2020 Ram 1500 EcoDiesel First Drive Review

DULUTH, MN – The 2019 Ram 1500 has been a runaway success in no uncertain terms. It was crowned North American Truck of the Year at the Detroit auto show, named autoTRADER.ca’s Top Pickup Truck of 2019, emerged victorious in a Car and Driver three-way pickup battle, top among domestic pickups in JD Power survey… well, the list goes on. Not surprisingly, Ram is on an impressive sales trajectory, with growth outpacing the other truck brands.

For model year 2020, FCA’s cash-cow gets a diesel option, and we’ll see the 2020 Ram 1500 EcoDiesel in October of this year.

New 3.0L V6 turbo diesel is quieter, more powerful, and more efficient

Ram’s chief diesel engineer, the affable and enthusiastic Mauro Puglia, said word came down from above that they needed to make this third-gen 3.0L EcoDiesel V6 more powerful, burn less fuel, and run quieter. “No easy task, and I have the white hairs to prove it.”

So this is no carry-over engine. About 80 percent of the parts are new: all-new internals, new aluminum heads, new iron block, new water-cooled turbo, higher compression ratio, redesigned high-pressure injectors, etc. RAM also engineered a unique dual exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) system that grabs some of the exhaust downstream from the turbocharger, thus robbing less of the hot pressurized exhaust needed to spin the turbo. Reducing internal friction is the super-slick (and expensive) diamond-like carbon (DLC) coating on the piston rings and piston pin for the connecting rods.

By the numbers, horsepower goes from 240 hp to 260 hp and torque sees a significant 14 percent jump from 420 lb-ft to 480 lb-ft, giving the Ram EcoDiesel a best-in-class torque figure. Which surely has the lads from GM and Ford squirming in their Timberlands.

Ram 1500 uses a smooth-shifting ZF eight-speed automatic for all its applications.

Reduced NVH

The first truck we sampled was a red Rebel EcoDiesel, and you’d be hard-pressed to know it was diesel-powered, such is the calm in the cabin. Stiffer block and sump, along with a tiny 0.3 mm offset to the piston in relation to the connecting (to reduce piston slap) cut down on vibration, and this new pickup also benefits from an acoustic windshield, additional sound insulation, and active damping on the frame.

The new EcoDiesel shows a bit of turbo lag if you hoof it from lows revs, but otherwise the truck sails along on an effortless wave of torque. Once up to a cruise, noise levels are uncannily low – the only thing we heard was some tire noise from the Rebel’s all-terrain blocky rubber.

Ride comfort is also mighty impressive. Ram is the only domestic pickup fitted with five-link/coil-spring rear suspension, and these trucks, running with the optional rear air suspension, glided down the road in near-luxury-car isolation. Much credit here goes to the stiff frame structure of 98 percent high-strength steel. Hit some rough stuff and you’ll feel barely a quiver.

The Rebel’s cabin impresses with cool funky design cues, high-quality materials, and top-shelf build quality. Step into the more luxurious trims like the Laramie or Limited, and it’s an environment that not only puts all other pickups to shame, but also a fair number of bona fide luxury vehicles. The optional vertical 12-inch touchscreen interface throws a big splash of configurable modernity to the proceedings. It can be split, with the top and bottom halves assigned to your preferred duties.

The rotary shift selector is an ergonomic plus, taking up little space and dead easy to use. Although we would have liked the ability to select a gear – second would have been useful – and hold it, for the off-road portion of this event.

Rebel with a Cause

Ah, the off-road bit. With a posse of Rebel EcoDiesels at the ready (and the air suspensions jacked up) the Ram boys had us scrambling up crazy inclines, inching back down using the variable-speed hill descent function, fording streams, and cocking rear wheels in the air like a terrier at a fire hydrant. Along with the regular buttons for selecting 2WD, 4WD Auto, 4WD High, and 4WD Low, the Rebel gets buttons for Hill Descent and Rear Differential Lock.

The prodigious low-end torque of the EcoDiesel suited this exercise well, providing effortless grunt with little drama. And the Rebel sure looks the part.

New Multi-Function Tailgate

All Ram 1500s here were fitted with the new-for 2020 optional multi-function tailgate that offers a split-swing function along with the normal flip-down mode that retains the functionality and load capacity. It’s a bit of a head-slapper in how simple, useful, and logical this tailgate is. My co-driver has a renovation company, and noted how easy it would be, with the left side swung open, to belly up to the bed with heavy tools, etc. The step in the bumper also makes for easy access into the bed, with a right hand on the closed section to help pull you up. And unlike GM’s complex new MultiPro tailgate, you can have a trailer hitch ball in place at all times.

EcoDiesel available on all Ram trim levels

For 2020, Ram is making this new turbo-diesel V6 an equal opportunity proposition, as it will be available on all 1500 pickups from the base 2WD Tradesman to the all-singing/dancing luxo-barge Limited. Adding diesel power to the lower trims (Tradesman and Sport) will cost $5,800 as those vehicles run with the base gasoline V6. The rest of the line is equipped with standard 5.7L Hemi V8 power, so the uptick to EcoDiesel will be $3,800.

At the time of this event, Ram did not have the official fuel consumption figures, but naturally they claim it will be an improvement over last year’s diesel models. After a fairly relaxed highway cruise in a Limited, we saw 28.8 mpg, which translates to a parsimonious 8.3 L/100 km.

History shows the EcoDiesel upgrade has a higher take rate among buyers of the upper trim level trucks. Tradespersons are less inclined to opt for this pricey hit, as the bottom line rules where these folks live. Additionally, diesel buyers are 23 percent more likely to tow. With a towing capability up to 12,560 lb (for comparison's sake, the 2019 Ford F-150 3.0L PowerStroke Turbo Diesel V6 has a max tow rating of 11,400 lbs), the 2020 Ram 1500 EcoBoost plays nicely into the boat-and-horsey set; and if these folks live for luxury, the Ram EcoDiesel’s class leading ride comfort, NVH suppression, and interior quality will be welcome.

Luxury-level refinement 8/20/2019 12:01:00 AM