What It Is
The 2014 Ram 1500 EcoDiesel is the first light-duty diesel-powered full-size pickup truck of the modern era.
An already fantastic truck now has great fuel economy to boot.
It's a little slow, and where's the telescoping steering wheel?
Even this not-really-a-truck-guy wants this truck.
When did trucks stop being so trucky? I remember as a kid thinking that trucks were tools of yeomen, designed not for your comfort and peace of mind but for getting stuff done, and getting it done well. No matter if the thing would jostle you over every divot in the road; a truck was the only thing more reliable than death or taxes. It was a companion like your dog, always there by your side.
I thought about this for a while when I was driving the 2014 Ram 1500 EcoDiesel, coasting serenely down the Pacific Coast Highway, hardly hearing a noise or feeling any number of the road's beauty marks. Of course, I knew the Ram 1500 was good; it's my favorite truck in the segment for many of those reasons. It's just the model I was driving came equipped with a new 3.0-liter diesel V-6, producing 240 horsepower and 420 pound-feet of torque. As a $2,850 standalone option above the 5.7-liter Hemi V-8, it's not cheap. But as more fuel-efficient options emerge and it's no longer acceptable for pickup trucks to achieve fuel economy in the teens, it's a necessary step for Ram to take to stay ahead of the pack.
Our mission was to find out if this already great truck could be made even better with this small, supposedly efficient V-6 and whether truck buyers--those people who are more than just urban cowboys--would appreciate having this engine option available instead of a big, honkin' V-8.
WalkaroundShiny. So shiny. The 2014 Ram 1500 is bedecked in shiny stuff, radiating in the California sun. While essentially identical to other Ram 1500 models, the EcoDiesel carries a smaller, more understated badge on each front fender. Otherwise, you'd be hard pressed to spot any other differences.
That said, the Ram 1500 is a good-looking truck, carrying an updated take on the big-rig styling that helped propel it out of obscurity in 1994. Newly available for 2014 are front parking sensors, and the Ram has had LED headlight accents and full LED taillights since the year prior. It helps make the Ram 1500 look like a bold, handsome truck and something that we can get behind saying stands out among many of its peers.
If all that weren't enough, our tester had the available locking Rambox system that places two water-tight storage containers within the bed's side walls. It provides all the versatility of a trunk while still allowing truck drivers to haul big payloads in their beds. If you think it's still gimmicky after several years of it being on sale, try using it. Once you do, you'll wonder why no other truckmaker has been able to replicate its formula. Consider us fans.
Sitting DownThis isn't a truck interior; this is a luxury car interior that just happens to sit a few feet higher than most. Our Ram tester was a completely loaded Laramie 4x4, which is about as high up on the food chain that one can get a 1500 with the EcoDiesel engine. Ringing in at $55,375, the Ram EcoDiesel seems at first like a hard pill to swallow until you realize that a fully loaded Chrysler 300C Luxury Edition with the Hemi V-8 comes in at around $49,000 with most of the same features and cannot tow 9,200 pounds. And the cheapest way to get into an EcoDiesel model is a rear-wheel-drive 1500 SLT for $38,135, including $1,095 for destination and handling. Some states like California offer discounts on diesels, too.
Still rugged-looking and a tad comical inside with 11 different "Ram" or "Laramie" logos or badges that we could find throughout the interior, we found it a comfortable, if not cathartic, place to be. Everything's within fingers' reach, and Chrysler's 8.4-inch Uconnect monitor makes its presence known yet again in the center of the dashboard where it houses diagnostic, radio, navigation, and other informational tools.
The layout is smart, with a push-button starter and built-in trailer brake controller right where you want them to be. If there were a complaint to be had, it wouldn't be with the Ram's utility, ergonomics, or even over-indulgence in branding. No, it would be with the steering column that tilts but doesn't telescope. Ram reps say that adjustable pedals make up for the oversight--which they do. But we'd prefer an interior this car-like to feature a car-like column, too, and also note that the 2014 Chevy Silverado has telescoping steering, in addition to the tilt and adjustable pedals.
DrivingStarting up the engine, you notice the normal diesel clatter. You drive at slow speeds with the windows up, and it sounds like there might be a Cummins Ram somewhere in nearby, but it's hardly noticeable. This is by design.
As you get up to speed on a highway, there's hardly any noise to be heard from the outside world, whether by way of the Ram's engine, wind, road noise, or anything else. It's eerie, especially because of just how large and brash the Ram is; you expect it to have the aural experience to go along with the, "I'm driving a big ol' pick'em-up truck" experience. But you don't even get that.
Thanks to the Ram's rear coil springs and air suspension--the former standard and the latter highly recommended--the Ram hardly experiences any of the shudder over ruts that you'd expect from a full-sizer. It's like a luxury car on stilts, a veritable yacht over the sea of roads that tie Southern California together. The Ram EcoDiesel's eight-speed automatic shifts without hesitation or much shift shock, once again showing off just how refined it is. It should be, though; it's the same transmission BMW, Jaguar, and Range Rover use, among others.
We didn't find acceleration in our Laramie tester too brisk--right around 9 seconds to 60 mph is what we achieved--but the torquey V-6 still provided plenty of punch and never felt winded. Over the course of the few hours we drove with the Ram, up and down mountain and canyon roads around Malibu, we recorded 24 mpg. One group hit 27 mpg. As the eight-speed Pentastar 3.6-liter V-6 can nips 17 mpg city/25 mpg highway with rear-wheel drive, we expect the Ram EcoDiesel go even further. That said, all models that Ram had on-hand were highly optioned (that is, heavy) with 20-inch wheels (very heavy) and most had four-wheel drive (monumentally heavy). Given all this, it's possible that the Ram could nip the two-wheel-drive Jeep Grand Cherokee's 22 mpg city/30 mpg highway when it receives its official rating.
SummaryThe question is whether Ram shoppers are willing to spend between $2,850 and $4,500 extra for the subdued diesel hymns over a stonking 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 equivalent. There's no question that the V-8 is much quicker and packs some attitude that the EcoDiesel just can't touch due to the nature of what it is: A compact diesel V-6.
However the V-8, even while rated at 15 mpg city/22 mpg highway in its thriftiest form, couldn't begin to match the EcoDiesel's efficiency. The gasoline V-6 comes close, but its relative lack of torque puts it at quite a disadvantage for towing, hauling, and other truck-like excursions.
Given that fact, the fact that diesel trucks often retain their resale value as if they were collectible, and the fact that the engine will eventually pay for itself in fuel cost savings, and we think Chrysler could have a winner with the Ram 1500 EcoDiesel. While hardcore, camo-wearing truck types will naturally gravitate to the loud rumble of a gas V-8 or step up to a Heavy Duty to hear the Cummins inline-6 roar, we think the EcoDiesel's core audience may be someone who has a boat and needs to tow but doesn’t want to sacrifice the comfort or convenience of a car--or someone who's given up on the deficiencies of Ford's EcoBoost V-6. Given just how pleasant we find the Ram and how refined its latest diesel powerplant is, we think there just might be a niche in there waiting for Ram's taking.