2020 Ram 1500 EcoDiesel Review

“I’ll be back.” Arnold said it, but Ram meant it.

The #2 best-selling truck brand pulled its “Eco” diesel V6 off the market last year because of emissions certification troubles.

They did it, and now the Ram diesel is not only back, it’s also stronger.

So strong, in fact, that a Ram so equipped pulls 12,560 pounds—de facto the same as the gas V8 equipped Ram can (12,750 pounds) while also doing something the V8 Ram can’t, which is travel 1,000 miles before it needs to be refueled.

That’s something not even a Prius hybrid can do. And the Prius can’t tow anything.

What it Is

The Ram 1500 is a half-ton truck that has become America’s second best-selling truck after the Ford F-150. A remarkable achievement because Chevy’s Silverado 1500 had been the second best-selling truck for decades.

Ram (and before that, Dodge) has been the perennial and distant number three.

Not anymore.

Ram snatched away second place last year and is now gunning for first. It might just pull it off on the strength of its diesel and its body, which is still mostly steel rather than light, but easy to bend (and not cheap to fix) aluminum, as the F-150’s now is.

No turbos, either. Or even direct-injected anything.

There are other reasons to favor the Ram, too, including a fold-down or fold-out tailgate, which no one else offers, an air suspension that drops the body closer to the road for better aerodynamics at speed and raises it up for greater clearance off-road. This Ram also has massively more internal storage capacity than other 1500s and unusual additional storage capacity in the sides of the bed.

There are some things you can’t get, though including a regular cab or an eight-foot bed.

Rivals still offer both.

But if dollars down is the ultimate expression of what most buyers want, then the absence of these options hasn’t dissuaded many.

Prices start at $32,145 for the Tradesman trim with the quad cab (two standard doors and two smaller rear doors) 2WD, standard trailer sway control, and a 3.6-liter V6/mild hybrid set-up Ram styles “eTorque.” The truck doesn’t move on electricity, but electricity does power most accessories when the truck isn’t actually moving and when the engine isn’t running.

This system is also available with the optional 5.7-liter V8. Or not, if you prefer just the V8.

It isn’t available with the 3.0 liter “Eco” diesel V6. Still, you can buy this engine and either version of the Hemi 5.7 V8 as a stand-alone option with any trim, including the base Tradesman trim, which is another reason, probably, why this truck sells so well. Some of its rivals only offer their available engines (including their available diesel engines) in certain trims—the ones that cost a lot more than the standard trim.

The 2020 Ram is sold in six primary trims: the base Tradesman, Lone Star, Laramie, Bighorn, Rebel, and Limited — all in quad or crew (four full-size door) configurations with either a 5.7- or 6.4-foot bed. With so many possible combinations of packages and options, it’s possible to order up a custom truck that’s actually right from the factory.

But be careful.

A loaded Limited crew cab 4WD with the optional diesel and air-adjustable suspension stickers for about $75,000. Some folks will point out that you can buy a home for that amount, which is true.

But this truck can move a home, and it’s nicer inside than many homes.

What’s New

In addition to the return of the King, the hunky diesel V6, two new appearance packages (Night and Black) are available.

An efficiency-minded HFE package is also available for the Tradesman. It includes low-rolling-resistance tires and a few “deletes” (including 4WD) that reduces weight for the sake of an extra mile-per-gallon vs. the standard Tradesman with the V6.

There are also appearance upgrades, including an available 20-inch wheel/tire package (also low rolling resistance) that are the real reason for selecting this trim.

What’s Good

–Tremendous pulling power and range.

–Tremendous cargo capacity inside and out.

–Tremendous versatility including a class-exclusive two-piece/two-way tailgate.

What’s Not So Good

–Fewer cab options.

–No eight-foot-bed option.

–Over-sensitive “assistance” systems.

Under the Hood

The Ram’s standard engine is the same 3.6-liter V6 that you’ll find under the hood of various FCA vehicles, including the Charger/300 sedans and some Jeeps, too. It produces 305 horsepower and 269 ft.-lbs. of torque and is paired with the mild-hybrid system mentioned above, which consists of a 9Kw/48V battery and 90 ft.-lb. starter-generator rig. This extra power takes the load off the engine, and thus, improves both fuel economy (the main reason for it), as well as focuses all of the engine’s power on moving the truck.

The other thing it does is make ASS less unpleasant.

ASS is the Automated Stop/Start system most buyers dislike, but which most new cars and trucks come with anyway because it’s a way for the car companies to comply with federal fuel economy mandates. The repetitive stop/starting is jarring because 12V starters and batteries were designed to start a stopped engine just every now and then, not at every red light.

The 48V system gives almost immediate and almost unnoticeable restarts. Still, it’s a lot of trouble to go to for the sake of 1-2 MPGs vs. the same vehicle without ASS, especially when gas is much cheaper than a new 48V battery (located behind the back seats).

The optional 5.7 liter Hemi V8 makes 395 horsepower and produces 410 ft.-lbs. of torque. It can be paired with the mild-hybrid eTorque system, too.

Or not.

If you skip it, you’ll save about $200 up front, the difference in cost of the Hemi with the eTorque system ($1,695), and the cost of just the Hemi ($1,495). You may also save on the cost of batteries, as the Hemi Ram without the eTorque system only has one, the usual 12V starter battery, and it costs a lot less to replace than a 48V battery.

Either way, the Ram, so equipped, can pull 12,750 lbs.

So can the optional 260 hp (and 480 ft.-lbs. of torque) 3.0-liter diesel V6 while using much less fuel and going much farther. It rates 22 MPG in city driving and 32 mpg on the highway. With its 33 gallon tank topped off, the Ram diesel can keep on trucking for more than 1,000 miles.

You will probably need to pee before the Ram needs to stop.

All three engines are paired with an eight-speed automatic with or without 4WD.

Neither of the Ram’s gas engines is direct-injected. And neither the 3.6 V6 nor the Hemi needs premium gas, either.

On the Road

You get into this thing as you would the cab of a locomotive—by climbing up. It doesn’t have rails and steps, but it does offer auto-deploying running boards to help you make the climb and an available air suspension with “kneel” function, which reduces the distance you have to climb.

The air suspension also improves high-speed handling once you’re rolling (“aero” mode).

There is almost no diesel burble audible from inside the truck, and no diesel smoke is visible from the outside the truck. If you want to roll coal, this isn’t the truck for you. Other than the DEF gauge in the main cluster and the tach that doesn’t register to 7,000 RPM, this is a diesel on the down-low.

But if you want a truck that can pull the equivalent of four Priuses, and go farther than two of them, fully fueled, you will really like this truck.

My test truck still had almost 300 miles of range left after a week of driving 60 miles up and down the mountain every day. Most of the vehicles I test drive are close to running empty after traveling 300 miles on a full tank.

Assuming they can get that far.

It’s true, of course, that diesel costs more than regular unleaded, but what is the value of your time?

A full tank in this truck means being able to traverse several states without stopping once unless you want to.

The diesel’s other virtue is its relaxed nature, which will relax you. It’s seldom necessary to push the accelerator pedal more than half-way down to feel as though the front wheels just left the ground.

That’s because all of the 480 ft.-lbs. of torque generated by this tiny engine (just 180 cubes) are generated down low, (at 1,600 RPM, a fast idle). Contrariwise, it’s necessary to rev the gas-fed Hemi to 4,000 RPM to achieve its only marginally higher torque peak.

One thing that’s not as relaxing is the Ram’s Ready Alert back-up “safety” system, which sometimes applies the brakes (hard) when you’re not expecting them to come on at all. It all depends on what the camera thinks it sees. Your eyes can see you’re not going to back up into something. But the camera disagrees and on come the brakes. This can happen (it happened to me) when backing down a steeply inclined driveway; apparently, the angle of the camera is such that it “sees” the pavement as something you’re about to back into and on comes the brakes.

You can push this through, though, by pushing down on the gas, but (like ASS) it’s a “feature” that causes more problems than it solves. The fulsome scurvy truth, which no one wants to say out loud, but I will, is that people who can’t back up a half-ton truck without “assistance” ought to be driving something else.

Or maybe not at all.

At the Curb

GM made a mistake by making the Silverado ugly. It has a mug only its mother could love after a few gin and tonics.

Ford made a mistake making the F-150 aluminum.

You can fix ugly; it’s hard to fix aluminum and not cheap, either.

The Ram isn’t ugly, and it’s mostly made of steel, which is tougher to hurt and easier to fix if you do.

All the trucks in this segment are big, but the Ram is the biggest on the inside. It has genuinely vast storage space (151.1 liters) in multiple underfloor cubbies, in the center console, in the doors, under the seats, and practically everywhere that extra space could be carved out.

The rear seats don’t just slide, either. They also recline.

The tailgate folds down and out or both at the same time.

No other half-ton truck has a two-piece tailgate, which gives you the extra sideways room to load/unload when you can’t drop the tailgate. You also have the option to close the tailgate partially, if that makes sense.

The Ram can also be ordered with a pair of very handy Ram Boxes, which are weathertight/lockable additional storage cubbies built into the bed walls, on both sides. These are also drainable if you get the drift.

If only there were more bed.

Last year, there was. If you bought the Ram Classic, which was the previous generation Ram 1500, you could get an eight-foot bed as well as a two-door regular cab. It was sold new alongside the new Ram, which only comes with four-door (quad/crew) cab styles and only with a 5.7 foot or 6.4 foot “long” bed.

Ah well, you can’t have everything.

And both beds are steel—so less worry about trying out the Ram’s 2,300 lb. payload capacity and possibly punching a hole in it.

The beds are high (36.4 inches off the ground for the 4×4), but you can lower that by almost three inches (32.9 inches) if you have the air-adjustable suspension. Still, it’s a big step up, even for a very tall man. This is true of all the current 1500s—even the 2WD versions. As a practical matter, a lower bed would be much easier to get into and out of as well as to load and unload.

The Rest

Another item the Ram offers that the others don’t is a touchscreen almost as big as the Ram itself—a 12-inch vertical tablet that makes touching (and swiping) more accurately done while the Ram is moving, which is no small thing. The icons for the various apps and other functions are bigger.

Using smaller touchscreens with tiny icons is like trying to use your phone while the vehicle is moving. It’s hard to touch/swipe them accurately while moving without looking closely at the screen, which means not looking closely at the road ahead. The Ram’s system is one of the best designs on the market, if only because it’s the right size for the purpose.

It’s also among the most intuitive system on the market, too.

Another thing to like about this truck is that there’s still a 12V power point in addition to an 115V three-prong household outlet. It’s not hidden in the warren of storage compartments or shunted off to the side someplace where you can’t see it or reach it.

Instead, it’s right there on top of the dash—the perfect place to plug in your radar detector, which you’ll want to do when you’re rolling in this rig.

The Bottom Line

If you buy the second-best-selling truck on the road, you might soon be driving the best-selling truck on the road!



*** Photo courtesy of Caricos

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