2020 Ram 1500 EcoDiesel First Drive: Refined, Strong ... and Efficient?

2020 Ram 1500 EcoDiesel Exterior

Cars.com photos by Aaron Bragman; manufacturer images

By Aaron Bragman

Ram was one of the first truckmakers to offer a light-duty diesel pickup with the EcoDiesel engine back in 2014, and now we've driven the third-generation engine that will be offered later this year in the 2020 Ram 1500. You'd think that light-duty diesel pickups would be a no-brainer decision — big, capable pickups sporting powertrains that deliver mountains of torque and impressive fuel economy seem like a great idea. But only recently have these compression engines started to make their way under the hoods of light-duty pickups such as the Chevrolet Silverado 1500, GMC Sierra 1500 and Ford F-150.

Related: Ram 1500 EcoDiesel Returns for 2020 More Powerful Than Before

2020 Ram 1500 3.0-Liter EcoDiesel V-6

The new turbo-diesel 3.0-liter V-6 engine makes 260 horsepower and a best-in-class 480 pounds-feet of torque. It enables the Ram 1500 a maximum towing capacity of 12,560 pounds (depending on configuration). We also know how much it's going to cost, but what we still don't know is its rated fuel economy. At the time of publishing, Ram said it's not done with EPA certification, and we suspect Chevrolet's recently announced 33 mpg highway rating for its 3.0-liter six-cylinder diesel has Ram scrambling. Despite letting us drive the 2020 Ram 1500 EcoDiesel, there's still no word on its officially rated fuel economy. But, we have some idea of where it's likely to end up after driving one for a day.

Refined but Not too Much

The Ram EcoDiesel V-6 is smooth and strong, just like the Silverado's light-duty diesel inline-six-cylinder engine. It fires up with a noticeable diesel rattle, and while the sound is never unpleasant or intrusive, that noise never goes away.

"You've spent the money for a diesel engine, I think you should know that you have a diesel under the hood," Ram 1500 chief engineer Rod Romain told PickupTrucks.com at the launch drive for the new diesel in Duluth, Minn. (Per our ethics policy, PickupTrucks.com pays for travel and lodging for such automaker-sponsored events.)

"The sound shouldn't be obnoxious, but it shouldn't be invisible either," Romain continued.

2020 Ram 1500 EcoDiesel Front Cabin

Not obnoxious but not invisible is a pretty good way to describe the auditory experience of driving the new EcoDiesel. During acceleration, there's a pronounced noise, but it largely disappears cruising along at a steady speed. Wind noise is a bigger factor in the Ram 1500's interior comfort than engine noise, and even that isn't terribly intrusive. The Ram 1500's interior is as impressively quiet and comfortable as it's ever been.

Efficient-ish; Chevy Will Be Hard to Catch

My test drive was done in two different Ram 1500 variants — the first being the Ram 1500's best-case scenario for fuel economy, a two-wheel-drive Tradesman Quad-Cab base model complete with a cloth bench seat up front, truncated rear doors (not a full crew cab), on-road-oriented tires, a basic Uconnect multimedia system and an as-tested price of just about $42,000. Ram plans to offer the EcoDiesel V-6 in every single one of its trim levels, so this basic Tradesman is the model with the greatest payload and towing capacity; starting price is $38,585, including $1,695 destination. The gross combined weight rating for the diesel model isn't any different than it is for the gas-powered models (18,200 pounds), meaning the lighter you can make your truck, the more room you have to play with payload and towing.

Over about 150 miles of gentle Minnesota hills at moderate speeds, the Ram 1500 Tradesman with two occupants managed 30.8 mpg, according to the trip computer. That's considerably better than the rated highway performance of the last 3.0-liter EcoDiesel engine (rated at 20/27/23 mpg city/highway/combined) in a Ram 1500 — though PickupTrucks.com has also reported real-world fuel economy for the previous EcoDiesel in the 28-30 mpg range. The current best-rated gas Ram 1500 is a V-6 eTorque with rear-wheel drive at 20/26/23 mpg.

image from p.widencdn.net

My observed fuel economy about matches what you'd get in a Ford F-150 3.0-liter diesel (22/30/25 mpg). It doesn't come close, however, to the latest numbers from Chevrolet's new diesel. On a test drive earlier this summer, I was able to see 38.1 mpg from a 30-mile test loop in a 2020 Silverado 1500 Duramax, while other journalists on my drive were able to coax an amazing 41-45 mpg out of the truck. Officially, the Chevy's fuel economy is rated at 23/33/27 mpg city/highway/combined. Later, on a longer, higher-speed, more realistic jaunt in an RST crew cab with four passengers and luggage, I still turned in 33.8 mpg. Perhaps credit goes to the two extra gears in the Silverado's 10-speed automatic transmission, but it's looking like the Chevy is going to be hard to beat for light-duty diesel fuel economy. A 55-mile pure highway jaunt later in my Ram test in a loaded $69,000 four-wheel-drive Limited crew-cab model returned just 23.9 mpg.

That's going to be an interesting trade-off then, as the Ram 1500 feels like a superior truck in nearly every other category.

Will It Tow?

2020 Ram 1500 EcoDiesel Towing Side-By-Sides

Yes, and like a champ, too. The eight-speed transmission in the Ram EcoDiesel is nicely matched to the engine, providing smooth shifts that you hear more than feel. It doesn't feel terribly quick, however, even when you plant your foot. Acceleration is strong but unhurried. The trick here is that this sensation doesn't change even when towing a 5,150-pound trailer full of side-by-side off-road vehicles or a 7,000-pound trailer with a ski boat. The EcoDiesel engine just pulls and pulls, even up significant grades, with little complaint. Unlike my experience towing in the Ford F-150 diesel, which struggled to maintain 55-60 mph with my foot to the floor up a 3-4 percent grade while towing a similarly weighty trailer, the Ram EcoDiesel not only maintained speed but accelerated easily up such grades. It never ran out of grunt, and always seemed to have more if needed. How the Ram tows versus the new Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Duramax, I cannot say — Chevrolet neglected to provide a towing test as part of its media launch drive of the new Silverado diesel. That will have to wait for a subsequent test.

Will It Off-Road?

2020 Ram 1500 Rebel EcoDiesel Off-Road

The Ram 1500 EcoDiesel will indeed go off-road, thanks to the new EcoDiesel engine's first appearance in the Ram 1500 Rebel. Just like the regular gas-powered Rebel, it can be had in the Quad- or crew-cab models, with air or steel suspension. Like most diesel engines I've sampled in off-road trucks, the modulation of the throttle is the biggest challenge. The EcoDiesel has a fair bit of turbo lag, so trying to be gentle with the throttle while traversing tricky terrain takes a bit of skill. There's nothing like the amazing torque of the engine to pull the big beast of a truck up a steep, slippery, mud-strewn hill. Whereas the diesel four-cylinder engine is not the engine to have in the mid-size Chevrolet Colorado ZR2, opting for it in the Ram Rebel is no penalty at all. It still storms down fast trails at astonishing speeds, crawls up sheer rocks and inches down steep declines just as well as the regular gas-powered Rebel. It just sounds a bit more bad-ass while doing it, and does it more fuel efficiently while costing a bit more in the process.

2020 Ram 1500 EcoDiesel Off-Road in Mud

Is the Ram EcoDiesel Worth the Cost? Wish We Could Say

Hopefully, we'll learn the 2020 Ram EcoDiesel's official fuel economy numbers soon. Ram would offer only two tidbits of information that led to us doing our own calculations: The company claims that you can drive from Duluth, Minn., to Dallas on a single tank of fuel, or that you can commute to work for a month without needing to fill up. Since we don't know whose commute they're talking about, we'll have to speculate on the first figure: Google Maps lists the driving distance from Duluth to Dallas as 1,091 miles. The Ram 1500 has a choice of two fuel tanks — a standard 26-gallon tank or a larger, optional 33-gallon tank. Some simple math would suggest that Ram expects the new EcoDiesel to achieve a highway fuel economy of either 42 mpg or 33 mpg ... we're going to surmise that it's the latter number, using the big fuel tank, as 42 mpg highway seems like a long shot based on our day's drive of the new truck.

Two 2020 Ram 1500 EcoDiesels in Field

The diesel option is a $4,995 addition to the bottom line, or $3,000 more than a 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 eTorque ($3,300 on the Tradesman, Big Horn/Lone Star, Rebel and Laramie trims). That makes it more expensive than the diesel option on the Chevy, which is $3,890 more than the base turbocharged 2.7-liter four-cylinder engine or $2,495 more than the optional 5.3-liter V-8, and exactly as much as the Ford 3.0-liter Power Stroke diesel option on the XLT SuperCab 4x2 ($4,995). However, Ram including the EcoDiesel on entry-level Tradesman trims makes its $38,585 entry price less expensive than competitors.

The Ram 1500 EcoDiesel feels more capable than the comparable Ford F-150 diesel and could be more fuel efficient as well. It might not be able to touch the Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Duramax for efficiency (the Chevy I-6 turbodiesel and 10-speed automatic is such a fantastic combination), but it's easily as smooth as that truck, and even the base models come with a far better interior than Chevrolet can muster. Having more powertrain options is always good, and if you want a pickup with excellent towing abilities and a fuel economy advantage over a comparable gasoline-powered truck, Ram's latest option is an impressive one. However, without having the full EPA-rated specs, and only our limited testing to go on, it's hard to make the call on if it's worth the added cost.

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PickupTrucks.com's Editorial department is your source for automotive news and reviews. In line with PickupTrucks.com's long-standing ethics policy, editors and reviewers don't accept gifts or free trips from automakers. The Editorial department is independent of PickupTrucks.com's advertising, sales and sponsored content departments.

2020 Ram 1500 EcoDiesel Steering Wheel

2020 Ram 1500 EcoDiesel Uconnect Screen

2020 Ram 1500 EcoDiesel Gauges

2020 Ram 1500 EcoDiesel Rear Seat

2020 Ram 1500 EcoDiesel Tailgate

2020 Ram 1500 EcoDiesel Badge

2020 Ram 1500 EcoDiesel Tradesman Exterior

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