Despite the raw criticism of Volkswagen and its ongoing diesel emissions debacle, diesel-powered vehicles will continue to be a growing part of our driving fleet both here and in other emissions-regulated markets as various automakers have up to 17 new diesel-powered vehicles slated for the American market. Volkswagen made apparent choices that marginalized its diesel products to meet strenuous governmental regulations. Numerous other diesel product manufacturers have met, and continue to meet, these same emissions regulations. The facts remain, when compliant, today’s “Clean-diesel” engines are exactly that — very clean internal combustion powerplants that offer great power, higher levels of fuel economy and greater range than comparable gasoline-fueled engines.
In America’s vast pickup truck segments, diesel power has always been attractive for the heavy-duty models. Now, that philosophy is creeping into the half-ton class — and smaller, with GM’s new Colorado/Canyon four-cylinder diesel engine now on sale. But the leader in sales right now is FCA’s Ram 1500 with the 3.0-liter V-6 EcoDiesel engine.
Initially, Ram planned on 10 percent of its half-ton pickups would be sold with the Fiat-derived EcoDiesel engines. Making a strong 240 hp and a robust 420 pound/feet of peak torque (arriving at only 2,000 rpms) the Ram turbo-diesel also claims the highest fuel efficiency of any half-ton pickup truck sold in America — 21/29 mpg with 2WD models, 19/27 mpg with the heavier 4WD versions.
However, a funny thing happened when the Ram EcoDiesel debuted. The reviews were full of praise. The Ram’s redesigned cabin, striking good looks and easy driving manner were augmented by a new engine that delivered more than it promised. Buyers were getting greater fuel economy than the EPA ratings, drivers were towing heavy loads with ease, and owners, to a fault, were impressed by the quiet, refined performance of the Ram EcoDiesel.
Sales dictated that the half-ton Ram EcoDiesel have greater availability. FCA ramped up engine production by 50 percent (this motor is also used in the Jeep Grand Cherokee diesel) and Ram increased EcoDiesel output to 15 percent of all Ram sales. Buyers were still waiting too long; demand was exceeding supply despite a hefty $4,200 to $5,000 premium for the diesel engine over the Hemi V-8. Ram is now building 20 percent of its pickup runs with the EcoDiesel engine. And this is exclusive of the Cummins diesel engine used in the Ram Heavy Duty trucks.
These events also coincide with the sudden popularity of high-end pickup trucks, models with features and content that used to be reserved for premium luxury cars. These luxurious pickups have seen prices soar to well over $60,000 — and buyers are not balking. Whether it is a sign of the economy, or the movement to more sensible vehicles that can do multiple tasks rather than just ferry people, premium trucks are now a huge component of each truck-maker’s portfolio. Five years ago, Ram/Dodge sold a single pickup truck with a list price over $50,000 — just one. So far this year, almost 10 percent of sales have been over $60,000.
Of course, there has to be some hardware to warrant these high prices, and the automakers have not been shy about lavishing their latest electronic driving aids and creature comforts on pickups — especially four-door crew cab configurations that double as family crossover/commuter vehicles.
Our Black Crystal Ram Limited carried a full array of pieces that buyers are finding they just can’t do without; push-button ignition and keyless access, heated front and rear seats, heated steering wheel, cooled front seats, power sunroof, power rear window with defroster, pickup bed Cargo Boxes, rain-sensing wipers, auto-dimming headlamps, nine-speaker Alpine stereo, eight-speed automatic with rotary shift control, Parkview rear camera and ParkSense rear parking system, remote starting, dual-zone auto climate system, navigation, dynamic cruise control, power pedals, plus Chrysler’s ever popular and very relevant U-Connect info/entertainment system with navigation, Sirius, and Sirius weather and traffic. All of this — plus many mechanical pieces — add up to $61,480, more than double a base crew cab Tradesman edition Ram.
In Limited guise, the Ram has a prominent front grille that differs from other editions, as well as a chrome-placarded tailgate that shouts Ram to all who follow you. Ram also includes integrated dual chrome exhausts that are cut into the bumper — a clean, seamless, and more modern presentation than a single nasty-looking black pipe hanging out the backside of your expensive truck.
While the Ram EcoDiesel adds a larger battery, a larger alternator, and heavy-duty cooling in the transmission and radiator, tow ratings are high but not quite as strong as some rivals in this class. Still, 8,200 pounds of trailer is a hefty load for a half-ton pickup — with a V-6 engine. Hemi-engined regular cab Ram’s can tow up to 10,650 pounds of trailer which is relative when you consider the Ram employs smoother-riding rear coil springs as opposed to the opposition’s leaf spring hardware.
Our Ram Crew Cab also had the standard fuel tank, 26 gallons (with a 32-gallon tank optional) good enough for over 670 mile range between fill-ups, the stouter 3.55 rear axle ratio with limited slip for quicker acceleration down low, plus the UREA-DEF tank for planned refuelings of the special fluid that help make these diesel engines eco-friendly. DEF fluid (diesel emissions fluid, or a urea compound) is injected into the exhaust canister to help eliminate the diesel particulates that used to exit the exhaust pipe. The DEF fluid helps burn these particulates; along with new 15-PPM low-sulfur diesel fuel, these trucks truly deliver a smoke-free, smell-free exhaust that almost matches exactly a conventional gasoline engine’s emissions content.
With only a few days of seat time, the Ram revealed a true economy reading of 24.7 mpg; not bad at all for the selected pace and the mixed driving environment. Power is fluid and on tap whenever you tickle the accelerator, giving the Ram a nimble, responsive feel that is supported by the chassis and the steering gear. With large, big-boy supportive seats — the bottom cushion tucks right up behind your knee for maximum leg support — an expansive interior, good sight lines, and a quiet cabin, the Ram proved to be an excellent driving companion.
Ram hits: there is a plethora of pockets, slots and cubbies for storing gear, a 110-volt outlet in the dash, along with multiple power ports (including USB) should handle all of your family’s traveling accessories, while the Ram’s behind-the-wheel stereo controls remain the most sensible and easiest to use of any in the industry. The U-Connect panel is also very user-friendly — some competitors would be well advised to copy the Chrysler rendition. In the back, the split folding seat is occupant comfortable and when you need to haul some gear, underseat panels fold out to create a flat load floor.
The fine leather stitching in Limited trim also presents an almost elegant atmosphere; the clasps and buckles on the back of the front seats is just like a rich pair of saddlebags.
Nits are few; the Ram lacks any kind of rear-bed access assists like Ford and Chevy offer, the front center console is huge, like in our recent Ford, and makes the cabin feel wider than necessary, while our Limited edition truck lacked running boards which seems like a serious omission with a $61,000 sticker price.
The Ram EcoDiesel tackles two rapidly growing segments: alternative diesel power and luxury provisioned pickups in one complete, comprehensive and well-executed package. Sales will continue to expand.