With fuel efficiency being a high priority -- if not the highest priority -- the Ram engineers knew they had to do something special with foundation of the 2013 truck. Not only did they want to try a few weight-saving techniques, they also needed to redesign the setup to accommodate the new segment-first air suspension, too.
The optional air suspension is a modified version of the same system Chrysler uses on the Jeep Grand Cherokee, but it’s strengthened a bit to accommodate the greater payload and towing needs.
The new frame is much stiffer and more efficient thanks to liberal use of the high-strength steel allows the platform to increase stability and handling precision while at the same time decrease noise, vibration and harshness (NVH). In particular, the front rails have increased their yield strength by 20 percent, and the high-strength steel helps save about 30 pounds.
The remaining portions of the frame are hydroformed to keep the needed strength precisely accurate where needed and to remove unnecessary welding hot-spots that could lead to weakening. As a result, hydroforming ends up saving weight as well. To improve NVH, new, larger body mounts are on the front frame rails and at the C-pillar. These are not the same type of liquid-filled mounts in the Ram HD.
New box floor cross-members in the bed eliminate seven pounds, and the front bumper has been redesigned to save four more pounds. Another significant weight-saver is the use of aluminum upper and lower control arms in the independent front suspension. By going to this more time- and labor-intensive construction, the new Ram 1500 saves a total of 26 pounds.
On the subject of weight savings, it’s worth noting that the new Pentastar V-6 and TorqueFlite 8 transmission save about 76 pounds compared with the previous engine and four-speed. Overall, the eight-speed saves the new truck about 30 pounds.
Riding on Air
The 2013 Ram will continue to use its class-exclusive coil-spring and multilink rear suspension, and it will remain the standard option on most trim packages. However, new Rams will be adding an all-new airbag suspension to the half-ton lineup. The system uses a small air compressor and dual storage tanks to produce and hold the air and to provide up to four inches of lift.
The new system will offer a class-leading 21-inch step-in height, give the truck another best-in-class ground clearance of 10.7 inches at full extension, and provide best-in-class departure and breakover angles at 27.8 and 24.2, respectively. (We assume the Ford F-150 SVT Raptor has the best uncontested approach angles.)
Another benefit of the new air suspension is load-leveling capability, which automatically detects load on the rear axle -- from payload or a trailer -- and automatically increases air pressure to the rear bags to level the ride height. One of our favorite features of the system is that the owner can use the key fob to dump the air in the bags to lower the entire truck for easy entry or for easier trailer hookup.
- Normal Ride Height: Offers almost nine inches of clearance (Ram tells us it’s measured from the doorsill rather than the rear differential — so figure somewhere around six inches of ground clearance). This is the default load-level ride height.
- Aero Mode: This is an automatic setting that lowers the vehicle height over one inch to improve aerodynamics and fuel economy by one percent, Ram tells us. The mode is activated by vehicle speed.
- Off-Road 1: Lifts the truck over one inch from Normal Ride Hieght when manually selected to provide slightly more ground clearance. Can be selected in either 2WD or 4WD high or low range.
- Off-Road 2: Also must be manually selected and rises two inches above normal ride height. Can also be selected in either 2WD or 4WD high or low range.
- Park Mode: This setting lowers the vehicle almost two inches below normal ride height. This makes it easier to enter and leave, and it makes it easier to load or unload cargo.
Most of the ride heights can be manually selected with either of the two "truck up" and "truck down" switches at the bottom of the center stack, next to the trailer brake controller. No word yet as to how expensive the air suspension option package will be but we're guessing it will similarly packaged to the Grand Cherokee--meaning, it could be pricey. Additionally, we don't know anything about the payload capacity, GVW rating, or tow ratings of the new frame and airbag suspension, or if the various ratings will change for the standard coil-spring suspensions. We'll have more on those numbers as the information is released.