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2013 Ram 1500 - Long-Term Report: Part 2 of 4

Posted in Vehicle Reviews on March 28, 2014
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A major portion of the testing we do for Four Wheeler’s Pickup Truck of the Year is done off-road. For a truck to win our competition it needs to have good power, a non-intrusive traction and stability control system, good ground clearance, dirt-worthy tires and wheels, and a versatile suspension system among other things. Our 2013 Ram 1500 Outdoorsman did not disappoint during our testing and has proved to be just as off-road worthy during our year long evaluation. This quarter, we throttled the truck deep in the sand dunes, maneuvered it through technical rocky trails, and ventured off the beaten path with great results.

Just as it does on the street, the eight-speed transmission really makes the 5.7L Hemi shine off-road. We can’t even imagine driving a truck with a four-, five-, or even a six-speed transmission anymore. Yeah, it’s that significant of a difference. The eight-speed is better able to utilize the powerband of the Hemi engine, and nowhere else is this more noticeable than in the sand dunes. Typically, most fullsize trucks (and most 4x4s in general) perform best in the sand with the transfer case shifted into low range. This allows the vehicle to pick up wheelspeed more quickly and maintain engine rpms without getting bogged down by the heavy sand and aired-down tires. The tight-ratio, quick-shifting eight-speed transmission in the 2013 Ram 1500 makes dune driving even more predictable and enjoyable than simply shifting into low range alone. There is never a big gap between gears when climbing the dunes, throttling out of a soft patch of sand, or pulling a buddy’s truck from a sandy grave.

The self-leveling air suspension of the Ram 1500 not only provides a great ride and adjustable ground clearance, it flexes impressively too. Also, the 265/70R17 Goodyear Silent Armor Pro Grade tires have been able to find traction on whatever we throw at them without being punctured.

The Hemi-powered 2013 Ram 1500 easily and comfortably devourers miles of graded dirt roads at speed. The air suspension provides a smooth ride until the bumps and holes get big. Don’t get us wrong, the truck doesn’t bottom out harshly at all, but the shocks seem to struggle to keep up with the air suspensions movement in extreme cases. Since the truck rides so well almost everywhere else, we don’t think we would sacrifice the overall supple ride for the improved bump absorption at speeds that a firmer set of shocks would provide. Best suspension performance at speeds over 50 mph is had with the air suspension set to standard ride height (Aero mode disabled if in two-wheel-drive). At speeds less than 50 mph the Off-Road 1 setting provides 1.2 inches of additional ground clearance over normal ride height, and for anything less than 25 mph that requires maximum ground clearance, there is Off-Road 2 mode.

On rocky and technical trails, we appreciated the well-tuned traction control and tight limited slip that came on our Outdoorsman-trimmed 2013 Ram 1500. The truck is traction- and suspension-capable enough to get into some pretty hairy situations. The 2 inches of additional ground clearance afforded by the adjustable air suspension in Off-Road 2 mode may not seem like much on paper, but in practice it makes an incredible difference and allows the rockers, underbody skidplates, and front bumper to clear obstacles they normally would not at standard ride height.

We typically are not fans of electric-assist power steering, even though it frees up some horsepower and simplifies the engine and chassis overall. In the past, we have found that some electric-assist systems are over-assisted, which can hurt the steering feel when driving aggressively on- and off-road. However, we have yet to find any fault with the Ram’s electric power-assist steering, despite the fact that our 2013 truck was the first model year to receive it. The truck turns sharply, crisply, and quickly no matter if you are carving a dune, climbing rocky trails, pitching the truck sideways down a dirt road, or pulling into a parking space. The guys at Ram nailed the steering.

During our Pickup Truck of the Year testing, we originally had the six-speed version of the 2013 Ram 1500 Outdoorsman. We decided to hit the track with the eight-speed truck for an impromptu quarter-mile comparison. Not surprisingly, the eight-speed Ram is quicker than its six-speed counterpart and it turned in a 16.2-second quarter-mile at 88.4 mph and a 0-60 time of 7.9 seconds. This is significantly quicker than our six-speed tester that logged a 17.0-second quarter-mile at 79.4 mph and a 9.1-second 0-60 time. Two more speeds and a lower First gear translate into a quicker truck.

One pleasantly surprising fact we encountered was that the Ram’s 5.7L Hemi does not require frequent oil changes. The oil change interval is 10,000 miles. Filter and oil technology as well as engine design and tolerances have certainly come a long way. Next quarter, we’ll hitch up a trailer and head for the hills.

Report: 2 OF 4
Previous reports: Jan. ’14
Base price: $37,300
Price as tested: $47,080
Four-wheel-drive system: Part-time, two-speed, in-dash push button

Long-Term Numbers
Miles to date: 8,740
Miles since last report: 4,183
Average mpg (this report): 13.73
Test best tank (mpg): 16.74 (70-75 mph on desert highways)
Test worst tank (mpg): 10.76 (driving off-road)

This period: Oil change $41.92
Problem areas: None

What’s Hot, What’s Not
Hot: Electronic traction control/rear limited-slip differential, adjustable ground clearance, great steering feel all around
Not: Air suspension not fully tuned for high-speed off-road, 3.92:1 axle gears hurt fuel economy on long unloaded highway trips.

Logbook Quotes
Ram nailed the electric steering assist.”
“I think 3.55 gears would help the truck get better fuel economy on the highway, but I love the 3.92 gears for towing.”
“The air suspension would not be my first choice for high-speed off-road jaunts, but it seems to keep the truck from bottoming harshly.”
“It flexes impressively for a ½-ton truck with air suspension.”

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