the new low final drive, the RAM is surprisingly quick off the line. The V6 model we tested scooted to 6o in 9.05 seconds, notably faster than the diesel Ducato we tested before. We didn’t get the opportunity to load the ProMaster as fully as the Ducato, but I expect the diesel to be the better hauler when full thanks to the better torque numbers.

Although not normally a consideration with a cargo van, the ProMaster delivers the most civilized ride in this segment. It’s also the easiest to parallel park thanks to an incredibly small 36.3-foot turning diameter in the short wheelbase model, smaller than many mid-size sedans. Even the long wheelbase, long body ProMaster 3500 impresses at 46.8. I know that sounds enormous, but in perspective, a long wheelbase Express needs a whopping 54.6 feet to do the same while carrying 50% less stuff. That’s the difference between accomplishing a U-turn or being the dude blocking all lanes of traffic while sea-sawing a multi-point turn.

Chrysler spent a decent amount of time lauding the Brembo front brakes which they claim gives the ProMaster the best fade resistance in the segment. Admittedly that’s a low bar to jump, but our informal tests around Malibu seemed to bear the claim out. One thing to note however is that with only 225 width rubber making contact with the ground, stopping times are no better than the competition.

2014 RAM ProMaster Exterior-008

Will the ProMaster be a success? I think it’s too early to tell. Fleet buyers are notoriously loyal to specific models because they have so much invested in uniformity. This alone accounts for the Ford E-Series sales leadership, despite being the thirstiest, oldest, and least desirable cargo van going. The largest unknown in the mix is: how reliable will the ProMaster be? Durability and total cost of ownership are extremely important in this segment and that’s an open-ended question. How will the 62TE stand up to a GVWR of 10,000lbs? Will it be as good as GM’s new 6L80 transmission they are finally putting in their vans? Rebuilt units are comparable in pricing so it will all come down to longevity. Chrysler is putting their 5 year, 100,000 mile powertrain warranty on the ProMaster to help entice shoppers. The combination of that small diesel and a long powertrain warranty to calm customer nerves could make a difference. However, if you option the ProMaster up with the diesel and a few options and you’re in Mercedes Sprinter territory and that is a dangerous place to be with the new Sprinter’s 7-speed auto and smooth diesel engine. Chrysler fights back with lower cost of service and ownership claims and a longer warranty.

The ProMaster is a compelling alternative to the Ford and GM 3/4 ton and 1 ton vans. delivering higher payloads and greater cargo capacity with low load floors, a more maneuverable chassis, a small diesel and excellent fuel economy. However, GM’s aggressive pricing and insane fleet purchase rebate program mean the less capable Chevy Express 1500 will likely be $2,000 (or more) cheaper than the least expensive ProMaster. Will the ProMaster’s ergonomic selling points and Euro charm win over commercial America? Or will the forthcoming rear-wheel-drive Ford T-Series (American Transit) win America’s hearts with its 5-cylinder diesel and twin-turbo V6? Stay Tuned.

 

Chrysler provided the vehicle for our testing at a launch event in Southern California. The flight and meals were on Chrysler.

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Pre-Production Review: 2014 Toyota Tundra (With Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/09/pre-production-review-2014-toyota-tundra-with-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/09/pre-production-review-2014-toyota-tundra-with-video/#comments Wed, 11 Sep 2013 20:02:31 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=514913 2014 Toyota Tundra Exterior-002

We don’t just love pickup trucks in America, we practically worship them. The half ton pickup truck is an American icon embedded into our music, our entertainment and almost the core of our culture. If you haven’t owned or wanted to own a pickup truck, you’re probably a communist infiltrating American society and should be stopped. Despite inroads from the Japanese competition, the full-size truck market is a solidly American segment that isn’t just led by the big three, it’s dominated by them. In August, RAM took third place with 33,009 pickups sold in the US of A, more than three times the number four player: this week’s Toyota Tundra. Why is this gap so large when Toyota crushes the big three in so many other segments? Let’s explore that while we look at Toyota’s refreshed 2014 Tundra.

Click here to view the embedded video.

When it comes to trucks, we’re talking half-ton cargo haulers, not the compact truck market where Toyota arguably leads. The full-size truck market is about image and brand as much as it is about capability. Aside from men’s razors, no other product in America is marketed in such a completely-divorced-from-reality fashion. We buy trucks both because they haul and because they make us look cool. (Come on, you can admit it.) Truck advertising tells us that real Americans buy trucks, have cattle ranches, sing in country groups and get all the blonde babes. Real Americans also go muddin’, drink Bud and (most importantly) buy American. It is therefore no surprise that Toyota’s biggest market is California. (Make of that what you will.) It’s also no surprise the folks at the launch event were trying hard to sell the Tie-o-ter as the most American pickup on the market. With the highest percentage of American content, plus assembly in San Antonio, there is some truth to their assertions.

Exterior

I think that part of Toyota’s tuck sales problem was the old T100 from 1993-1998. That truck was a half-step between the American mid-size and full-size trucks leading people to consider the T100 more of a mid-size competitor. Then came the 1999-2006 Tundra which grew but failed to keep up with the Americans in terms of styling and dimensions. In 2007 we got the all-new Tundra which yet again grew a half size and was finally competitive with the big three featuring two V8 engines and part-time 4WD. Sales were less than stellar. Why? Toyota believes styling was to blame and I’m inclined to agree. The “bubbly” theme of the old Tundra was fairly emasculating when you parked next to the “rugged” F-150 or RAM 1500.

2014 Toyota Tundra Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

For 2014 Toyota has addressed this problem with an enormous new grille that comes in three flavors (you can see two of them in the gallery) and features a prominent Toyota logo and very upright styling. It’s so upright the front bumper hardly protrudes from the grille at all. The larger and “chromier” grill is flanked by new headlamps that pay homage to the daring big-rig style of the 1994 RAM. The new nose makes the Tundra look bigger and meaner even though the dimensions have barely changed at all. Mainstream looks? Check.

2014 maintains the Tundra’s three cab, two bed, two wheelbase product mix. Things start out with the three-seat, two-door SR and stretch up to the six-seat four-door SR5. In a nod to the large number of truck shoppers that buy for image, not payload, Toyota offers three premium trim levels: Limited, Platinum and 1794. 1794 is named after the ranch that used to operate on the property the Tundra factory was built on. Mainstream product portfolio? Check.

2014 Toyota Tundra Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Interior

Truck makers have finally read the memo that truck shoppers expect passenger car quality interiors. Toyota listened in 2007 but didn’t catch the all important detail “car quality interiors” not “car-like interiors.” Thankfully the 2014 refresh banishes the awkward Camry-esque of the old model for a more masculine design language. Like the competition there is plenty of hard plastic in this cabin, more fake tree than a 1970s suburban tri-level and plenty of bling. I can finally say with a straight face that the Tundra’s interior looks like a truck.

Unfortunately for Toyota, 2014 also brings a raft of refreshed, redesigned and tweaked trucks from the big boys. Compared back to back with the 2014 Silverado and the 2013 RAM, the Tundra’s interior looks a little too “try hard” with shapes that are discordant and not harmonious and parts quality that is a notch below the pack. The F-150 is getting a little old with a 2015 redesign widely expected, but I still find the Ford’s interior to be a better place to spend my time than the Tundra. Mainstream interior? Check.

2014 Toyota Tundra Interior, entune, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Infotainment

2014 brings a few changes to the Tundra’s infotainment head unit. The major change is that all Tundra models will come with Toyota’s 6.1-inch Entune system only. The 7-inch system that ran the high-end software shared with the Lexus brand is not available in any model of Tundra. Consider me pleased. Toyota’s low-end system still seems to suffer from a dim LCD but the software itself is slick, speedy and easy to use. As before navigation is optional as is smartphone app integration. If you want the detailed look, check out the video. Mainstream tunes? Check.

2014 Tundra 5.7L V8, Picture Courtesy of Toyota

Powertrain

Delivering a new truck with an old drivetrain isn’t new, Ford’s been doing that for years. Unfortunately Ford is known for refreshing the under-hood-bits the next year while Toyota is known for  maintaining the status quo until a redesign. Unless Toyota breaks from tradition, this puts the Tundra at a serious competitive disadvantage. The base engine is ye olde 4.0L V6 mated to Toyota’s tried-and-true (but also tired and behind the times) 5-speed automatic. The rated 270 ponies and 278 twists are competitive with RAM’s 3.6L V6 and Ford’s 3.7L V6 on paper where torque is more important than horsepower for towing, but in the real world Ford’s 6-speed automatic makes better use of the power and 2014 brings ZF’s 8-speed to the RAM 1500 giving Chrysler’s 3.6L engine three more 60% more gears to play with. Toyota claims the V6 exists for a low entry price and as a result doesn’t even list a rated towing capacity for the V6 SR model. (Toyota says it’s 4,400 lbs.) I think that’s a serious mistake when we take two things into account. First, many truck buyers, especially those in California where Toyota is making headway, have no idea what a trailer even looks like. Second, Detroit is changing their tune on the V6 models changing them from entry engines to fuel efficient options that can haul some serious loads. RAM’s 2014 V6 model will tow 7,450lbs. Toyota was quick to say that they are the only ones with SAE verified towing numbers but I’m here to tell you the Chrysler 3.6L V6 and ZF 8-speed transmission are a weekend warrior’s towing wet dream.

Because the V6 is the milquetoast discount engine, Toyota offers two different V8s to fill out the product portfolio. Because Toyota only offers the V6 on the base SR model with the regular cab, most buyers will have a V8 under the hood. Both V8s are closely related to the engines found in modern Lexus models and as such are buttery smooth with a rich V8 burble and a torque curve that’s higher and “peakier” than the American competition. The 4.6L V8 is good for 310 horsepower and 327 lb-ft of torque, only slightly higher than GM’s 4.3L V6 and well behind Ford’s fire-breathing Ecoboost 3.5L V6. Still, this is not going to be the most popular engine because most Tundras will have Toyota’s 381HP 5.7L V8 capable of cranking out 401 lb-ft. Both V8s are mated to a mode modern 6-speed automatic which is on par with GM and Ford but notably shy of the RAM’s new ZF 8-speed for 2014. If you need more power TRD will be selling the same supercharger kit as before (as a TRD accessory it is covered by the Toyota factory warranty) which bumps the 5.7 to a class blowing 504HP and 550 lb-ft.

2014 Toyota Tundra Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Driving and hauling

If you are one of the few that tow with their pickup truck, you may be happy to know that Toyota is the only company that follows the SAE standard completely when determining tow ratings.  Or, like me, you may look at the situation more skeptically and say “OK, so Dodge, Ford and Chrysler fiddle with their numbers” but does that matter? Not to me. The big three’s 1500 series trucks all slot in around 10,000 lbs with Chevy currently claiming king of the hill. Big deal. How the vehicles behave while towing is more important to me than the numbers and with that in mind there is one clear winner: the 2014 Ram 1500. Why? It’s all about ZF’s 8-speed automatic. The octo-swapper is two gears ahead of the competition and as a result can better keep the engine in its respective power band. Towing with Chrysler’s 3.6L V6 and 8-speed automatic is an eye opening experience and even though Chrysler’s 5.7L V8 lacks the power of the larger GM and Ford V8s the extra gears make a huge difference. Still, most half ton truck owners in suburbia have a truck because they bought a Ski-Doo and can’t imagine towing a 500-pound jetski behind a crossover with a meager 5,000 pound tow rating. (Seriously, I know some of these people.) With that in mind we can just say everyone in this segment can tow more than you need.

Out on the road the Tundra drives just like a pickup truck. If you had hoped that Toyota’s badge on the nose would turn the full-size cargo hauler into a FR-S on stilts you will be disappointed. The Tundra tips/dives and leans just like a Chevy, RAM or Ford and like the competition the horizontal grip varies depending on the cab, bed and rubber you choose. Steering is accurate but numb amd cabin noise is well controlled for a pickup truck.

2014 Toyota Tundra Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

With limited time behind the wheel of the pre-production models I must draw my V6 experience from a dealer provided 2013 model. The V6 is slow and thirsty, with the 5-speed automatic always a step behind what’s required. The 4.7L V8 is thirstier than the V6 but doesn’t drink anymore than the competition. Power delivery is smooth and  the 6-speed automatic shifts firmly with a relative eagerness to downshift when towing. The 5.7L V8 drinks like a college co-ed on spring break and has a somewhat high (3,600 RPM) torque peak which makes it feel out of sorts when towing compared to GM’s 6.2L monster.

After a day tossing the Tundra around Washington state and towing trailers with unknown weights inside (seriously, nobody seemed to know how much weight was in the demo trailer) I came to the conclusion that the Tundra is finally a solid middle of the pack contender. With the exception of ye olde 5-speed on the V6, there’s nothing about the Tundra that’s smaller, weaker, less masculine or less capable than the popular configurations of the Detroit trucks.

Everything about the Tundra is quintessentially middle of the pack, but does that make it the Goldilocks of the 1/2 ton truck market? Yes and no. In the pursuit of mainstream, Toyota has abandoned the attempt to be class leading. As a result, there is nothing extraordinary about the Tundra in a positive or negative way except, possibly, Toyota’s reputation for reliability. In a segment where brand is practically more important than payload and towing (just ask the Chevy vs Ford guys), that’s a problem for Toyota as it gives shoppers little reason to try something new. The 2014 Tundra is the best pickup truck Toyota has ever made and it’s a solid alternative to any of the American pickup trucks.  But, unless Toyota breaks out of their shell and does something radical, the Tundra isn’t likely to sway many shoppers in the heartland.

 

Tundra flew me to Seattle to sample the Tundra refresh.

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More Changes For Chrysler Product Plans http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/09/more-changes-for-chrysler-product-plans/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/09/more-changes-for-chrysler-product-plans/#comments Tue, 03 Sep 2013 13:29:29 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=507169 2013_SRT_Viper_--_2012_NYIAS

Post-bankruptcy Chrysler’s product plans have had more episodic changes than the Star Wars franchise, and Automotive News has the latest dirt on what’s going on at Auburn Hills.

Dodge is set to lose the most, with the Grand Caravan, Journey and Durango disappearing from the lineup. The Grand Caravan may live on in Canada, but Chrysler’s next minivan, as well as the next Journey, will become Chrysler products, while an all-new Jeep Grand Wagoneer will take the place of the Durango. On the other hand, a rear-wheel drive vehicle bearing the Avenger nameplate is slated for 2015.

Chrysler’s larger rear-drive cars won’t get a refresh until 2015 at the earliest, while the planned 100C hatchback is dead in the water. An influx of Fiat based product will arrive with a subcompact Jeep and more commercial vans at Ram, while Fiat may see the Panda make its way over here (in a larger form that Europeans are used to).

And last but not least, confusion reigns at Alfa Romeo.

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Is Ram Reviving The Rumble Bee? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/08/is-ram-reviving-the-rumble-bee/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/08/is-ram-reviving-the-rumble-bee/#comments Thu, 15 Aug 2013 13:42:20 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=499530 Ram-concept-Teaser

News of a new Ram performance truck was bolstered by these images released by Ram yesterday, that preview the new model set to be unveiled at this weekend’s Woodward Dream Cruise.

With a yellow bee motif and the word “Rumble” stenciled below the Ram’s shifter dial, it’s safe to assume that the Rumble Bee is based on the Ram Express, a stripped-down Hemi powered version of the Ram 1500. But while the Ram Express is rather basic (vinyl seats are available, for example) the Rumble Bee will likely have some more upscale features to go along with a higher price tag.

Ram-concept-Teaser-2-418x646

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How Jeep Ended Up With A GM Diesel http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/07/how-jeep-ended-up-with-a-gm-diesel/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/07/how-jeep-ended-up-with-a-gm-diesel/#comments Thu, 18 Jul 2013 13:00:45 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=495667 V6-diesel

The new diesel engine that is expected to arrive in the Dodge Ram 1500 and Jeep Grand Cherokee (which, we hear, has been pushed back a few times already) has had an interesting life. The 3.0L twin-turbo diesel engine never was intended for Chrysler or Fiat products, but rather, Cadillac.

As Automotive News tells it, the engine was born when GM bought 50 percent of Italian firm VM Motori in 2007. They quickly began work on a 2.9L diesel engine intended for the European market Cadillac CTS, with GM financing the venture. Cadillac’s struggling sales in Europe along with GM’s bankruptcy conspired to prevent the VM diesel from ever appearing in a GM product.

Where it did end up is with Fiat, after the firm bought 50 percent of VM Motori in 2011. The engine was reworked for use in Chrysler products, but VM is apparently free to sell it to other auto makers as well. All in all a shrewd move by Sergio Marchionne – a man who was once able to make GM pay $2 billion to Fiat for the privilege of not entering into an alliance.

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Review: 2013 Fiat Ducato Cargo Van (Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/07/review-2013-fiat-ducato-cargo-van-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/07/review-2013-fiat-ducato-cargo-van-video/#comments Tue, 16 Jul 2013 22:35:10 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=495258  2013 Fiat Ducato Cargo Van, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Before we dive in, let’s get one thing straight. This is not, I repeat NOT a review of the 2014 RAM ProMaster cargo van. Instead I managed to get my hands on a Euro spec Fiat Ducato van for a few days. The Ducato is the basis for the ProMaster, but the ProMaster is more than just a Fiat with a RAM on it. Fiat’s Americanized cargo van might just be the biggest shakeup to the domestic commercial vehicle segment in our lifetime. Why? Front wheel drive, that’s why. Intrigued?

 

Click here to view the embedded video.

The American commercial market is very different from most of the world. In America, our vans are based on pickup trucks, usually a generation (or two or three) behind the consumer product. The benefit is a stable platform that’s been tested. The downsides are: a large and heavy ladder frame undercarriage causing a high center of gravity, thirsty V8 engines, old 4-speed automatics, engines located under a “dog house” between the front seats, poor fuel economy and a general lack of innovation. Even the newcomer to this segment, the Nissan NV, follows the same formula with a chassis and drivetrain very loosely based on the Titan.

In Europe things are different. Even if manufacturers had large trucks to base vans on, fuel economy is a huge deal. Because of this Europe is a sea of large unibody vans sporting small diesel engines, manual transmissions and [comparatively] aerodynamic shapes. How small? The Ford Transit sports a 100HP 2.2L diesel and a 6-speed manual. In America the only diesel cargo van on sale at the moment is the Chevy Express with a massive 6.6L V8 engine.

2013 Fiat Ducato Cargo Van, Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Exterior

Form follows function. Fiat boasts the squarest, boxiest cargo area on the market, not a claim you would hear at a “normal” press conference. Up front the awkward nose is a nod to practicality. Because the Ducato is front-wheel-drive, Fiat located the transverse engines under the hood, not between the seats like you see in GM and Ford vans. Crash structures and radiators are located in the black plastic section of the nose while headlamps are positioned above the usual fender-bender zone. Fiat claims the three-piece front bumper cover reduces minor accident repair costs.

As with other entries, glass is optional. Base vans come with a windshield and two front windows. If you pay, you can get rear barn-doors with glass and partially or fully-glazed van sides. Somewhat unique is an optional driver’s side sliding door. Much like the Mercedes Sprinter and Nissan NV cargo vans, rear doors swing nearly 270 degrees and lock in place almost parallel to the side of the van.

2013 Fiat Ducato Cargo Van, Three Seat Van, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Interior

I have been told some of the Ducato’s unique seat options will make it across the Atlantic. The standard driver’s seat is height-adjustable with lumbar support. There is also an optional suspension seat (think city-bus) and three-abreast seating. Our Euro model was distinctly lacking in the cupholder department, an omission that will be remedied for America.

Starting several inches lower than the passenger cab of the Ducato is the cargo area. Yes, several inches lower. That’s because the gas tank and battery are under the passenger compartment floor. Despite this the cab is about the same height as an Express or E-150.

The load floor is 7 inches closer to the ground than any American van. That’s what FWD does for you. Without the driveshaft to worry about, Fiat tucks the suspension and exhaust close to the load rails in the chassis making the floor of the Ducato much “thinner” than the competition. Don’t let that fool you, the Ducato’s load capacity is 3,472lbs, which positions it between the Chevrolet Express 2500′s 3,095lb capacity and the 3500′s 4,394lb maximum payload. When the Ducato becomes a naturalized American, payload increases and ranges from 3,922-4,417 lbs in the regular van configuration to 5,189 in the chassis cab and cut-away models.

2013 Fiat Ducato Cargo Van, Cargo Hold, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Cargo Hauling

Based on pickups, American vans are branded 1500, 2500 and 3500. In Europe these naming conventions don’t exist. When purchasing a Ducato, you first decide if you want a cargo box or if you want a chassis cab or cut away. Huh? How does that work in a unibody van? Easy. Unibody is becoming a generic descriptor and in the purest sense of the word the Ducato is not a true unibody vehicle. Instead it’s more of a hybrid having fully-boxed steel load rails. When the cargo box is put on top, the two are welded together to increase strength, but the Ducato doesn’t need the body to haul cargo. Next you select between three wheelbases and two roof heights. If you choose the longest wheelbase you have the option to extend the body an extra 14 inches. Each wheelbase has a range of payloads which you can select somewhat independently of drivetrains.

Because Fiat didn’t have a parts bin to raid for axles and chassis components, the Ducato was designed from the ground up to maximize cargo room. That meant pushing the rear wheels out as far as possible giving the Ducato 4-6 inches more room between the wheel wells than the competition. Fiat combined the low load floor with a standard cargo box that is nearly a foot taller inside than GM or Ford while maintaining roughly the same exterior dimensions. Opt for the factory high roof and you get 72 inches of floor-to-ceiling height. Because the high-roof version starts 7-inches closer to the ground, the Ducato is 7 inches shorter overall than the high-roof NV. This made the difference between fitting through a drive-thru and parking and walking in for my burger. Yes, I am that lazy.

The picture above shows the optional bulkhead between cargo and passenger compartments. If that was not in place, you would see the passenger area is 7 inches higher than the cargo area making it unlikely that liquids from your cargo would slosh around your feet. When in place, the bulkhead allows the cabin A/C to more effectively cool the driver, makes for a quieter ride and keeps your cargo from smacking your head. Speaking of liquids, the Ducato sports a double-sealed load floor to prevent liquids from rusting the welds from the inside out, a common problem with the Mercedes Sprinter. If you’re counting cubes, the Ducato shifts between 283 and 530 depending on the body. The E-Series ranges from 237 cubes to 278 while Nissan’s NV swallows 234 to 323.

180 MultiJet EngineDrivetrain

In most countries the Ducato sports an all-diesel, all-Iveco engine lineup ranging from a 2.3L 110 HP four-cylinder to the 3.0L 177 HP four-cylinder we will be getting in America in the ProMaster. (Iveco is Fiat’s commercial engine subsidiary.) Hauling is more about torque than HP and that’s where these oil burners shine. The base 2.3L engine delivers 221 lb-ft and the 3.0L engine cranks out a GM 4.8L V8 matching 295 lb-ft. Some markets have an optional Iveco compressed natural gas mill, but I’m not holding my breath for an American version. Exclusive to the US/Canadian market will be the 3.6L Pentastar V6 tuned to 280 HP and 260 lb-ft of twist.

Motivating 7,000-10,000lbs with 177 ponies may sound like a disaster, but you should remember that horsepower wars are a recent affectation and 295 lb-ft is enough to motivate the Ducato without a problem. The base engine sends that power to the ground via a 6-speed manual transmission. Yes, manual. No, I don’t think that’s a good idea for American commercial drivers because I have seen them drive. Thankfully Fiat offers an “automatic robotised gearbox” on the other diesel engines and that’s the only transmission on the American-bound diesel.

What is a “robotised” gearbox? This is not an automatic transmission. This is not a dual clutch gearbox and it is NOT an automatic transmission with a “manual mode”, it is a manual transmission with an automatic mode. You won’t find any planetary gears or a torque converter.  Instead you’ll find dog clutches, syncromesh and shafts. The reason is simple: torque converters and planetary gearsets are less efficient. Fear not, the computer controls the clutch and the shifting. Anecdotal evidence from a friend in the UK that runs a commercial repair garage indicates you should expect at least 100,000 miles out of the clutch even with heavy loads since the computer is more skilled at slipping the friction material than you are. Worried? The ProMaster’s gasoline V6 will have a regular old automatic with a torque converter and planetary gearsets if you can’t handle change.

2013 Fiat Ducato, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Drive

I’m no stranger to commercial vehicles. I do fleet consulting on the side and I built my own home with my own two hands. Since I’m also a cheap bastard, everything that is my home arrived in a truck, van or trailer that I drove up and over a 2,200ft mountain pass, on gravel roads, in home improvement parking lots and unloaded myself before carrying said items down the hill to the building site. Some day if this construction nightmare is ever complete, I may write about it. What does this have to do with the Ducato? Easy, I had promised some friends we would have a patio party by the end of July. Except I didn’t have a patio yet. To complete the job I needed 26,400lbs of pavers and 22,000lbs of retaining wall blocks. A perfect test for the Ducato. The cheapest way to get the items was to pick them up at the store. To get the quantity I needed, I had to visit every location from Daly City to Watsonville multiple times.

Basalite puts pavers and wall products on 48×40 pallets, the most common size in North America, and loads them to between 3,000 and 3,3300lbs. Loading pallets in the Ducato was a breeze thanks to a generous 56-inches between the rear wheel wells, four more than the Ford. The forklift operators obviously need this extra width because despite being told repeatedly to move the pallet left or right they would invariably place it one millimeter from a wheel well. If you are brave enough, you can also insert a standard 48×48 pallet in the side door of the Ducato, although I don’t recommend it because the opening is 49 inches wide and I don’t trust forklift drivers that much. Still, it is possible which is more than can be said of the GM/Ford vans.

2013 Fiat Ducato, UP Connected button, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

After overloading the Ducato with 4,200lbs of cargo (something that is supposedly within the design specs of the ProMaster) I noticed the curious button in the picture above. I incorrectly assumed that pressing the button would drill into the earth to provide a stable platform for catapulting the load overhead. What the “UP Connected” button actually does is tell the robotic manual you have something heavy in the back. This causes the transmission to hold lower gears longer, downshift automatically when going downhill (engine braking) and most importantly, severely delay upshifts from 1 to 2. Why is that critical? Let’s look at the overall 1st and 2nd gear ratios on the MT40 robotic manual. 1st: 19:1 2nd: 10.7:1 (including the final drive ratio of 4.56:1.) 19:1 is a very low first gear (the ProMaster’s gasoline and automatic transmission will be around 15:1 in first) which means the Ducato had no problems starting on steep inclines despite having to slip the clutch. That was a relief because I would be lying if I didn’t say I was worried. However, there were a few problems.

The van we got our hands on did not have “hill hold assist” so you start rolling back when you lift off the brake. Again, this is a manual transmission, so it behaves just like one. This problem was easily remedied by using two feet and holding the brake gently while taking off. The second problem was less of a problem than I assumed it would be. With 9,000lbs of total vehicle weight climbing up a steep gravel road, I had expected the FWD Ducato to have traction issues. Despite this model lacking the electronic locking front differential offered in Europe, the FWD Fiat scrabbled its way up the hill with less drama than I feared given its Euro-spec crazy-small 215/70R15 tires. The third problem, and the only one that truly annoyed is caused by the huge delta between first and second gears and the leisurely rate at which the transmission shifts. Going up a steep incline, as the engine approached 3,500 RPM in 1st gear (about 15MPH), the transmission would shift into neutral halting forward progress. At this point one of two things would happen. Either the Ducato would slow down rapidly enough for the transmission to change its mind and re-engage first gear, OR it would engage second gear briefly, decide 10:1 wasn’t really low enough, then shift back to first. The only remedy is to anticipate the incline, command the gear manually and keep an eye on the tach to be sure you don’t hit 4,500RPM (about 25MPH). If you do, the transmission will shift into 2nd rather than let you hang out at a “high” RPM. Also, keep in mind that manual transmissions don’t have “Park” and this robotic unit is no different. Fiat does not program the unit to shift into any gear when stopped either, making that parking brake essential.

2013 Fiat Ducato Instrument Cluster, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

So we have a ginormous Euro van with a funky transmission. What’s the benefit? If you can get past the transmission, the diesel is a gem. The Ducato had no problems maintaining highway speeds on mountain roadways with a full payload. The four-cylinder diesel is also quieter and more refined than you might expect and the fuel economy is nothing short of amazing. Over 850 miles the Ducato averaged 29.6 imperial MPG which translates to 24.6 US MPG. Keep in mind the Ducato had 3,300lbs of cargo in the back and the van climbed from sea-level to 2,200 feet every trip. These are impressive numbers. Based on local gasoline and diesel prices of 3.99 and 4.10 per gallon respectively, the pay back time for the diesel’s expected $4,000 premium would be just over 2 years at 20,000 miles a year. That’s without factoring in the increased reliability of a diesel engine, longer transmission fluid lifetime in the robotic unit and lengthy engine oil replacement cycles.

Although not normally a consideration with a cargo van, the Ducato the most civilized ride in this segment. It’s also the easiest to parallel park thanks to an incredibly small 36.3-foot turning circle in the short wheelbase model, smaller than many mid-size sedans. The largest Ducato carries nearly twice the cargo as Chevy’s extended express while being more maneuverable with a 46.8 foot turning circle compared to the 54.6 for the Express. That’s the difference between making a U-turn or a 3-point turn downtown.

Driving the Ducato gave us the best insight so far into the upcoming ProMaster, a van that redefines American cargo hauling. Whether or not the ProMaster will be a success remains to be seen. In this notoriously stagnant market, the Ducato’s (and therefore the ProMaster) biggest feature is that robotic manual and the resulting fuel economy. But will fleet buyers accept the inherent compromises? Although Ford has delayed the highly anticipated T-Series, we can’t discount its impact on this segment. Part of that has to do with Ford’s sales domination, but plenty has to do with the T-Series itself. With a broader range of options, a RWD chassis that fleet buyers are comfortable with, a twin-turbo V6 and their 3.2L diesel 5-cylinder diesel the T-Series covers all the Ducato’s bases except for that low load floor and possibly fuel economy. Even so the Ducato is an interesting and attractive alternative, especially to those old GM vans. Be sure to check back with us in a few months when we get our hands on the 2014 ProMaster for comparison.

 

2013 Fiat Ducato Cargo Van, Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Fiat Ducato Cargo Van, Three Seat Van, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Fiat Ducato Cargo Van-002 2013 Fiat Ducato Cargo Van-003 2013 Fiat Ducato Cargo Van, Cargo Hold, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Fiat Ducato Cargo Van, Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Fiat Ducato Cargo Van-006 2013 Fiat Ducato Cargo Van-007 2013 Fiat Ducato Cargo Van-008 2013 Fiat Ducato Cargo Van-009 2013 Fiat Ducato Cargo Van-010

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Ram ProMaster Production Begins In Mexico, Will Commercial Van Buyers Embrace FWD? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/07/ram-promaster-production-begins-in-mexico-will-commercial-van-buyers-embrace-fwd/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/07/ram-promaster-production-begins-in-mexico-will-commercial-van-buyers-embrace-fwd/#comments Mon, 15 Jul 2013 11:00:22 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=495180 rampromaster_r

Around the same time that the one millionth U.S. built Kia rolled off a Georgia assembly line, the first Ram ProMaster was being built in a Mexican Chrysler factory. The ProMaster, a revised Fiat Ducato, will give Chrysler/Dodge/Ram dealers a large commercial van to sell for the first time since the Mercedes based Sprinter went away in 2010.

 

It will be interesting to see how American businesses and tradesmen embrace the ProMaster. Unlike traditional full sized vans, like all of the competing products from Ford, GM and Nissan, the ProMaster has front wheel drive. Commercial and fleet buyers tend to be conservative. Look at how police officers and forces have regarded the FWD Impala, for example, compared to the Crown Vic. The Ram brand is hoping that FWD’s advantages, the lower load floor, greater headroom in back, more cargo space and improved fuel economy will offset concerns about durability as well as handling and traction when loaded. Conventional vans have a forward weight bias so adding cargo in the back improves handling and putting that weight near to the driven rear axle improves traction. Adding cargo to a FWD drive vehicle moves the weight bias away from the driven wheels.

It will take until the fall for the pipeline to fill with the new ProMaster and for the trucks to start arriving at the 800 Chrysler “BusinessLink” dealers that specialize in commercial vehicles.

 

 

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Ram 1500 Diesel Engine To Carry $2,850 Premium http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/06/ram-1500-diesel-engine-to-carry-2850-premium/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/06/ram-1500-diesel-engine-to-carry-2850-premium/#comments Fri, 28 Jun 2013 14:40:33 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=493512 3.0-liter EcoDiesel V-6 engine

If you want a diesel engine but don’t want to spring for a heavy-duty pickup, your only option is the Ram 1500.

 

At a Chrysler event today, the folks at Ram revealed that the 3.0L diesel V6 will cost $2,850 more than the 5.7L Hemi engine on select trim levels. Pickuptrucks.com reports that final power figures are 240 horsepower and 420 lb/ft of torque, with as much as 28 mpg expected on the highway cycle.

Also announced was a new 6.4L Hemi powertrain and a new coil-spring rear suspension with load-leveling for HD models. This replaces the leaf spring setup on previous 2500 HD trucks, while the 3500 HD keeps its leaf springs but can also be had with the air suspension.

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Ford F-150 Tremor Vs Ram Express: Battle Of The Standard Cabs http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/06/ford-f-150-tremor-vs-ram-express-battle-of-the-standard-cabs/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/06/ford-f-150-tremor-vs-ram-express-battle-of-the-standard-cabs/#comments Fri, 28 Jun 2013 12:00:07 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=493485 2014 Ford F-150 Tremor

The standard cab, short bed pickup is a rare breed these days. Most trucks that leave the dealer lot tend to be an extended cab, if not a four-door crew cab, with a longer bed and all the bells and whistles typically seen on a luxury vehicle. For a couple years, Ram has had the monopoly on a hot version of the standard cab with the Ram Express, a Hemi powered no-frills Ram, which starts at just $23,400. Not anymore.

Today, Ford announced the introduction of the F-150 Tremor. Silly moniker aside, the Tremor is a standard cab short bed truck that is explicitly aimed at “sport truck” enthusiasts. I always thought that crowd died away with the mini-truck era, but the combination of a 3.5L Ecoboost motor and a 4.10 rear axle ratio is an enticing one – don’t expect it to get anywhere near the vaunted fuel economy numbers that the taller-ratio equipped cars are apparently capable of. Power for the EcoBoost remains unchanged at 360 horsepower and 420 lb-ft of torque, while the car gets FX4-style black alloy wheels, Boss 302-esque graphics and some loud paint hues.

ramexpress

The Express is pretty much as different as it gets. Rather than the newfangled EcoBoost, there’s an old-fashioned Hemi V8 breathing through dual exhausts. The fancy 8-speed ZF auto available on other Ram models is not available, nor is the big UConnect touch screen or any sort of “soft touch” interior. It’s all black plastic and the most basic head unit, with a 6-speed automatic as the sole gearbox. Outside, it’s indistinguishable from any other mid-grade Ram. No badges, no stripes, no alloys. You can even get it in a crew cab if you want, though this pushes the price up another $10,000.

What would you take?

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