While the VM Motori diesel had a surprising willingness to rev that was atypical to a diesel, it never felt overworked.
The half-ton pickup truck has always been a ubiquitous part of North American life. Whether it’s by hauling your livelihood around from place to place, taking the family boat to the cottage, or represented as a verse in a country song, Canadians and Americans alike have embraced offerings from Dodge (now known exclusively as Ram), Ford, and General Motors for over half a century. More recently, Japanese players Toyota and Nissan have also thrown their hats into the ring, creating a full-size truck market with a staggering number of configurations and choices. Today’s look at the 2015 Ram 1500 Big Horn EcoDiesel examines how a relatively new powertrain option – a 3.0L V6 diesel engine – fares in the real world.
Finished in a handsome Deep Cherry Red Crystal Pearl (a $225 option), our tester came as a 4×4 Crew Cab with a 140-inch wheelbase and a 5’7” length bed. Payload rating is 608 kg (1,340 lb), and an optional 3.92 rear axle ratio helped to boost towing capacity to 3,883 kg (8,560 lb). The 4X4 system features electronic shift-on-the-fly operation with an on-demand “4WD Auto” mode, low range gear, and the ability to lock the transfer case.
The elephant in the room regarding this particular Ram 1500 is the 3.0L V6 diesel engine sourced from VM Motori, the Italian diesel engine subsidiary of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. As governments all over the world move to implement tighter fuel economy standards, it makes perfect sense to offer a diesel engine in a half-ton truck. With 240 horsepower @ 3,600rpm and 420 lb-ft of torque @ 2,000rpm, the Ram presents some serious grunt at a lower engine speed than the standard 5.7L HEMI V8 (which has 395 hp @ 5,600rpm and 410 lb-ft @ 3,950 rpm).
While the VM Motori diesel had a surprising willingness to rev that was atypical to a diesel, it never felt overworked and handled hard-throttle applications with ease. The Ram was eagerly volunteered to bring home some new furniture and tow a jetski trailer during testing, and didn’t miss a beat. Turbo lag off the line is slightly noticeable on spirited launches, but the momentary interruption is not intrusive at all. Noise and particulate exhaust is very well controlled, and is on par with well-behaved modern diesel engines. With the inclusion of a Diesel Exhaust Fluid system, gone are the days of old clackers, stinkers, and smokers – there’s no rolling coal here.
Paired to the diesel V6 is a ZF Torqueflite 8HP70 8-speed automatic transmission, which was silky smooth in all aspects of its operation. Contrary to typical form, PRND gear selection is done with a dial on the centre stack, as opposed to a conventional column or console-mounted shifter, and was less awkward to use than initially assumed. Manumatic override shift controls are located on the steering wheel and were slightly goofy to use; fortunately, the programming and calibration, combined with the wide ratio spread, meant that the Ram was always in the right gear at the right time. The ZF 8HP70 is also seen in high-power, high-performance car and SUV applications from the likes of BMW and Audi. It remains one of the best performing longitudinally-mounted transmissions on the market today.
Fuel economy ratings for the Ram 1500 are 12.1L/100km in the city, and 8.8L/100km on the highway – approximately a twenty-five percent improvement over the standard 5.7L V8. With a majority of highway driving, observed test fuel economy was 8.8L/100km – almost mind-blowing considering that almost one-quarter of the driving was done in the city and on hilly Muskoka, Ontario dirt roads. With mindful application of the throttle, it wasn’t difficult to exceed the rated fuel economy. The number of ratios offered by the 8-speed automatic is a big contributing factor to the impressive results.
Over the road, the Ram 1500 was an absolute dream. While you are constantly aware that you are driving a larger vehicle, the miles roll by as effortlessly as a luxury sedan. This is largely in part due to the air-suspension at all four corners, meaning that the Ram is devoid of any coil or leaf springs. This allowed ride quality to be extremely smooth and quiet, while maintaining proper body control. When towing or hauling heavy loads, the air suspension is able to keep the Ram level and sag-free. In addition, adjustable ride height via the air-bags allow for a variety of settings depending on driving conditions. When the going gets tough, the driver can manually select one of two Off-Road settings to increase ground clearance. At highway speeds, the Ram automatically lowers itself to improve aerodynamics, and thus fuel economy.
With the Crew Cab configuration, legroom was ample for five full-sized adults, even with taller drivers occupying the front seat. The premium cloth bucket seats were comfortable and supportive for long driving stints without pain or fatigue. Window glass is particularly thick, creating a whisper-quiet and well-isolated cabin. A 115V auxiliary power outlet and USB ports keep laptops and smartphones charged, while the Customer Preferred Package adds 20” chrome aluminum wheels, chrome side steps, and fog lamps. Other options include a heated steering wheel, automatic climate control, front-and-rear parking assist sensors, and a power sunroof. The UConnect 8.4A touch screen infotainment with navigation is among the best in the business – it’s a pleasure to use, with intuitive controls and a responsive interface. Nine speakers and a subwoofer by Alpine round out the experience with more than enough bump for all your musical needs.
Stickered as tested at $66,645, our Ram in Big Horn trim had almost $22,000 in options – with the EcoDiesel being a $4,700 option by itself. With incredible fuel economy gains over gasoline models, drivers who put on many kilometres every year will pay back the diesel premium and find themselves laughing all the way to the bank. Some of our readers remarked about expensive oil changes for the VM Motori diesel, and a quick call to a local Ram dealer confirmed an oil change north of $200 due to special synthetic oils, Diesel Exhaust Fluid top-ups, and heavy-duty filters. In reality, with a rated oil change interval of 16,000km of 12 months – or sooner if dictated by the vehicle’s built-in oil change indicator light – the Ram EcoDiesel doesn’t quite require your grandfather’s 5,000km oil changes.
Overall, the 2015 Ram 1500 Big Horn with the EcoDiesel motor proved to be a great vehicle to partake in both business and leisure. The air suspension and oil-burner powertrain are a heavy-duty combination that will handle everything you throw at it, while allowing for a comfortable and luxurious experience, with none of the traditional ride and fuel economy penalties associated with a full-size truck. It’ll be a welcome addition to any tailgate party or construction site!