2014 Ram 1500 EcoDiesel First Drive - Diesel DebutPosted in Vehicle Reviews on February 3, 2014
Diesel pickup trucks are a smokin’ hot commodity. Problem is, as of late, buyers have to purchase a ¾- or 1-ton model if they want to join the club. For many, this is more truck than they need and/or the price of entry is out of reach. Well, the Ram truck brand has made another major contribution to pickup truck history by offering a modern diesel engine in a ½-ton pickup. Welcome to the club.
The engine is called the EcoDiesel and it’s available in the ’14 Ram 1500. It’s a 3.0L V-6 turbodiesel that is touted as powerful and fuel efficient. It’s built by VM Motori, a company that has been a Chrysler Group diesel engine supplier since 1992. The 50-state-legal, 182-cubic-inch, 24-valve, DOHC EcoDiesel has a bedplate and cylinder block made from Compacted Graphite Iron (this helps to increase strength, durability, and reduce noise, vibration, and harshness- commonly referred to as NVH); heat-treated aluminum alloy heads (also helps with NVH); MultiJet II common-rail fuel injection (with 29,000 psi of line pressure); and a 16.5:1 compression ratio. Other engine features include a forged steel crankshaft and connecting rods, as well as aluminum alloy pistons. The turbocharger is a variable-geometry, electronically-controlled, water-cooled unit. To ensure that emissions meet current regulations, there’s an engine-cooled Exhaust Gas Recirculation (EGR) system and also a state-of-the-art Selective Catalyst Reduction (SCR) system that includes a Diesel Exhaust Fluid (DEF) system, among other things. A passive cooling system (one that does not use engine coolant) is used for the DEF injector and to lessen the effects of cold weather operation, the DEF system has an insulated 8-gallon tank with heated lines.
The EcoDiesel is mated to a ZF 8HP70 eight-speed automatic transmission that Ram calls the TorqueFlite 8. This transmission’s features include adaptive electronic control, automatic or Electronic Range Select (ERS) manual control, and a 4.71:1 First gear ratio.
All of this engine and transmission data sounds impressive, but how does it actually perform in the real world? To find out, we borrowed an EcoDiesel-equipped ’14 Ram 1500 and we used it on- and off-road. The vehicle Ram loaned us was a high-zoot Laramie Crew Cab 4x4, and it was loaded with options including the four-corner air suspension system. Base price was $44,925, but our dolled-up tester totaled $55,205. If that price makes you take a step back, don’t worry, you can get the EcoDiesel in a far less expensive model of Ram 1500.
“Overall, we were impressed at the ability to harness the power of the EcoDiesel and finesse it in off-road situations, while at the same time having the power on tap"
Naturally, we spent a lot of time off-road in the Ram. The majority was spent in the pastures at the rural Four Wheeler Midwest Bureau. The EcoDiesel makes very good power, especially the impressive, V-8-like 420 lb-ft of torque, but we wondered how controlled it would be off-road. After all, there are times when finesse, and not brute power, is needed. Turns out, Ram did a fantastic job with throttle calibration and low rpm engine control. At one point, we were in 4-Lo, off-camber in pouring rain on slick grass. Smooth power delivery from the EcoDiesel was critical to keep the street-biased tires planted so the truck wouldn’t slide sideways down the hill and into a creek. As we gently pushed the throttle, feedback was excellent and power delivery was smooth and controlled. We were able to crawl the truck off the slippery surface with no wheelspin and no drama. Another time, we were driving the truck in woods that are used for cattle and horse grazing. The trail through the woods was twisty and muddy and required a mix of slow speed control with an occasional need for horsepower to gather speed to climb muddy inclines. With the transfer case in 4-Hi, throttle control was excellent and engine power was more than sufficient. While off-road, we liked that we could use the ERS controls on the steering wheel to shift the eight-speed transmission without taking a hand off the wheel. During mostly off-road testing, the truck returned 18 mpg, which we think is great for a fullsize truck in those conditions. Overall, we were impressed at the ability to harness the power of the EcoDiesel and finesse it in off-road situations, while at the same time having the power on tap for heavy-footed wheeling.
What’s Hot, What’s Not
Hot: Fuel mileage, power, seamless transmission
Not: Capless fuel fill, no transmission gear display unless in manual-shift mode
Our Take: Great combination of power and economy
We’ve done quite a bit of towing with various Power Stroke and Cummins engines as well as the 6.5L turbodiesel found in older GM trucks. This gave us a baseline as to what we expected from the EcoDiesel. We hitched our tester to a dual-axle flatbed trailer that was hauling a piece of construction equipment. The total weight of the trailer and machine was right at the maximum for our tester. We were amazed at how well the EcoDiesel pulled the load. Quite shocked, actually. Under hard acceleration from a standing stop, the EcoDiesel impressed. With the TorqueFlite 8 transmission in Tow/Haul mode, the engine was allowed to spool into higher rpms between each upshift. This made for a fair amount of engine noise, but kept the engine in its horsepower-making sweet spot (max horsepower is made at 3,600 rpm and engine redline is at 4,500 rpm). Most of the time, we chose to use the ERS manual control in conjunction with the Tow/Haul mode to select the highest gear we wanted the transmission to use. With this strategy, the transmission would downshift when necessary but not upshift past the gear we selected. After 30 miles of towing (with lots of “jack rabbit” starts), the Ram’s computer indicated an average of 13.6 mpg.
The reality is that most pickups spend the majority of their time on the paved road, unladen. For this reason we took a long road trip from our northern Illinois office into southwest Wisconsin and northeast Iowa. The goal was to ascertain the general day-to-day drivability and fuel mileage of the EcoDiesel/TorqueFlite 8 combination. We drove north in Wisconsin, following the Mississippi River to Prairie du Chien, where we crossed the river into Iowa and then headed south, crossing back over the river at Dubuque. The terrain in this area is hilly, we stopped at whatever looked interesting, and we never hesitated to explore back roads. At the end of the 309-mile loop we did the math and found that the truck returned an impressive 26.7 mpg. Also impressive was how the TorqueFlite transmission functioned in the hilly terrain. The unit did a great job of not hunting for gears as the truck climbed long grades. We’ve driven some vehicles with transmissions that would be “faked out” by a slight leveling in the road during a climb, upshift, and then have to immediately downshift, to hold speed. With the TorqueFlite 8, gear hunting was almost non-existent in the hilly terrain. The engine is so quiet and the transmission so smooth that sometimes the only way we knew the transmission was upshifting or downshifting was to watch the rpm gauge. Inside the cab at speed, it was amazingly quiet and there was no additional noise to indicate the truck was diesel-powered thanks to the engine’s design and the use of insulating material underhood. Only at idle was it obvious that our Ram was a diesel-powered truck and even then it was muted.
In the end, the EcoDiesel-powered Ram exceeded our performance expectations. It’s surprisingly powerful, but it’s also polished. It’s not 6.7L Cummins powerful, but it’s perfect as a daily driver that occasionally hauls and tows. From an investment standpoint, the EcoDiesel engine only added $2,850 to the price of our tester, and based on past history of diesel-powered trucks, it’ll probably retain that outlay when it comes time to trade it in or sell it. The very good fuel mileage is just icing on the cake.
Vehicle/model: ’14 Ram 1500 Laramie Crew Cab 4x4 w/5-foot, 6-inch box
Base price: $44,925
As tested: $55,205
Engine: 3.0L EcoDiesel V-6 turbodiesel
Rated hp/torque (lb-ft): 240/420
Transmission: ZF 8HP70 8-spd automatic
Transfer case: BW 44-45 2-spd
4WD system: Part-time w/2WD, Auto, 4-Hi, 4-Lo
Low-range ratio (:1): 2.64
Frame type: Steel ladder
Suspension, f/r: Independent, air springs, stabilizer bar/five-link with track bar, air springs
Axles, f/r: 8.5-in/9.25-in
Axle ratio (:1): 3.55
Max crawl ratio (:1): 44.1
Steering: Electric power-assisted rack-and-pinion
Brakes, f/r: 13.2x1.1-in/13.8x0.87-in
Wheels (in): 20x9 aluminum chrome-clad
Tires: P275/60R20 Goodyear Wrangler SR-A
Wheelbase (in): 140.5
Length (in): 229.0
Height (in): 77.6 (Normal), 78.5 (Off Road 1) 79.6 (Off Road 2)
Width (in): 79.4
Base curb weight (lb): 5,922
Approach/departure angles (deg.):19.8/25.5 (Normal), 22.4/26.4 (Off Road 1), 23.9/27.8 (Off Road 2)
Minimum ground clearance (in): 9.3
Payload (lb): 1,020
Cargo volume (cu ft): 50.3
Max towing capacity (lb): 6,700
Fuel capacity (gal): 26.0
Fuel economy (mpg): N/A