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First Drive: 2013 Ram 1500 Refresh

Posted in Project Vehicles on December 12, 2012
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Selling a fullsize truck isn’t an easy assignment these days, but Ram (formerly Dodge) trucks have a few tricks up their sleeve for the ’13 model year. The poor economy, the high price of fuel, and the loss of truck buyers who were buying trucks as status symbols instead of tools have all combined to put a hurting on truck sales. New buyers are more demanding than ever, and one of their biggest demands is fuel economy. Ram considered this as the biggest priority when it started developing a midcycle refresh of the 1500 half-ton truck. In order to stake the claim of best fuel economy in class, Ram brought forth a full hand of technology designed at efficiency.

The Ram 1500 was just reborn back in 2009, but we know for a fact that some of these new upgrades had been in the works prior to that date. Unfortunately, an economic nosedive, bankruptcy, bailout, and new leadership all slowed the development of this latest Ram offering. But Ram and Chrysler are in a different boat these days—a smoother sailing, lighter, faster boat that is more focused on success, a speedy gunship instead of a lumbering cruise ship of years past.

This truck didn’t just get technology in the powertrain; it also received it in design with new front-end bodywork developed for better aerodynamics. Behind that grille are active shutters that close when the engine doesn’t need cooling and bypass air around the truck rather than slowing it into the engine bay. The front bumper and fascia are new and incorporate larger tow hook access. The grille has various design options depending on model, and the headlights are new and offer greater visibility than before.

The new Ram truck team is offering some really wild upgrades compared to the half-ton’s of years gone by. An airbag suspension to lower the truck for loading and highway mileage, level it for towing, or raise it for off-road clearance would have been unheard of 10 years ago, and that is just one of the cool new tech in this truck. We had a chance to check out the new Ram 1500 from behind the driver seat and are betting this truck will reel in some more Blue Oval and Bow Tie buyers looking for a capable truck that gets good mileage as their next 4x4.

The air-spring suspension is similar to the design used on the new Jeep Grand Cherokee, but we felt it rode even better in the Ram. The use of air springs in all four corners allows multiple ride heights for loading, normal driving, aerodynamic highway driving, and off-roading. Plus, by automatically leveling the truck when a load or heavy trailer tongue weight is encountered, the vehicle is more stable and the headlights no longer blind oncoming drivers.
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What We Thought
This truck is unique in the variety of steps it takes to improve fuel economy, a desire of many half-ton truck buyers who use a truck as both commuter and work vehicle. Points we didn’t get to touch on include Pulse Width Modulation, where the fuel pump and electric cooling fan run at variable speeds depending on output needed; weight reduction through the use of high-strength steel and dimpled holes in the frame; and thermal management of the transmission, where engine coolant is fed to the transmission to get to its most efficient operating temperature.

The interior and exterior design upgrades improve the owner experience, but what really got us going is the Pentastar V-6 and 8HP45 automatic (even with the strange-at-first dash dial shifter). These two components would seem grossly underequipped for a fullsize truck, when in fact they worked flawlessly, much in the same way many four-wheelers add dual transfer cases to their small pickups to make up for a small engine. The Pentastar is no slouch, and the eight-speed gets that power to the ground quickly, smoothly, and efficiently. Even when towing a small motorboat the truck was peppy and sure-footed with the V-6, eight-speed, and air suspension. We’re not going to tell you the V-6 half-ton will replace a Ram I-6 (Cummins) 1-ton, but for many truck buyers it will be a true jack-of-all-trades, with a well-equipped cupboard of technology that works hard when needed, yet still rides silky as a commuter. As for how the truck compares off-road, you’ll have to check back in our February issue, when we get to run it through its paces.


Ram Trucks
Aubum Hills, MI 48321

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