2014 Ram 1500, 2500, 3500 and ProMasterPosted on September 21st, 2013
New engines and suspensions make trucks more capable
By Nina Russin
Ram’s momentum continues into the 2014 model year with the introduction of a new EcoDiesel V-6 engine for 1500 models, a 6.4-liter Hemi V-8 and air suspension on heavy-duty models, and the ProMaster cargo van. Ram has gained almost eight market shares since splitting with Dodge in 2009. Product planners hope the new powertrain options and cargo van based on Fiat architecture will broaden appeal among buyers in underserved niches of the truck market.
The EcoDiesel V-6 engine that debuts in the 2014 Ram 1500 is the same block available in the newest Jeep Grand Cherokee. Combined with a standard TorqueFlite eight-speed transmission, engineers expect highway fuel economy close to 30 mpg.
VM Motori, a company that has supplied powertrain components to Chrysler since the early 90s, produces the 240-horsepower turbo-diesel engine. Peak torque is 420 foot-pounds, for enhanced low-end power. A compacted graphite iron block is lightweight but also extremely rigid to minimize NVH. Aluminum heads shave additional weight off the powertrain.
A new air suspension system improves ride comfort as well as enabling auto-leveling while towing.
Infotainment updates on the light-duty trucks include the newest version of Uconnect with a seven-inch display screen.
Big gas engine expands Ram HD’s appeal
The 6.4-liter Hemi V-8 that appears in the 2014 Ram heavy-duty models is engineered specifically for the truck market, with a flat torque curve and a cylinder deactivation feature that extends fuel economy when power demands are low. The engine is a $1,495 option over the 5.7-liter V-8 engine geared towards value-conscious customers.
A 6.7-liter Cummins Diesel engine extends towing capacity on 3500 models up to 30,000 pounds.
Both 2500 and 3500 models get an available air suspension as well. On 2500 models, it’s incorporated into the five-link rear suspension, replacing the coil springs. On 3500 models, the air suspension serves as an assist for load leveling, enabling the truck to achieve a one-degree positive rake.
ProMaster combines big work and a small footprint
Fiat’s ProMaster van comes to the US in 2014 under the Ram nameplate. The cargo van is based on the Fiat Ducato that has been in production for 30 years.The front-wheel drive van comes with either the 280-horsepower Pentastar 3.6-liter V-6 gasoline engine or 3.0 EcoDiesel. The van can haul up to 4,110 pounds.
Targeting businesses in large urban markets, the ProMaster is as maneuverable as a passenger car, with the same turning radius as a midsized sedan. Yet both side and rear doors open wide enough to load in palettes. Customers can order the ProMaster as a windowless cargo van, chassis cab, cut-away chassis or as a window van upfitted for passengers.
Test drive in Southern California
I had the opportunity to test drive the new Ram 1500 with the EcoDiesel engine, Ram 2500 and 3500 with the 6.4-liter Hemi V-8 and the ProMaster cargo van. The guys at Ram are always up for a good challenge, so they chose canyon roads through the mountains north of Malibu.
Not being a particularly large person, I was a little intimidated by the thought of driving the heavy-duty trucks. But as luck would have it, my first trip out was in a 2500 model. I have to say that except for the challenge of fitting the wide truck inside narrow lane lines on the canyon roads, it was as easy to drive as a passenger car.
The power of the new 6.4-liter gasoline V-8 engine is impressive. Driving on roads loaded with hairpin turns and steep, pitchy hills, it was rare to feel the six-speed automatic transmission downshift.
Maneuverability is also surprisingly good for a truck of this size. Granted the turning circle is almost 47 feet for the four-wheel drive model, but we are talking about a vehicle with a 160-inch wheelbase.
The rearview camera projects an image to the back of the truck when the driver shifts into reverse, eliminating the large blind spot below the rear glass. The side mirrors are well configured to monitor vehicles in the adjacent lanes. I had no problems weaving through traffic on the Pacific Coast Highway.
Hydraulic rack-and-pinion steering has plenty of assist on the low end, while maintaining a pleasantly heavy feel on the highway. Large rotors front and rear with double pistons stop the truck in firm, linear fashion.
Ram 1500 gets fuel-efficient EcoDiesel engine
The second drive was in the 1500 with the new EcoDiesel engine. I’d been looking forward to driving the new diesel Ram since the announcement about the engine’s availability in June and I was not disappointed. The engine is a $2,860 option over the base Hemi V-8, but the difference in performance when the vehicle is under load is impressive.
Although the 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 has ample power for truck buyers who rarely load large loads into the cargo bed, it can’t compare to the diesel for heavier loads and towing. The 1500 equipped with the diesel engine, literally floated up steep hills along the route. The eight-speed automatic transmission performed seamlessly. At no point during the test drive was I aware of any shift shock.
The interiors on the newest light-duty Ram trucks also deserve mention. Designers have made a range of styles available, from very plain functional interiors geared towards buyers who use their trucks strictly for work, to very upscale designs targeted towards buyers who use their trucks as family cars.
The Longhorn edition I test-drove is the urban cowboy’s dream, with leather upholstery, a soft-touch dashboard and instrument panel. My only complaint was that the speedometer, that had black numbers on a dark brass background, was hard to read.
Twenty-inch alloy wheels dress up the truck’s exterior. Inside, it features the new Uconnect system, with a large screen that can be configured hundreds of ways depending on the driver’s needs. The only downside from the buyer’s perspective is price. Base price on the Longhorn is $48,730. Final MSRP on the test truck with optional automatic high-beam headlamps and the four-corner air suspension was $56,640.
ProMaster cargo van offers passenger car ride and handling
My driving partner took the wheel when we stepped into the new ProMaster. Our van had the 159-inch wheelbase and high roof.
The step-in height, while lower than other commercial vans, is still fairly high, and there are no grab handles to help. Aside from that, and getting used to the lack of windows in the cargo area, the van handles pretty much like a passenger car.
Buyers can choose between a traditional six-speed automatic transmission and an automated manual. Our truck came with the automatic. Our drive route didn’t include much in the way of hills, but the engine seemed to have enough power to do the job. The guys at Ram had provided some bales of alfalfa for the occasion, so we could experience what the truck felt like to drive with some cargo in the back.
The suspension consists of MacPherson struts up front to give the driver and front passenger a more car-like ride. Leaf springs in back make it easier to tow a trailer.
The passenger cabin comes with the types of amenities car owners have come to expect, including 12-volt plug-ins, the Uconnect infotainment system (optional) and plenty of cupholders. Given the number of available configurations and wide cargo door openings, the new ProMaster could be an option for outdoor enthusiasts who need a larger vehicle to haul canoes, kayaks, or multiple bicycles.
Pricing is appealing as well, starting at about $30,000.
Ram 3500 goes the distance
I took the wheel back for the final test drive of the day, in the Ram 3500 HD pickup truck equipped with the 6.4-liter Hemi engine. The product specialists had filled the cargo bed with hay bales so we could evaluate performance with a reasonable payload. It also made for a humorous moment when we returned the truck to valet parking at the hotel.
The new 6.4-liter Hemi engine has a monstrous amount of power. It abundant torque makes it a great choice for hauling heavy loads. While there’s a tradeoff in fuel economy, the power not only makes the truck more enjoyable to drive but safer as well. Nobody wants to get stuck halfway up a steep grade due to an undersized engine.
As with the other trucks in the Ram family, the 3500 has a surprisingly car-like ride once the driver gets used to its size. The coil suspension does an excellent job of absorbing bumps in the road.
The power recirculating ball steering doesn’t have quite the precision of rack-and-pinion, but it’s more durable and therefore more practical for a heavy-duty truck. Buyers who plan to take the truck on off-road trails can add skid plates under the chassis.
Visibility around the perimeter is good. The standard backup camera eliminates a large blind spot beneath the rear glass and makes it easier to see a hitch when hooking up a trailer.
Large twin-piston disc brakes on all four wheels stop the truck in firm, linear fashion.
The Laramie Longhorn edition comes with a fully loaded interior. The only option on the test truck was the Uconnect navigation system. There are plenty of storage bins for electronic equipment, including a large covered area in the center console that can hold a laptop computer.
Having experienced the new Ram light and heavy-duty pickups and new ProMaster cargo van on some challenging roads, this writer believes that the brand is poised for continued growth in 2014. By specializing in trucks, Ram product planners have developed a deep understanding not only of the features truck buyers need in their trucks, but also the ones they want.
Ram builds its trucks in its Saltillo, Mexico and Warren, Michigan assembly plants.
Models: 1500, 2500, 3500 and ProMaster
Pricing as tested: $56,640 (Ram 1500 Laramie Longhorn 1500 Crew Cab 4X4 diesel); $37,175 (ProMaster Cargo159′ WB- High Roof); $54,740 (Ram 3500 Laramie Longhorn Crew Cab 4X4 Long Bed)
Horsepower: 240 Hp @ 3600 rpm (3.0L EcoDiesel); 410 Hp @ 5600 rpm (6.4L Hemi V-8); 283 Hp @ 6400 rpm (3.6L gasoline V-6)
Torque: 420 lbs.-ft. @ 2000 rpm (3.0L EcoDiesel); 429 Lbs.-ft. @ 4000 rpm (6.4L Hemi V-8); 260 lbs.-ft. @ 4400 rpm (3.6L gasoline V-6)
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: N/A
Bicycle friendly: Yes
Fuel economy: N/A2014, Best Value, Luxury Offroad, News and Features 2014, Active Lifestyle Vehicles, auto review, performance, pricing, Ram, standard safety
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