As light-duty pickup trucks go, the upgraded-for-2013 Chrysler-built Ram (neé Dodge) is among the best in the business. It has to be to keep pace with the Ford F-150, General Motors' recently renewed Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra, plus maintain its considerable lead over the Toyota Tundra and Nissan Titan.
For 2014, all three domestic pickups offer relatively stout base V6 engines - around the 300-horsepower mark - and impressive levels of fuel conservation. However, Ram has taken what for many is the next logical step by adding a turbo-diesel (EcoDiesel in Ram-speak) to its V6 and V8 lineup.
Although a mainstay of the Ram's tougher HD models, there has been no turbo-diesel in the lighter 1500-series pickups. But the new EcoDiesel's timing is ideal since Nissan has a diesel in the works for the next-generation Titan pickup and GM is reportedly developing its own version for the Sierra/Silverado. As Chrysler proved years ago with the 1984 minivan launch, the first one over the wall risks getting bloodied, but also stands to gain a significant advantage over those who follow.
For the 1500-series application, Ram is using the same 3.0-liter turbo-diesel V6 that's optional in the Jeep Grand Cherokee. The engine, which originates from a company in Italy that's jointly owned by Chrysler-Fiat and GM, produces 240 horsepower and 420 pound-feet of torque. For serious truckers it's torque that matters most for hauling and towing and the EcoDiesel handily beats Ram's base 3.6-liter V6 with its 269-pound-feet and the optional 5.7-liter V8's 410 pound-feet. While the V8's peak torque is close, it comes much higher in the rev range than the diesel's.
The engine connects to an eight-speed automatic transmission, as does the 3.6 gas engine, while the V8 comes with a six-speed that can be swapped for the eight-speed.
The Ram EcoDiesel can tow up to 9,200 pounds, which is about the same as the 3.6 V6 and 5.7 V8.
The diesel can be added to nearly all of the Ram 1500's trim levels, cab configurations and rear- and four-wheel drivelines, from the near-base ST Quad Cab to the loaded-up Laramie Limited Crew Cab. Only the base ST regular cab is omitted from the list.
Of course there's nothing particularly "Eco" about the Ram 1500 EcoDiesel, or any other 6,000-pound brute that burns fossil fuel, but at least the EcoDiesel is cleaner than diesels of old.
As is the case with other automakers diesels, the Ram's exhaust is treated with a urea-based solution that chemically neutralizes the nasty stuff before exiting the tailpipe. That makes the engine clean enough to pass muster throughout every jurisdiction in North America, but it also means that the tank containing the urea solution will require replenishment every 10,000 miles or so.
As for fuel economy, Chrysler isn't spilling the precise beans just yet, but based on the numbers earned by the Grand Cherokee, somewhere in the vicinity of 19 mpg in the city and 29 mpg on the highway seems plausible. That would represent an improvement compared to the base V6's 17/25 and the V8's 15/22 official numbers.
Fitting the turbo-diesel option to your Ram won't be cheap. Expect $2,800 over and above the price of a 5.7-liter V8, and $4,000 more than the base V6. That would peg the entry fee in the $30,000 range, including destination charges.
There might not be much payback over the short haul, but Chrysler figures about 15-20 percent of Ram customers - likely those who plan on racking up plenty of miles over many years - will find taking the EcoDiesel route too tempting to pass up.
Type: Two- /Four-door, front- /four-wheel-drive pickup truck
Engine (hp): 3.0-liter DOHC V6, turbo-diesel (240)
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Market position: Suddenly, full-size pickup trucks are being fitted with more fuel efficient base and optional engines that are intended to save fuel, or are at least are being promoted as more efficient.
Points: Ram gets the jump on the competition with a diesel. Others are not far behind; Low-speed puling power beats the even the mighty Hemi; Standard eight-speed automatic transmission helps improve fuel efficiency, acceleration. * Estimated fuel economy is pretty decent for 6,000-pounds of pickup; Will-they-buy-it question should be answered soon.
Safety: Front airbags; side-impact airbags; side-curtain airbags; anti-lock brakes; traction control; stability control.
MPG (city/hwy) 21/30 (2.4);
Base price (incl. destination) $30,000 (est.)
Ford F-150 Ecoboost
Base price: $27,500
Base 3.7-liter V6 burns less fuel than turbo V6 "EcoBoost" option.
Base price: $26,700
Silverado and GMC Sierra are new for 2014 with a trio of thriftier powerplants.
Base price: $26,900
Texas-built workhorse gets a new look and a revised cabin for 2014.