In the truck world, bigger is usually considered better, and a big truck with a big V8 engine is the norm.
But this isn?t always so. Which is why Ram now offers a new V6 engine that?s smaller than the six-cylinder it replaces, but has so much more power that it?s now available in the Crew and 4×4 models. It?s bolted to an equally new eight-speed automatic transmission.
Although you?re still likely to call this truck a Dodge, the company now uses the name Ram, which has become its overall truck and commercial vehicle division.
The 3.6 L makes 305 horsepower and 269 lb.-ft. of torque, which is considerably more than the 215/235 produced by the outgoing 3.7 L V6, and it operates with better fuel efficiency. Properly equipped, it will tow up to 6,500 lb. (2,948 kg).
Standard engine choices depend on the model. There are 11 trim lines. The base truck, a Regular Cab 4×2 in ST trim, starts at $26,995. At the far end, the Laramie Longhorn starts at $55,895, but, of course, you can plaster on many options.
Two V8 engines are available. Only the 5.7 L Hemi really makes sense. The 4.7 L V8 seems to be offered only for the price point (and likely because GM and Ford have three and four engines, respectively), since it makes far less power for almost the same fuel figures as the Hemi.
That eight-speed automatic, standard on the V6 and optional on the 5.7 L, is shifted via a dial on the centre stack. When I first heard about it, I smirked: big, manly trucks need big, manly levers that you push and pull.
But when I used it, I wondered why it took so long to come up with something so good. It?s quick and accurate and easy to use, and it frees up console space. For manual shift mode, you use buttons on the steering wheel.
The 4×4 system is activated by a button pad below the dial. The upper-level 4x4s have an automatic four-wheel setting that can be driven on any surface, while the lower levels, including my Outdoorsman tester, use a part-time system specifically for loose or gooey going.
The 3.6 L is used in several Chrysler vehicles, and it?s a stout little workhorse. But its peripherals need some fine-tuning in this truck, which feels jerky. The throttle doesn?t tip in smoothly. No matter how gently you try to accelerate, there?s always a jolt.
The eight-speed often feels like it has more gears than this engine needs. It shifts very smoothly, but it does a lot of gear-hunting, especially on hills, swapping back and forth between a couple of them all the way up.
On the highway, it reaches the top gears as quickly as possible for fuel economy. That?s fine, but if you need to get out of traffic trouble, there?s a short lag between mashing the pedal ? and you do have to hit it hard to wake it up ? and the transmission finding a gear that?ll move the speedo.
I want to try this transmission with the torquier Hemi, where I think it?ll be a better fit.
Also new this year is a $1,500 optional four-corner air suspension, which lets you lower the truck for easier access. It also hunkers down automatically at higher speeds, for improved aerodynamics, and levels itself when loaded. Or you can raise it for off-road driving.
It?s a pretty cool system, although it can still be tough to get into the Ram?s bed. While Ford offers an optional tailgate-mounted ladder, and the Chevy has a built-in bumper step, you just have a small sliver of flat bumper for a foothold when the Ram?s tailgate is down. I can just picture slipping off it and slamming my knee into the bumper as I fall.
My tester had the RamBox system, a $1,195 option that adds two covered boxes inside the bed rails on either side. There?s a small loss of bed space as a result, and you can?t add a tonneau cover or cap.
But the boxes proved great on a visit to a muddy auto wrecker?s yard, where dirty tools and parts could be tossed in there, rather than into the clean interior. New for this year, the tailgate and RamBoxes lock from the key fob with the doors.
Having dramatically upgraded its interiors recently, Ram continues the approach with the pickup. It?s very handsome inside, with comfortable seats. My truck came with several luxury options, including a heated steering wheel, my new gotta-have-it feature.
Although it didn?t have automatic climate control, it retained that system?s two hot-or-cool buttons. You press one or the other while a tiny scale in the touch screen moves up or down to indicate progress. It?s frustratingly silly, and should have a simple dial.
In this fiercely-fought segment, Ram still holds its own, and V6 fans should be pleased overall with an engine that?s far better than the one it replaces.
It still needs some tweaks to its throttle and transmission, though, to put it firmly at the top of any list.
2013 Ram 1500 Outdoorsman Crew 4×4
Price: $26,995 to $55,895; as-tested, $51,170
Engine: 3.6 L V6
Power/torque: 305 hp/269 lb.-ft.
Fuel consumption L/100 km: 13 city, 8.5 hwy., 14.7 as-tested
Competitors: Chevrolet Silverado, Ford F-150, GMC Sierra, Nissan Titan, Toyota Tundra
What?s best: Strong engine, dial-in transmission, nice interior.
What?s worst: Jerky throttle, hunts for gears
What?s interesting: The air suspension can be lowered from the key fob.
- 2013 Ram 1500 Outdoorsman Crew Cab 4x4 - photo by Jil McIntosh - for Wheels