Jason Kavanagh, Senior Vehicle Test Engineer
Describing the changes to the 2013 Ram as merely a face-lift is like saying that country music is popular in Texas. This full-size pickup truck has been significantly tweaked, even if the sheet metal looks quite similar to the outgoing model.
In today's efficiency-obsessed environment, fuel economy played a big role in the 2013 model's genes. If one of your eyebrows is involuntarily arching itself, you're not alone. Can this mentality really result in a Ram that improves on the comfortable, capable outgoing model?
Exclamations like "holy crap" aren't common when it comes to testing full-size pickup trucks, and we'd be disingenuous if we said they were uttered during the 2013 Ram 1500's time with us. But it's true that this overhauled-for-2013 draft horse genuinely surprised us.
More Than a Loss-Leader
Chief among the powertrain updates is the dumpage of the old iron-block 3.7-liter SOHC 12-valve V6 and four-speed automatic transmission. They've been replaced by what Chrysler calls its "Pentastar" V6, a newer, all-aluminum 3.6-liter DOHC V6, and a new eight-speed automatic transmission.
Typically, six-cylinder pickups exist primarily as a lure with which dealers advertise low, low base prices, only to upsell the resulting floor traffic to V8 models. But that preconception becomes a little shaky once your eyes scan the Pentastar's spec sheet. It kicks out a stout 305 horsepower at 6,400 rpm and 269 pound-feet of torque at 4,175 rpm on regular 87 octane fuel. Then again, our tester is a heavier crew cab model — a 1500 SLT Crew Cab 4x2, to be exact and not some measly bare-bones, short cab model — so the V6 is facing a true test of its chops.
Maybe Six Is Enough After All
For those convinced that a full-size pickup truck powered by any V6 won't get out of its own way, think again. There's a lot of shove available thanks to the 3.6's stout torque curve and the wide ratio spread made possible by the eight-speed gearbox. Lay into the throttle at speed and the transmission downshifts fairly quickly to bring the ponies into play. It's unexpectedly enthusiastic.
Around town it swaps gears seamlessly, erasing the notion that eight ratios will result in a busy-shifting gearbox. It's a willing powertrain that moves the 5,343-pound truck with the kind of authority that will make you rethink the need to throw down more cash for a thirstier V8.
Want proof? This 2013 Ram 1500 ran to 60 in 8.0 seconds (7.7 seconds with 1 foot of rollout as on a drag strip) and crossed the quarter-mile stripe in 15.9 seconds at 86.0 mph. These performances are only a few ticks behind those of our recent 5.7-liter V8-equipped 2009 Dodge Ram Crew Cab long-termer. That truck did 60 in 7.6 seconds (7.2 seconds with 1 foot of rollout) and the quarter in 15.6 seconds at 85.4 mph.
It's true that soon the eight-speed will be available in V8-equipped models, but the fact remains that for an entry-level-ish powertrain, the 2013 Ram's V6 is a very convincing offering. EPA fuel economy estimates for our tester are 17 city/25 highway mpg. In our short time with the truck we netted 16.8 mpg, with the asterisk that this was the result of a very small sample set — we only put a couple tankfuls through it.
The Other New Features
There's not only an all-new transmission, there's a new transmission shifter as well. It's a knob on the dashboard and its light effort is at odds with piloting a burly full-size pickup. Nevertheless, the strangeness of using the knob wears off quickly, and its location on the dashboard does free up precious space on the console. The transmission's manual mode interface (really a gear lockout) is just plain goofy, though — its two tiny steering-wheel-mounted chiclets are crowded among the cruise control buttons, and it's all too easy to press the wrong one.
An optional air suspension is also new for the 2013 Ram 1500. It has load-leveling capability so the truck's butt doesn't droop when loaded — a characteristic we noticed in our long-term 2009 Ram — nor does the tail need to be raked sky-high when unladen as with conventional suspensions. The air suspension's ability to lower the truck further eases access to the tailgate and bed when parked and improves fuel economy at speed. Finally, the ride quality improves further on that of the outgoing Ram, a truck that already smoothed out rough roads better than the competition. It's no Bentley, but it does dispatch irregularities with a grace that's practically unknown among pickup trucks.
Another surprise — the new electric power steering (EPS) is generally better than the old hydraulic setup. Its more intuitive build-up of effort helps somewhat to mitigate this big truck's inherently ponderous feel in tight confines and exhibits good straight-line stability. As mentioned in our 2013 Ram 1500 First Drive, it's a bit flaccid in its steering self-centering, but that's picking nits.
In our handling tests (hey, we test everything) the Ram turned 0.67g on the skid pad and produced a 55.3-mph slalom result. Braking from 60 mph required 133 feet — a yard longer than our long-termer — with decent pedal modulation.
Still a First-Rate Cabin
Revisions to the interior for 2013 have resulted in even more refinement and improved practicality over the already strong cabin of the outgoing Ram. We noticed that noise suppression is better than ever, as our tests confirmed that this Ram registered 2 decibels lower at 70 mph than our 2009 long-termer.
Then there's the new multimedia screen, which has much better flow from screen to screen and a crisp display that is leagues better than before. One change we didn't like is the new instrument cluster. It's too crowded — the center-mounted 7-inch display is informative but crammed among several gauges — and shiny pseudo-chrome accents sprinkled elsewhere gleam obnoxiously in direct sunlight.
The cloth seats in our truck provided great long-haul comfort, and the cabin includes approximately 400 nooks and pockets and bins. As a nice bonus over the manually locked RamBoxes of yore, the bed-mounted storage bins (and the tailgate) are now tied into the central locking system.
Costwise, our test truck's $33,520 base price was just $300 higher than an equivalent 2012 model. Its options list included about $10,000 in options, the heaviest hitters being its $1,595 air suspension, $1,295 RamBox, a $1,150 seating package and $970 UConnect system. All up, the sticker totaled $43,630 with destination.
So, yes, it is possible to leave unchecked the box marked "V8" and not hate yourself in the morning. The 2013 Ram 1500's V6 powertrain is more than merely adequate, and the attendant improvements to the cabin and ride only further enhance the truck's appeal.
Other pickup manufacturers, you have your work cut out for you.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
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