2019 Ram 1500 ETorque First Drive - Fresh Horses
If the pithy sub-title to this review sounds familiar, give yourself a pat on the back. Or an extra carrot during feeding time. “Fresh horses” is a term deployed to describe steeds that riders substitute in place of the exhausted horses that grew tired during a long ride.
When Ram introduced its new 1500 pickup back in April, it was clear to all that the company shovelled many cubic acres of cash into revamping its exterior, chassis components, and interior. Lighter, sleeker, and more luxurious, about the only thing missing at launch were tweaks to the venerable Hemi V8 – an apparent lack of fresh horses, right?
The company promised tweaks in the form of a forthcoming mild hybrid system appended to both the truck’s V6 and V8 engines. Now, those fresh horses are here and we had a chance to let them run.
Fair warning: there will be ample technical detail in addition to driving impressions. Those who are solely interested in the butt dyno can skip to that section, located towards the end of this review. I appreciate your enthusiasm. Thanks for clicking.
Now we’ve gotten rid of those losers, let’s jump into the meat of this mild hybrid system as it pertains to the 2019 Ram 1500. Marketed under the eTorque banner, a key intention is to deliver gains in fuel economy. As an aside, they should have given it a more “truckified” name like PowerWatt or VoltMax or Continuity Drive. I hear Flux Capacitor was already taken.
Anyway, the eTorque system comprises a belt-driven motor generator unit with a 48-volt battery pack. Chief amongst its responsibilities is to enable a quick and seamless start/stop function, allowing the mechanical starter to rest until the next ignition cycle. It also provides a short-duration torque addition to the engine crankshaft in certain driving situations, a trait which smooths out power delivery. The unit also handles brake energy regeneration duties, said to improve system responsiveness and efficiency.
The 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 is now available only with eTorque, while it appears as a $1,450 option on the 5.7-liter Hemi V8.
The underhood bits of the electrified system are surprisingly different depending if it is lashed to the six- (305 hp/289 lb-ft) or mighty eight-cylinder (395 hp/410 lb-ft) engine. The Pentastar eTorque unit is liquid cooled and mounted on the front of the engine. The Hemi eTorque unit is a Marelli system, air cooled and mounted toward the top of the engine in the traditional alternator location. Think of them as fraternal brothers: same parents, similar dispositions, completely different looks.
Both eTorque motor generator units employ a pair of belt tensioners to keep the 8-rib drive belt tight when the unit is generating electricity or adding torque to the crankshaft. Keen-eyed readers will note the Hemi engine has separate belts for the water pump and eTorque system.
No matter the number of cylinders, the belt-driven motor generator unit replaces the traditional alternator. With the gas-powered engine running, this unit feeds 48-volt current to a 430 watt-hour lithium-ion Nickel Manganese Cobalt (NMC)-Graphite battery. The battery pack includes a 3-kilowatt DC-to-DC converter to maintain the battery’s state of charge and convert 48 volts to 12 volts to power the Ram 1500’s accessories and charge its conventional 12-volt lead-acid battery.
This 48-volt battery is about the size of a carry-on suitcase and resides in the truck, mounted vertically to the cab’s back wall on the driver’s side. Absent of removing seats, carpet, and a copious amount of trim, one would not know it is there. The case is insulated to dampen noise from the dual cooling fans. Cooling air is drawn from inside the truck and vented via the built-in cabin exhausters. Everything – underhood bits, new battery, the works of it – apparently add about 90 pounds to the truck.
Driving impressions? Well, for starters, the stated additional torque numbers (up to 90 lb-ft for the V6 unit and 130 lb-ft for the V8) cannot simply be added to existing torque ratings. Rather, those numbers are potential launch torque additions, extra units of twist available very early in the rev range. There are a gazillion variables (ambient air temperature is one) at play, so it is also incorrect to broadly state each engine receives that much extra torque off the line.
However, the eTorque does contribute to a feeling of more oomph when accelerating from rest. A drive in an V8 eTorque Ram proved the unit’s worth during start/stop instances, where the engine alit in jig time compared to other systems I experienced.
Helping the transition is a brake pedal sending signals from an incremental-type switch, rather than an on/off-style switch. Mike Raymond, Chief Engineer for Ram 1500, said this allows the truck to know when the driver is starting to release the brake pedal, signalling eTorque to get on the go and prepare for internal combustion. The start/stop is defeatable via a handy button mounted near the 4×4 controls.
On the road, the eTorque system in a truck with standard rear end gears offered more kick-in-the-pants under initial acceleration compared to a standard Hemi, an engine with whose power delivery I am endlessly familiar. This alertness is a bonus, considering the eTorque could’ve solely been a fuel economy play.
Ram expects a two or three mpg bump in fuel efficiency on the V6 (final EPA numbers aren’t in yet). The feds have rated the Hemi, though, to the tune of +2 mpg city and +2 mpg combined when compared to the non-electrified V8. Your author averaged an indicated 20.2 mpg on a two-hour drive over mixed surfaces. Diesel? Don’t expect that until at least next year. Math nerds will note spending $1,450 to get a 2 mpg gain will take seven years to pay for itself, assuming 15,000 miles of annual driving at an average fuel price of $3/gallon.
Hitching a V8-equipped Laramie Longhorn to a 6,000-pound horse trailer amplified the eTorque’s eagerness to shove the Ram off from a standing start with increased vigor. Prodding the throttle from rest elicited an initial briskness not found in the standard Hemi but the extra huff disappeared once up to speed.
Here’s another takeaway: what else will FCA do with this technology? And where else will it appear? A Ram exec said the system is not intended to provide more juice to, for example, line the bed with multiple 110V outlets (there are two in the cab and one in the RamBox already) but imagination dictates one could, just maybe, deploy electric power-adders. As for eTorque’s application elsewhere, there’s nothing stopping FCA from installing it on anything that’s powered by a Pentastar or 5.7L Hemi. Those in the know say that course of action is all but assured.
Fresh horses, then? Well, fresher, at least. It’s not an all-new powerplant, but an eTorque equipped Ram definitely makes better use of the existing engine’s available ponies. Like real-life fresh horses, the driver is provided a smoother and more energetic ride. The Ram’s bonus is that these steeds will also eat fewer oats.
[Images: Matthew Guy/TTAC]
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