Ram 1500 EcoDiesel caps off brand’s banner year
To say Ram has had a good 2019 would be an understatement. After the reengineered Ram 1500 earned our 2019 Truck of the Year award, the truck did the unthinkable—outselling the Chevrolet Silverado, making the Ram the second-best selling vehicle not only in the segment, but in the country. The 2020 Ram 1500 EcoDiesel that I just spent a day driving, towing, and off-roading across Minnesota is set to be the feather in the cap of Ram’s 2019.
Although Ram claims to be the first in the half-ton light-duty pickup segment to offer a diesel engine (it’s not; Ford put a 6.9-liter diesel V-8 in the F-150 in the mid-80s), Ram can rightfully bear the responsibility for relighting the diesel flame in the segment with the introduction of its 3.0-liter turbodiesel V-6 in the 2014 1500. For 2020, that engine enters its third generation. It may still share its displacement and cylinder count with the previous EcoDiesel iteration, but strict targets for performance, efficiency, and NVH improvements warranted what is essentially a ground-up redesign. Power is boosted from 240 to 260 horsepower and torque rises from 420 to 480 lb-ft, making the new Ram mill the torquiest diesel in its class. The new oil-burner is backed up by a revised eight-speed auto designed to handle higher torque loads, and it drives either the rear or all four wheels.
As far as numbers go, the only figures Ram is currently sharing for the 2020 EcoDiesel-powered 1500 are max payload and tow capacities—up to 2,040 pounds (925 kg) in the bed and up to 12,560 pounds (5,697 kg) off the rear bumper. Official fuel economy numbers are pending EPA and CARB emissions certification (which Ram expects to have in-hand in time for a winter launch), but you should expect the new truck to best the old’s 19-20/27 mpg (12.4-11.8/8.7 L/100 km) city/highway that old model got. For comparison, the 2019 Ford F-150 diesel is EPA-rated at 20-22/25-30 and the 2020 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 diesel comes in at 23/29-33 mpg (10.2/8.1-7.1 L/100 km).
Unlike the last-gen 1500, the new EcoDiesel engine will be available on every Ram 1500 trim, so I focused my efforts on two of the sweet-spots in the lineup, starting in perhaps the most highly anticipated variant—the Ram 1500 Rebel EcoDiesel 4×4 (a first for the popular off-road oriented variant)—and ending in a base-model, rear-drive Ram 1500 Tradesman EcoDiesel.
Once I pulled myself up into the Rebel’s well-appointed extended cab and fired up the diesel, my first instinct was to check to make sure the engine actually started. Compared to the previous diesel truck, the new engine is shockingly quiet and well-behaved, with hardly any audible clatter at idle or any vibrations from the 90-degree V-6 in the seat, pedals, or steering wheel.
The engine’s quiet demeanor carries through on the road, too. Under acceleration—even with your foot to the floor—the EcoDiesel’s engine note is relatively muted, with just a hint of that classic clatter and graininess that diesel owners know and love. And on the highway, this diesel-powered Rebel—which should be fairly loud inside—is impressively whisper quiet. It’s a similar story in the stripper Ram Tradesman. Consider it a job well done for the NVH team.
The power team seems to have really done its job, too. After you get over a hint of turbo lag and reach max torque at 1,600 rpm, power delivery is smooth and linear. This EcoDiesel won’t ever pin you hard back into your seat like its Cummins big brother in the Ram Heavy Duty lineup, but it nevertheless offers consistent performance and good passing power while unloaded.
Two of the diesel engine’s biggest advantages over its gas V-6 and V-8 siblings—aside from efficiency—are off-road and towing performance. On the former front, I tested the diesel Rebel on a fairly low-difficulty off-road course. The diesel’s biggest advantage yet revealed itself climbing a steep 50-ish degree mud-slicked grade. The torque advantage of the diesel, combined with four-low and a locked rear-diff, really gives the Ram the kick in the butt it needs to get up and over steep, slippery obstacles with ease. Both the V-6 eTorque and Hemi eTorque engines are incredibly compelling on their own, but for the 1500 buyer who plans to do lots of off-roading, the torque and range advantage of the diesel can be hard to ignore—especially if your travels tend to take you far away from civilization.
As far as towing is concerned, Ram’s new diesel truck makes towing boring—which is exactly what you want. Towing is stressful enough as-is, and you don’t need a bouncing rear-end or wishy-washy steering to make it even worse. As a towing platform, the Ram 1500—diesel or not—has all the goods you would need to make towing easy, especially when equipped with the trailer-length-detecting blind-spot monitors, and the air suspension, which keeps the truck level and helps isolate the rear end (and trailer) from poor frost-bitten roads, while helping those inside stay comfortable.
So as you can expect, the 2020 Ram 1500 EcoDiesel was more than capable towing a roughly 5,000-pound (2,268-kg) trailer loaded with two side-by-sides—which, despite the Ram’s 12,560 max tow capacity is probably more in line with what the weight the average half-ton owner tows. The diesel’s low torque peak and the truck’s quick-shifting eight-speed auto make accelerating into and keeping up with light traffic uneventful. I’d personally be very curious to see how the EcoDiesel’s max towing performance stacks up with the eTorque-backed Hemi V-8; the hybridized Hemi is bound to be quicker while towing heavier loads, but depending on how often you’re towing, the EcoDiesel could still be worth the modest $3,000-$3,300 USD (depending on trim) premium over the Hemi V-8s.
Aside from the diesel under the hood, the other big news on the 2020 Ram 1500 is found at its back-end. Available for $995 USD is Ram’s new Multi-Function Tailgate, which folds down like a traditional tailgate or opens up 60/40 barn-door style, providing easier access to the bed. We weren’t granted the opportunity to truly test the merits of the new tailgate option, but it makes a great first impression, and seems like a much simpler, more elegant solution than GMC’s 4,000-way (OK, it’s just six) MultiPro tailgate. (Read more about the new tech in full-size truck tailgates here)
As with the rest of the Ram 1500 lineup, its EcoDiesel prices are competitive thanks in part to the automaker’s decision to offer the engine on its base trim, unlike Ford and Chevrolet. Prices for the Ram 1500 Tradesman EcoDiesel start at $38,585 USD, making it significantly cheaper than the rival 2020 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 LT Duramax, which starts around $45,700 USD, and the 2019 Ford F-150 XLT Power Stroke, starting at $46,900 USD. The only half-ton diesel cheaper is the previous-generation 2019 Ram 1500 Classic Tradesman EcoDiesel, which will be on sale starting this fall for around $38,500 USD.
Regardless of whether Ram can topple the Silverado in the pickup truck sales wars by the end of 2019, it’s been a banner year for the brand marking 10 years of independence from Dodge. Assuming all is OK with its emissions certifications—hardly a sure-thing in these post Volkswagen Dieselgate days—the 2020 Ram 1500 EcoDiesel ought to round out an already stacked lineup with an efficient, refined, and powerful oil-burner.