2013 Ram 1500 HFE 4x2: First Drive

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By Aaron Bragman

Behold the unicorn! And take a good long look, as this just may be the only time you're going to see one of these: the 2013 Ram 1500 HFE. This is a special animal, rare indeed, built for bragging rights and marketing purposes: The "High Fuel Efficiency" model was designed to allow the brand to point to some impressive fuel economy numbers (for a pickup truck) and try out some new technologies that might find their way into other models down the road. As a personal-use pickup truck, it's quite good; it's not a lack of sophistication that will prevent it from success, nor any kind of outrageous hybrid-style price tag. No, it's the option combination you'd need for an HFE model that is likely to keep production low, at least for now.

HFE = High Fuel Efficiency

Start with a new 2013 Ram 1500 Regular Cab 4x2, the smallest full-size Ram pickup in the stable, with a cloth-covered bench that seats three. This is the redesigned 1500, with a new interior, styling and powertrain options. The only engine and transmission combo available for the HFE is Chrysler's excellent Pentastar 3.6-liter V-6, bumping out 305 horsepower and 269 pounds-feet of torque and mated to the TorqueFlite eight-speed automatic transmission. Power heads only to the rear wheels; four-wheel drive is not available on the HFE, nor is any other cab configuration or box length. The purpose of this truck is to grab fuel-economy bragging rights, so size and weight are being kept to an absolute minimum.

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Poke around and underneath the 1500 HFE and you'll notice some interesting details. The Pentastar V-6 engine sits surprisingly high and aft, leaving a great deal of space in the engine compartment, something we're not used to seeing in these days of crammed-in componentry. This is almost a mid-engine pickup, with a good deal of the engine actually located behind the front axle line. The cooling system is interesting as well. Unlike most new vehicles, the HFE seems to get most of its cooling air through the grille instead of from underneath it. A set of massive power-actuated shutters sit behind that big chromed nose, opening and closing as needed to maximize aerodynamic efficiency and fuel economy. The lower part of the HFE's bumper fascia is actually sealed, with no fog lights or cooling openings.

Driving performance is more than adequate, with more than 300 horses hauling around not very much pickup. The HFE just misses out being the lightest Ram pickup you can buy by about 50 pounds, tipping the scales at 4,572 pounds. It has one of the smallest payload ratings at 1,430 pounds and one of the lowest maximum tow ratings, just 4,750 pounds. While still very capable, this is not meant to be a heavy-duty work truck or a towing rig. But around town and on the highway, the HFE is more than sufficiently powered without cargo and sports a couple of unique fuel-sipping features.

Stop-Start: A Full-Size Conventional Pickup First

First is the active fuel management system. You'll know it's working by the Eco light illuminating in the center cluster and by a very faint change to the engine note, but that's all. Eco mode employs tricks like fuel cutoff on deceleration to eke out the best fuel economy, but it falls short of actual cylinder deactivation; that feature comes instead on Ram's Hemi V-8 engines.

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The more interesting feature is also an industry first for a non-hybrid full-size pickup, and it's impossible to miss: a stop-start system that kills the engine when you stop the truck. GM's two-mode hybrid system for full-size trucks and SUVs also features a stop-start system, but it is combined with an electric drive motor that powers the vehicle from a stop. When the Ram HFE comes to a stop, it feels and sounds as if the engine has stalled. We're used to this in a hybrid sedan, but in a full-size pickup it's a bit eerie. Lift your foot off the brake when the light turns green, and the heavy-duty starter quickly cranks the engine twice and off you go. Unlike other stop-start systems I've tried in passenger cars, which seem to halt the engine in midcycle wherever it happens to be and resume its operation when it's time to go, the Ram stop-start actually sounds like it's shutting off and cranking the engine every time. It sounds like there should be a delay between your brake-lift action and forward motion as the engine catches, but there isn't — just swap pedals and go.

In fact, the stop-start system works quite well once the engine warms up and certain conditions are met, such as the steering wheel not being cranked over to one extreme or the other. The system can be defeated; just switch it off using the steering-wheel controls through a command menu in the instrument cluster gauges. I never did shut it off, though, enjoying as I was the reaction of other drivers who looked at me funny as my big pickup pulled up next to them at a stoplight and promptly appeared to switch off. Having the system reminds you just how often you typically sit idle in traffic.

No Luxo-Truck, but Still Nice

On the street, the HFE drives much as any Ram. Acceleration with the V-6 is smooth, and the ride is typical short-wheelbase empty pickup choppy. The electric power steering is pleasantly quick and direct, and an unusually quick turn-in makes the truck feel more maneuverable than its competitors. The TorqueFlite eight-speed, made by ZF and shared with much of the rest of Chrysler's lineup, is well-matched to the engine. Upshifts are quick, and the truck never hunts for the right gear to keep things moving. The gear selector is novel — a rotary affair not unlike those found in Jaguar luxury sedans. Stopping distances are also quite good, with the four-wheel disc brakes coming on strong with excellent pedal feel.

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The cabin is no penalty box either. Despite not having some amenities that many shoppers see in pickups these days, such as a leather interior, touch-screen multimedia and remote power everything, the latest update of the Ram has made even base-model interiors like this one quite nice. Seats are big, firm and comfortable; the steering wheel is grippy and thick; gauges are easily legible day or night; and there are plenty of cupholders, power ports, USB hubs and storage cubbies. Wheel-to-wheel side steps are an option that weren't present on my test truck, and they are indeed a necessity or else you'll find out just how wide a stance you have when trying to climb into the cab.

By the Numbers: Is It Worth It?

At the end of the day, this truck is about one thing: maximum mileage. It is EPA-rated at 18/25/21 mpg city/highway/combined. Ram says that this is the most fuel-efficient pickup on the market today, besting the 2013 Ford F-150's 3.7-liter V-6 and its optional twin-turbo EcoBoost 3.5-liter V-6. My week of driving the Ram HFE consisted of a variety of conditions, but I generally drove as a normal operator (not as a crazy lead-foot automotive journalist). I didn't baby it in the name of maximum fuel economy; I kept up with traffic and tried to simply drive it smoothly. The 250 miles I put on it consisted of mostly around-town use and limited 70-mph highway travel. The result: I regularly saw the meter hit 30 mpg on the highway, and my overall average for the week came in at 21.4 mpg (confirmed through my own fuel versus miles calculations).

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I did not tow with the truck, nor did I haul anything in the bed. I used the truck in the way the HFE model is most likely to be used — as a personal transport truck that is only sometimes used for cargo or light hauling duty. And in that role it does quite well, providing respectable fuel economy and considerable utility for light duties that don't require off-road prowess or serious towing.

Compared to the current crop of competitor pickups, the HFE is the most fuel efficient. The next closest is the out-of-production 2013 Chevrolet Silverado Hybrid, which is EPA-rated at 20/23/21. That bests the Ram HFE's city fuel economy and matches its overall mileage, but falls short of the highway mileage. Of course, it does so with a more powerful V-8 engine, a low-speed electric drive system and a higher tow rating but comes with a price tag fully $12,000 more than the Ram HFE's. Ford does not offer a special "fuel-economy champ" model of the F-150, but instead touts the entire line's fuel economy. The F-150 offers a base 3.7-liter V-6, but at 17/23/19 mpg it is beaten by the Ram; the difference is that the base Ford V-6 can be had in a variety of body styles and bed lengths, and also with optional four-wheel drive. Stepping up to Ford's EcoBoost 3.5-liter V-6 doesn't help — it gets 16/22/18 mpg, well below the Ram HFE, but offers the benefit of V-8-like power and torque with a commensurate rise in towing ability (and price).

Unlike GM's old hybrid pickups, the Ram HFE will not break the bank. We're used to seeing ever-increasing prices for pickups as more Laramie, Laramie Longhorn, King Ranch, High Country, Denali, etc. models pop up in the mix, but not so with the HFE. Price as tested was just $29,505, including a $995 destination fee, but it did not include any options. Major options include the RamBox cargo management system for $1,295, a spray-in bedliner for $475, chrome wheel-to-wheel side steps for $500 and a manual sliding rear window for $140. Even loaded up, the Ram HFE doesn't top $35,000.

Of course, the question becomes who exactly is the target audience for this truck? It certainly won't be heavy-duty truck users, as it has neither the space nor the equipment to satisfy them. Fleet buyers with lots of stop-and-go duties, such as municipalities or security firms, seem the likeliest targets as buyers who would get the most out of the HFE's urban stop-start system fuel economy benefits. What they'll be getting is a solid, decently equipped rig with genuinely good fuel economy, all for a reasonable price.

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the towing capacity for this truck is the same as two big commercial zero turn mowers on a single axle trailer. just about perfect for someone just getting started with their own little business.

If it is true that this truck gains only 1 mpg over the stock Ram 1500 V6 then why bother?
It is just a paper exercise by Ram to pad their CAFE numbers and to allow "legal" bragging rights in their advertising.

One can add a tonneau cover and buy some light weight wheels with low resistance tires all on their own.

A few have pointed out that by driving carefully one can easily better the ratings. For those who say they are unrealistic, one then should take a careful look at their own driving habits.
The EPA mpg ratings were revised a long time ago to more accurately reflect real driving. They still aren't perfect.

I've gone on a few short trips and several long trips with the last one being 600 miles and averaged 20.5 mpg on my truck that is EPA rated for 18 mpg. The return trip faced a stiff headwind for the first 140 miles and I still managed 19.5 mpg. That was with a 60 MPH posted highway speed limit.

I should add - 600 miles one way.

It's very sad that others post under somebody elses name. I'm in law enforcement Kw, I know who you are, keep it up.

@DenverMike aka Numpty,
I have given more thought to the reposts under my name.

You know what, other than you normally being the only person responding to the repost of my blogs, there is more.

1. The reposts are very loosely related to the comments. (I have made hundreds)

2. You generally respond to the reposts under my name that you are reproducing and modifying.

3. This indicates to me you are going beyond the bounds of trolling, you are actually stalking.

4. So you have collected all of my blogs and have them on a data base or in some system of filing for future reposts. This is due to the speed of the reposts.

5. Why the complex operation?

Stalking is a serious matter.

@MARK WILLIAMS, I have contacted you on what is occurring on PUTC. I hope you do read this and respond responsibly.

I still stand by what I've written previously to you and contrary to PUTC conclusion thinking these are school kids, they are adults.

If you are in law enforcement then come and get me you idiot!!!!!!!!

YAWN....FAIL! Considering when I rented a full size Chevy Suburban in Las Vegas for 5 days with a 5.3 V-8 with DOD and got 21 mpg during those 5 days I can see no benefit to a cheapo 6cyl Ram with no power and week MPG.

I had a Regular Cab 4x2 short bed Ram in college although it had the 5.9V8. It was actually a pretty usable truck. Sure its a short bed but its still almost a foot longer then the shorty bed on the crew cab. I used to fit four people across in the front seat fort short distances all the time. One time we got I think six people in with two girls sitting on the laps of my buddies. Also I used it to move back and forth all the time.

To those saying just get a utility trailer, I don't think most of the general population that aren't "truck guys" or have experience pulling trailers would be able to manuver as easily as a pickup. It's comical to watch some people try and back up a small trailer.

To those that say a 6.5' bed is too small, I agree, but it's what the manufacturers are offering. The recent article about the Sierra refers to the 6.5' bed as the "long bed".

I think the fuel economey differences in real world tests between the base V6 and the HFE will be much bigger than the 1 mpg EPA ratings. The start-stop will help in town, and the active grill shutters will help on the highway. As the author said, he got it up to 30 mpg on the highway, and I'm lucky to break 20 with my '97.

Also, remember when every truck used to be regular cab? My brother-in-law just got a newer GMC 1500. I call it an SUV because the bed is tiny, must be like a 5' bed. I'll take the extra bedspace over two extra doors.

Wow! I guess I am not your typical truck buyer according to the articale and everyone's comments. I really like the sound of the truck and the option combinations.

To put this in perspective I drive a Silverado 1500 WT with 6 banger and cloth seats, so this is the modern version of my truck.

I like the fact that this is still essentially old technolody without a hybrid system or diesel. I also like the fact that there is no touch screen. I see costly features as costly features to repair. Since this is still old tech I would probably still feel comfortable wrnching under the hood if needed.

I do think that the need to work on the price pioint a little. I bought my silverado new 11 years ago for 16k; this truck is almost double for a 6cyl, regular cab, 2WD. To me the sweet spot for sticking pricing would be in the 26k range today not almost 30k.

I could see fleets buying this truck up, especially for foreman and others who travel between job sites.

$30K for a stripped down V6 shortbed truck?? There are some marketing folks somewhere, high-fiving each other about how cleverly they just pulled the wool over our eyes.

Rick: what does the size of the cab have to do with the size of the bed? maybe in this one package yes, but if you will notice, the only half tons with 8" beds, are indeed, reg cabs!!

8' beds on Regular cabs yes, anything else with an eight foot bed is a land yaught, that's why you usually only can get HD Crew Cab's with an eight foot bed.

I wish they'd bring back the Laramie Regular cab, I'd buy one in a heart beat.

@TJ, I was disappointed with the Suburban when we rented it. Yes, it gets 21mpg, but it''s lost the toughness it used to have. No low range anymore, no front ground clearance, 3.08:1 rear axle. It's just a big station wagon now. But it's not fair to be impressed with the Suburban's 21 mpg and not be impressed with Ram's 25-30 "week" [sic] mpgs.

The Suburban is still a truck based on the Silverado, Yea its low in the front but now lower then a silverado or Ram its just the way half ton trucks are now to acheive higher fuel economy ratings and better drivability but it still can tow with the best of them.

If Chrysler really wanted to make a special high mileage version, they would use the 3.2 V6 + ZF 8hp30 transmission + 3.55 axle ratio.
That would improve City MPG from 18 to 19, and bump Highway to 26 from 25.

Looks like the Ram HFE is in Honda Ridgeline territory,

Where truck lovers say it's useless.

@Phillyguy: The problem with your suggestion -- crossover with utility trailer -- is that if the owner lives anywhere close to town and has to park on the street or, as with many row-home/townhouse owners, in street-side parking, they literally have no place to keep a trailer, at which point it no longer makes sense economically OR practically. That doesn't mean they won't have NEED for some carrying capacity for bulky items that simply won't fit in the back of the crossover, however. For that matter, how many refrigerators, washer/dryer combos, mattresses, dining room tables or other housewares do you see getting carried by a utility trailer? Sure, such a trailer might be ok to haul lumber, a mower or other dirty product, but rarely have I EVER seen household goods carried in an open trailer. A closed trailer is expensive enough to overbalance any savings you might have garnered by taking your route at which point the pickup again becomes the more economical choice.

Remember, PG, I only live about 50-75 miles away from you. I know the region fairly well.

Lol, this truck would outpull the hell out of a Ridgeline. But then it can't seat 4 or 5 and has no 4x4.

Don't tell me what the Ridgline is rated to pull, it has nothing on this powerwise, and is what, a 5 speed?

There are some people that just want a truck for throwing things in the bed, not always towing heavy.

If a person actually looked at the longbed v-6 Rams, they have within 25 pounds of payload as what the Ford v-6 3.7 has, (the one that overheats the transmission according to Edmunds, when they put it's max trailer tow weight behind it)

If you look at that review, you would see the Ram 3.6 generally gets about 2 mpg better then the Ford, and that's without stop/start. Sure, that's with the Ram having 3.55 gears and the Ford having 3.73s. Not Rams fault Ford has an old transmission.

Right about now, GM has probably got their hands full because their 4.3 might only get 1 mpg better then the 5.3, and one mpg less then this truck even when not in the HFE form. You put the two so close together, most buyers will just buy the 5.3. Unlike Ram which offers a v-8 8 speed that will get r done and still get mileage, with alot more torque and USEABLE gears.

@Lou: probably the same tires on this as any v-6 Ram, unless you get a Outdoorsman with offroad type tires. I think their idea of low rolling resistance is just not big wheels, ie, 33" tires on 20" wheels. Ford has a good deal of low rolling resistance tires that you can get stuck in gravel with. Like the Hankook Dyno Pro's, lol, they actually say A/T on them!

This truck will be a niche model the same way a Ram R/T was. Outside of possible bulk fleet purchases it won't be a volume model but like any mileage getting pickup it's in the line up because it has to be.

The real useable power/mileage will come from the 3.0 diesel and the steeper price tag will only effect people that trade their trucks off before they have to.

The baby diesel in the 1500 will be a great long term purchase for those who choose to use it as intended.

Having said that it's great having plenty of options to choose from. I can see where there'd be a use for the HFE but realistically a base Ram 1500 will be good enough for most fuel conscious users.

Within a year I'll be looking at replacing my 2012 1500 Laramie and I'll be looking at the new 6.2 GM and the 3.0 Ram. I'd be perfectly happy with a 5.7 8-speed truck, too.

@TRX-4 Tom: The person that buys this truck will have no need to carry 4 or 5 people in it. In fact, carrying even three would probably be rare. The 4x4 is also unnecessary for the majority of drivers simply because they rarely get off of pavement. You're thinking too much of your own needs to realize that not everybody needs that much capability. With this model, RAM has killed the mid-size Dakota yet again--realizing that this truck will do most of what Dakota owners would want and still stays at an almost reasonable price.

The person that drives this won't be carrying a 2500 pound load. They won't be pulling 5,000 pound trailers (except maybe the occasional pop-up camper). In fact, I expect the most common user of this will likely be pest-control services, plumbers, maybe locksmiths, utility contractors and other light-duty operators. This could well be an extremely popular model for both fleet and intermittent-use/commuting consumers.

Maybe this is the best any manufacturer can do. that's why I'm dissappointed. I just figured the first truck with start stop. First truck with grill shutters. First truck with an 8 speed. First truck that is actually a "high fuel economy" model would be rated for better mpg than this. I was really expecting with all these features the truck would be significantly, not slightly better. Still I hope it is just underrated.

RX-Tom - I've never seen Hankook tires factory stock on a Ford. Goodyear seems to be the most common brand with Michelins sprinkled in. They seem to like the Pirelli Scorpion 20' tires.

The SR-A's on my truck seemed to work okay anywhere but mud but their life span sucks. I'm close to 30,000 miles and they are almost toast. Gravel roads are fairly hard on them but virtually any factory tire whether it be LT or P Metric don't have much of a life span on gravel.

I'll be going with a LT but I'm still undecided as to which one, any suggestions?

Look up the the Cooper A/T3. #1 tire AT tire by CR.




How about the Bridgestone Dualer Revo? I've got 20K miles on a set and they still look almost new.

I've run Maxx tyres twice on my 4x4 in recent years and got 75 000ks out of them and they are quite cheap. I don't know if this brand exists in Canada.

There biggest draw back is wet tar, but they still handled acceptably. They made a bit of road noise as well.

Thanks guys.
I am looking at some Michelin LTX A/T 2's but they only come in a "C" rated P metric or an "E" rated LT. An "E" rating would most likely be overkill for my use. They are pricy but come with a 100,000 KM (60,000 mile) tread wear guarantee.

I haven't been looking around for very long. I'll do some research on your suggestions.

@Vulpine: I was just comparing it to the Ridgeline as somebody had started to. I said nothing of my own needs.

I think this is fine for somebody that doesn't tow heavy (as I said above, not everybody does) Somebody that may just have one person with them, or two, and one of them be smaller, they can sit in the middle-sitting in the middle in a new truck doesn't leave you as much room as the older trucks though.

Some are complaining about payload. Wah! The typical crew/quad cab and Ford crews are right near 1400 pounds. Sure the max payload package is there for Fords, maybe it sells in less then 5% of their trucks? Ever seen the payload on a Harley Davidson F-150? Low.

I drove the same engine/trans/gear combo in a heavier crewcab, it got up and moved pretty quick.

Mark Williams also says the Ford v-6 3.7 is available in 4x4, so is this v-6, and it is in crew and quad cabs with it as well.

I agree with your second paragrapgh. But there are alot of folks that just feel more comfortable in a truck, either physicaly or they can see better, or if they have something that takes up space, hey, chuck it in the back. The big price I believe is for the start stop, but you can put a cover on a non HFE one and get the same highway mileage. So it depends on how often you are in city, and I mean not some "in town 40 mph driving", I mean like the drive the journalist took in the Ram in Chicago.

@Lou: the Hankook Dyno Pro A/Ts (which really aren't much of an A/T pattern) were on the Ford in the 30K shootout. 235/75 R 17. But if you get a chance, walk some lots. Alot of the cheap fleet trucks have them. Mostly single cab. Alot of white trucks. Atleast in Missouri and Arkansas.

My 2006 Chevy ext cab had the Good Year STs I believe, which they still use. In 265/70 17 size they are 38 or 39 pounds (very light) and are a big reason why the truck got good highway miles-that and being lighter then my current truck due to being an extended cab,-no post in the middle- aluminum block, and typical GM having less structure to it.

Ford and GM use alot of these low resistance weak tires, and I can't say much good about them. Ford sells their "Off Road" package with SSAs as one option. No thanks, are they a 4 ply tread, and two ply sidewall? I will take my 5 ply tread, and 3 ply sidewall, even if it brings mileage down some, no flats and holds a load.

I would do as Patrick suggests, get Coopers, or Firestone Destination A/Ts, or Yokahoma Geolander A/Ts.

Ford does offer a better low pro tire, the Michelin which I believe is a 65 series, and if the 30 k shootout Ford had them, their results would have been better. The Ram tires used here have no less rolling resistance then the Michelins, the Hankooks, and the Good Years Ford and GM put on anything on a regular bases.

So called "A/T" tire.


No wonder the already lighter then the double cab trucks single cab For got such good mileage in the 30 K shootout. When your tires are this narrow and only weigh way 30 pounds vs. 39 or 40, and 70 series, this is one reason it got such mileage. With a max inflation of 35 psi! If this Ram had these, it would be getting better mileage. But then, as the F-150 did with a load in the bed in that shootout, it would handle miserably! No thanks!

Tires like this help Ford get their mileage numbers.

@TRX-Tom - I don't make a habit of paying too much attention to the stock tires on pickups since they usually don't last or don't work well.

That applies equally to Ram.

1/2 ton fleet trucks tend to be rare in my world and they don't usually site on our dealer lots. My brother's company has bought a fleet of GM 1/2 tons that have been getting destroyed by idiot field staff. In that case, why spend money on good tires or 3/4 ton trucks when the morons wreck everything they are given.

I wanted to know what you found worked well for you as opposed to a post about crappy stock Ford tires.

Did you say what you had on your truck?

@TRX-Tom - fleet trucks don't usually sit on our local lots. Several of the dealers in my area have separate storage lots which the public cannot access or big companies go to tender and local dealers cannot compete. The only time I've seen fleet trucks on local lots is when the economy has done poorly and a fleet purchase have been cancelled or the fleet buyer has gone bankrupt. The local dealer then gets stuck with 20 plain jane trucks to sell. There aren't too many 1/2 tons used as fleet in my area especially 4x2.
I don't make a habit of looking at stock tires since they tend to be cheap tires that don't last much longer than 2-3 years or they are inadequate for the buyer's end usage.
I'm sure that Ram is just as guilty as Ford or Chevy for doing mpg testing with low resistance light weight tires.

Sorry for the 2 posts, the first post dated Jun 12, 2013 11:57:08 AM wasn't on the web site when I made the second post.

In many sizes you are limited so you may get stuck with an E in an LT, if you don't want C. E is overkill but not uncommon to use. With the LT tire you will find that the vehicle corners better and handles loads better. Dittoes on the Cooper AT3. They also have a 55k warranty on a LT tire.

@Dave - thanks. That is the problem I've noticed with the 18" wheels on my truck. Any upgades usually involve jumping to an E rated tire. I do plan on spending more time on gravel roads this summer so it may be worth the overkill. I looked at a Michelin tire and there was only 200 dollars difference in price for a C rated P metric and an E rated LT.

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