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2014 Ram 1500 vs. 2014 Chevy Silverado 1500 - V-6 Truck Test

Posted in Vehicle Reviews on November 18, 2013 Comment (0)
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2014 Ram 1500 vs. 2014 Chevy Silverado 1500 - V-6 Truck Test
Photographers: Harry Wagner

Is that even a question? Isn’t ’wheeling all about big torque, big cubic inches, putting maximum power to the ground?

Not necessarily.

We’d guess that the V-6–powered Chevrolet Silverado 1500 and Ram 1500 will get the job done for a lot of pickup owners. Both trucks are roomy, comfortable, and quick when they need to be, and both can scramble up a trail and return mid-20-mpg fuel economy numbers on the highway—not bad for trucks that weigh close to 3 tons.

It is true that their payload and towing numbers aren’t up to those of their V-8 brothers. If you tow or haul big loads, you still need a V-8 (or a diesel). But a trailer with a UTV, ATVs, or a light trail rig can be pulled with either truck. Heck, while towing Fred William’s CJ-5 Lemon Pie we passed other traffic on the highway—uphill!

So don’t dismiss these V-6 trucks as slow, weak penalty boxes. If your loads are mostly family and their gear, and what you tow weighs 5,000 or 6,000 pounds, these trucks just may be all you need.

Powertrains
The Chevy’s 4.3L V-6 is all new but shares similar block architecture with the EcoTec3 V-8 engines. The V-6 has an aluminum block, cross-bolted main bearing caps, and a deeper, 6-quart oil pan. The engine’s top half is all about efficiency, with direct fuel injection, variable valve timing, and cylinder deactivation technology (called Active Fuel Management) that closes the valves on two cylinders under light loads. GM says the transition between V-6 and V-4 takes less than 20 milliseconds; we can tell you the shift between six- and four-cylinder power is imperceptible. You’ll only know it’s happening when the small V-6 light on the dash changes to V-4.

GM rates the 4.3 at 285 hp at 5,300 rpm and 305 lb-ft of torque at 3,900 rpm. For those used to driving V-8 trucks, the biggest difference between the eight and the six (in the Ram, too) is the lack of instant torque response when you tip into the throttle. With the Chevy in particular it takes more pedal to get the truck moving, though the truck will scoot when you boot it. Informal acceleration tests (timed with a stopwatch) saw the Chevy go from 0 to 60 mph in 10 seconds or so.

Affecting the Chevy’s driveability is the six-speed 6L80 automatic transmission. Considering all the time and effort put into engine efficiency—and the groundbreaking eight- and nine-speed transmissions coming from GM’s rivals—we expected a higher tech gearbox than this. It works; gear changes are smooth, and a manual mode allows you to up- and downshift via a toggle switch on the shift lever.

Well, sort of. It shifts when the computers deem your up- and downshifts to be appropriate. Often we would punch the button looking for a gear change only to be overruled by the ECMs until the truck decided it was time to shift. And when you select Third, for example, the trans doesn’t hold Third. Third just becomes the highest gear the trans will shift up to, but it will up- and downshift between First or Second and Third when it thinks it needs to.

The manual mode in the Ram’s transmission acts the same way, but that ZF eight-speed automatic gearbox is like a magic wand to the Pentastar 3.6L V-6. First gear is deeper (4.71 versus the GM’s 4.03), and with direct drive all the way out at Sixth gear, the ratios in between are much closer, keeping the Pentastar in a rev range where it’s making the most of its power. From behind the wheel you can’t tell that the Pentastar is three-quarters of a liter smaller than the GM V-6 or that its torque peak lags behind the Chevy. The Ram was quicker to 60 mph by three-tenths of a second, felt like it had more to give when towing, and overall was livelier to drive, loaded or unloaded.

The interface between driver and transmission did get mixed reviews. Ram has given up the traditional shift lever in favor of a rotary e-dial. Some of us got used to it; others found it annoying. We all found the shifting in manual mode frustrating, as the gears are selected using tiny buttons on the steering wheel. That’s hard to do while driving quickly up a mountain pass; virtually impossible to do with work gloves on.

The Pentastar has been in Chrysler’s fleet since it debuted in the ’11 Grand Cherokee, and it was new to the Ram when the truck was redesigned for 2013. It, too, has an aluminum block and heads, with combustion chambers, valve location, and cam phasing tuned for peak efficiency. It has traditional multipoint fuel injection, though, and always runs on all six cylinders. Yet the overall fuel economy on our test (18.5 mpg) was just a tick higher than the Chevy’s 18.4. And the Ram saw a best of 25.4 mpg during one highway stretch, while the Chevy topped out at 23.4 mpg on the highway.

View Slideshow

Chassis
Both the Chevy and Ram ride on ladder frames designed for maximum torsional stiffness. Both utilize unequal-length A-arms as front suspension components and have live axles in the rear. Both are also equipped with electric-assisted rack-and-pinion steering, which is used to improve fuel economy, but received mixed reviews on driver feedback from judges.

Where the two differ is in the rear suspension, and it is significant. The Chevy retains a conventional Hotchkiss-style rear suspension, with multileaf springs suspending the solid axle. Starting with the ’09 model year, Ram gave up its leaves in half-ton trucks for a multilink/coil-spring rear suspension design. For its ’13 makeover, Ram added an air suspension option, which trades the coil springs at all four corners for airbags that can vary the truck’s ride height depending on conditions. At highway speeds it lowers a half-inch to improve aerodynamics and fuel economy, and when the transfer case is in low range it rises up to 2 inches for better clearance—though at the expense of downtravel.

The air suspension was a $1,595 option on our Ram, and worth every penny. The cleaner aero helped the smaller and less powerful Pentastar beat the Chevy’s highway fuel economy. We appreciated the extra distance between the body and the rocks during trail crawling. And when towing, the air springs automatically leveled the truck’s backend, keeping the headlights aimed where they should be and contributing to a more secure on-road feel and less wobble and head bouncing from the trailered load.

We would have ordered a similar air suspension system on the Chevrolet had it been available. It’s not.

Interior
Both Chevrolet and Ram have fully instrumented gauge clusters, with fuel, coolant temperature, oil pressure, and amp meters integrated into the dash panel. Both trucks also have driver information screens that display important vehicle data: fuel economy, range, oil and transmission temperatures, and so on.

Both trucks were equipped with optional touchscreens in the center stack to display climate, audio, navigation (when so equipped), and other information. For the touchscreen averse, conventional climate and audio controls are below the touchscreen, with a redundant set of audio controls on the steering wheel.

Both pickups made good use of interior space, offering nooks, cubbies, and other storage bins to hold everything from sunglasses to laptops. Since the Ram had bucket seats and a center console, that console’s storage bins were far deeper than the storage found in the armrest of the Chevy, which had a 40/20/40 front bench seat. Buckets and a console in the Chevy would have made storage capacity more even.

View Slideshow

Speaking of seats, the Chevy we tested had all sorts of power adjustments for the driver, plus a set of adjustable pedals. Yet all of us had to fiddle with the controls—a lot—to get comfortable, while we could just drop into the Ram seats and go with little fuss. Plus, one driver complained of a sore rearend after about an hour of freeway driving in the Chevy, while he went more than two hours in the Ram with no complaint.

Exterior
We’ve long been fans of the Ram’s distinctive styling, but GM has really hit on something with its “fist in the wind” design of the new pickups. Most people we talked to, whether they were truck enthusiasts or not, gravitated to the Chevy, and not just because of the Victory Red paint. The new look is bold, strong, and tough.

Both trucks came with sprayed-in bedliners from the factory. Chevy added to its bed’s versatility with an optional cargo management system and LED bed lighting ($60 each on the sticker).The Ram came with one of our favorite innovations, the RamBox bed storage bins (a $1,295 option). The RamBox locks are now tied into the truck’s door locks, so the key fob locks and unlocks them (and the tailgate). Be aware, though, that the RamBoxes reduced this Ram’s payload and tow capacities by 150 pounds.

View Slideshow

Off-Road
Off the pavement we covered miles of dirt and graded roads and a lengthy, hilly trail on hard-packed dirt. Rocks, ruts, and ledges tested the trucks’ suspensions and clearance. Both trucks articulated well, keeping wheels on the ground to transmit driving force—which the V-6 engines delivered without complaint. We never felt like either truck was hurting for power; instead, we were impressed that they had so much torque on tap.

Headed downhill, in First gear and low range, neither truck offered much compression braking, though engaging Tow/Haul mode helped. The ABS brake systems were about average in the dirt, making more noise than actual stopping power.

The Ram’s air suspension kept its front air dam and rocker panels away from obstacles. We weren’t so lucky in the Chevy and put a good-sized ding in the front bumper. At the limits of their extension, though, the Ram’s airbags stiffen the ride considerably, while the Chevy soldiered on without any ride-quality issues.

The Ram’s hood has a distinct bulge, which adds to the truck’s brawny look but hinders trail visibility. It was much easier to see out of the Chevy. When the trail got really narrow, we appreciated the Ram’s power folding mirrors, part of the $695 Customer Preferred Package.

We also preferred the Ram’s 4WD engagement buttons, which are located under the gearshift dial. The 4WD dial on the Chevy is located to the left of the steering wheel just above a second, identical dial for the headlights. They are easy to mix up, especially in the dark. A Chevy engineer told us that the switch location was done on purpose, since the company felt most users would set both dials in the “Auto” position and leave them there. We aren’t like most users, apparently.

Towing
Knowing that the tow ratings for these trucks were lower than a V-8’s, we figured Fred Williams’ cross-country CJ-5 would be an appropriately lightweight load for us to evaluate towing ability. It wasn’t until after we finished towing and put the rig on a scale that we learned the CJ and 4WOR’s burly red trailer weighed 6,900 pounds, more than both trucks’ tow ratings (6,700 for the Chevy, 5,700 for the Ram).

We do not recommend overloading. But this happens in the real world, and it was instructive. On the road we never had even an inkling that we were pushing the trucks beyond their capacities. As we said earlier, the trucks passed traffic on the highway—uphill. Acceleration from a stop was decent, and the integrated trailer brakes did their job (though controlling them was less intuitive in the Ram than the Chevy).

We did prefer the Ram as a tow rig over the Chevy, mostly due to the air suspension, which automatically adjusted ride height and firmness to make the truck feel more secure and the myriad transmission gears that kept the engine in the powerband regardless of the situation.

And the Winner Is …
Ram, with credit largely going to the eight-speed transmission and air suspension, both of which made the most of the components surrounding them. Chrysler also gets points for pushing the engineering envelope, giving buyers something truly new and innovative. For all the good engineering GM put into its new pickup trucks, this Silverado feels “like the same old truck,” said one tester. Maybe GM needs to do some more suspensioneering?

Today’s V-6 technology can pass for yesterday’s V-8, making it a viable alternative for the light-duty truck user.

One Judge’s View
These two V-6 trucks are very similar yet very far apart. In fact, this test showed how much the truck market is changing. Technology is shifting how new trucks work. For example, who would have expected a V-6 to produce the power delivered by V-8s just a decade or two ago? What’s more, who would have expected the smaller V-6 to trounce its larger-displacement competition?

The GM is a truck guy’s truck. It has simple, reliable parts with years of experience behind them. Yes, the 4.3L V-6 is groundbreaking with its all aluminum block and direct injection (we are already dreaming of stuffing one in a small 4x4 as a project), but other than the engine and styling, the truck doesn’t seem to really push any engineering boundaries.

The Ram is also a great truck, but this is more of a tech guy’s truck. Ram won this test with a smaller engine because it has a more advanced transmission. It has a more complex suspension, but that complexity paid off and really dominated when towing or four-wheeling. Yes, the dial transmission shifter is odd, but that’s because it is new and different.

If you’re scared of change and newfangled gadgets, then stick with the old reliable Chevy. It’ll do the job. But if you trust technology and are ready for something new and exciting, go with the Ram.
—Fred Williams

Tech Specs
Chevrolet Silverado 1500 4WD LT Crew
General
Base Price $37,840
Price as Tested $42,060

Options as Tested
$3,975 LT Plus Package (power sliding rear window, universal home remote, rear park assist, power adjustable pedals); All Star Edition (18-inch wheels, trailering equipment, auto locking rear differential, power seat adjuster [driver], front fog lamps, dual-zone climate control, remote vehicle start,MyLink audio system with 8-inch display, rear vision camera, rear window defroster, 110V power outlet); trailer brake controller; 18-inch all-terrain tires; movable upper tie-downs; LED lighting in cargo box

Engine
Type V-6
Displacement (L/ci) 4.3/262
Bore & Stroke (in) 3.92x3.62
Compression Ratio 11.0:1
Fuel Req. (octane)/ Capacity (gal) 87/26
SAE Horsepower 285 @ 5,300
SAE Torque (lb-ft) 305 @ 3,900

Transmission
Type 6-speed auto
Model Hydra-Matic 6L80
Ratios First: 4.03:1; Second: 2.36:1; Third: 1.53:1; Fourth: 1.15:1; Fifth: 0.85:1; Sixth: 0.67:1; Reverse: 3.06:1

Transfer Case
Type 2-speed, part-time
Low-Range Ratio 2.72:1

Axles
Front Diff Open/electric lock
Rear Diff Limited-slip/electric lock
Hubs None
Ratio 3.42:1

Suspension
Front A-arm with coil-over-shock; twin-tube shock absorbers
Rear Solid axle with two-stage multileaf springs; twin-tube shock absorbers

Steering
Type Electric power-assisted rack-and-pinion
Lock-to-Lock/Ratio 3/16.3:1
Turning Circle (ft) 47.2

Wheels
Size (in) 18x8.5
Material Aluminum

Tires
Size P265/65R18
Brand Goodyear Wrangler SR-A

Brakes
Front 13-in ventilated disc
Rear 13.6-in ventilated disc

Weight (lb)
Curb Weight 5,540
Advertised GVWR 7,100
Tow Capacity 6,700
Payload Capacity 1,936

Mileage (mpg)
EPA Estimate 17 city/22 hwy/ 19 combined
As Tested 18.4

Dimensions (in)
Wheelbase 143.5
Overall Length 230
Overall Width 80
Overall Height 74
Front/Rear Track 68.7/67.6
Min. Front Ground Clearance 8.9

Likes
• New styling
• Trans shift lever easier to use
• Overhood visibility

Dislikes
• No groundbreaking tech
• Seat discomfort
• Sluggish acceleration

Ram 1500 SLT Quad Cab 4x4
General
Base Price $35,120
Price as Tested $46,080

Options as Tested
$9,865 Premium cloth bucket seats; power 10-way driver seat; power lumbar adjust; rear 60/40 folding seat; fold-flat floor storage; 115V aux power outlet; full-length floor console; Customer Preferred Package 22G (includes Luxury Group [leather-wrapped steering wheel, steering wheel–mounted audio controls, auto-dimming exterior mirrors, exterior mirrors with courtesy lamps, sun visors with illuminated vanity mirrors, rear dome lamp, glovebox lamp, underhood lamp, overhead console with garage door opener, power heated mirrors with foldaway]); Protection Group (tow hooks, transfer case skidplate, front suspension skidplate), Remote Start and Security Group (remote start system, security alarm); front and rear rubber floor mats; 3.55 axle ratio; antispin differential rear axle; power sunroof; fog lamps; 32-gallon fuel tank; Uconnect 8.4A AM/FM/BT/ACCESS (integrated voice command with Bluetooth, 8.4-inch touchscreen display, Navready, media hub); 506-watt Alpine surround sound with 9 speakers and subwoofer; active level 4-corner air suspension system; P265/70R17OWL all-season tires; ParkSense rear park assist system; ParkView backup camera; RamBox; Class IV receiver hitch; trailer brake control; flex fuel vehicle; spray-in bedliner

Engine
Type V-6
Displacement (L/ci) 3.6/220
Bore & Stroke (in) 3.78x3.27
Compression Ratio 10.2:1
Fuel Req. (octane)/ Capacity (gal) 87/32
SAE Horsepower 305 @ 6,400
SAE Torque (lb-ft) 269 @ 4,175

Transmission
Type 8-speed auto
Model ZF 8HP45
Ratios First: 4.71:1; Second: 3.14:1; Third: 2.10:1; Fourth: 1.67:1; Fifth: 1.29:1; Sixth: 1.00:1; Seventh: 0.84:1; Eighth: 0.67:1; Reverse: 3.30:1

Transfer Case
Type 2-speed, part-time
Low-Range Ratio 2.64:1

Axles
Front Diff Open/electric lock
Rear Diff Limited-slip/electric lock
Hubs None
Ratio 3.55:1
Suspension
Front A-arm; air suspension
Rear Solid axle with 5-link and track bar; air suspension

Steering
Type Electric power-assisted rack-and-pinion
Lock-to-Lock/Ratio 3.5/19.1:1
Turning Circle (ft) 39.8

Wheels
Size (in) 17x7
Material Aluminum

Tires
Size P265/70R17
Brand Goodyear Wrangler SR-A

Brakes
Front 13.2-in ventilated disc
Rear 13.8-in ventilated disc

Weight (lb)
Curb Weight 5,720
Advertised GVWR 6,800
Tow Capacity 5,700
Payload Capacity 1,500

Mileage (mpg)
EPA Estimate 16 city/23 hwy/ 19 combined
As Tested 18.5

Dimensions (in)
Wheelbase 140.5
Overall Length 229
Overall Width 79.4
Overall Height 77.2 (normal); 79.2 (off-road 2)
Front/Rear Track 68.0/67.5
Min. Front Ground Clearance 8.7

Likes
• Crisp acceleration
• Air suspension
• Seat comfort

Dislikes
• Overhood visibility
• Tiny shift buttons on steering wheel
• Trailer brake controls

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