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.
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).
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.
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.