By Curt Bennink
With all of the new technology unveiled for the 2013 Ram 1500 pickup line, it is difficult to join Ram Trucks in calling this merely a product update. We went to Nashville, Tenn., at Ram's invitation to drive the new pickups. Other than the recognizable body styling, almost everything has been thoroughly revamped for the 2013 model year.
"For 2013, we looked at available technology and aligned systems with the goal of greatly improving fuel economy," says Fred Diaz, president and CEO, Ram Truck brand and Chrysler de Mexico-Chrysler Group LLC.
The most noteworthy innovation is the 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 engine, which Ram says improves horsepower 42 percent and torque 13 percent while delivering 20 percent better fuel economy compared to the previous 3.7-liter powertrain. Extra gear ratios improve both fuel economy and towing performance. I spent time trailering loads around the rolling hills outside of Nashville and the engine/transmission combination performed flawlessly.
The Pentastar V6 with class-exclusive eight-speed TorqueFlite 8 transmission combine to deliver best-in-class EPA 17 mpg city/25 mpg highway in two-wheel drive models. The powertrain is a $1,000 option over the 5.7L V8 and six-speed.
The shift selector caught my attention. The dash-mounted rotary switch takes a little getting used to. It was chosen to accommodate the electronic transmission, and it will probably allow drivers to rock the truck from drive to reverse more easily when you eventually need to escape difficult terrain.
Another unique option is the $1,600 Ram Active Level air suspension, which features five height settings for optimum ride and aerodynamic performance. This feature operates automatically, or may be controlled manually via console or key fob controls. Normal ride height is 8.7 in. of clearance as measured from the base of the door sill. The 2013 Ram 1500's Aero mode lowers the vehicle 0.6 in. to improve efficiency by up to one percent and is activated by vehicle speed, adjusting for optimal performance and fuel economy.
Off-Road 1 mode lifts the truck 1.2 in. from normal ride height for clearing obstacles. Off-Road 2 mode increases ground clearance by 2 in. over normal ride height. Park mode lowers the vehicle 2 in. from normal ride height for easy entry/exit and cargo loading. We took an air ride-equipped Ram 1500 for a test ride around an off-road course. In Off-Road 2 the truck seemed to have the capabilities of a truck equipped with a lift kit, yet when the truck was parked and the engine turned off the truck lowered noticeably for easy egress. Another neat feature, when weight was added to the tailgate, in our case a couple of bystanders, the truck visibly self-levelled.
Electric Power steering is another innovation creeping into the industry as manufacturers search for fuel savings. An electric motor powering the truck's rack-and-pinion steering relieves the engine from the burden of turning a hydraulic pump, improving fuel efficiency up to 1.8 percent and adding 5 hp. The steering seemed responsive with no slop. From the drivers seat, there are no clues that the system has changed.
A newly designed frame is said to improve stability and handling precision while decreasing noise, vibration and harshness up to 30 percent.
The 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 features variable valve timing (VVT) and pumps out 305 hp and 269 lb.-ft. of torque.
In addition to the 3.6-liter Pentastar V6, Ram Trucks is also offering a 5.7-liter HEMI V8 with Fuel Saver Technology and variable valve timing. This option provides 395 hp and 407 lb.-ft. of torque. The new eight-speed is also available with the 5.7-liter V8.
Small things add up
The 2013 Ram 1500 combines an array of fuel-efficiency improvements that, each by itself, may not seem significant. Added together, they deliver noticeable economy. For example, a concerted effort to improve aerodynamics takes the pickup to a class-leading .363 coefficient of drag.
Low-rolling-resistance tires and electrical pulse-width modulation reduce parasitic loads. Pulse-width modulation eliminates unnecessary load on the alternator and contributes to the efficiency of the fuel delivery system and forward cooling fan.
A thermal management system quickly raises engine and transmission temperatures, improving fuel efficiency by 1.7 percent by quickly moving engine oil and transmission fluid to thinner operating viscosity.
Because the cooling package in most pickups is designed for extreme conditions, you don't need maximum capacity most of the time. Active grille shutters restrict airflow through the huge grille when cooling is least needed. The system improves fuel economy by 0.5 percent by reducing drag roughly 3 to 5 percent and improves warm-up time and windshield-defrost time. Coolant temperature and vehicle speed determine shutter position.
A stop-start feature is available on the 2013 Ram 1500 high-efficiency model. This system improves fuel economy by up to 3.3 percent by by shutting off the engine when the truck comes to a complete stop. The radio, gauges, air conditioning or heating continue to operate (if the A/C condenser gets too warm, the engine will restart). The engine restarts automatically when the driver releases the brake, allowing seamless acceleration.
EPA rates the high-efficiency 2013 Ram 1500 at 18 mpg city/25 mpg highway. Automatic start-stop requires a change to a 220 volt electrical system.
Starting price for the 2013 Ram 1500 will be $23,585.
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