2014 Ram 1500 EcoDiesel: Right on target with a mixed message

by Aaron Cole :: posted in Reviews on October 22nd, 2013
Diesel engines and all their torque-y fun are a marketer’s dream.

Stick a diesel in a sedan and bam, it’s a fuel saver. Stick a diesel in a truck and it’s a heavy-duty hauler. Stick a diesel in a basketball player, and you even get Shaquille O’Neal. If diesels won’t solve the next debt crisis in the next car commercial, color me unimpressed by Madison Avenue’s imagination. But what happens if you combine the messages? After all, the American attention span can only be measured in nanoseconds, apparently.

Leave it to Ram to find out.

The 2014 Ram 1500 EcoDiesel is the only light-duty pickup on the market with an available diesel engine, and depending on who you talk to, it’s for good reason. Either diesel is too dirty, too expensive or too unnecessary for stuffing into a full-size pickup that is used in lieu of a minivan most days. It’s a new world out there.

Ram needs this truck to be very good. After all, its redesign for 2013 earned the Ram 1500 high praise for becoming a viable contender to the two-party system that dominates full-size pickups. To follow up that effort with a sophomore album with a flat, diesel drone would be a shame. Luckily, it’s 3.0-liter V6 EcoDiesel isn’t disappointing — but it isn’t the lead singer either.

Executives at Ram freely admit that. Despite the public push, Ram chiefs say that the diesel option will only amount to 15 percent of sales. And even then, it’s likely to be an option for already opulent trucks. The diesel engine, which produces 240 horsepower and 420 lb.-ft. of torque, is $2,850 more over a similarly priced V8 Hemi and $4,500 more than the V6. And for frugal, hyper-miler truck buyers, they’ve left the conversation long ago thanks to Ram’s V6 gasoline engine mated to an 8-speed transmission. That powertrain combination already returns 25 mpg on the highway, which in truck terms, is the equivalent of the Louisiana Purchase.

Fair enough, so what exactly is the diesel for here? Well, for starters, mileage in the diesel is likely to be marginally better than the six-and-eight combo. Although EPA figures haven’t been released, it’s likely that the numbers will come back in the high-20’s for highway mileage and mid-20’s for combined mileage (we’ll speculate and say, 19/28 mpg or so). The incrementally better mileage and better resale rate mean the diesel makes up the price difference in only a few short years, so say Ram executives. Sure, whatever you say, but my guess is that most buyers won’t look at the oil-burner under the hood as a better long-term investment.

Where the diesel excels is that it’s a better, more refined engine than the 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 (which feels burdened at points in the Ram) and the 5.7-liter V8 Hemi (which feels like overkill sometimes) in the Ram 1500. It may not be quicker than the gasoline powered options, it’s about 1.5 seconds slower 0-60 mph than the 3.6-liter version, but the diesel is a smooth shifter through the gears and on long trips is barely noticeable. Hauling an estimated 9,200 lbs. in the diesel would be a breeze for this V6, which doesn’t feel strained at all. In fact, the only noticeable difference between it and the other gas engines is that the diesel is all out of ideas around 4,500 rpm. Which is to say, it’s the same as every other diesel engine ever built. And from there the 2014 Ram 1500 behaves exactly like every other Ram 1500. That’s high praise indeed. With muscular shoulders and smart exterior features like the Ram Box (bedside compartments), Ram has slowly carved out a niche for itself in the full-size market for buyers looking for something beyond Ford and Chevrolet’s offering. Quite frankly, I like the Ram’s styling. It hits the sweet spot between Ford’s glam and Chevy’s work-like exterior well. Packages like the Power Ram and Outdoorsman and Tradesman models further sculpt the 1500’s image, depending on what you’re looking for your truck to do. For instance, the Laramie Longhorn edition we were offered in Los Angeles for the afternoon, is best expressed as the Red Sovine “Giddy-Up Go” varietal. A country-western edition with saddle-stitched look and belt buckle accents, I could really get into something like this if I had nearly $50,000 to spend on a truck and a serious Hank Williams obsession.

 Considering the Ram’s lengthy options list and prices to match, pegging the diesel version isn’t easy to do. As an optional extra in every edition from Big Horn up (excluding Sport variant) the diesel can be anywhere from around $33,000 to $55,000. That’s in line with the current trend for domestic automakers to add just about everything to pickups nowadays to reach astronomical prices, which Hank Williams fans apparently buy at a healthy clip.

Which brings us back to Ram’s ask with the current truck audience. While Ford extols the capability of the EcoBoost in returning better mileage, and Chevy hammers the capability of its Silverado, what’s Ram to say about its diesel. Is it a premium engine option? Is it a heavier duty, full-size option? Is it an eco-friendly pick for a new truck buyer. I guess the answer is “D. All of the above” for now.  

 Aaron Cole is a syndicated auto columnist. He knows he’s wrong, but he’d rather hear it from you. Reach him at aaron.m.cole@gmail.com

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