As part of my trip to the Chrysler press drive event, where I got to test-drive the new 2014 Jeep Cherokee, I was also able to sample some of the new Ram offerings. Two of these were the new 2014 Ram 1500 EcoDiesel, the first light duty full size pickup to offer a diesel engine, and a very capable heavy duty 2014 Ram 2500. This 2500, equipped with a manual transmission, is the last full size pickup to offer a row-your-own option in the United States.
Hit the jump to enter the Wonderful World of Diesel.
Efficiency is the name of the game here, as the EcoDiesel engine is expected to see miles per gallon in the upper 20’s (official EPA numbers are not yet available), combining the power of a V8 with the fuel economy of a V6. The new 3.0-liter EcoDiesel engine is not made for extreme towing power like a Cummins, but it felt adequate for light towing and general truck duty (240hp and 420lb.-ft. or torque for a 9200 lb. towing capacity). It also had better manners than the larger Cummins, in that it was much quieter. Unless you really floored the throttle, the fact that it was a diesel was nearly imperceptible. Even then it produced nowhere near the clatter of the Cummins and it shouldn’t, because this is not really a truck for the heavy-duty truck-driving crowd. No diesel smell and no diesel sound. It’s the truck engine that went to finishing school.
The EcoDiesel engine was also equipped with the TorqueFlite 8-speed automatic transmission, which seemed to get the truck moving a little more quickly from a stop than the manual 6-speed in the 2500. Reaching peak torque at only 2000rpm likely helps with that. First and second gear in the manually equipped 2500 felt downright slow. Once up to speeds above 35mph however, the 3.0-liter EcoDiesel in the 1500 was noticeably slower than the 6.7 liter Cummins High-Output Turbo Diesel in the 2500 (350hp/660lb.-ft. when equipped with the manual). But again, you’re trading some power for the sake of efficiency with the EcoDiesel, and it’s a truck that can be used more comfortably for everyday driving. However, I should mention that it does take more than just a few years for the extra price of the EcoDiesel to be amortized versus what you would pay for a gasoline engine-equipped truck ($2860 over the 5.7 Hemi V8), but the diesel truck takes much less of a hit in depreciation over the life of the vehicle. They also last forever and you get more torque to boot.
The ride in the 1500 was also softer than the 2500, which is to be expected with it being a light duty truck versus heavy duty. But I really feel I should mention that I was more impressed at how little the difference was in the 2500. For a ¾ ton truck, the Ram 2500 was remarkably comfortable to drive. This was my first time driving on the streets of Southern California, and although an HD Ram is the last thing in which I would have ever imagined myself stringing corners together, it was actually quite fun! The 2500 seemed to push out in some of the tighter corners, but these were some very extreme 15mph corners with a long crew cab body. And even when I got a bit frightened running over some low rounded inside curbing that might have been trouble in a car, the suspension absorbed the bump without drama. While in the 2500, I was also guided up a small dirt trail where I could do a full throttle launch from a stop. The new link coil suspension on the rear of the 2500 hooked up without any perceivable wheel hop. It just dug in and went.
I later overheard the event organizers pondering whether the canyon roads of Mulholland and the like were the best venue on which to begin a truck drive, implying it to being like driving trucks on a course meant for sports cars. For a corner junkie like myself, I told them it was heaven. I had a big goofy smile stuck on my face for the rest of that day.
The interior of the Ram pickups carry over from last year and continue to be a nice place to spend time, having won a spot on Ward’s 10 Best Interiors in the past year (2013 1500 Laramie Longhorn). The few minor things I found to complain about where less complaints and more just getting used to an alternate interface for various things. The rotary knob-controlled automatic transmission seemed a little strange at first, but it turned effortlessly and it’s a little easier to use than the old steering column shift selector. Another thing that was a bit confusing initially was the location of the satellite radio controls, which were behind the steering wheel, where you might expect to find paddle shifters. I pushed them, not really seeing any change in gear, but instead ended up losing my radio station for a moment.
A high point for the interior was the leather seats in the Longhorn Edition (known as the LoneStar Edition in Texas). At first glance, the filigreed saddle leather seemed a bit much, but then I got in and sat on them. The aroma of fresh leather was all around me and the stitch work appeared top notch. Maybe this Western theme wasn’t so bad after all. The fact that you can get this edition with the EcoDiesel really shows how committed Ram is to the EcoDiesel as a viable option for an efficient yet capable truck engine. The EcoDiesel is available in all but the Sport trim and all body configurations except the short bed.
The only feature that really tripped me up in a potentially bad way was the GPS navigation unit. It’s an advanced unit; enough so that when I made a wrong turn once, onto a private road, it knew it was private and therefore a restricted road, so it alerted me to turn around. However, at the end of the day, when I needed to head back to the hotel, the hotel’s name was typed into the navigation unit, except it ended up leading me to a construction site that was obviously not the hotel. A little panicked, I then tried to key the address into the unit, but it seemed to be trying to auto-complete what I was typing, but not to the address I was trying to key in. I then called the hotel and was just beginning to get to the second turn that I was told to take, when my phone lost connection. At this point, I was getting more concerned, since this was my first day of driving in California and I didn’t know any of the roads. So I traced my steps back and just lucked out to make it back to the ranch from which the other driving tests had begun, and so someone was able to key the hotel address in for me. I’m chalking this situation up to likely user error. It’s definitely an impressive system, as it then led me right to the hotel, but it does have a learning curve to it.
In the end, I could see how the 1500 EcoDiesel is more important than the 2500, to Ram and to a wider variety of truck enthusiasts in general. But I have to admit that I found the 2500 to be more much more fun to drive. After over an hour of driving that stick through the canyons, I was tired and more than a little queasy, but I loved every minute of it. I’d be curious to see what the EcoDiesel would feel like with the manual transmission. It might lose a couple miles per gallon but it could also increase the smiles per gallon.
Full Flickr slideshow available here
[Disclosure: Chrysler flew me down to beautiful Westlake Village, California to drive the new 2014 Ram vehicles as well as the new 2014 Jeep Cherokee. This was my first press trip, and while there I got to drive through the hills around Thousand Oaks and Malibu every day until I was sick to my stomach (a first for me to do that to myself). Though I will say that I didn’t let that slow me down much. It was a total blast! These were the roads that dreams are made of. I met a lot of nice people, drove off road for the first time, stayed in a very nice hotel, and got to eat lots of delicious food.]
Photos Copyright 2013 Hooniverse/Bryce Womeldurf