Back in October, when I reported that The Texas Auto Writers Association had named the RAM 1500 Truck of Texas, the award season had just begun. Now, with a sweep of the Motor Trend and Truck Trends, it seems clear that RAM has the potential to increase its standing and market share, which are behind both Ford and Chevrolet.
This workhorse has impressed the full range of truck media with best-in-class fuel economy for both a new 3.6L Pentastar V-6 engine (boasting 42% more horsepower, 13% more torque and at least 20% better fuel economy when compared to the previous 3.7L V-6 power train), and the 5.7L HEMI V-8 with cylinder-shut-off fuel saver technology and variable-valve timing for 395-hp, 407 lb.ft. of torque.
I have been lucky enough to drive this truck both on and off-road, and, thus far, it delivers on the promises. Fred Diaz, president and CEO of both the Ram Truck brand and Chrysler de Mexico, said, “We changed every area of the truck — from a newly-designed frame with air suspension to a new eight-speed transmission to a new interior with the next generation Uconnect system.”
“With best-in-class towing (6,500-lb. for the 3.6L) and payload, best-in-class ride and handling and…aerodynamics…”, he added.
In addition to the new new 3.6L and the well-respected 5.7L HEMI engines, the 2013 Ram 1500 has been paired with an impressive 8-speed automatic transmission (said to be class-exclusive) as standard on the V-6. This doubles the number of gears from previously available transmission to improve both handling and fuel efficiency. A new 8-speed will also be available for the V-8, if it isn’t already.
Gear changing is done via a easy-to-use and distinctive rotary e-shift dial that replaces both column and floor shifters. It is easy to control, even with gloves, and — while I am not always a fan of dials — this one operates beautifully. It is intuitive and is already in use in Class 6-8 trucks, if you have any doubts. The new design allows quick blind-shift transitions from reverse to drive when towing or navigating out of mud, snow or other conditions.
Also segment exclusive, according to the people at Ram, is a new thermal management system that quickly raises engine and transmission fluid temperatures to reduce parasitic losses from high viscosity engine oil and transmission fluid for a 1.7% increase in fuel efficiency.
The stop-start technology (versions of which we are seeing everywhere) turns off the engine when the truck comes to a complete stop without turning off amenities such as heating and air conditioning, radio and gauges. The technology is seamless and the engine restarts automatically when the driver releases the brake.
New engineering features
If you love the robust look of the previous 1500, you will not be disappointed with the 2013 edition. Extensive wind-tunnel testing helped to improve aerodynamics resulting in a reduced coefficient of drag.
A new air suspension system for this year features five height settings — normal ride height (8.7″ of clearance at default load-leveled ride height), aero mode (lowers vehicle .6: improves fuel efficiency by up to one percent and is activated by vehicle speed), off-road 1 (raises truck 1.2″ from normal ride height for ease in clearing obstacles), off-road 2 (increases ground clearance by 2″ over NRH) and park mode which lowers the vehicle 2″ from normal ride height for ease of entry and exit and cargo loading. This feature is extremely impressive and makes great sense if your truck is used for a combination of work, sport and regular daily driving. There is a dial in the truck and, for your convenience, a button on the key fob to manually lower the truck to park mode.
Electric power steering is provided through an electric motor to power the rack and pinion steering system so up to 1.8% of fuel efficiency and a 5% increase in horsepower is achieved since the engine no longer has to turn a hydraulic pump. It’s hard to believe, but the EPS also is less complex than the former hydraulic solution since it reduces considerably the number of components needed.
Truck on a successful diet
When evaluating the fuel economy equation, you can always bet that the manufacturer has taken weight out in an effort to add content while not affecting tow or payload capability. This Ram is no exception. Using advanced high strength steel, about 30-lbs. have been removed from the frame. Another advanced material used on the cross-members of the box floor eliminates 7-lbs. Aluminum lower control arms in the front suspension and an aluminum hood save more than 26-lbs. The new engine and transmission take out more than 30-lbs.
In addition to the weight reduction, the new frame has improved low torsion for stiffness to increase stability and improve handling precision which decreasing NVH (noise, vibration, harshness)by up to 30% depending on drive cycle. New mounting technology for components and the body also contributes to a very quiet ride.
Interior and Exterior Aesthetics
It is uncommon for truckmakers to make many changes to the appearance — inside and out — of a relatively new truck, but — with so many other improvements — Ram decided to take a fresh look at what was already a popular design.
The aerodynamics were improved, as I previously noted, and with that came a grille that is approximatedly 1″ taller and the crosshairs that define the classic Ram are now flush at both the top and bottom of the surround. A new front bumper design has vertically-oriented fog lamps for improved ligh spread, distance and more lumens. Larger openings around the front tow hooks on 4-WD models allow for easy access. New taillamps are standard and consist of 15 red LEDs with three red LEDs for the side marker.
A new 6′-4″ bed option is now available on Crew Cab models for the largest available four-door/bed combination.
On the inside, there are material upgrades, improved fit and finish, new colors and materials, all-new HVAC controls and new multimedia systems. I recommend a visit to the Ram website to catch all of the variations, especially the very rare walnut grain with a unique burl unintentionally created by ranchers using trees as fence posts for barbed wire. Eventually, the trees grow over the rusting metal wire, creating a swirl patter and tone found nowhere else.
Vehicle information screens for the gauge cluster have been beefed up and are now standard on the ST and SLT trim levels, a very nice upgrade without additional cost, and Uconnect ranks as one of the industry-best systems for a range of customer care services that are in the market. Everything is updated via apps and are downloaded directly to the car. The 8.4″ touchscreen is very effective with none of the lag that I have experienced with some on-screen systems. Unique to Ram is the wireless hotspot, provided via a partnership with Sprint — a major step toward having it all in your truck cab.
Wrapping it up
While I am looking forward to as much time as possible in the cab of this new 1500, my first driving impressions reinforce that this is a major step forward for Ram, far earlier in its evolution than most people were expecting. This is, in fact, a new truck rather than a refresh and, I suspect, that is why it has received so many accolades.