A Fast and Frugal Pickup

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One of many major success stories in the car business over the last year has been the resurgence of full-size pickups, with the big and burly Ram models from Fiat/Chrysler registering a whopping 24 percent sales increase during 2014.

Buyers are taking notice of the bold and broad-shouldered Ram 1500 for a variety of reasons, none the least of which is that it’s the only light-duty pickup in the U.S. to offer a powerful and fuel-efficient turbodiesel engine. We recently tested an opulently equipped four-door Crew Cab version equipped with the 3.0-liter “EcoDiesel” V6, which comes courtesy of Fiat-owned supplier VM Motori in Italy. It’s also optional in the Jeep Grand Cherokee SUV but seems particularly well suited for pickup duty.

Today’s clean diesels run as smoothly and quietly as gasoline engines – few motorists would be able to tell the difference just by turning the key. They no longer spew black clouds of smoke and noxious fumes, either; a state-of-the-art particulate filter traps and eliminates the “soot” and other by-products of diesel combustion. 

The Ram’s EcoDiesel V6 generates 240 horsepower, which may not sound especially impressive, but it does so with a generous 420 pound-feet of torque. Mated to a smooth shifting eight-speed automatic transmission, it gives this half-ton warrior strong V8-like acceleration.

We had the opportunity to drive Ram 1500s back-to-back with the 3.0-liter turbodiesel and the truck’s signature 5.7-liter 395-horsepower “Hemi” V8 and can attest that the smaller engine indeed holds it own in the race to highway speeds, with the Hemi perhaps feeling a bit more muscular in the process.

By the numbers, the maximum tow rating with the EcoDiesel engine is a solid 9,030 pounds when properly equipped, versus a nominally more robust 10,650 pounds with the V8. Where the turbodiesel V6 shines is in the fuel economy department, however, where it’s rated at a relatively frugal 20/28-mpg city/highway (19/27 with four-wheel drive). By comparison, the Hemi V8 – which itself comes with an array of fuel-saving features – is rated at 14/20-mpg (13/19 with 4WD). A 3.6-liter 305-horsepower V6 remains the standard engine with a 7,600-pound top towing capacity and fuel economy at 17/25 mpg.

The EcoDiesel V6 is available in select standard, extended cab and four-door Crew Cab versions at between an added $3,120 and $4,270, depending on the model. As before, the Ram 1500 remains one of the best-handling pickups on the market, thanks to an independent front suspension and an electric power steering system. It delivers easygoing steering with good feedback to the driver and maintains a smooth ride that only becomes unduly harsh over unpaved passages or potholed pavement, especially with an empty cargo bed.

Inside, passengers are treated to a nicely crafted cabin, with Crew Cab models delivering limousine-like rear legroom and plenty of space for five large adults (wearing cowboy hats, no less) to stretch out and ride in comfort. Our tester was fitted with the optional air suspension that affords a more-refined ride and added off-road capabilities, and can lower the vehicle by a few inches for easier entry and exiting when parked.

As is the norm these days, the Ram 1500 can be loaded up with a full range of amenities including pushbutton entry/start, heated and cooled leather seats and one of the easiest-to-operate touchscreen infotainment systems in the car business. Optional RamBox bins built into the cargo bed rails can serve as both lockable storage areas and as drainable coolers for beverages and ice.

Though the Ram 1500 starts out affordably at around $26,000, the sticker price quickly swells to luxury-car proportions in higher trim levels. Our lavishly equipped Laramie 4X4 edition with the optional EcoDiesel engine and assorted options easily cracked the $50,000 barrier, with the top Laramie Longhorn versions reaching even higher into the pricing strata.

Tags: fuel economy, ecodiesel