First Drive: 2014 Ram 1500 EcoDiesel

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The Big Three have been offering turbo diesel engines in their heavy-duty pickups for ages, but the Ram 1500 is the first half-ton light-duty pickup to offer diesel power. Fuel economy is the EcoDiesel’s primary mission, but the engine pays benefits in towing and hauling ability as well.

What’s New?
Ram – the pickup truck formerly known as Dodge – introduced the updated 1500 for 2013, and the big news for 2014 is the new diesel powerplant. Ram is well known for the Cummins diesel in their heavy-duty pickups, a scaled-down big-rig engine that can practically pull the Moon out of orbit. However, the EcoDiesel is not a Cummins engine; it’s a small-ish V6 from Italian enginemaker VM (which, like Ram’s parent company Chrysler, is partially owned by Fiat).

Ram 1500 EcoDiesel interior
2014 Ram 1500 EcoDiesel Interior

Towing and Hauling
While towing may not be the EcoDiesel’s focus, that doesn’t mean it isn’t good at it. The 3-liter V6 engine puts out 430 lb.-ft. of torque, more than the HEMI V8, and while it’s nowhere near as quick when running light, it doesn’t bog down under a heavy load the way smaller gasoline engines do. Towing capacity ranges from 6,600 to 9,200 lbs depending on equipment and configuration; we towed a 3,800 lb. boat trailer and were impressed by the engine’s power and fuel economy and the tow rig’s stability. The Ram 1500 EcoDiesel should have no problem handling a travel trailer on the bumper and a couple of bikes in the bed, but we’d be wary of towing at the high end of the truck’s capacity; we’ve towed 9,000 lbs with a gas-powered Ram 1500, and the brakes didn’t feel up to the task.

One notable feature is the optional RamBox storage lockers, which provide lockable storage space in the walls of the bed. They’re perfect for small odds and ends like gloves and muddy boots.

Ram 1500 EcoDiesel
2014 Ram 1500 EcoDiesel

Engine and Drivetrain
Under the Ram 1500′s burly hood sits the VM A630 turbo diesel, a 3-liter V6 rated at 240 horsepower and 420 lb.-ft. of torque, with the sole transmission choice being Chrysler’s new 8-speed automatic. Unlike the Cummins engine in the heavy-duty pickups, this engine was not designed for raw pulling power, but rather for refinement and fuel economy. Official EPA fuel economy figures had not been released at the time of writing, but Ram says they will exceed the gasoline V6′s best-in-class rating of 18 mpg city and 25 mpg highway. We saw 24 mpg in mixed driving, so we wouldn’t be surprised if the EcoDiesel’s highway figure is close to 30 mpg. The engine is compatible with biodiesel blends up to B20 (20% biodiesel / 80% petroleum diesel).

Like other diesels, the VM uses a selective-catalyst reduction emissions system, which means it requires diesel exhaust fluid (DEF) for its emissions system. EPA regulations say the engine must be disabled if the DEF tank runs dry, so Ram puts a DEF level gauge right on the dashboard. Not that drivers need worry; the tank is sized for 10,000 miles of driving, equivalent to the 1500 EcoDiesel’s oil-change interval.

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  • Justin McClintock

    I do wonder how well this engine is going to do in the market. It’s a great option for a half ton truck, but the price premium is a little hard to swallow.

    Also, it’s going to have competition shortly. Ford’s new Transit van has a 3.5 L turbo diesel. Ford wouldn’t have gotten EPA approval for that engine just for use in the Transit. Wouldn’t have made financial sense. It will wind up in the F150 sooner rather than later.

    • Stuki

      You’d think this would corner whatever small market there is for US sized full sizers in Europe, if nothing else

  • Stuki

    The gas V6 version of this, is a fantastic light duty pickup. That 8speed is basically the same unit that’s used in most European luxury cars. Shifts are smooth as they can be, and quick. And with a peak of over 300hp, the V6 gives up very little to V8s when running light, while benefiting from a much improved weight distribution; as the entire engine sits behind the front axle.

    Compared particularly to GM and Toyota, Ram has several inches lower bed walls, making it much easier for an average sized 6 footer to reach into the bed from the sides. The higher bed walls are probably useful fro hauling firewood or other bulk goods, but for bike hauling, added ease of getting to the tiedown hooks from the side is a big boon. And the lower bedwalls help with rear visibility as well. Lookswise, they do make the rear look a bit spindly and lopsided next to a Tudra, particularly so given Ram’s massively tall, bigrig style, hood and grille.

  • Kamenashi

    I’unno, light-duty Diesels tend to suck more in terms of day-to-day driving over its HD 6.7L cousins… And I used to drive an ’07 2500. Long bed to throw my old maxi scooters upon (plus camping supplies which filled up all the space) and still having enough power to tow my 21″ trailer.

    • Justin McClintock

      How is loading a scooter in the bed and pulling a 21′ triailer (I assume you mean 21′ and not 21″ because I can’t imagine a trailer that short) day-to-day driving? I’d think the light duty ones would be far BETTER in day-to-day driving, but maybe worse for heavy weekend hauling. That said, how would anybody know? Outside of maybe Motor Trend or Car and Driver, I doubt many have had the chance to do an extended test on both the light duty and HD diesels for comparison.

  • Riedl

    “but the Ram 1500 is the first half-ton light-duty pickup to offer diesel power.”

    No love for the 6.2 Detroit by GM?

    • Marc

      Not available in the light duty 1500s

      • Riedl

        They were optional in all light duty C/K pickups and Blazers.

        • Riedl

          “The 6.2L became available following the retirement of the infamous 5.7L
          Olds diesel. It was available in 1/2 ton as well as 3/4 and 1 ton model
          pickups, which is unique to GMC/Chevrolet pickups because Ford and Dodge
          never offered diesels in their 1/2 ton pickups when they got into the
          diesel marketplace. At an option less than $1,500 and capable of
          surpassing some of GM’s V-6 gas engines in fuel economy, the 6.2 diesel
          was an attractive offer. The engine’s were Federally rated at up to 20
          mpg city and 23 mpg highway. GM secured a government contract and
          provided 6.2L diesel engines and trucks to the United States Army in
          mass quantities, most of which can be had for a steal at government
          auctions. Despite some of the problems that plagued the 6.2L diesel in
          the long run, the engine ultimately achieved what GM/Detroit had set
          forth to do.”

  • William Connor

    Nissan is releasing a diesel light truck soon as well. I think this type of truck is way past due. I also think that the massive premium for the diesel engine is way past due being gone. People will buy more if the price is the same as the Hemi.

    • Ben Barbeau

      From what I’ve read, Nissan Cummins V8 diesel was destined for Ram but they didn’t believe it would meet the MPG goal they were wanting. Thus, they passed and Cummins had to go shop it around.
      When it comes down to it, I think it’ll be worth the wait to go with the Nissan.

      • Piglet2010

        I would rather have a compact pick-up with a 2L turbo-diesel – why won’t Nissan and Toyota import the ones the sell in most of the rest of the world?

      • ThruTheDunes

        I agree, Ram opted to pass on the Cummins 5 liter diesel because it would not offer much of a fuel economy gain. Also, Chrysler had experience bringing a European diesel to the states. That helped keep costs down and allowed them to keep product support consistency(e.g., their corporate OBD scan tool does work on the Cummins diesel in their medium duty trucks.)

  • ThruTheDunes

    Just want to reinforce something you touched on: diesels suffer less of a mileage penalty under load (hauling/ towing) than a comparable gas version. People who use a truck for this but don’t need a truck big enough to tow the moon, they are Ram’s target market. I suspect they are planning on 10-20% of their light duty sales going for this option.

    I used to have a little Datsun diesel king cab. 50% higher mileage rating than the gas version (33 vs 22). Way less power, but still hauled two of us, our camp gear and two ATCs over the pass and down to Glamis. Wasn’t fast, and I took some ribbing for being a turtle, but my fuel cost was way less than my buddies with the big trucks, WAY less. Its all comes down to what works for you…

  • Rob M

    So you’re saying you need a 6 liter diesel for day to day driving?

    • Kamenashi

      I’m saying a 6 liter would be more bearable to the discerning/casual pick up owner.

  • Dave

    6 years ago I wrote to Dodge suggesting they put the Mercedes 3.0 liter Sprinter power plant into the Dakota/Durango. It is a proven power plant and businesses I know are getting 22+ mpg out of them in the 1 ton chassis loaded down. In the Dakota/Durango they would have likely achieved a little better mileage while still functioning as a people hauler with some towing capacity (I would personally assume a smaller towing capacity would be needed; let’s face it, if you are going to be pulling 6k plus loads you should really have a full size truck with the suspension and braking to back it up.
    I currently drive the Mercedes GLK 250 Bluetec diesel that is a 2.1L 4 cyl. with twin turbos (a smaller one to eliminate turbo lag & a larger one for top end) and a 7speed automatic. It has way more power than I need, is full time all wheel drive, and gets an average of 26-28 mpg with my less than conservative driving style.

  • Roy Mears

    i don’t know how much truck buyers and car buyers are into saving the world but for me it is important. I am a big Ram fan and if I was in the market for a pick up that would be my only choice.I would never buy any vehicle Japan sourced for a couple of reasons. The first is they still practice whaling when most of the civilized world has rejected it. Second they are still pursuing building more nuclear power plants. Japan is way to close to a major fault line and is another nuclear accident waiting to happen. No doubt they make good products but this is my own personal boycott of all thing Japanese. I check labels on most of the hard goods I buy to make sure I don’t support them.