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For 2014, Ram 1500 is available with a diesel engine, making it the first half-ton pickup to offer a modern, clean diesel engine option (though there was a light-duty diesel option offered by Dodge decades ago). Also new for 2014 are new colors and chrome bits. Otherwise, Ram 1500 carries over unchanged. The current-generation Ram was launched as a 2009 model.
The new 3.0-liter V6 diesel is rated at 240 horsepower, 420 pound-feet of torque, with an EPA-estimated 20/28 mpg City/Highway. It pairs with the 8-speed automatic transmission.
Both the 3.6-liter V6 and 5.7-liter V8 gasoline engines carry over to 2014 unchanged from the 2013 model year, and they are paired with either a 6- or 8-speed automatic. Although GM and Ford offer a bigger, more powerful V8 than the Ram Hemi, only Ram puts the big engine in a regular cab model.
The Ram 1500, considered a half-ton, can carry loads of stuff and can tow trailers similar to what the competition will. Maximum load and tow ratings among the major manufacturers change faster than mobile device operating systems and the only certainty is you want to consider a bigger pickup if you will frequently operate near those maximums.
The 2014 Ram 1500 offers three cabs, three bed lengths (two with RamBox), three engines, two transmissions, two suspension arrangements, and interiors from hose-out ethic to limo substitute. Counted by cab, bed, drive and trim level, there are more than 70 Ram 1500 configurations, retailing from about $23,000 to more than $57,000.
The Ram 1500 offers an optional full air suspension, with automatic leveling, entry/exit mode for easier cab access, and variable ride heights for on- and off-highway travel. The air suspension is available on any model except the new Ram HFE fuel economy special, which includes automatic start/stop engine operation and a bed cover.
On the outside, Ram continues with imposing stature. Like many Dodge cars, the Ram's front end has a forward tilt, but it remains very aerodynamic. Detailing for the 2013 model year lowered the coefficient of drag (one aspect of total aerodynamic resistance) from 0.386 to 0.360, and both the diesel and HFE use grille shutters.
The Ram 1500 is a conventional full-size pickup truck, but it differs in rear suspension and powertrains from all its competitors: primarily Ford F-150 and the Chevrolet Silverado/GMC Sierra twins and, to a lesser extent, the Nissan Titan and Toyota Tundra. Because the Honda Ridgeline does not have a separate frame, cab and bed, nor a choice of two or four-wheel drive, we do not consider it a conventional half-ton pickup, although those using a crew cab pickup primarily as a second car would be wise to consider the Ridgeline.
Underneath, where for decades pickup trucks have had a live axle in back with leaf springs, the Ram's rear axle is suspended by coil springs and it is located by four trailing links and a lateral Panhard bar. Basic front suspension design, steering and brake systems parallel other half-ton pickups.
Inside, the Ram offers seating for three to six people, in-floor storage on Crew Cabs, and environments that span working-grade vinyl and rubber to creamy leather with ventilated and heated seats.
Brand loyalty in pickup trucks makes sports rivalries look like civilized debate, and many will recommend only one. The fact is, there are no bad full-size pickups. Shopping is made more difficult by so-called competitive comparisons we've seen online that imply drum brakes are better than disc brakes (we disagree) or 300 horsepower is superior to 400 pound-feet of torque (ditto). Add to that payload and tow ratings that change frequently and only Toyota uses the industry-wide standard. To choose the best truck for you, we recommend avoiding any buying decision made purely on brand or maximum cargo or tow rating.
With so many versions there is no shortage of Rams to choose from. Compared to the competition, the Ram's suspensions are unique and the styling is less conservative. GM has three new engines and Ford half-tons offer more engine choices but none has an 8-speed automatic or diesel. The Nissan Titan is the only half-ton that offers a full eight-foot long-bed with a Crew Cab. (Ram Heavy Duty 2500 and 3500 pickups are covered in a separate review.)
Everything on the Ram looks big, yet the truck takes up no more real estate than its competitors. The illusion comes from the shape and the most aggressive grille on the market.
From the outside the Ram looks fairly clean and tidy but some of the badges can get big and gaudy; we asked if the Longhorn badge required door reinforcement and wonder how many pounds could be saved removing them. Re-shaped bumpers (for 2013) are substantial yet more wind cheating, the grilles vary from simple dark colors of base trucks, through horizontal themed Sport, to chrome mesh on top-line trucks. Behind those grilles on some powertrains are shutters that automatically adjust the amount of air going through the coolers.
Some side mirrors stand off from the door glass, the sides are fairly flat, and the tailgate spoiler and windshield are both rounded for improved aerodynamics. Seen from behind where the tires appear almost flush with the body panels, the truck looks quite trim.
There is no large seam between the front bumper and the grille and lights, and models that do not come with fog lights do not have the outline marks in the bumper that show it's missing something. The large rear bumper has half-round openings for the sport exhaust on trucks so equipped, and both seven- and four-pin trailer plugs are fitted adjacent to the rear license plate. The tailgate has a lock (that works with the central locking system) and a torsion bar system that cuts apparent tailgate weight in half for ease of lowering and raising it; lower it slowly to avoid the big thud.
On upper trim-level variants the mirrors have LED puddle lamps and the headlamps are projector-beam units with LED signals; they are complemented by LED brake lights, turn signals and tail lights in the back. Some headlamp housings have RAM molded into the lens or background.
Some versions come with two-tone paint with monochrome an option, a few vice versa. Many have aluminum wheels, where not standard they're optional; some have chrome plated plastic covers while others have painted inserts in different colors.
The RamBox Cargo Management System is now offered many bed/cab configurations. A pickup box with a rectangular interior and no wheel-well intrusions, it measures 49 inches wide inside so it can accommodate a 4x8 sheet of building material flat on the floor. Moving the interior walls inward results in sidewalls with much thicker sections, and in the tops of the two sides of the RamBox are two locking bins, capable of holding 120 standard 12-ounce cans on the left side (where the fuel fill is located) and 130 on the right in short box and up to 143 cans on the 6-foot, 4-inch box, or anything else of that same volume, such as dirty clothes, tools, recovery equipment, fishing tackle and so forth. These boxes have locking lids, drains, lights and 90-degree opening lids; together the volume exceeds that of a 55-gallon drum. You can fill them with ice and beverages for tailgate parties and camping. They might even hold trailer sway control equipment, though the heavy bars may be pushing the weight limits of the boxes. The RamBox has some trade-offs. It reduces total cargo box capacity, adds weight that comes off payload. Because the lids for the cargo bins open upwards, a RamBox is not compatible with camper shells, cargo caps, some bed covers and many racks.
Side rails with cleats secure cargo, and a bed divider that locks into place segments the bed into smaller areas or can be flipped over and used as a bed extender with the tailgate down.
We rank the Ram cabin at or near the top of the class.
The seats come in a durable fabric that you won't stick to you in summer heat or be crusty and chilly in a blizzard. They offer good support and plenty of room. We swapped through a few Ram models back-to-back to compare the trim levels and found the seat in the base model is the same design as in the top-line models, and we had no complaints after a full day of driving.
We also found we could sit in the back of a Quad Cab for 20-minute jaunts, but a six-foot passenger will be happier in a Crew Cab where rear dimensions are essentially the same as the front. The rear seat has a nominal center headrest and a short cushion length, so it's really suitable only for kids, short adults or child seats.
Full instrumentation includes a tachometer, with myriad other data (transmission fluid temperature, etc) in the display between the primary gauges. Lower-line models have an iPod-size display much like the predecessor, while higher lines get a 7-inch display with more than 300 choices in the display/configuration menu. On these trucks one side of the tachometer has further displays inset, and at some point you may find it information overload. Try it for a while, configure to your liking and stick with it is our advice.
Gear shifting is based on model and transmission. Some have a conventional lever on the column, and some a rotary PRND dial on the center dash complemented by small pushbuttons on the steering wheel for gear up/down. The rotary dial is not our favorite (it looks too much like a navigation system controller) but it does free some space and gives the cabin a more open feeling. Displays also vary by screen and whether or not you're shifting or letting the truck do it; one shows a large number in half-tone light, the other letters/numbers along the bottom for gears selected and available. Some of those displays that use half-shade numbers are hard to see with polarized lenses.
Common operating controls such as lights and wipers are on column-mounted stalks, with plenty of redundant controls on the wheel including stereo controls on the back side. The primary switch-bank at the bottom of the center dash has functions along the top (tow/haul mode, stability control, etc.) and comfort (seat heat/ventilation, steering wheel heat) along the bottom. Each of the four dash vents may be closed separately.
Upper models may be ordered with bucket seats and a fixed center console that houses storage areas. The only drawbacks to this arrangement are the loss of one seating position and the space under the central dash. Other trims use a 40/20/40 bench seat, but as in back the center position has a shorter cushion, limited foot space and is best used for compact adults: no youngsters because of the airbags.
With so many trim levels to choose from you should be able to find one that meets your requirements. We found the basic Tradesman quite impressive, not decked out like a Longhorn, but $20,000 cheaper as well. Entry-level pickups long had a tendency to be penalty boxes lacking any amenity beyond a seat cushion and an ashtray (now part of a smoker pack option), but we didn't feel penalized at all in the Tradesman. Plastic door panels are easy to clean and fairly scuff resistant, the standard radio does a good job in light of the budget-conscious price and the low noise levels will calm after a long day with power tools.
As trims and prices rise so too do standard goodies and optional extras. The key goes in the dash on base trucks but others have pushbutton start, and mid-grade trucks add a voltmeter and an oil pressure indicator. A palette of choices for interior materials and colors includes real wood on Longhorn and Limited, and plenty of contrasting colors and matte finishes. The only one that annoyed us was a Laramie console with lots of glare-generating chrome.
The 8.4-inch screen infotainment system on upper models is very good: Lots of choice with no EE degree required. It may be the best of the bunch, currently, vastly superior to the small screen on the Ford models, which is hard to read. The voice-recognition worked quite well, even when trying to confuse it. One thing certain to be a hit with instant-gratification cold-climate residents is the ability to touch the seat and steering wheel heaters to on before wading through the cautions about driving while distracted. The rearview camera image is not as good as what's available from the other brands, however; the image is grainy and jumps, sort of like using a satellite phone to talk to someone on the other side of the planet. But it's a whole lot better than nothing and is useful when parking or hooking up trailers. The rearview camera can also help the driver spot a small child or pedestrian when backing up.
Storage in all models is good, including double glove-boxes or one plus a bin. On the Crew Cab, bean-counters will get bored determining which there are more of: storage areas or Ram logos and badges. On some four-doors you can get under-floor insulated storage compartments, which are a clever idea but, perhaps intentionally, hard to reach from the driving position. The Crew Cab has a pair of AC vents mounted low in back, far from ideal but better than nothing. Coat hooks will handle plastic hangars. Cupholders are in the center armrest, but there are no reading lights in back. The tunnel hump in the floor is just a couple of inches high yet plenty wide enough for the center rider to have both feet on the same level. The Regular cab has a sizable bin behind the seats and anchors for two child seats.
We found we could converse in normal tones at highway speeds back seat to front, with less than average wind, exhaust and tire noise from behind. Both the gas and diesel V6 are free of fatiguing noise and vibrations. Maneuvering a lot at full steering lock is quieter with the electric-assist steering.
The new Ram Laramie Longhorn cabin goes head-to-head with Chevy's Silverado High Country, GMC Denali, Toyota's Tundra 1794 and Ford's King Ranch in a slightly more understated way.
Dubbed Ecodiesel, the new 3-liter V6 turbodiesel is shared with the Jeep Grand Cherokee and rates 240 horsepower at a relaxed 3600 rpm and 420 pound-feet of torque at 2000 rpm. Idle is a little noisier than the gas engines but will only be heard inside when it's cold and the radio is off; at maximum power it seems quieter because peak outputs happen at half the speed of the gas engines.
Fuel economy for the Ecodiesel V6 is an EPA-estimated 20/28 mpg City/Highway with two-wheel drive, 19/27 mpg with 4WD. In moderate driving we averaged 23 mpg, a good 4-5 better than what we'd done in a gas V6 in much the same conditions. Top tow rating for the Ecodiesel is 9200 pounds, which we didn't approach, but it should make a much more efficient tow vehicle than a Hemi powered Ram. Diesels are better at gathering momentum than spinning tires, and from a standstill there's a moment while it builds boost before it thrusts you back in the seat.
Ram's powerful Hemi 5.7-liter V8, with variable valve timing, is rated at 395 horsepower and delivers broad power with 407 pound-feet of torque. Match the engine's power with the truck's clean aerodynamics and one result is that the Hemi's Multiple Displacement System (MDS) operates more often, enhancing fuel efficiency. The MDS essentially shuts off half the engine when not needed to save gas, and Chrysler says the Ram can be run past 70 mph with the MDS active. We did it, but only on flat ground with no wind and a very steady foot. The 5.7-liter V8 is EPA rated at 14/20 mpg City/Highway with 2WD and 6-sp auto, 15/22 with the 8-speed auto; subtract at least 1 mpg for 4WD.
The new-to-Ram 3.6-liter V6 provides 305 horsepower and 269 pound-feet of torque, in the same neighborhood as Ford's 3.7, a bit healthier than Toyota's 4.0 and more power/less torque than GM's 4.3. Top tow capacity is 7450 pounds, which we wouldn't make a habit of, but if you don't mind the engine revving often it will pull it. The 3.6-liter engine usually nets EPA ratings of 17/25 mpg with 2WD, 16/23 mpg with 4WD.
The 3.6-liter gas V6 gains the most from the 8-speed automatic. Although it has essentially the same top gear ratio as the 6-speed, the much shorter initial gears mean it can lope along on tall axle gears (3.21:1) cruising but accelerate much better. On undulating roads or city traffic it shifts frequently but those shifts are smooth and on-demand. In a Quad Cab 2WD we averaged 16 in town but pushed 26 on the highway if there was no breeze. We'd say this drivetrain is more than adequate for the truck fully loaded, or just a couple of passengers and a trailer up to 4,000 pounds.
The Ram HFE model incorporates automatic engine start/stop, the first pickup to do so, to save fuel. Much like a hybrid the engine switches off when the vehicle stops (assuming certain parameters like normal operating temperature are met), electric-assists keep steering, audio and ventilation systems going, and it restarts when you lift your foot off the brake (or press the gas for left-foot brakers). We drove a simulated urban loop and it worked every time we stopped for a traffic signal. You hear the engine restart more than feel it, and any delay is measured in fractions of a second.
Transmissions work as expected with modern, electronic-authority automatics. Each of the shifters has a method for manually choosing the forward gears, and each will revert to full automatic by holding the upshift button (+) for about one second.
The Tow/Haul mode is standard and useful when towing. Activating Tow/Haul may take the truck out of top gear but it does not lock it out; you can still cruise in overdrives with Tow/Haul on. The Tow/Haul mode keeps the transmission cooler when towing by holding gears longer (and reducing hunting between gears) and shifting faster (and firmer). It also adds some engine braking, though this is nominal with a 3.6-liter engine and the diesel does not have an exhaust brake like HD pickup diesels do.
The four-wheel drive systems have a slight rearward bias of power delivery, 2.64:1 low range for climbing or steep descents, and are electrically shifted from 2WD to 4WD without stopping; engaging low range is done most smoothly rolling at one-two mph with the transmission in Neutral. The 4WD systems have a Neutral position for flat-towing a Ram behind an RV or heavier construction truck. Two 4WD systems are available, and one has an Auto mode that allows 4WD-on-pavement use for inclement weather.
We found the brakes work well. Antilock and stability functions are standard so all you need to do in evasive maneuvers is push on the brake pedal and steer. In daily driving they deliver good feel and are easy to modulate, and although they handle the truck well we'd advise trailer brakes on any trailer more than 1500 pounds (less if your state requires it, of course). The integrated trailer brake controller works very well and is now on the center dash panel where it's easier to reach; if you plan on towing any electric-brake trailer we'd recommend it.
A Ram will never a racecar make but it benefits the same as a racecar when weight is removed from the suspension, axles, brakes and wheels. In addition, friction in the rear suspension as it moves up and down is 60 percent lower than leaf springs, so the rear axle is allowed to travel more up and down yet requires less stiffness to keep it controlled. The best-handling Ram is a regular cab Sport R/T with its fat, forged alloy wheels.
The Ram rides very well and in comparing it to the competitors it comes across as the best blend of ride and control, whether you're on 17-inch wheels or the big 20s. It goes where you point it without drama, the rear end feels less inclined to step sideways over a mid-turn bump or invoke the stability control, and the Ram has a feeling of good directional stability with a trailer in tow. Steering is direct, but the effort is low during maneuvers and cruising, and it increases nicely as you push the truck harder. Perhaps our best note about the electric-assist steering is that it felt the same as the previous hydraulic assist, something missing in many such systems, and there is no noise from it. Body roll is kept in check by stabilizer bars at both ends, yet a small amount is apparent as you turn the wheel just to keep you aware (and too much roll stiffness increases ride harshness). In sum, the whole truck exhibits less of the shuddering typical of body-on-frame designs used on all full-size pickups and some big SUVs.
Optional air suspension gives big advantages. It levels the truck regardless of load, maintaining stability and you won't have to adjust headlight aim every time you lash up a trailer. (It might even let you take a link or two off weight-distributing chains but remember not to exceed axle or GVWR limits.) Ride quality remains more consistent from empty to full-load. It has various ride heights to lower the truck for ease of entry/exit and lift it to aid clearances; minimum ground clearance is at the rear axle and doesn't change, but you can approach steeper hills and get more under the truck. Use the highest, off-road 2, only if needed because it does generate a relatively bouncy ride. Air suspension, with all the adjustments, is available for two- and four-wheel drive but not Regular cabs.
Off the highway, either suspension system offers good articulation and keeping the wheels on the ground longer always works best. We had no issues with suspension pieces dragging or being vulnerable to rock or stump impacts. And while we didn't have a sand box handy we could not invoke any axle hop even from full-throttle standing starts in a field. Our only complaints in off-road driving are that close-in visibility suffers from the big hood, making it harder to judge the corners through rocks or trees, and the wide A-pillar base may present its own visibility issues. The only apparent drawback of the suspension design is that the optional larger fuel tank is perhaps smaller than it might be otherwise, offering just six gallons more than the standard tank.
The Ram felt smooth and quiet, even on the 20-inch wheels that sing mildly at 50-60 mph. To our ears the Ram has the competition covered, but every ear has its preferences and many pickup owners like noise of different sorts and levels.
Payload, or how much weight in cargo and passengers a truck can carry, varies by cab, bed, number of drive wheels, and engine. Ram payload ratings run from 770 pounds for a loaded diesel Crew Cab 4WD to around 1930 for a 4WD Tradesman Regular Cab long bed without options: Four fisherman in a fancy 4WD Crew Cab towing a boat will have to put their coolers and tackle in the boat, not the truck.
Tow ratings top out around 10,450 pounds (for a regular cab, long bed, 5.7-liter V8 with the 3.92:1 axle ratio and 17-inch wheels), and range from about 4000 pounds upwards. Most Ram versions can be rated into the 8000-pound tow range, and V8 models will be comfortable with a 5000-pound boat and a full load on board. Remember that the more options you add the less weight you can tow. Also, choosing those stylish 20-inch wheels may knock a significant amount off the tow rating. We'd go for the 17-inch wheels if you want to use your truck as a truck.
We found the Ram suspension works well for towing. With a significant trailer the standard suspension still drops down in the rear, but the extra lateral stiffness inherent in the coil/link design minimized the tail moving side to side as the trailer pushed against it. Also, the electronic stability control system includes trailer sway control. Cooling systems appear up to the task, and towing mirrors are offered for pulling 102-inch-wide travel or large box trailers.
The Ram 1500 combines common-sense work ratings with a refined cabin and driving experience. It aims for best fuel economy, not the ability to carry and tow loads like 3/4-ton pickups of not long ago; in that respect and others it is perhaps the best pickup for spending equal time working and serving as a second car. The V6 offers an excellent performance/fuel economy blend for inexpensive pickups, the Hemi delivers big power, and the diesel provides the best of both worlds and potentially best resale value.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent G.R. Whale filed this report after his test drive of various Ram models in California and Tennessee, with Mitch McCullough reporting from northern New Jersey.
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