We first saw Ram’s ambitious plan at the 2012 New York International Auto Show, and now we’ve had the chance to drive quite a few versions of the 2013 Ram 1500.
We’re not going to recap all the new technology and features — you can do that by clicking here — but we will let you know which parts and pieces caught our attention as we move through a full spectrum of Ram 1500 models.
The Big News
The new Rams will go on sale around October, but only with the new Pentastar V-6 with the TorqueFlite 8 transmission, as well as both the Hemi 5.7-liter V-8 and 4.7-liter V-8 with the 65RFE six-speed. The eight-speed transmission can be ordered with the Hemi, but those trucks won’t get to dealerships until the first quarter of 2013. Likewise, the new 149.5-inch wheelbase that will house the crew cab and 6-foot 4-inch bed won’t start production until the end of the second quarter of 2013. Unfortunately, the only version we couldn’t drive was the new, longer crew-cab Ram.
The other big news for this truck is that the HFE (high fuel economy) model will have the best half-ton gas-mileage numbers of any full-size pickup, ripping the title away from the 3.7-liter V-6 Ford F-150. The HFE Ram is expected to get 18/25 mpg city/highway and 21 mpg combined. Also, it will be the first and only model in the Ram lineup to have the new Fiat-sourced start/stop engine technology.
We assume the HFE model will be popular with fleet buyers and commercial-use companies, but we’ll have to wait and see if the start/stop feature is invisible enough for the average consumer. For now, the new engine-shutoff tech will have limited availability, though it could roll out to more models later next year. Non-HFE models will still have strong fuel economy numbers, rated at 17/25 mpg.
Getting this kind of fuel economy improvement means a lot of big and small changes. Just to name a few of the new features: There is a new, lighter frame, aluminum hood and suspension pieces; the new Pentastar and transmission save about 75 pounds; new electric power-assist steering reduces drag; the TorqueFlite 8 has both taller and shorter gears (which means taller, smaller axle gears will work); active grille shutters reduce drag as well; thermal management gets the engine to optimum temperatures more quickly; harder tires improve rolling resistance; the new airbag suspension allows the truck to sit lower; and the lower valance helps the truck cut through the wind like never before.
Behind the Wheel
From the moment we got behind the wheel, it’s obvious that the Ram guys took full advantage of making a segment leader, not just a good-enough replacement for the previous Ram. Some might argue they had nothing to lose, so why not swing for the fences, but we know better. Making big changes, no matter what the vehicle, is always a huge risk, and if your bosses don’t understand how much there is to gain, they’re likely not to give their full support.
The new interiors, across the entire lineup, are the most obvious example that the Chrysler leadership is giving the Ram Truck team a lot of room to experiment. Our first truck was a Laramie Longhorn with Canyon Brown interior. The door design, seat leather, and newly arranged and skinned dashboard and center stack look impressive. Seams are tight, materials feel like living room furniture, and the amount of information you can access is mountainous, yet well-organized.
The new gauge cluster still has the tachometer and speedometer in the same places, but now there is a scrolling data screen embedded in the tach that gives you access to all sorts of truck and engine info. Depending on what package you have and the options included, you can access plenty of info, from suspension ride height, to engine temperatures, to trip info and much more.
On Ram 1500s equipped with the UConnect multimedia system (which includes a smarter navigation), a huge high-definition 8.4-inch screen acts as a concierge. You can get weather updates, check sports scores and record select radio-station shows. Or you can download Ram Truck apps that give you even more specialized info. The new system is eventually meant to be part personal computer (it will act as a hotspot) and part smartphone. As near as we could tell, the system seemed easy to use and understand, but we’ll have to live with it for a while to make any meaningful determinations. We’ve read too many stories regarding MyFord Touch to think we know enough from only a day’s drive.
Once we got onto the open road, what impressed us was the new four-corner air suspension (called Ram Active Level). This new option has its roots in the new Jeep Grand Cherokee, but it seems to have adapted pretty well to the half-ton pickup chassis. We did not get a chance to drive any of the trucks at or near maximum payload ratings, but we did drive three good-sized trailers (two with weight-distributing hitches) — one large boat, one long camper trailer and one mini-bulldozer.
The airbags allow for strong load leveling in all situations, but they also give the driver real-time feedback when the tongue weight is over or getting close to the truck’s maximum limits. We’d love to see a warning system like this on all pickup trucks, as well as some kind of readout that tells us exactly how much load (presumably in pounds) we’re hauling. Once the sensors are there, turning the bags into a scale shouldn’t be too difficult. We’d also like to see the Ram use some kind of active-suspension capability at some point, specifically designed to help keep the truck stable when cornering or dealing with shifting loads.
Off the Road
We tested the air suspension in an Outdoorsman on a custom-made off-road trail set up by the Ram guys. It wasn’t anything too serious, but it let us play with the two Off Road settings. Off Road 2 gives you just over an inch more ground clearance; unfortunately, it led to a stiffer ride, which we didn’t like too much.
On the tallest setting — basically at full airbag extension — we appreciated the extra ground clearance, but we would have liked a little more flex and cushion when navigating the off-angle ruts and mounds. We’re guessing much of the 4x4 benefits of the Outdoorsman have to do with the 265/70 Goodyear Wrangler tires as much as anything else. With that said, we really liked the look of the blacked-out wheels and the new Diesel Gray interior on the black Outdoorsman we drove.
We didn’t have any problems with either of the two transfer cases that will be offered in the new Ram, both sporting 2.64:1 low-range ratios. For the more entry-level models, typically mated with the six-speed transmission, the part-time system offers 2WD, 4WD Lock and 4WD Low with a dial, falling easily to the driver’s right hand (where the eight-speed dial would be, if equipped). The second four-wheel-drive system, typically offered on the higher-end packages, is paired with the TorqueFlite 8, and it offers several buttons under the electric e-dial: 2WD, 4WD Auto, 4WD Lock, 4WD Low and Neutral. On Rams equipped with the air suspension, a center gauge screen allows the driver to see, via an icon of your truck, exactly what ride height your truck is set at
On the Road
If we had to choose one piece of technology that defines the new Ram, it would be the new transmission and computer controller. What these two TorqueFlite 8 transmissions do for this truck (8HP45 and 8HP70, each with a different maximum torque rating) cannot be overstated, and we include the computer controller and software algorithms as part of this impressive technology because they all work very well together.
We found the transmission wonderfully comfortable during light cruising when empty, yet quick to shift when we wanted to get more enthusiastic. We’re not huge fans of having the “tap up, tap down” shifter for the transmission setup on the steering wheel, but we never had any trouble finding it and quickly getting the transmission to do what we wanted.
The eight-speed allows you to select which and how many top gears you want to lock out and can show you exactly what gear you’re in at any given moment; however, the numbers can easily get lost with all sorts of information stuffed into the center gauge cluster. We caught ourselves a few times trying to move that info to a more prominent spot in the cluster, or at least change it to a larger font, to no avail.
Likewise, on some of the lower trim packages equipped with the six-speed (which you can get on the 4.7- and 5.7-liter V-8s but not the V-6), there is no way to get any gear information other than the top gear selected or what you are manually controlling. It seems to us that any driver, no matter what the trim level of the pickup, should be allowed to see exactly what the transmission is doing at any given moment, whether it’s a six-speed or newer eight-speed.
While pulling the trailers, the eight-speed did fine, solidly shifting through the gears and not giving us any hard hits from one gear to the next. We noted that with Tow/Haul mode engaged (via a small button, almost hidden, deep on the bottom row of the center stack), the gears held a little longer, but we would have preferred a slightly more aggressive downshifting rate. We couldn’t quite figure out if the grade-shifting capability wasn’t working or if it wasn’t getting enough inputs to trigger more aggressive shifts. We’d need to live with a truck a little longer and possibly take a heavy trailer on a bigger mountain slope. (Do I smell a Davis Dam or Loveland Pass road trip?)
The gearing of the eight-speed is impressive, with 1st gear at 4.7:1. This makes for some very solid launches on flat ground, whether equipped with the V-8 or V-6. Even when pointed down a fairly steep hill, taking off from a dead stop, the truck smoothly upshifted to 2nd then 3rd quite fast, keeping shifts seamless, as if sensing the driver wasn’t much interested in holding the lower gear. Overall, we did not mind the e-dial on the dash. Thankfully, both the rubber-covered (lower trim levels) and billet-feeling (upper packages) shifter dial feels solid and substantial, even when "clicking" from one of the four detents (P, R, N, D) to another.
No doubt a smarter and smaller (and lighter) transmission allowed Ram engineers to be more flexibility with axle ratios. They told us they expect the majority of axle ratios in the crew-cab trucks to be either 3.21:1 or 3.55:1. However, they assured us they understand there will still be plenty of truck guys who will want those 3.92:1 gears, so they’re keeping that option open as well. And with two relatively high overdrive gears in the eight-speed, there’s almost no penalty for the shorter gears. (FYI, there will be a 4.10:1 option, but we’re guessing it will be offered only on the coming R/T model.)
Pricing information shouldn't surprise anyone. Ram needs to continue to be aggressive in order to keep its full-size pickup truck momentum. With the exception of a few new models that look to be priced underneath their direct competition, it looks like most of the carryover models are up about 1 percent from 2012 pricing. We're guessing this will help sales quite a bit and should continue their strong move to growing market share, especially with the new GM offering still six to 10 months away. Some of highlights inlcude a starting price for the half-ton at $23,585, with the base engine for the lineup being the familiar 4.7-liter V-8. And for an extra $1,000, you can have a smaller engine (the Pentastar 3.6-liter V-6) and a transmission with the two more gears (the TorqueFlite 8, 8HP45).
Finally, we've just heard the Ram Active Level air suspension option will cost $1,595, pretty much across the entire lineup. Expect more stories to come as we get our hands on more versions as they make their way into press fleets and we put together more direct head-to-head comparison tests. More to come. (Unfortunately, at the time of our media drive, we didn't have any pricing information, so we can't offer any pricing information for the trucks we drove.)
To download the full specifications on the 2013 Ram 1500, click here.
To download maximum payload and towing numbers for the crew cab RamBox configurations, click here.
To get the most up-to-date pricing information on the most popular configurations, click here.
If you haven't found them already, check out the bottom of the PUTC homepage for our 2013 Ram 1500 videos.