We’ve been waiting to get our hands on the new Ram 1500 here at Off Road Xtreme, and while the exterior and interior changes were minimal on this pickup that was completely revamped for 2013–a couple of new paint colors and a few new technology options–it’s what’s beneath the sheet metal of the 2014 Ram 1500 that’s the really big news for the new year.
Ram’s new 3.0 EcoDiesel V6 light-duty diesel engine is the only small-displacement diesel in its class. The Ram 1500 pickup’s adjustable air suspension is also unique in the full-size pickup segment, an option we very much enjoyed, and we’ll go into more detail on that later. A few other items such as touch screens and rearview cameras are also new.
The 2014 Ram 1500 is available in 12 colors, including two new shades: Blue Streak and Granite Crystal; they can be ordered in a monotone and/or two-tone depending on the model. The pickup is available in three sizes: regular, crew and quad cab, and even the “smallest” of the bunch is still big. Ram bed sizes are 5 feet, 7 inches, 6 feet, 4 inches, and 8 feet.
The Ram’s front end is dominated by the signature cross grille, and the truck’s LED headlamps are wide rectangles inserted in the broad hood. It doesn’t sacrifice beauty for brawn, though.
Optional chrome trim, artfully-angled front lighting, and thoughtful character lines sculpted in the hood, along the sides, and across the tailgate add panache. Ram also has “active grille shutters” that open and close, depending on the need for air flow and, thereby, add increased fuel efficiency.
ST (fleet only), SLT and R/T versions share the same black grille design, while Big Horn and Sport versions have unique grilles with a perforated texture; Laramie and Laramie Longhorn boast blingy chrome. Four-by-four models have integrated tow hooks.
Inside the cabin, large proportions and squared-off edges abound, but soft-touch textures and clever design elements provide a certain degree of elegance that not so long ago were rare in a pickup. The dash is a wide, smooth arc with a center stack that serves as command central, with symmetrically laid out knobs and switches for climate control and the AM/FM/CD stereo (MP3 hookups, navigation and other in-dash technologies are available).
The three-spoke steering wheel has integrated controls, and sits in front of an instrument cluster with eye-catching gauges that are like off-kilter concentric circles: the fuel gauge, for example, sits just off-center within the speedometer.
There is seating for up to five, depending on the cabin configuration. Front bucket seats are separated by the sizable signature Ram console that can hold a laptop, tools or other gear. The console can have a 115-volt socket, and two 12-volt access points are neatly tucked into a tool box-style drawer. Rear seats have good shoulder and leg room. Standard is vinyl or cloth upholstery, depending on trim level, with leather seating available or standard on one of the many configurations higher in the lineup.
A bevy of updated technology features include the newest version of the touchscreen-enabled, infotainment system UConnect that can make the truck a mobile hot spot. Lower-end models get a smaller, non-touchscreen version with an AM/FM stereo system, while the more upscale versions get a larger screen (up to 8.4 inches) with increased functionality, such as navigation and Bluetooth access. Voice controls are optional, as is an expanded SiriusXM satellite radio channel lineup.
HVAC controls can be accessed by using the UConnect touchscreen or via manual controls that are built into the stack below the screen–all versions have air conditioning; Laramie and Laramie Longhorn have standard automatic dual-zone climate control. Creature comforts such as heated and ventilated seats, rear passenger HVAC controls and USB connectivity are standard or optional depending on the trim level and package.
Also new this year is the variable displacement compressor, humidity sensor and pulse-width modulated blower. These manage various cooling tasks to help the engine run more efficiently, keep temperature changes to a minimum, more easily de-fog the windshield and make the interior quieter.
Under The Hood
Chrysler has a lot to boast about with its Ram engines that are getting the best fuel economy in the segment (18/25 mpg EPA) and the new diesel that can travel up to 700 miles on a tank, and runs on biodiesel. Available engines include a 3.6-liter V6 making 305 horsepower and 296 pound-feet of torque that is flex-fuel/E85 capable. This can be had in crew cab and four-wheel-drive models for the first time this year.
The V6 was surprisingly gutsy and backed up by the 8-speed automatic transmission. The Ram gas-powered V6 is claimed to be more fuel efficient than any others in its class. We saw an overall average of nearly 17 mpg during our week-long voyage that included plenty of dirt roads, city driving and highway cruises from home to office. Next up is a 4.7-liter V8 making 310 horses and 330 pound-feet of torque.
Topping the gas engine lineup is a 5.7-liter V-8 HEMI that makes 395 horsepower and 407 pound-feet, offering the best payload, towing capacity and fuel economy in its class. Highlights of the 5.7 include cylinder shut-off technology (it runs on four cylinders during cruising conditions) and “stop-start,” which shuts the engine down when at a complete stop, and starts it when the driver’s foot moves off the brake. Start-stop is available as an option on the HFE high-efficiency model.
Ram’s 3.0-liter V6 EcoDiesel, rated at 240 horsepower and 420 pound-feet, delivers more torque, and better fuel efficiency (again, according to Chrysler), than other gas-fueled motors in the segment. All Ram V6 motors (gas-powered and EcoDiesel) are mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission, while a six-speed automatic transmission is standard on V8 models (V8s can be ordered with an optional eight-speed tranny, a slightly different version of the same automatic the V6 models get).
Rams come with in 2WD or 4WD versions, and there are two 4WD choices: one transfer case is a two-speed, part-time system with 2WD High; 4WD High, Locked; Neutral; and 4WD Low, Locked settings. The two-speed, on-demand system has D High; 4WD Auto; 4WD High, Locked; Neutral and 4WD Low, Locked settings.
Suspension components include front upper and lower A-arms and stabilizer bar; and rear five-link setup with track bar, coil springs and a rear stabilizer bar. Air suspension is available as an option.
Standard wheels are 17 or 20 inches, depending on the model, with a variety of upgrades to choose from depending on the version and trim package; the exception is the R/T model, which gets 22-inch wheels.
There are a number of exterior appearance, technology and comfort/convenience packages, that make it easy to “build your own” pickup to suit your unique taste and budget. There is even a new specialty model this year, the Ram Black Express. Added last year were the Ram Mossy Oak Edition for outdoor enthusiasts, and the Ram Laramie Limited for affluent pickup customers.
Safety features include advanced multistage front air bags, supplemental front-curtain and side air bags, anti-lock four-wheel disc brakes, electronic stability control, brake assist, rain brake support, ready alert braking, all-speed traction control, electronic roll mitigation, hill-start assist, trailer-sway control, height-adjustable shoulder belts, Sentry Key theft deterrent system and a tire pressure monitoring warning lamp.
Our test rig was set up with Optional Preferred Package 22T. That brings to bear quite a long list of goodies, chief among them to our conversation, a power 10-way driver seat that greatly added to the ability to make long hauls comfortable, rear 60/40 split folding seat, front and rear rubber floor mats (a good idea for any off-roader), 115-volt auxiliary power outlet in the lower right corner of the center console (came in handy for charging radios) and the premium navigation system.
Best yet, that same 22T option package also delivered important items such as tow hooks up front (no explanation needed), 32-gallon fuel tank (26 is standard), 3.55 axle gears and a rear anti-spin differential, transfer case and front suspension skid plates, and the four-corner air suspension system that made all the difference in the truck’s handling characteristics.
The V6 was lively and while it’s certainly not a V8, it did satisfy our need for power most of the time on- and off-highway. Only on the steepest of inclines did we wish for more. If we had been towing or hauling a load in the bed, we might be singing a different song, but it revved up quickly and didn’t quit until we did. The 8-speed automatic transmission also comes to life fairly quick, and has snappy shift points.
However, we have to be honest. Our test truck was equipped with a dial on the dash for shifting from Park to Reverse to Neutral to Drive. It took most of the week to get used to it, and it felt like selecting a cycle on a washing machine. In my opinion, much of the pickup truck buying audience will not like the idea of neither a column- or center console-mounted shifter. At least there were up (+) and down (-) buttons on the steering wheel to manually shift the 8-speed automatic transmission through the gears once Drive was selected, so the pilot ultimately could have creative control.
The ride quality was superb on- and off-highway, and except for the most extreme off-road terrain, which this pickup truck was never meant for, the Ram we tested performed admirably. Its four-corner air suspension system is adjustable with the touch of a button, as well as automatically tuning itself dependent upon drive mode and speed. Five ride heights are available: Off Road 1 and Off Road 2; Aero, Normal and an Entry/Exit mode.
Off Road 1 (raised about up an inch or so above normal) and Off Road 2 (about another inch higher) were active when the truck’s drive system was engaged in 4WDHi or 4WDLo, although above about 15 MPH, the system kicked itself out of the taller of the two settings, presumably for stability purposes. Aero activates at highway speeds above about 45 MPH, to bring the truck down to smooth out the truck’s aerodynamic profile; the Entry/Exit mode drops the truck even lower when the truck is stopped and the transmission is placed in Park.
Above all, we found the 2014 Ram filled with creature comforts that made it enjoyable to be in while driving anywhere. For the most part, the controls, dials and switch were easy to operate. The seats were comfortable for long cruises. The HVAC systems, electronics, audio and nav system were simple too use. Visibility was excellent through large windows, as well as generous mirrors that were easily adjustable. It was, in fact, a pretty darn good place to be.
The Off Road Xtreme staff tested the Ram 1500 V6 gas engine truck this time around because we wanted to see how well this engine performed compared to our experiences with the Ram V8 HEMI. We were not disappointed. Next time we test drive a Ram we’ll run an EcoDiesel and share it with our sister publication Diesel Army. What else would you like to see?