Driving our pricey, diesel-powered Dodge Ram 1500

Driving our pricey, diesel-powered Dodge Ram 1500

A subdued ‘clackety-clack’ goes the new pickup truck’s soundtrack

Published: May 28, 2014 10:30 AM

I bought a new test truck, and there was much rejoicing. Celebration for the Ram 1500 EcoDiesel, the first half-ton diesel truck in more than 25 years, goes far beyond the yard work needs of the Consumer Reports auto test staff.

Evidence of this came from very strong initial orders from dealers, with customers practically lining up to buy. We saw this firsthand as we tried to buy our diesel Ram. Getting our hands on a truck took several weeks, and it was a challenge to find one that wasn’t super-loaded with options.

Even taking that into account, our Ram wasn’t cheap. Not even close. We opted for a midevel Big Horn Crew Cab 4x4 with the shorter of the two bed length choices. Adding the diesel ramps upped the price by a cool $4,000.

After that, our truck is packed with many nice options—$6,000 of them. A $410 integrated trailer brake controller and towing mirrors seem to be a natural match for the diesel’s talents. We’re also big fans of the $505 Uconnect 8.4 touch-screen infotainment system. Once you have experienced heated front seats and a heated steering wheel, it’s hard living without them here in New England. There goes another $395. We regretted not getting a $595 backup camera with park assist on our last Ram, so this one has it.

Added all up, our truck was sticker priced at $49,155. That seems like a lot for a truck with cloth seats. Most trucks seem to be priced to reflect the inevitable thousands of dollars in incentives as manufacturers fight for dominance in truck sales wars. Even though we still got some money off, buying the first one on the block that wasn’t presold didn’t help bargaining.

We’ve called the Ram 1500 “the luxury truck” among its peers, and the diesel makes it even more civilized. Compared to the Hemi’s roar and burble, the diesel goes about its business unobtrusively. The torquey powerplant sounds quieter here than in our tested 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee EcoDiesel. Power flows out smoothly, thanks to the eight-speed automatic transmission, but the 240-horsepower EcoDiesel lacks the acceleration of the Hemi. It will be curious to see how the diesel does when towing; we were impressed by how the Jeep pulls a load.

The biggest question: how good is the fuel economy? According to the trip computer, I got 25 mpg overall on my commute. I’ve never broken 20 mpg on the same route with a Hemi-powered truck or SUV. Instrumented testing will come after the truck gets break-in miles; it had less than 100 miles on it when I drove it. It also had a bed full of brush—like I said, all of us at the track have a lot of yard work to do—but it’s unlikely those picked up sticks mattered here.

I also found some surprises. Despite all of those options, including various “comfort” and “luxury” packages, our truck lacks automatic climate control. Also, since it’s quite a stretch to jump up into the bed to unload yard debris, I was surprised there’s no step or ladder. Our truck was certainly shiny at delivery, but the dealer didn’t fill up either the diesel tank or the diesel emissions fluid tank. (We do like the analog gauge that shows the fluid level.)

Maybe the biggest surprise: Our truck’s 1,233 pound payload rating is pretty modest. With its 3.55 rear axle ratio, the truck can tow 7,750 pounds. Say you tow a 6,500-pound camper; it will probably have 650 pounds of tongue weight, leaving you with less than 600 pounds of capacity for your kids and stuff in the truck.

Still, this is a rather impressive and quite refined machine. Of course, many of the Ram 1500’s attributes remain intact here, such as best-in-class ride from the rear coil spring suspension, comfortable front seats, and a roomy cab. In the weeks ahead, we’ll see if this diesel-burning Ram can outscore the Chevrolet Silverado/GMC Sierra at the top of our truck ratings.

Tom Mutchler

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