The Return of The EcoDiesel…and Then Some

A Victory & Reseda review of the 2020 Ram 1500

Ten years ago, Sergio Marchione introduced a new brand to the Chrysler side of a soon-to-be-merged entity to be known as Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. This brand has fought for recognition outside of FCA's realm as a leader in pickup truck engineering.

Yet, there are those who still call them a "Dodge" ten years on.

For the record, these trucks are no longer called "Dodge." Since 2009, Ram Trucks had to deal with customers who still had no clue that not only this is a stand-alone brand focused on pickup trucks and other commercial vehicles for FCA's North American markets. Then again, they don't read the industry trade publications that have tracked Ram's successes in pickup truck sales against its Ford and General Motors rivals.

Despite some pratfalls with recalls and a diesel emissions settlement for which no wrongdoing was evidenced by FCA whatsoever, Ram has become the truck of the moment. The 1500, 1500 Classic, and Heavy Duty models combined are in second place behind all of Ford's F-Series models. Sales for all pickups at Ram are up by 23% through the first three quarters of 2019.  All of Ram's deliveries are up by 23% from the same period last year through the first three quarters of this year.

I've always enjoyed working with the Ram 1500 – their extremely popular full-sized half-ton pickup truck. The newest version certainly caught my attention. I drove enough of them to make a comparison with General Motors, Ford, Toyota, and Nissan and found them to be perfectly over-engineered.

And, for good reason! How many pickup trucks will feature independent suspension all around? We're talking the ones with traditional cab/bed-on-frame construction. Plus, to add an air suspension that has automatic self-leveling for highway driving, while having some sort of load in the back – or, a trailer attached to it.  

The innovations continue with Ram's solution to ready tool storage and access in the bed through the Ram Box. You usually slap a big toolbox at the back of the bed and call it a day. Not Ram. While some may complain that the Ram Box cuts into their precious bed space, truck owners do see the value of convenience and security these storage spaces offer.

Plus, who can create an interior on par with some of the finest automobiles in the marketplace – in a half-ton full-size pickup truck?

With all of that said, I do have a high appreciation for what FCA has done with its North American truck and commercial vehicle brand. Last year's new generation model sparked the brand's new trajectory into its latest sales success. A review of this new version of the Ram 1500 earned the proclamation of being "still the best truck in the business."

A year later, another Ram 1500 arrived reporting for duty. It came with more newsworthy items worth testing out.

For 2020, Ram added the new Multifunction Tailgate. Compared to GMC's MultiPro tailgate, the Ram system is simple. In the Ram, you can lower it traditionally or open it to the sides in a 60/40 split. The latter was designed for easier access into the bed by using the bumper rather than a flimsy step. Or, having the embarrassing moment to explain why you're filing a warranty claim against a complicated tailgate because you left the ball into the hitch – which, by the way, is considered illegal in some states for doing so.

Also, the 2020 model trumpets the return of the EcoDiesel engine. I tested the previous iteration of this engine to a great reception. All of the critical numbers are up from the 2016 model with 480 pound-feet of torque, a 1,800-pound payload, and a maximum towing capacity of 9,710 pounds for this four-wheel-drive, Crew Cab, Short box configuration.

With these two headlines ready for a deeper examination, there are some thoughts that are still swirling in my head. To see that the domestic competitors are offering diesel engines in their half-ton full-size pickup trucks makes for a healthy marketplace. Diesel engines are designed for greater low-end power while returning better fuel economy than their gasoline-fueled V8 (or twin-turbocharged V6) counterparts.

Plus, to see that innovation can be simplified is another mark of catering to a customer base who want fewer complications in their lives. The Multifunction tailgate and Ram Box combined is designed for convenience and efficiency in both work and play. That is what truck buyers really want, right?

The biggest question I have to address is "do all of these 'headline features' work?"

The simple, straightforward answer is "yes." The Multifunction Tailgate is foolproof when you open it up from side-to-side. All that tailgate does is to make it easier to load pieces of wood, cement mix, and your big IKEA purchase into the box.

The biggest attraction for me was the EcoDiesel driveline. In the newest Ram 1500, this engine/transmission combination is smooth and quiet – two words you don't normally associate with a diesel engine going back some twenty years ago. You expect your driveline to be smooth and quiet these days – and the 3.0-liter turbocharged V6 diesel and its ZF eight-speed automatic transmission epitomize this expectation.

Since we talked about numbers before, the average fuel consumption with this tester came to 23.2 MPG. For a full-size half-ton pickup truck with a diesel engine, that's a good average.

The newest Ram 1500 is not just about the diesel engine and the Multifunction Tailgate. It still sits on the mantle as the best in the business. This was something that was reiterated on this site multiple times. But, there is more to talk about here…

Being the only pickup in its class with a fully independent suspension and available adjustable air ride on top of this setup, it provides a very smooth ride. It does its best handling rougher surfaces, including parts of the freeway that can use a new surface. Everywhere else, driving the Ram 1500 is like gliding on air. And, yes, I'm talking about a pickup truck.

The other function of the air suspension is the height-adjustable feature. If you leave it alone, it will adjust the ride height for better efficiency while highway cruising. You can also raise the truck in case you find yourself on a craggy road where the surface is uneven and bottoming out is not an option.

I found that braking has improved, giving me a better pedal feel and surer stops overall. This is now my expectation n every pickup truck going forward. I also expect some extra work with the steering for exact turns and parking. Not everyone can command a pickup truck like a pro, which is why I like the soft steering action with solid feedback. On-center feel is quite good.

Despite some outside feedback on the dash-mounted rotary shifter for the ZF transmission, it is fine. If I had my way, I would replace the two buttons on the steering wheel with real paddle shifters. That's just my suggestion. Could you replace it with some shifter on the column? As long as it is easy to work for the average truck buyer.

Since we're on the subject of the interior, is there any pickup truck that can match the overall quality of the Ram 1500's cabin? My tester was the Longhorn, which is Ram's take on "cowboy luxury." You do not have to put on a Stetson hat or a pair of Tony Lama boots to appreciate the color scheme and attention to detail in the Longhorn's interior.

The main attraction to this tester was the 12-inch UConnect touchscreen. It is now quicker, more intuitive, and straightforward to use. It also does a great job with Apple CarPlay connectivity with a series of USB ports in the console. Sound comes from 19 Harman/Kardon speakers positioned all over the cab. This is the best audio setup in its class with its sweet balance and sound separation. Play some tracks from your smartphone and hear for yourself.

I also love the gold/brass finishing on the trim inside. That, along with the "snakeskin" leather surfaces on the armrest and on top of the instrument panel. The instrumentation is also finished in a gold/brass/saddle set of instruments with Ram's excellent TFT digital information screen in the middle.

If I had to complain about something, it would be the seats. Though the cushions are great, the seatbacks were a bit uncomfortable for me. I get that the power lumbar takes up half of the midsection of the seatback, but if this such a luxury truck, give me more seatback cushion. Then again, that's just me.

The overall space inside is extraordinary. The rear seats are limousine-like. There's lots of leg and headroom with large rear doors to enter and exit from. And, don't forget that extra assist from the power steps and the "saddlebags" on the front seatbacks facing the rear passengers.

Of course, we look outside at one very distinctive pickup truck. The one thing I appreciate from Ram is that each trim level has its own grille finish. It makes things easier for one to spot a Longhorn from a Laramie or a Limited. The LED lighting set up is sleek and slim – and emits a good light at night. Lastly, I like the fact that the Longhorn badge is no longer a big belt buckle. Not that it was obnoxious, but this version befits the advances on this new Ram 1500 from the last generation model (the 1500 Classic, in case you're keeping score).

This 2020 Ram 1500 Longhorn Crew Cab short box four-wheel-drive diesel tester came with a sticker price of $71,304. That includes the $4,995 line item for the EcoDiesel engine. You can get the EcoDiesel across all trim levels and configurations – including the Ram 1500 Rebel. Now that sounds like an awesome off-road pickup truck already!

Therefore, the 2020 Ram 1500 is indeed the "truck of the moment." Their sales have been nothing but phenomenal and FCA is extending that lead to deepen their newest pickup truck's value by adding innovative and simple-to-use features. Every accolade has been earned by being engineered in places where its competitors have scratched off their lists and moved on elsewhere.

The pickup truck is no longer just a simple work tool. They are made for everyone, even those who might even use the box behind the cab. Don't worry, the Ram 1500 is designed to be a useful vehicle to get things done. I suggest that if you have one, use it.

And, don't call it a "Dodge" anymore…

DISCLAIMER: vehicle provided by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles

All photos by Randy Stern

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