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,
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
2014 Ram 1500 EcoDiesel: Right on target with a mixed message
by Aaron Cole :: posted in Reviews on October 22nd, 2013