First Drive: 2020 Ram 1500 EcoDiesel is Smooth Towing Machine

August 20, 2019 by Jerry Hirsch, @Jerryhirsch

The quiet of a rural highway north of Duluth, Minn., is startling to one conditioned to the noise and congestion of Southern California. It’s easy to drive 10 miles without seeing another vehicle.

The calm on a recent drive near Lake Superior was reinforced by the lack of noise that seeps into the cabin of the 2020 Ram 1500 EcoDiesel pickup truck. It’s hard to get your head around the idea that a pickup with a diesel engine can be a quiet as an upscale sedan.

I expect truck engines to gurgle and growl. Sometimes it’s irritating. More often, it’s an audible reassurance of the truck’s strength. A unique combination of elegance and power emanates from the new Ram and its third-generation half-ton diesel engine.

STITCHED ELEGANCE

To be sure, the elegance is partly a result of the $61,000 Laramie Longhorn trim level. We are talking a finely stitched leather interior with wood accents. Tooled buckles fasten the seatback pockets in the second row. A 12-inch touch screen anchors the cabin. Acoustic glass and a stiff frame that relies on extra-high-strength steel reduce road noise and vibration.

You can spend less on the truck. Those looking for a well-designed tool to tow boats and other gear will be able to purchase the base model for $38,585 when it goes on sale late this year. That includes the destination fee.

POWER NUMBERS

Elegance aside, plenty of power comes from the diesel engine that shares just 20 percent of its components with the previous model.

The updated 3-liter engine is Ram’s third-generation half-ton truck diesel powerplant. It is optimized for towing and produces up to 480 pound-feet of torque, the most in the segment. It also has the highest half-ton diesel towing capacity: 12,560 pounds.

The engine showed little strain towing a trailer loaded with ATVs – about 5,000 pounds – on a 12-mile loop near Gilbert, Minn. It growled a touch on the hills and easily climbed to the speed limit on the highway.

The diesel produces up to 260 horsepower, an 8 percent increase over the previous generation.

MPG QUESTION MARK

Ram has not yet provided fuel economy numbers for the new diesel. It is yet to be certified by the EPA. But the company said it will be competitive with the best vehicles in the segment.

Ram executives said the truck can drive from Duluth to Dallas – about 1,000 miles – without a refill. That equates to about 33 mpg, assuming the EcoDiesel being discussed has the larger 33-gallon tank.

By comparison, the EPA ranks the diesel version of the 2020 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 as the most fuel-efficient light-duty truck on the market. The Silverado achieves an EPA-estimated 33 mpg in highway driving and 23 mpg in the city when equipped with General Motors’ new 3-liter inline six-cylinder Duramax diesel engine and rear-wheel drive. The diesel engine is the first offered in a Chevy light-duty truck since 1997.

PREMIUM OPTION

Whether truck buyers should purchase a diesel is always a question. The fuel economy of a diesel pickup is 15 percent to 25 percent more than its gasoline counterpart, depending on the model. The price of diesel eats up some of that advantage. According to AAA, drivers pay about 12 percent more for diesel than they do for gasoline.

Manufacturers also charge more for diesel-powered vehicles. The EcoDiesel is a $4,995 option over the truck’s standard gasoline engine. It carries a $3,000 to $3,300 premium over Ram trucks equipped with a 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 eTorque gasoline engine, depending on the trim level.

But besides fuel economy, diesels are known for their torque and towing capacity. So it makes sense to pay for the diesel engine if you frequently trailer.

ENGINE IMPROVEMENTS

2020 Ram EcoDiesel engine

Ram’s diesel engine produces up to 480 pound-feet of torque and can tow up to 12,560 pounds. (Photo: Ram)

Ram engineers designed a host of improvements into the new-generation engine.

The new powerplant has a water-cooled turbocharger with variable geometry that is more efficient and provides improved response as engine rpms rise and fall. On the road the engine exhibited almost no turbo lag.

Redesigned intake ports improve engine performance and fuel economy.

Ram also developed a dual, high-pressure and low-pressure exhaust gas recirculation, or EGR, system, a first for a diesel engine in North America. The technology improves fuel economy and lowers emissions of smog-forming nitrogen oxides, the automaker said.

It redesigned the aluminum-alloy pistons to improve fuel economy. Thinner piston rings and coating on the side skits reduce friction.

WELCOME UPDATE

Ram redesigned its gasoline half-ton pickup in 2018 but delayed releasing the diesel version until this year. In the meantime, the gas 1500 has become one of the best full-size pickups on the market.

The new model has powered Ram past the Chevrolet Silverado. Chevy sold 256,777 Silverados during the first half of the year. Ram sold 299,480. Ram is positioned to replace the Silverado as the second best-selling full-size pickup truck in the U.S. The new diesel will likely help Ram secure that position this year and give the brand momentum into next year.

Editor’s note: To facilitate this report, Trucks.com attended an event at which Ram hosted travel and lodging.

Jerry Hirsch July 10, 2019
Americans keep snapping up pickup trucks but General Motors is struggling to keep up with the boom.

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