- What’s Best: Great standard V6, limousine ride, best value pound for pound
- What’s Worst: Needs to go on a diet, Hemi not that quick, EcoDiesel is a lemon
- Typical Used Prices: 2013 - $24,000; 2017 - $36,000
Forget about religion, political affiliation or dog breeds; nothing can fire up debate between friends and neighbours like their choice of truck.
You can be a “Ford guy” or a “Chevy family” going way back, and it’s an attribute some wear proudly on their sleeve – or on their arms in tattoo ink. Truck brand allegiance can be bigger than church and state in some households.
Here’s why: Those whose livelihood depends on a set of tools and a truck to get to the work site have a deeper relationship with those possessions. As one market analyst put it: “The day your truck stops working is the day you’re not going to get paid.”
It was essentially a two-truck contest between Ford and Chevrolet (or GMC) up until 1994, when Chrysler released the aggressively redesigned Dodge Ram after 20 years of marketing its obsolete D-series trucks. (Toyota and Nissan launched full-size pickups, too, but they remain on the periphery of the debate.)
The new Ram head-butted its way into the market to make it a proper three-way race.
The Dodge Ram 1500 light-duty pickup was redesigned for the 2009 model year, gaining bolder styling, a richly appointed cabin and added muscle. A new Crew Cab model replaced the Texas-sized Mega Cab and supplemented the shorter Quad Cab, offering a rear bench with loads of legroom.
Significantly, engineers dropped the traditional leaf-spring rear suspension – a durable truck fixture, though it can make for a jerky ride – in favour of a coil-spring setup. The heavy-duty coils not only provided civilized ride quality, but also saved weight, improved off-road articulation and enabled a rear anti-roll bar to be fitted. The springs still had to be robust enough to handle heavy hauling duties, but the jiggling and axle hopping were greatly reduced.
While it’s not considered an entirely new generation, the 2013 Ram 1500 (FCA’s standalone truck brand is now Ram and not Dodge) was revised extensively – an indication of just how competitive the lucrative truck market has become. Surprisingly, the styling changes were minor; most people wouldn’t notice the taller grille, new front bumper and standard LED taillights.
The truck’s frame was retooled to be stronger and slightly lighter thanks to extensive use of high-strength steel. The aluminum hood skimmed off 12 kg of fat, the front suspension benefited from lighter control arms made of aluminum, and the new electric power-steering system shaved a little mass, too.
Buyers could continue to choose between rear- or four-wheel-drive; regular, four-door Quad or larger Crew cabs; and short, medium and long bed lengths. The Crew Cab could be ordered with the midsized bed for the first time. A new, optional air suspension system, plucked from the Jeep Grand Cherokee, offered five ride-height settings.
Inside, Fiat Chrysler’s latest UConnect interface with an 8.4-inch touch screen became available with expanded telematics and hotspot Wi-Fi, as did a programmable TFT screen that replaced the mechanical gauges. Every cabin featured a plethora of storage cubbies and was lavished with better materials and enhanced fit and finish. “Mercedes interior with a truck bed,” is how one Ram owner summed up the truck’s appeal.
The biggest changes for 2013 came under the hood. The 305-hp, 3.6-L DOHC V6 became the base engine, a big improvement over the previous 215-hp, 3.7-L V6 wheezer. The “Pentastar” came bundled exclusively with a ZF-designed eight-speed automatic transmission. The pushrod 5.7-L Hemi V8 carried over, but gained 5 hp (for 395 total); it was tied to a standard six-speed automatic.
The engine lineup was revised the following year. The relatively unknown 4.7-L V8 in the Tradesman model was discontinued, and FCA added an optional turbodiesel engine, the first diesel available in a light-duty pickup. The 3.0-L V6 “EcoDiesel” was sourced from Italy’s VM Motori, a longtime marine-engine maker and former Fiat affiliate.
Beyond the introduction of a few sport-oriented packages and some trim changes – the six-speed automatic disappeared by 2017 – the Ram remained pretty much the same right through the 2018 model year. The all-new 2019 Ram 1500 is just starting to appear on dealer lots.
Buying Used: 2014-17 Chevrolet Silverado 1500
DRIVING THE RAM 1500
With new emphasis on fuel efficiency in the truck segment, Fiat Chrysler wisely transplanted its well-regarded Pentastar V6 into the Ram. The engine is hardly an embarrassment having 305 horses on tap. Zero to 97 km/h comes up in 7.9 seconds, thanks in part to the fast-acting ZF eight-speed transmission.
Those with bigger hauling needs gravitate to the 5.7-L Hemi V8. With 395 hp on hand, it makes short work of most tasks, though it’s not quite as fleet as the power might suggest: it takes 7.1 seconds to hit highway velocity. Blame the Ram’s portly curb weight. The EcoDiesel takes a slow 9.0 seconds, despite making 420 lb-ft of torque.
The Ram comports itself nicely on all road surfaces, thanks to the robust chassis, beefy construction and the coil-spring suspension. It rides like a luxury car with none of the jitters usually associated with pickups. The truck’s electric power steering offers excellent on-centre response and weighting, and there’s enough feedback to prevent it from feeling artificial.
Fuel efficiency is good with the Pentastar V6; expect better than 9 litres/100 km on highway jaunts, although city travel yields the usual sub-par gas guzzling all truck owners grumble about. The Hemi is a heavy drinker on all but the flattest highway trips, while the EcoDiesel delivers welcome efficiency – but it comes with a big caveat, as discussed below.
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OWNERS TALK RELIABILITY
The 2013 to 2018 Ram 1500 is a genuine crowd-pleaser – and it has to be since the four-door pickup has largely become the do-everything suburban family hauler these days. Owners are thrilled with the truck’s spacious and feature-filled cabin, serene ride, well-matched drivetrains and bang for the dollar. Wrote one owner online: “Ram’s value in the end won it my hard-earned cash.”
However, when it comes to long-term (and even short-term) dependability, plenty of Ram owners have raised some red flags. Chief among them have been ongoing electrical problems that have seen engines stall, instruments go dead and other oddities that may be traced to a faulty Totally Integrated Powertrain Module (TIPM) in Ram trucks and other Fiat Chryslers as recent as 2014 models.
If the dealer can’t address it as a warranty claim, rebuilt TIPMs are available from aftermarket suppliers. In addition, the truck’s Uconnect infotainment system can randomly freeze up, go blank or “kill the stereo and A/C” as one driver put it. Lots of units have been replaced by dealers, sometimes more than once.
The Hemi V8 appears to have a problem with breaking camshafts, rocker arms and lifters. Owners have noted the engine will vibrate, often indicating one cylinder is not pulling its weight. Removing the valve covers often reveals the offending component. Some owners have also reported their Hemi consuming oil – never a good sign.
On the other hand, the EcoDiesel engine is a lemon according to the Automobile Protection Association and Lemon-Aid. The 3.0-L turbodiesel has exhibited disastrous main bearing failures relatively early in its service life.
“My Ram 1500 EcoDiesel had a catastrophic bottom-end engine failure while driving on the parkway at highway speed, breaking the crankshaft and sending a connecting rod through the engine block,” reads one unfortunate account. In addition to engine failure, owners have reported problems with the diesel emissions fluid (DEF) involving a faulty fluid heater.
By comparison, the Pentastar 3.6-L V6 has been a relatively durable engine. However, owners should be mindful of the oil cooler/housing cracking. An oil leak can appear at the top of the engine and can run down the back of it, presenting a potential fire hazard.
Speaking of safety, there’s a significant issue involving the Ram’s rotary gear selector, which comes with the eight-speed automatic transmission, that by design may be easy to misapply if drivers don’t pay attention.
“While the vehicle was on and in the Park position, it independently reversed out of the driveway and crashed into a tree,” reads one Ram owner’s experience. The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has received at least 43 complaints about vehicles that rolled away after drivers put the transmission into Park. NHTSA is investigating the need to recall more than 1 million Ram 1500 and Durango trucks equipped with the rotary dial.
Trucks equipped with the six-speed automatic and traditional column shifter are already under recall: the gear shifter can be moved out of Park without touching the brake pedal once the shift interlock is disabled, or even without the key in the ignition, leading to a rollaway condition if the parking brake hasn’t been applied. In addition, FCA is recalling older 2009-12 Ram 1500 trucks because the gas tanks can sag and possibly fall off due to corroded brackets.
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