2013 Ram 1500: First Drive
New half-tons show the boys at Ram Truck are not afraid of innovations and refinement; 8-speed automatic and more fuel-efficient engines should be attractive to fleet buyers
By Bruce W. Smith
Eight-speed automatic, air suspension, electric power steering, electronic upgrades and a host of other aerodynamic, suspension and interior changes pave the way for the 2013 Ram 1500s to make what could be the biggest forward step in the history of the company’s half-ton pickups.
Combine those improvements with a new 305hp V-6, which gets an estimated 25mpg highway and 18mpg city, and the Hemi gaining a solid 10-percent jump in fuel economy, and you have a combination sure to make a lot of loyal Ram owners beat feet to their dealers this year and next to trade up for a new model.
At least that’s my initial impression after spending a little time driving several different versions of the new Ram 1500s this summer.
3.6L V-6 OPTION
From my perspective, the biggest advancements of interest to pickup fleets large and small are in power and fuel economy.
The Pentastar 3.6L V-6 pulled in from the 2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee ($1,000 option over the Ram’s base 4.7L V-8) is pumping out 42 percent more horsepower and 20 percent better fuel economy than the 3.7L it replaces. You can really feel the difference, too.
Ram’s new V-6, which comes packaged with with the close-ratio TorqueFlite 8 automatic, might actually perform better than the standard 4.7L V-8 – and with far better fuel economy.
I consistently saw fuel numbers in the low 20s during my drive time around the country roads and interstates of central Tennessee in a crew cab SLT 4×4 with the optional air suspension.
What impressed me most about that particular pickup is how well the 8-speed automatic worked with the V-6.
The shifts are equally spaced all the way into the two overdrive gears for strong power delivery without any fall off in torque.
I did find myself reaching for the column shifter a couple times. But those “phantom shift” moments soon diminished as I got used to the new rotary dial shift knob on the dash.
When more shift control was need I used the steering wheel-mounted “+/-“ buttons to lock the 8-speed into the right gear when running the steeper grades of the country roads. (Will paddle shifters be the next step for Ram?)
As for the Hemi, Ram’s venerable 5.7L V-8 is the third engine option. It will initially be available with the standard six-speed automatic, with the 8-speed coming in late spring of 2013.
Ram says the TorqueFlite 8 will boost its mpg about 10 percent.
Other fuel gains come from electronically controlled shutters over the radiator that open and close to maximize air flow around the truck to reduce wind drag.
Another feature is the start-stop technology in which the engine stops when the truck comes to a stop.
What I noticed when driving a pre-production version of the Hemi with the 8-speed is not only has fuel economy improved but the power curve is very strong from tip-in to top-end.
It’s hard to beat the performance of a close-ratio 8-speed automatic be it in a V-6 of Hemi V-8. You really feel the benefits of those 1.5:1 gear splits when towing.
RAM AIR SUSPENSION A FIRST
Ride and handling have been significantly improved as well. The new electric power steering pump on the rack-and-pinion provide excellent on-center feel. The new Ram stays on track and the steering effort/feedback is nicely executed.
As for ride, I drove Ram 1500s equipped with both standard and air suspensions.
If you are going to be off-pavement or towing a lot, the optional self-leveling air suspension ($1,595) is the ticket.
Ram’s package, which has five modes (Normal, Aero, Offroad 1, Offroad 2 and Park) can be adjusted a total of four inches from the highest to the lowest, providing added approach/departure angles for off-road driving when raised – and easier ingress and bed loading when lowered.
The air suspension self-levels, too, alleviating the effects of heavy trailer tongue weights or payloads. The system’s operation is both silent and velvet smooth with the air tanks and pump located under the bed aft of the rear axle housing.
RAM REFINED INTERIORS
Speaking of smooth, kudos to Ram designers on their improvements to the 2013 model’s interiors.
Everything from door panels and dash textures to seats to the placement of the controls is well done. Gone are the rock-hard armrests and cheap plastic feel of the interior. Even base model 2013 Rams make you feel like you are sitting in a premium model.
Along with that comes a pickup designed for the new age of connectivity. If you need to communicate and stay connected with the electronic world, the new Rams have it covered.
I’ll be able to learn a lot more about the 2013s once we get one in our hands for more long-term evaluation. But for now, I have to say Ram has set a pretty high performance bar for their competitors to reach in the full-size pickup market.
When you bring power, performance, fuel economy and comfort to the table with a 5-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty, it’s a very attractive package to any contractor, DOT, municipality or pickup fleet manager – Ram loyal or not.
RAM TOWING NOTE
All 2013 Rams still maintain a maximum tow rating of 5,000 pounds in “weight-carrying” mode.
Trailers above that weight need to utilize a weight-distributing hitch. V-6 models with the standard 3.21 axle ratio are limited to trailered weights less than 5,000 pounds, while the maximum towing capacities on other V-6/V-8 models require the optional 3.55 or 3.92 axle ratios.