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  • 2016 Chicago Auto Show

    Year of the truck

    By Nina Russin

    Toyota TRD Pro Tacoma

    Toyota TRD Pro Tacoma

    The Chicago Auto Show held each February at the McCormick Place convention center on the shores of Lake Michigan is epic in every way: it has the biggest show floor and the best consumer attendance of any such show in the US. There’s something for everyone at Chicago, but this year it was the trucks that stole the show. From the world premier of the 2017 Nissan Armada that kicked off the media preview to Ram’s newest Power Wagon, Kia’s new hybrid utility vehicle and Toyota’s TRD Pro Tacoma, automakers unveiled their newest designs for adventurous travel. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2015 Ram ProMaster City

    Pint-sized cargo van for urbanites on the go

    By Nina Russin

    Ram ProMaster City

    Ram ProMaster City

    Today I’m a Sherpa. The test car this week is the Ram ProMaster City: the North American version of the popular Fiat Doblo cargo van. I intend to keep the ProMaster busy doing what it was designed for: hauling soup-to-nuts.

    The ProMaster City is a downsized version of the ProMaster , based on the Fiat Ducato and introduced to North America for the 2014 model year. The wheelbase is 14-inches shorter than the standard ProMaster light-duty truck and the roof and ride height lower.

    Power comes from a 2.4-liter Tigershark engine and nine-speed automatic transmission. A diesel version with a manual gearbox is available in Europe, but Ram has no plans at this point to bring it stateside.

    Base price for the two-seat window van is $23,130 excluding the destination charge. The test car comes with a rear backup camera, upgraded wheels, roof rack and Ram’s Uconnect infotainment system, bringing the final MSRP to $26,105. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2015 Ram ProMaster City

    Urban-sized cargo van is the perfect ALV

    By Nina Russin

    Ram ProMaster City

    Ram ProMaster City

    The ProMaster City might just be the best active lifestyle vehicle Ram has ever produced. Based on the Fiat Doblo sold in Europe, the newest ProMaster is the smaller, urban sibling to the cargo van based on the Fiat Ducato that rolled out last fall.

    Power for the US version comes from a 2.4-liter Tigershark four-cylinder engine and the same nine-speed automatic transmission found in the Jeep Cherokee.

    Fiat also sells a diesel version with a manual transmission in Europe but has no plans at present to bring that model to the states. This writer hopes that they will reconsider, since that engine’s low-end torque would make it a better platform for driving at altitude.

    Buyers can choose between the two-seat van and five-seat passenger wagon. Seats on the wagon version fold and tumble forward when not in use, leaving a six-foot long cargo floor.

    Both sliding side and 60/40 split rear doors have large enough openings to accommodate regular-sized pallets. The van’s low lift-over height makes it easier to load large items in the cargo bay.

    The ProMaster City has enough room in back to hold multiple bicycles, kayaks, skis and snowboards. The cargo van includes six 100-pound load tie-down hooks in the floor; the wagon version has four. The cargo floor is big enough to spread out a couple of sleeping bags, so athletes can get to the trailhead early or bed down in between segments of a stage race. Read the rest of this entry »

  • Ram Introduces 2015 ProMaster City

    Class 1 cargo van combines fuel efficiency and versatility

    By Nina Russin

    2015 Ram ProMaster City

    2015 Ram ProMaster City

    Following on the success of its ProMaster cargo van launch this year, Ram introduces 2015 ProMaster City: a Class 1 cargo van designed to meet the needs of entrepreneurs in high-traffic urban areas. Available as either a windowless cargo van or five-passenger van, the ProMaster City arrives in dealerships at the end of 2014.

    Based on the Fiat Doblo architecture, the ProMaster City features a more compact footprint than the larger ProMaster, but offers the same ‘form follows function’ approach to design and engineering.

    Both cargo and passenger vans are available in Tradesman and SLT trim levels, all powered by a 178-horsepower 2.4-liter Tigershark engine and nine-speed automatic transmission. The front-wheel drive configuration minimizes curb weight and increases the cargo area by eliminating a floor tunnel and rear differential. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2014 Ram 1500, 2500, 3500 and ProMaster

    New engines and suspensions make trucks more capable

    By Nina Russin

    2014 Ram

    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. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2013 Ram 1500 SLT Crew Cab 4X2

    New powertrain boosts gas mileage 20 percent

    By Nina Russin

    2013 Ram 1500

    What could be better than a truck that works harder and uses less fuel? The base powertrain on the newest Ram 1500 pickups does just that. The 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 engine is slightly smaller than the 3.7-liter block it replaces, and its aluminum construction minimizes weight. A new eight-speed automatic transmission has twice the number of gears on the former unit.

    An aluminum hood shaves additional weight off the body. Other fuel economizing measures include an active grille shutter system, low rolling resistance tires and aerodynamic improvements around the exterior. The result: 25 mile-per-gallon highway fuel economy according to the EPA.

    Since EPA figures can be soft, I wanted to experience this for myself. This week, I had the opportunity to do so, in the rear-wheel drive version of the Ram 1500 crew cab.

    Being the middle of July, I cranked the air conditioner and headed for the hills. Elevation gain was about 2000 feet. While the 90-mile test didn’t include a lot of stop-and-go driving, I did bury the throttle a few times, just for hoots. Average fuel economy, according to the car’s information pages, was just over 23 miles-per-gallon.

    Furthermore, the Ram didn’t feel the least bit anemic. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised by the truck’s performance on steep grades, and its acceleration off the line. Read the rest of this entry »

  • Ram Introduces 6.4-Liter Engine and Suspension Enhancements

    Heavy-duty models increase towing capacity and ride comfort

    By Nina Russin

    2014 Ram 2500 Heavy Duty

    Ram is, as its name suggests, on a mission. Since separating from the Dodge brand in 2009, the truck builder has almost doubled its market share, from 11.5 to just below 20 percent.

    Having introduced an all-new 1500 model last year, product planners shift their focus to heavy-duty models for 2014. A new 6.4-liter gasoline engine based off the 5.7-liter Hemi offers 2500 buyers a high-power alternative to the 6.7-liter Cummins diesel.

    The 6.4-liter engine develops 410 horsepower and 429 foot-pounds of peak torque. Designed as a truck engine from the ground up, it features an active runner intake system that enables the block to generate as much torque as competitive models at 800- 1000 rpm lower engine speeds. As a result, engineers were able to add a cylinder deactivation feature that cuts out half the cylinders when engine loads are low to extend gas mileage.

    Construction consists of a cast iron engine block with aluminum heads, a heavy-duty forged steel crankcase, stainless steel exhaust and sodium-filled exhaust valves. A positive crank ventilation valve integrated into the intake system and cool exhaust gas recirculation make these emissions components more efficient. Oil jets cool the pistons under extreme temperatures or when the engine is working hard hauling heavy loads.

    According to brand strategists, gasoline engines represent over 50 percent of the 2500 market. If successful, the newest Hemi will conquest significant sales from GM and Ford: the other two major competitors in the segment.

    Buyers on a budget can continue to opt for the 383 horsepower 5.7-liter Hemi. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2013 RAM 1500 Crew Cab

    Refined pickup claims gas-mileage bragging rights

    By Bob Golfen

    2013 Ram 1500

    Ram upped the ante this year in the full-size pickup-truck competition, adding best-in-class fuel economy to traditional worksite boasts about payload, towing capacity and durability.

    For 2013, Ram 1500 was fitted with Chrysler’s new 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 engine that generates 305 horsepower, and which helps the two-wheel-drive versions of the half-ton pickup hit an EPA-estimated 17 city and 25 highway.

    That’s quite a feat for a vehicle that weighs two-and-a-half tons and must punch a huge hole through the air at highway speeds. Towing capacity is also impressive at 6,500 pounds.

    The V6 engine doesn’t accomplish the mileage numbers completely on its own. Ram’s fuel efficiency is also boosted by a sophisticated eight-speed transmission, sleeker aerodynamics and a reduction in weight. The V6 is more efficient with improved fuel injection and a stop/start system, which turns off the engine when the truck is standing still instead of wastefully idling.

    Ram boasts that the new 3.6 liter has 42 percent more horsepower, 13 percent more torque and 20 percent better fuel economy than the old 3.7-liter V6 that it replaced.

    Ram still offers the 5.7-liter Hemi V8 with its booming 395 horsepower and 407 foot-pounds, which the truck maker says offers top fuel economy for V8-powered pickups, though significantly lower than its own V6 models. Naturally, four-wheel-drive versions with either engine get slightly lower fuel mileage.

    The base, regular-cab Ram 1500 starts off at $23,585, while the well-equipped SLT Crew Cab that I drove had a starting price of $33,820. With a premium interior, Uconnect audio/navigation/accessibility package and a few other safety and convenience options, the bottom line came out to $38,990. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2013 Ram 1500

    Light-duty pickups get leaner, meaner and smarter

    By Nina Russin

    2013 Ram 1500

    The all-new 2013 Ram 1500 series is the second generation of light duty pickup trucks to roll out since the brand split with its long-time partner, Dodge. Dividing the brands in the fall of 2009 made Ram Chrysler’s second pure-truck brand. While Jeep focuses on adventurous lifestyles, Ram is all about work.

    Ram’s aggressive styling and innovative cargo features have made it one of the top-selling truck brands. As fuel prices rise and car budgets shrink, the new Ram series offers buyers better fuel economy, enhanced connectivity and new cargo options. At the same time, Ram is keeping MSRPs commensurate with comparable outgoing models.

    Pricing for 2013 models ranges from $22,590 for the rear-wheel drive Tradesman to $47,420 for the four-wheel drive Laramie Longhorn crew cab. MSRPs do not include the $995 destination charge.

    Adjustable air suspension on 2013 models can change ride height according to the terrain, and has built-in load leveling. The base Pentastar V-6 engine which debuted in the current Jeep Grand Cherokee is more fuel efficient. Zero-to-sixty acceleration is three seconds faster than the 3.7-liter block it replaces.

    The engine and all-new eight-speed automatic transmission are 76 pounds lighter than the components they replace. Using high-strength steel throughout the chassis shaved off another thirty pounds.

    A high fuel efficiency model combines the new V-6 powertrain with electric power steering, engine off-at-idle, low rolling resistance tires, redesigned side steps and a rear tonneau cover to yield 18/25 mile-per-gallon fuel economy according to the EPA. In the first quarter of 2013, the new eight-speed automatic becomes available with the 5.7-liter Hemi V-8, improving that powertrain’s gas mileage as well.

    A new thermal management system heats up the engine and transmission faster, reducing fluid viscosity and improving gas mileage. Active shutters in the front of the car regulate air through the engine bay to cool it more efficiently. A redesigned front air dam is taller than the one on the outgoing model, and built out of flexible materials to resist damage during off-road driving.

    Buyers can choose between the new V-6 or two V-8 engines, regular, quad and crew cab models with rear or four-wheel drive, short or long cargo boxes, and six trim levels: Tradesman, Express, SLT, R/T, Laramie and Laramie Longhorn. Read the rest of this entry »