2014 Ram 1500 Driving Impressions

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 lar
ger 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.

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