First Drive: 2013 Ram 1500

Ram Longhorn action II

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.

Ram start-stop II

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.

Behind the Wheel II

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.

Ram 1500s OR II

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 

Ram 1500 OR gauge II

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.

Ram 1500 boat 3 II

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. 

Pentastar cutaway II

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.)

How Much?

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.

 

Ram 1500 Trade II



Comments

What we know is the Hemi V8 is proven reliable. Has been on Wards 10 best engine list 6 times. Fords eco and 5.0 are new.
Here is the best part.
5.7-liter HEMI® V-8 with Fuel Saver Technology and variable-valve timing (VVT) provides 395 horsepower, 407 lb.-ft. of torque and best-in-class fuel economy for V-8 trucks, beating competitive turbo V-6 engines.
Which would you want. A V6 (Ford Eco) that's worse on gas or a V8 that's better on gas and has more horse power? I know which one I would buy. The class leading Hemi V8

Truly amazing for a mid-cycle refresh. The V6 looks to be a real winner, but the towing is a bit low and may hurt it in the market. Getting towing to 7500 for the V6 should be a key.

I love the truck, but have bought Ford as it had the best interior. That is not true any longer and the lack of center shifter and the great visuals form the drivers seat make this truck the best interior by far. If those spy shots of the Chevy interior were correct, their new truck will be light years behind this. I absolutely love this interior.

Great job! As for the 1% price increase, the "real" price increase is much higher as these always sold at discount to sticker. If the V6 stays with V6 pricing it could change the industry.

Hemi, could you do us a favor and stop sounding like a stupid, dumb, commercial? It's making me want to throw up, and you're making me hate this good truck.

@charlie: A dodge in 5th gear at 5 mph? I think you have it confused with Chevy or Ford. I used to have a Chevy it was quick to downshift. My Hemi 2010 TRX4 has no need to go from top gear to 2nd gear. I guess if I was going 45 and I FLOORED it, it could. I bet a Tundra does that as well? I don't have to floor it to get it to downshift. But if I take it easy I find it using not as low of a gear as my Chevy did. Times where my Chevy needed 4300 and my Ram (which is about 400 pounds heavier) needs 3200 to get up the same hill. What year was/is your Ram? Combo?

Maybe if you looked at the 8 speed ratios you would find them spaced alot better. Have you? I really think the 6 speed in the 2500 hemis would be better then the 1500 ones, but we can't seem to get anybody to even test a 2500 Hemi with that gearbox, they are busy waiting on the 8 speed.

I do agree the Toyota is a well spaced set of ratios and I have yet to hear of a Tundra late model having a trans issue. My 2010 gets the job done without Chevy like rpm, but could be alot better spaced.

I'm looking for a new light truck perferiably chevy, but not sure what brand to look for. I need so a comparison for which brand can give me good mpg, a good but cheap price, good reliability, and good acceleration. Can anybody help me?

its funny how dodge is all excited on how the look of the truck is and such an awesome engine but yalls trannys cant hold up if ya tow alot. everyone is talkin crap on chevy for reasons i dont get. were bigger faster stronger and got a engine AND tranny to hold up..... maybe next year little fellas

Great job Ram! Ford and Chevy have a long way to go.

Main worries are the 8spd tranny (dodge had trouble trying to make 4 work) Also the air suspension, ive seen far too many saggy escalades/lincolns to think air suspension is a viable system for a pickup. I think magnetic particle suspension will be the way in the future (much more reliable).

The electric power steering is a great idea, all ford's have it (trucks and cars) and very little ever have issues. The electric motor on the eps on F150's is huge it looks like a oversized starter. Plus everything uses it now from trucks to atv's to snowmobiles.

Dodge is cramming alot of fancy stuff into their new truck, but still made no real improvements to the structure of the truck (which is where it lacks)

And it doesnt have best in class V6 towing?? Unless that 3.6 pentastar can handle 11,300lbs... The "all mighty" HEMI doesnt even have a tow rating that high, The ECOBOOST has best in class towing period!

Also the 25 mpg who cares! unless evryone on here is buying regular cab 2 wheel drive V6 with the 8speed your not going to get anywhere close to this. So big deal, once you go to a 4 wheel drive and a crew cab your down to 19MPG just like before.

I got me a new dodge pickup in 2011 and I really did like the pickup very much an also bought me a new Chevy pickup and just for my experience that dodge is twice the pickup than the Chevy not that I don't like Chevys but the quality on the dodge is just so much better interior and power and this year I got me a 2013 dodge and I will tell you it's better than ever so for that reason would never consider buying another Chevy it's to much old school needs serious updates

A very informative blog. 2013 Ram 1500 showcases each segment inside and outside of it. Such a very nice trucks of RAM. The information brought to the readers as well as the reactions of the users of this trucks is very impressive. Great blog.

when will dodge get rid of RAM trucks and call them Dodge trucks kinda stupid to run from your own name Fiat forgets trucks are mostly sold here leave our names alone

Such an informative blog about 2013 Ram 1500. New technologies nowadays are simply the best showcasing all its styles and designs which are truly unique and class. This is really a commendable blog. I like the fact about RAM that it indeed makes big changes, no matter what the vehicle, and is always at its huge risk. GREAT BLOG.

I have a 2013 ram with the 8.4 navigation and as far as I am concerned it is a piece of crap. you can't turn the radio off you can only turn the screen off and it still blinds you at night. the touch screen requires too many screen touches to do the most simple things. For some reason the software engineers at chrysler thought that I need to be blinded at night when I turn the truck off, every light on the vehicle turns up to max and will never go off as long as you sit in the truck, no such thing as sitting in the dark with this truck. None of these functions can be changed by driver. I cant wait to get rid of this truck



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