Pickup trucks these days have been designed to have broad appeal than their historical utilitarian roots. Not only are they still big and bold, but they’re more capable than ever.
With softer rides, more safety, convenience and comfort features, it’s easy to see why pickup trucks are now often used as family vehicles.
There is perhaps no better example of this than the 2020 Ram 1500 Limited EcoDiesel pickup truck that is in this week’s review. A myriad of options and combinations have transformed the industrial-use vehicle (which you can still buy today) to a comfortable, luxurious vehicle with impressive capabilities.
What’s in a name?
Dating back around 40 years, the first-generation Ram trucks and vans were introduced in October 1980 on Dodge vehicles. Dodge used “150” to indicate a half-ton truck, 250 for a three-quarter-ton truck, and 350 for a one-ton truck. An extra zero was added to these delineations starting in the second-generation Ram, which incidentally was a sales success thanks in part to being prominently featured as the hero vehicle in the film “Twister”.
Now in its fifth generation and simply known as “Ram Trucks”, the Ram 1500 drops pounds, raises the bar for clever interior packaging, improves fuel economy (even without the diesel engine option), and provides surprising levels of luxury, comfort, and refinement.
Let’s take a closer look.
Passenger car fuel economy…almost
Ram was one of the first manufacturers to offer their light-duty pickup with a diesel engine way back in 2014. You’d think that big, capable pickup truck sporting powertrains that deliver impressive fuel economy and mountains of torque would be a great idea. However, it is only recently that diesels have started to make their way under the hoods of the competitors from GM and Ford.
The RAM’s 3.0-litre V6 turbodiesel engine complete with 260 horsepower and 480 lb-ft of torque may sound familiar because it is, sort of. Assembled at Fiat Chrysler’s Centro facility in Ferrara, Italy, this engine is also available in other FCA products, such as the Jeep Grand Cherokee, and the latest Jeep Wrangler / Gladiator pickup truck.
Ram offers the EcoDiesel engine on every Ram 1500 trim, but you’d be remised in thinking that this is the same engine as the mill offered back in 2014. This is actually the third generation EcoDiesel, featuring more performance and better emissions than before.
Ram has tweaked almost everything including the water-cooled turbocharger, fuel injectors, intake ports, and combustion chambers. While output is up eight per cent to 260 horses at 3,600 rpms, torque is up 14 per cent at 480 lb-ft. This number is best in class, peaking 400 rpms sooner than before.
How does it feel behind the wheel? The Ram is surprisingly agile for a truck this size. It takes corners with restrained body lean and its steering action is quick. There is an overall high sense of confidence and precision unthinkable for a truck from just a decade ago.
After the hint of turbo lag, max torque is reached at a low 1,600 rpms and power delivery is smooth and linear. Compared to the lighter Jeep Grand Cherokee or Wrangler, the EcoDiesel in the Ram 1500 does feel a bit more laboured, however, it still offers good passing power and consistent performance, particularly when the vehicle is not fully loaded.
The Ram’s powertrain and NVH teams have done a great job as the vehicle is whisper quiet most of the time. Even under heavy acceleration, the EcoDiesel’s engine note is relatively muted from the inside with just a hint of the classic diesel clatter that diesel owners are used to. Ram’s engineers apparently wanted there to be a hint of this sound, without it being obnoxious. In that, they seem to have succeeded.
This quiet demeanour is partly why the EcoDiesel engine is a great match, even for my Limited-trim test truck which was packed to the gills with almost as many tech toys and luxury accoutrements as a luxury car.
Towing capacity with the EcoDiesel is the same as the Hemi V8 equipped Rams, a max of 12,560 pounds. The diesel’s low torque peak paired with the quick-shifting eight-speed automatic transmission make light work of keeping up with traffic.
Aided by my Limited-trim truck’s standard air springs lowering the truck by 0.6 inches above 80 km/hr for better aerodynamics, my observed fuel economy was an astonishing 10.6 Litres/100 kms on the highway, and 12.4 Litres/100 kms in the city.
Luxury car levels of refinement in a truck
With so many choices in pickup trucks on the market today, it’s easy and tempting to buy more machine than you’ll use.
As with most full-sized pickup trucks, the Ram’s interior still has bits and pieces of hard plastic, however good use of different materials makes it look better dressed and more upscale than its competitors.
Equipped with the four door crew cab configuration, automatic four-wheel-drive, the smooth-riding height-adjustable air suspension system, full-leather interior, heated and ventilated seats, my Limited-trimmed test truck seemed to be best suited for those who want a full-size truck to haul the family in comfort, potentially while towing a boat or hauling mulch or manure home from the garden centre.
No other full-size pickup truck rides as comfortably as the Ram partly because of the unique coil spring rear suspension, and also partly due to the air suspension that elevates ride comfort to luxury sedan levels.
The handsome 21” wheels looked absolutely stunning but clearly have their compromises on bad roads or if you want to leave the tarmac. The tires’ low sidewalls and the large wheels also mean that curb rash is easy if one is not careful when parking. After all, this is still a wide and long vehicle and has its inconveniences when parking in tight city parking spots.
Ram has made this easier with its available front and rear surround view camera system equipped with decent quality cameras all around the vehicle. The Tesla-like 12-inch infotainment screen makes it easy to see the live video feeds during parking maneuvers.
What other standout features are on this truck?
On the tech front, in addition to the giant infotainment screen, my Ram EcoDiesel was also equipped with adaptive cruise control, forward-collision warning, blindspot and cross-traffic detection, automatic LED high beams and foglamps, lane-keeping assist, AC household power sockets, and even a panoramic moonroof. It is loaded, and I absolutely love it!
Out back, there is the available RamBox cargo management system, and the unique Multi-function barn-door tailgate with the cargo divider system.
The RamBox system have been around for a few years now, but in its latest iteration, these segment-exclusive cargo management boxes are cleverer than ever. Weatherproof, lockable, drainable, and lighted, these two boxes run almost the length of the pickup bed and are as wide as the wheel well, creating a total of about 8.6 cu.ft of space. I also love how they lock in tandem with the truck’s central locking system.
These side bins are large enough to hold items such as golf clubs, helmets, beverage cans and ice, or even fishing rods.
Ticking the RamBox option also includes a cargo rail system with sliding adjustable cleats for infinitely adjustable tie-down versatility, as well as a adjustable bed divider/extender that fits on the lower tailgate and adds an additional 2 feet of additional length to secure loads.
I found this bed divider to be extremely handy when paired with the Multi-Function Tailgate, whose party trick is that it can open up both 60/40 barn-door style or like a traditional tailgate.
When used in the latter position, the bed divider allows allowed me to create a pocket of usable and easily accessible space for cargo items without having to lean over the tailgate to reach for said items.
Overall, it seems like a much simpler, perhaps more elegant solution than GMC’s MultiPro tailgate, and can swing out up to 88 degrees for easier access to the bed.
While there is no fancy retractable built-in step and hand rail, like with the Ford F-150, Ram does allow you opt for a smaller retractable centre step. This is a boon for accessing the bed while a trailer hitch with a vertical tongue is attached.
Drop the Ram’s Multi-Function tailgate like a regular tailgate and you’ll find that it can still support 2,000 pound.
After testing the system for a few days, I’m convinced that it’s worth the option’s price as well as the 75 pound weight difference between the standard gate. In case you’re wondering, there is built-in damping when you drop the gate vertically, and the side-hinged doors have detents to prevent them from swinging out too far.
The fifth-generation Ram 1500 EcoDiesel feels more capable than the comparable Ford F-150 diesel and could be more fuel efficient as well.
While it might not be able to touch the GMC Sierra or the Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Duramax for efficiency, thanks to GM’s fantastic inline-six cylinder turbodiesel and 10-speed automatic, it is easily as smooth as that competitor.
While even the base Ram model come with a far better interior than what GM can muster, the Ram Limited goes an extra step with its luxury accoutrements and refinement.
If you want a pickup with excellent towing abilities and a fuel economy advantage over a comparable gasoline-powered truck, Ram’s latest option is an impressive one whether you’re a pickup truck enthusiast or just looking for a capable new family vehicle.
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