This was supposed to be a simple mid-model refresh, but when the Ram Truck team sat down to discuss what specific changes they wanted to make, it quickly turned into a different kind of thought experiment.
Mike Cairns, Ram Truck chief engineer, says he doesn’t remember exactly who said it, but someone asked, “What if we didn’t have to just make a few changes? What would the list look like if all the changes we want to make got made? What powertrain changes would we want? How much high-tech makes sense? What design changes would we want to see inside and out? How could we squeeze every mile per gallon possible out of this new truck?” At a certain point, Cairns said, the 2013 ball was rolling down the hill, and a new Ram was headed our way.
Clearly, this wouldn’t be just another midlife refresh. This would be something much more for the truck team, and the timing couldn’t have been better.
Simply put, the Ram team touched just about every inch of the truck to get some kind of small or large improvement out of the effort. Many of the changes will likely go unnoticed because they are so small, subtle or hidden, but several are much more pronounced, like a new engine, restyled grille and a reconfigured interior center stack. For a list of all the newly touched aspects, download Ram changes here.
There are many changes, and we won’t be able to hit all of them in a single post, but here are the highlights. Expect more info down the road that will allow us to dig deeper into the more significant improvements and technology. To keep up on all the news about the debut of the 2013 Ram, click here.
Frame and Weight Savings
Ram engineers started at the very foundation of the 2013 truck to squeeze out improvements, many of which include significant weight savings. The newly redesigned frame uses liberal amounts of high-strength steel and hydroforming technology to save weight — about 30 pounds — and increase rigidity. As you’d expect, the improved frame is also designed to improve overall NVH (noise, vibration and harshness).
Stronger, lighter metals in the new aluminum hood of all 2013 Rams save about 26 pounds, and the upper and lower control arms in the independent front suspension also are made from aluminum.
Additionally, the new Pentastar V-6 and eight-speed transmission save about 76 pounds, while the improved V-8 and new eight-speed save as much as 30 pounds from the 2012 V-8 engine and transmission.
New Suspension Option
Many of the frame changes were necessary because Ram engineers decided to adopt the airbag suspension used in the Jeep Grand Cherokee. The new suspension will offer several settings that will raise and lower the vehicle automatically (to improve fuel economy, depending on the situation) as well as allow the driver to select from two off-road settings.
The new air system can provide as much as four inches of lift, to allow for easy entry when parked, and it can increase ground clearance by several inches when in low-range four-wheel drive. Ride heights include Normal, Aero, Off-Road 1, Off-Road 2 and Park. The new air suspension incorporates an automatic load-leveling capability no matter what the setting.
Quite possibly the biggest news for the Ram is the new powertrains. The high-tech 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 finally makes its way into the full-size pickup, as well as the much-rumored ZF eight-speed transmission.
The engine has seen great success with other Chrysler vehicles, and the numbers behind it look impressive, especially when compared to the aged 3.7-liter V-6: 305 horsepower and 269 pounds-feet of torque. That’s 42 percent more horsepower, 13 percent more torque and 20 percent better gas mileage. The Pentastar has an all-aluminum block and head (with integrated exhaust manifolds), dual overhead cams, cast aluminum pistons and six-bolt main bearings. But no twin turbos and no cylinder deactivation.
The new 8HP45 and 8HP70 transmissions have twice as many gears, and the bandwidth is impressive: 4.71:1, 3.14:1, 2.10:1, 1.67:1, 1.29:1, 1.00:1 0.84:1 and 0.67:1. Reverse is 3.30:1. The eight-speed will be standard on the Pentastar and optional for the 4.8- and 5.7-liter V-8s; standard will be the 65RFE six-speed.
Included with these new powertrains is a segment-first powertrain start/stop option that will use numerous sensors around the truck to determine if it’s appropriate to shut down the engine and fuel while still providing power to all the other “online” accessories. The system is used extensively in other global vehicles, but it’s a first for Ram. (The only other pickup using start/stop capability is the Chevy Silverado/GMC Sierra 1500 hybrids.)
Ram will still offer the single-overhead-cam 4.7-liter V-8 (which is getting a bit old) and the Hemi 5.7-liter V-8, both of which will get a slightly stronger-rated version of the same eight-speed transmission. The 2013 Ram will lose both the center-console and column gearshifts in favor of a large rotary dial on the center-stack face (called e-shift, similar to what you see in current Jaguar and Land Rover models). It limits the driver to selecting Park, Reverse, Neutral, and Drive. As you’d expect, a sophisticated computer determines the most efficient use of the available engine torque.
In many ways, the new Ram is a showcase for new technology that we’re likely to see in many other pickups and SUVs down the road. Some of our favorites include the active grille shutters that automatically close off airflow to the engine when it’s not needed, saving between 3 percent and 5 percent in wind drag.
Engineers have finally switched over all half-ton Rams to electric power steering, which they say can improve fuel efficiency by 1.8 percent and add as much as 5 hp, all due to lowering drag and saving weight.
Another cool feature is a thermal management system that uses engine coolant to warm up the transmission as quickly as possible to help remove parasitic losses due to thick transmission fluid. This same setup also can be used to cool down the tranny fluid during hard towing or other extreme heat dangers.
Connectivity is another area where Ram is looking to take a segment lead. The 2013 Ram will debut with the latest and most innovative technology it has ever had in a pickup. The Uconnect Access system uses an 8.4-inch touch-screen that allow s a user to organize and coordinate music, maps, web searches, messages, email, phone calls and much more. Ram wants to offer customers access to a customizable media center, making the system more like a home PC rather than a typical navigation computer and music storage.
In addition to the large center-stack screen, all new Rams will come with a 3.5-inch information display between the tachometer and speedometer. Previously, it was offered only on the more premium models. In fact, all SLT models and higher will get a new 7-inch touch-screen that, we’re told, can be configured to display in different backgrounds and images, depending on trim package. For example, Longhorn editions will have different backgrounds and options from SLTs, and Sport models can be made to look visually different from Big Horns, not unlike some other Chrysler products.
Designing Inside and Out
Most of the exterior changes to the new Ram are subtler and were specifically made because aero improvements required it. The overall shape and look of the Ram, except for the more-domed hood, has not changed, but things like the air dam gaps, vent openings and wheel lips have all been touched specifically to improve how air hits and slips past them.
To some, the most pronounced change may be the grille, which has been expanded to meet the outer edges of the grille surrounds, but the Ram has a new front bumper and headlight look, too. Exterior designers reconfigured the way the badges sit on the side of the truck, and they even went so far as to incorporate a small Ram logo into the outer lens of the headlight.
If you think these guys were detail-obsessed on the outside, they only got more detail-conscious on the inside. Much of the interior team’s work centered on improving fit and finish, upgrading to new materials and textures as well as improving the functionality of the air-conditioning system. Looking at early photography of the upper trim levels, it looks like Ram really stepped up its game as to layout and matching materials with different packages and trim levels.
In fact, we even noticed this will be the first Ram pickup truck where “Dodge” does not appear anywhere on the dash. The key and change dugout will say “Ram” from now on, we’re told. We also like the fact that the trailer-brake controller settings are now in a proper location near the center console, where it is infinitely easier to see and use.
Ram’s four-wheel-drive system will be full-time and part-time capable, both offered with the new eight-speed transmission, but the latter will also be available with a column or stick-shift lever. The 4x4 engagement is push-button and sits right below the electronic dial. The full-time system offers both low and high range, as well as an Auto setting that you can set and forget for as long as you like or need.
Ram will continue to offer 11 different models for 2013 (as well as all the same cab and bed configurations) and should start production at the plants in Saltillo, Mexico, and Warren, Mich., by the third quarter of 2012. The eight-speed transmission, when combined with the V-8 engine, will be a “late availability” option, not going into production until the first quarter of 2013. We assume full model pricing will be announced closer to the on-sale date.
It’s not every day that a mid-model refresh gets so many changes, upgrades and new technology, so we must apologize for not collecting all the info in a single post. But rest assured, we’ll dig deeper as we get some one-on-one time with the truck and get more access to the Ram team that made this truck what it is.