Capsule Review: 2014 Ram 1500 Ecodiesel
Although diesel and pickups go together smoothly in our minds, this is the first light-duty diesel-powered pickup truck available in our market since before I was born.
I wasn’t born yesterday.
The Ram to which I’ve been granted the keys over the last number of days features the enticing new 3.0L turbocharged diesel engine, but it’s also a four-wheel-drive, Laramie-trimmed, crew cab-bodied pickup with a vast array of options.
It isn’t just a pickup. It’s a luxury limo, a work truck, a fuel miser, an all-weather traveller, a style statement, a secure vault, and a family car.
You don’t need your Ram EcoDiesel to be a $70,090 (CDN) Laramie model like the one Chrysler Canada sent me. A Quad Cab will perhaps suffice for those without rear-facing child seats. The V6 diesel is available in trims other than Ram’s high-end Laramie model. You won’t be required to tick off all the checkboxes on the options sheet. And though the new engine can take over a review, the Ram 1500 is good enough that the diesel isn’t the only positive part of the experience.
The 240-horsepower V6 diesel generates 420 lb-ft of torque at just 2000 rpm. Not at all unlike other diesels, there’s still a moment of hesitation when the throttle is first applied, during which the owner of a Hemi-engined Ram will say to himself, “I ain’t sure she’s got enough pies in the oven.” Thankfully that moment is brief, and the swell of torque enjoyed when overtaking on a rural two-lane is something Pentastar Ram owners ought to try at least once.
The diesel doesn’t deserve full credit. It works in conjunction with an excellent 8-speed automatic. You’re always in the right gear, and the next gear is only a blink away. Together, they make for a tremendously refined powertrain. There’s a hint of dieselly clatter when manouevring in tight spots, back and forth in a nine-point turn. (Thank-you to the Elantra and Civic drivers in Herring Cove, Nova Scotia, who boxed me in. I needed my father’s help to direct me out, which wasn’t embarrassing at all in front of my wife and mother.) But overall, this diesel has been forcefully silenced with enough sound deadening to hush a crowd of guffawing fishermen.
Better yet, the Ram diesel doesn’t use very much fuel, not by pickup truck or even large crossover standards. In the real world, where I can fill the tank, measure the distance travelled, and then calculate consumption by re-filling the tank, the Ram used 13% more fuel than its onboard computer led me to believe. Yet at 20.1 mpg, in mostly urban driving, we used 9% less fuel than we did in a 5.3L V8-engined GMC Sierra tester last fall, and that Sierra was driven mostly on the highway. (We also used 16% less fuel in this diesel Ram than we did in the Pentastar V6 Ram last summer.)
Then again, for American customers, the EcoDiesel is a $2850 option on this Laramie model, over and above the Hemi V8 and $4000 more than the 3.6L V6.
The premium might not matter as much once you start driving the EcoDiesel, once you see how slowly the fuel gauge needle falls, once you solidify your long-held belief that Truck = Diesel. With our family of three in the cabin, a cooler full of sandwiches and chips and pop in the bed, and Ramboxes full of hoodies and blankets, we picked up my parents for a picnic on a hill high atop the ocean outside the city. But we were hardly consuming any fuel, relative to other pickup trucks, so without a moment’s thought we extended our journey from York Redoubt to three different coves and one little harbour.
That’s the kind of freedom that, once paid for on transaction day, diesel owners enjoy throughout the rest of their ownership period. You don’t convince yourself of the long-term financial benefits of a sunroof, and you shouldn’t need to establish the economic advantages of this diesel, either.
Regardless of the engine under the hood, Ram’s crew cab body, like the full-fledged four-doors from Ford and GM and Toyota, is huge inside. Stretch-out-your-legs huge. The bed is shortened, but the available leg room and under-seat storage is truly luxurious whether the seats are leather-clad or sheathed in cloth. It won’t be long until the feature count of a high-priced premium vehicle of today will underwhelm, but space will always equal luxury.
Two-tone paint, heated leather seating up front, dual-zone climate control, and Chrysler’s big 8.4-inch UConnect are key Laramie features. It also says Laramie three times inside and once outside. (This Laramie badging tags along with four “Ram” mentions outside and eight inside, the Ram logo which appears twice outside and once inside, and just two exterior “EcoDiesel” badges, both of which the truck-loving teens on our street felt were the exact opposite of truckish toughness.)
Our test truck, optioned quite nicely by Chrysler Canada’s PR department, included numerous expensive options, which in U.S. speak would cost $1295 (RamBoxes, which we used on a couple occasions for big grocery loads), $1695 (air suspension, which with 5 modes can be rather useful), $995 (power sunroof), $500 (leather buckets), $600 (side steps), and then more than $4000 in smaller options. Plus the diesel powerplant.
The seats won’t massage, the sunroof isn’t panoramic, there’s no blind spot monitoring or adaptive cruise or even a soft-opening tailgate. By the standards of $70,000 luxury cars, this is under-equipped. But it’s still luxury living, particularly when one considers the flexibility of the package.
I remain convinced that by a small margin, Ram offers the best-handling pickup truck lineup. This is most noticeable when encountering the expansion joints of an overpass mid-corner, where the Ram will feel perfectly normal and other trucks skitter, even if only a little. Yet by an equally small margin, the structure of GM’s new trucks feel stronger and more solid, and the overall sensation is of the superior work truck. (This sensation was clarified during back-to-back drives on an off-road course at an event sponsored by, yes, GM.)
We’re hair-splitting now though, and it would surprise me if the new F-150 isn’t the superior truck in most aspects. At least until the Ford’s competitors receive their own updates. And so the cycle goes.
I prefer the Sierra/Silverado’s rear seat design; the wider availability of F-150 configurations locally available to me; the simplicity of Ram’s UConnect; the exterior design of the Ram; the silence of a Sierra’s cabin; a column shifter rather than the Ram’s rotary dial; the upcoming Ford’s freshness. The Ram’s touch screen needs to be canted more toward the driver, the fuel gauge should be larger, the dual glove compartments aren’t that large, there’s no built-in helper to enable jumps into the bed.
But it’s easy to see why Ram is picking up market share. The aluminum-intensive 2015 F-150 aside, Chrysler has brought Ram to the forefront of truck awareness by offering us things other truck makers aren’t providing, most notably in the form of the 8-speed automatic and this light duty V6 diesel.
With Ram offering the power we require and the fuel efficiency we dreamed of, do we really need to measure the trivial interior quality differences, the slight towing capacity disparities, and the narrow pricing discrepancies?
A diesel engine might just negate arguments that aren’t typically settled in the Ram’s favour. Especially since, where I live, diesel costs 20 cents less per gallon.
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My 1999 Silverado 5.3l get 19 mpg avg, so I'm not seeing the value of a diesel truck that only gets 1-2 mpg better considering diesel is close to premium around here.
If I spend that much on a truck, I wouldn't want to put anything dirty in it anyway because I had just spent SEVENTY grand! Might as well get a fancy SUV.