Fuel economy is typically a sore subject when it comes to pickup trucks. These beasts of burden have typically been sold based on their towing or payload capacities, with fuel economy hardly entering the discussion. Now that fuel is back in the $4 per gallon range, you can bet truck ads will be prominently displaying fuel economy figures. And Chrysler promises to have the best fuel economy in this segment with the 2013 Ram 1500.
The starring roles in the Ram's fuel economy story go to the ubiquitous 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 engine and eight-speed automatic transmission. You probably remember these pieces from the rest of the Chrysler collection. The announcement of an eight-speed automatic and Pentastar V-6 engine isn't exactly groundbreaking -- Bob Hegbloom, director of the Ram brand, called that combo "the worst-kept secret we've had in this company." In this application, the Pentastar makes 305 hp and 269 lb-ft of torque on regular 87 octane gas. Ram isn't giving exact fuel economy figures yet, but the claim of best in class fuel economy means the Pentastar needs to best the 2wd 3.7-liter V-6 F-150's 17/23 mpg ratings. We expect Ford to scramble to at least match whatever ratings Ram is able to advertise.
Those who don't haul the maximum trailer weight up steep grades in the heat of summer don't need all the cooling capacity that the new, taller grille offers. Ram now uses active shutters in the grille to maximize aerodynamic efficiency the 99% of the time these trucks don't need maximum cooling capacity. There's also "pulse-width-modulation" that reduces the parasitic loss from running a cooling fan and fuel pump at full-tilt when the truck isn't being worked very hard. Other upgrades in the name of fuel economy include electric power steering, a lighter frame and hood, and low rolling-resistance tires.
The Ram 1500 allegedly isn't giving up any towing capacity in the quest for fuel economy. We say allegedly because Ram isn't releasing any towing capacities just yet. Perhaps the reason for that is because calibrations can change between now and the start of production and there's nothing more embarrassing than having to lower a tow or payload capacity rating. There's still a 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 for Ram buyers who favor power over fuel economy and it's now backed by or a familiar six-speed automatic or the new eight-speed automatic transmission. The Hemi trucks get a beefier version of the eight-speed automatic that will handle the 395 hp and 407 lb-ft of torque the engine produces. Both versions of the eight-speed utilize auto start-stop technology, which can be turned off for buyers who dislike the feeling of the system. A 4.7-liter V8 (310 hp and 330 lb-ft of torque) remains an option for those who need more power than the V-6, but don't need a Hemi for their hauling.
Perhaps more impressive than the new eight-speed transmissions is the fact that Ram will offer air suspension on the 1500. Ram will be the first brand to offer active air suspension at all four corners of a pickup, which will allow the Ram to automatically lower 1.1 inches at speeds above 55 mph for better fuel economy and also lift itself up 2 inches when the truck is taken off-road. Ram engineers recognize the fact that half-ton trucks have gotten really tall in recent years and a Park Mode allows Rams equipped with air suspension to drop a full 2 inches to make them easier to load. Another benefit to the air suspension is load-leveling capability, which should keep the Ram riding level with heavy trailers in tow. We also look forward to air suspension taking the Ram's ride and handling even farther than the move to coil spring rear suspension did a few years ago.
Speaking of taking the Ram's previous improvements to a new level, the 2013 Ram 1500 will offer the popular crew cab configuration with a 6'4" bed for the first time. The Ram 1500 was previously only offered with a shorter cargo box when equipped with a crew cab so it would fit in a standard garage. Owner feedback told Ram officials that the 6'4" bed and crew cab combination would be popular, and here it is. Owner feedback also led to the availability of the innovative Ram Box in the 6'4" length last year and this year Ram is improving the Ram Box and tailgate by automatically locking them when owners use the remote door lock button to lock their truck. Conversely, on trucks equipped with air suspension, the vehicle can be lowered to Park Mode via the key fob so it's ready to load by the time you walk to it.
Although the exterior is mostly unchanged for 2013, truck enthusiasts will notice the grille is now one inch taller. A new front bumper houses vertical fog lights that provide more light than their horizontal predecessors and offers bigger openings around the front tow hooks. The quad headlights remain, but promise a 30% improvement in visibility -- a good thing given one of our biggest complaints with our old Four Seasons Ram 1500 was the relatively weak headlights. LEDs comprise the park/turn/position lamps as well as the side marker lights and taillights. Ram is also offering running boards that run from the front wheels all the way back to the rear wheels, which makes loading the truck easier as well as improving aerodynamics.
There are much bigger changes inside the Ram's cabin. We're told to expect nicer interior materials, which is saying a lot for a truck that was already leading the class in luxury, and improved fit-and-finish. Trucks equipped with either eight-speed transmission will feature a rotary shifter design that integrates nicely with the controls for the 4x4 system just to the right of the steering wheel. A massive 8.4-inch touchscreen infotainment system that's similar to what we've seen in recently refreshed Chrysler products. All the climate control and audio functions can be controlled through the touchscreen or via redundant analog controls. The system balances the needs of basic users and the desires of more tech savvy buyers very well.
Trucks equipped with the revised Uconnect system now have a built-in cellular connection, which allows for in-vehicle WiFi and can connect the occupants with 911 in the event of a crash. This change also paves the way for owners to receive vehicle health reports and control things like door locks or remote start through a smartphone. Ram will also offer apps for the system that could allow owners who didn't purchase navigation at the time they bought a truck to download an app for navigation after the fact. Apps can also be upgraded over the air, just like the apps on your smartphone.
Although the 2013 Ram 1500 may not look very new at first glance, this truck has received more mid-cycle improvements than some vehicles receive for a complete redesign. Ram may not have the largest share of the pickup market, but it's clear the brand isn't content to stay put. The 2009 Ram 1500 was an incredibly refreshing take on the full-size pickup truck and the 2013 Ram 1500 looks to take the focus on comfort and usability to a whole new level. We look forward to driving one later this year.