By on August 20, 2019

2020 Ram 1500 EcoDiesel

It will surprise exactly no one to learn that a diesel engine option needs some sort of killer app in order to command the cash. Whether it’s power, towing capacity, or fuel economy matters not so long as it has some sort of advantage over its gasoline-powered brethren. Unfortunately for Ram’s EcoDiesel, the old engines were scarce on all three.

Being first to market is sometimes fraught with peril, but also has its advantages. Ram learned this in a number of different ways with its first couple of forays into the half-ton diesel game. Now that Ford and GM also have compression-powered arrows in their quivers, Ram is back with a third kick at the EcoDiesel jerry can.

This time around, it’s more than just a curious sideshow. This time around, it’s the first Ram EcoDiesel with a pulse.

Your author never understood EcoDiesel’s purpose in the last-gen Ram 1500. In the 2016 model year, a long-box Crew Cab 4×4 could tow but 8,340 lbs when properly equipped. The best any EcoDiesel could haul that year was 9,210 lbs in a regular cab 4×2 truck. Given the Hemi could pull much more in the same truck, and its fuel economy benefits were tepid at best, the EcoDiesel didn’t make sense and was generally as sharp as an aged cleric sweeping up leaves.

2020 Ram 1500 EcoDiesel

That ends for 2020. For its third attempt (yes, EcoDiesel’s been around that long; Ram as a stand-alone brand has been on the go for 10 years, by the way), the company has replaced or re-thought a good 80 percent of the parts in its half-ton diesel engine. A diamond-like coating now sheaths the piston’s wrist pin, for example, allowing for a smoother action as the mill compresses its way to a peak of 480 lb-ft of torque.

An earthy EcoDiesel growl definitely makes itself known when accelerating at low speeds, especially when alighting from a stop sign. There is a slight grumble at idle as well, enough to advertise its diesely personality to passersby. GM’s 3.0-liter inline-six Duramax, an engine we tested in a half-ton Silverado earlier this summer, was definitely more hushed in these specific conditions. Whether that’s good or bad is up to you and your aural preferences.

2020 Ram 1500 EcoDiesel

Once underway, the diesel sound largely disappears, like when your teenager takes their tunes to the basement. In fact, wind noise from the elephantine side mirrors speak the loudest at 60 mph. At that speed, the EcoDiesel is turning about 1,750 rpm in a truck with 3.92-ratio towing gears. Sampling a truck with 3.21s uncovered an engine speed about 500 rpm lower at the same velocity. There is no stop/start system and no engine brake. Ram doesn’t save EcoDiesel for its most expensive trims, either, making it available across the line, including base trucks and the off-road focused Rebel.

That wrist pin mentioned earlier is just ever-so-slightly offset from centre to help reduce piston slap. Mauro Puglia, chief engineer for EcoDiesel, told me that minutely transferring mass to the outside of the vee allows for a quieter operation at speed when the pistons are pumping furiously. Newly designed intake ports permit higher flow capability and, combined with a new piston bowl and injector nozzle, result in a diesel engine good for 260 horsepower at 3,600 rpm and 480 lb-ft of torque at just 1,600 rpm. Those are bumps of 14 and 8 percent, respectively. Like a young crop of football players, this engine peaks early. Difference is, that’s a good thing in the Ram 1500. The Gen3 EcoDiesel is also about ten pounds lighter overall than the Gen2 mill.

2020 Ram 1500 EcoDiesel

The familiar eight-speed automatic is EcoDiesel’s sole dance partner, shifting at about 2,500 rpm when left to its own devices and near four grand when flat out while towing a 5,000 lb boat and trailer. Fuel cutoff is 4,600 rpm, said Puglia, while mentioning a boost pressure of 2.1 – 2.2 bar. Properly equipped, EcoDiesel can haul 12,560 lbs, a heady 3k more than the old one. There’s an approximately 2,600 lb delta between the GCW of a ‘max tow’ truck and a typically equipped Crew Cab 4×4.

Out on the open road, it’s fair to say this new EcoDiesel is a good 10 to 12 dB quieter at cruising speed than the old one, resulting in a hushed cabin at speed and little more than an appropriately husky growl when pinning the throttle on an uphill section of rural highway, an action which pushed all hands firmly into the seatbacks. Only at idle, as mentioned, does the Ram belie its oil-burning roots.

2020 Ram 1500 EcoDiesel

2020 Ram 1500 EcoDiesel

Speaking of cabins, it is the same glorious place in which to spend time as when it went on sale about one year ago. Stepping out of your author’s 2018 GMC Sierra and into this 2020 Ram 1500 is like trading up from Chino to Club Med. Because you’re all weirdos and I knew you’d like it, I nabbed the keys to a base model Tradesman 4×2 for the drive back though Minnesota. Even at its entry-level status, this new Ram 1500 is a comfortable place in which to spend time with all its controls logically and attractively laid out. The sumptuous (and costly) Longhorn and Limited interiors are especially pleasant with soft, pungent leathers and a 12-inch infotainment Jumbotron. I’d rather be in those than in Ariana Grande’s bedroom. Okay, maybe not.

As an aside, several of the Ram 1500s at this event were equipped with the brand’s Multfunction tailgate. Acting like a traditional ‘gate or a set of barn doors, the system allows for much freer access to the bed while still being able to bear the weight of a normal tailgate when dropped in a conventional manner. Thanks to requiring a largely different box, it can’t be retrofitted after the fact. Verdict? Recommend.

2020 Ram 1500 EcoDiesel

Ram’s mum for now on official fuel economy numbers, but you can bet a herd of Longhorns that the highway figure will be well in excess of 30 mpg. That base Tradesman we drove (equipped with a 3.21 gear set) returned an indicated 32 mpg on a 50ish mile trip that generally had the cruise locked on a steady 60mph. A fully loaded Crew Cab Limited 4×4 with 3.92s returned an indicated 26 mpg over a similar route.

While Ram spox wouldn’t say how big the fuel tanks are, we did manage to weasel out of them that two different sized fuel tanks will be available. This speaks to the company designing this thing to accept diesel addenda from the get-go, not as an afterthought in which they have to move stuff around to accommodate DEF tanks and such. For what it’s worth, Ram 1500 is currently available with three tank sizes: 23, 26, & 33 gallons. I’d be surprised if the diesel offerings are not two of those.

The decision to purchase a half-ton diesel (all of which from the Detroit Three displace 3.0L, it must be noted) is rarely an affair of the heart unless one is seeking to stand out from their buddies at the hunting lodge. It generally takes a scribbler full of sums to make the decision, so let’s set up the abacus and work it out.

Your author passed several Holiday gas stations in the Land of 10,000 Lakes while driving this Ram, all of which reliably advertised diesel fuel for 50 cents more than gasoline. EcoDiesel is a $4,995 option, working out to a $3,300 premium over the e-Torque Hemi on most trims. That engine is rated at 23 mpg on the highway and the EcoDiesel is not yet rated. Let’s call it 33 mpg.

Given a 26 gallon tank, both trucks would be able to travel 598 and 858 miles, costing roughly $65 and $78 for a fill up, respectively. Elementary math tells us the diesel enjoys an approximate 2c/mile advantage at these numbers. With the engine siphoning over three large from your checking account, the breakeven point doesn’t show up until nearly 165,000 miles. This does not take into account DEF fluid, more expensive oil changes, and presumes a best-case scenario of all-highway driving. On the flip side, it also does not take into account a potentially higher resale value for the diesel and the intangible benefit of extended range.

2020 Ram 1500 EcoDiesel

So what’s the takeaway? Clearly it’s third time lucky for EcoDiesel, as it finally posts hauling numbers worth talking about while being exceptionally well mannered. Its financial balance sheet takes a spell to even out but, as EcoDiesel will be available on work trucks, it might very well be just the ticket for big fleets. The rest of us will have to do our math carefully.

[Images: Matthew Guy/TTAC]

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16 Comments on “2020 Ram 1500 EcoDiesel First Drive – Third Time Lucky...”

  • avatar

    “Now that Ford and GM also have compression-powered arrows in their quivers…”

    You mean compression-ignition? Gasoline-fueled vehicles are “compression-powered” too.

  • avatar
    87 Morgan

    While I love the idea of a small diesel in a half ton for the efficiency, they still give me pause. As Matthew points out the breakeven point is somewhere in the 165k range on the odo. From what I have seen in the service departments, the modern 3/4 ton and 1 ton diesels require substantial sums to keep road worthy far before the 165k mark. Injection pumps, injectors, EGR issues so on and so forth. I have essentially sworn off diesels (I have had a 7.3 Powerstroke & a non H.O Cummins) due to expense of keeping them on the road long term. The gas counter parts in the half ton arena and really the 3/4/ 1 ton as well have proven to be extremely durable long term mills across the board big 3 venue.

    It will be interesting to see how these diesels work out. I am certain that soon enough we will start to hear of results from the early adopters who drive a lot of miles. I would be very interested to hear or read a long term review on this site of someone with the Gen2 Eco diesel.

    • 0 avatar

      That’s the killer – modern emissions control requirements have nuked the traditional durability advantage of diesels from orbit. All that stuff is STUPID expensive, one or two issues evaporates any resale advantage, and the higher cost of fuel mostly negates a lot of the mileage advantage. So you end up with that 165K breakeven point – and that is if nothing expensive fails out of warranty.

      I LOVE diesels, have owned a bunch of them, but I would not buy a modern one with someone else’s money. Just not worth it anymore.

  • avatar

    “Given the Hemi could pull much more in the same truck, and its fuel economy benefits were tepid at best, the EcoDiesel didn’t make sense and was generally as sharp as an aged cleric sweeping up leaves.”

    Owner reported fuel economy on the Ecodiesel is around 25% better than on the same unloaded cycle with a Hemi truck. That’s significant and where the benefit was.

    • 0 avatar

      Not when diesel fuel is 25% more expensive than gas, as it usually is outside of peak summer driving months.

      • 0 avatar
        kjhkjlhkjhkljh kljhjkhjklhkjh

        ADD DEF that will shut you down if you run out, cost of DEF, a continuing emissions issue that leads to ‘updates’ to the ECU that throttle the power, US diesel is practically lube free and wears the engines faster. more expensive oil changes. intolerant to real cold, larger battery requirements.

      • 0 avatar

        Over the long run, fuel costs are around 10% better as reported by fleet data. incl DEF. Drive cycle dependent.

  • avatar

    People will buy these and take off the mufflers and up the boost and drive through my neighborhood at 2 in the morning.

  • avatar

    I believe this engine is built by a FCA subsidiary and they don’t have to pay a markup like on the Cummins HD truck version. So I imagine there is decent profit on these.

  • avatar

    I should submit this article for consideration for some kind of tortured prose award.

  • avatar

    I think it is a good move by FCA to keep some diesel noises in place. I also think it is good to not keep this engine behind a paywall.

    I disagree that buying a diesel half-ton in 2019 is not “an affair of the heart” though. People aren’t buying this option reluctantly or to save money, they are just doing because they like the characteristics of a diesel pick up.

  • avatar

    Why bother?

    Marginally better fuel efficiency than gas, but expensive to buy and even more expensive to maintain.

    Still stinks, less than older diesels, but it still stinks.

    Unknown if it is really satisfying emissions requirements in real-world use or if it is fraudulent like so many other recent diesels (not just from VW).

    Dead fuel walking in any application short of Class 3, the smallest where the efficiency advantage really starts to matter.

    • 0 avatar

      Agree, the last couple rounds of pollution control regs have really reduced diesel efficiency and added lots of cost. It will be interesting to see if the engineers can improve this significantly going forward. I know the next generation of the Cummins B will eliminate EGR which seems like a plus.

  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    It is 1974 with respect to Diesels. Complex emission controls are neutering them similar to Gas motors in the aftermath of the muscle car boom. Hopefully in 10-15 years the technology will improve but I wouldn’t buy one until then.

  • avatar

    When you get far, far away from the coasts…you run into untaxed Ag Diesel. It is clearly much cheaper than taxed diesel. Most of the pickups have a tank in the bed to hold this diesel so you can carry it back to the farm.

    The hose normally will stretch to the truck’s fuel inlet. (ahem)

    They check 18 wheelers for this (one of the two is dyed…I’m not sure which it is) but I’ve never heard of anyone checking a farmer’s vehicle for taxed fuel.

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