2014 Ram 1500 Ecodiesel: Oregon Road Trip, Towing Home
December 22, 2014
With the Thanksgiving festivities behind us, it was time to prepare for the 1,040-mile drive home. But this wasn't a simple matter of loading ourselves into the cab and sliding our suitcases under a tarp in the bed and waving goodbye. Before we could set out I first had to drive across Bend to pick up a trailer.
One of my co-workers had bought a rally-prepped Subaru RS 2.5 from someone that just happened to live nearby. The transaction had been in the "deposit" stage for some weeks while he made plans to come up and get it, but then we both realized two things: I was going to be in Bend for my own reasons, and I had already signed out the 2014 Ram 1500 Ecodiesel so I could collect the contents of my daughter's dorm room at the University of Oregon.
I stopped for more diesel fuel on the way over to grab the trailer even though I didn't strictly need it yet. A fresh top-up would isolate the non-towing miles from the towing ones in the logbook. So with "just" 372 miles on the clock the attendant added 15.824 gallons.
That works out to 23.5 mpg for a tank that included a fair bit of messing around on dirt roads, sightseeing and driving around town. Taking all three tanks together, the entire 1,513-mile trip to this point had gone down at 24.7 mpg.
The trailer, an open-deck steel affair with a wood deck, was loaded and ready when I arrived. It had a big steel Jobox jobsite toolbox bolted to the nose, which was nearly filled with heavy steel car parts, axles, control arms and other spares necessary to repair the inevitable wear and tear that comes with rallying. Two pairs of mounted spare race wheels were strapped and locked to its flanks.
And that's why the car was loaded backwards, with the Subaru's engine slightly aft of the trailer's axles. Normally, I would never do this. But if it had been facing forward there would have been too much tongue weight on account of the tires, heavy steel box and its considerable contents. In this case the reverse loading resulted in a just-right amount of trailer tongue weight, about 10 percent by our reckoning.
All I had to do was insert the 2 5/16" trailer ball I'd brought, hook up using the Ram's back-up camera system as a guide, plug the trailer's 7-pin connector into the Ram's factory socket and drive away. In those first few yards I adjusted the Ram's factory electric trailer brake controller to match its gain setting to the trailer and its load.
A Subaru rally car is heavier than you'd think because of the extensive roll cage welded inside. There's also quite a bit of unseen underbody armor. The steel trailer is no featherweight, either. Add in the jobsite toolbox, the spare car parts and the four extra wheels and tires and I figured the rig weighed close to 6,000 pounds.
But that's not all I got. I was also presented with seven more tires: six un-mounted rally tires and a mounted spare for the trailer. These went into the bed of the Ram with our luggage.
At this point we were truly ready to go, so we headed out of town as an approaching storm began pelting us with more rain. We had no time to lose because that rain was scheduled to turn into snow during the night. It was imperative that we put Santiam Pass in our rearview mirror before sunset.
In fact, we needed to be gone even earlier than that because we also needed to arrive at the University of Oregon one hour before sundown so we could add the contents of my daughter's dorm room to the mix. She would stay behind and finish finals before flying home ten days later with her laptop and suitcase full of clothes.
So we were back to three for the trip home. That allowed me to fold the 60-percent side of the Ram's backseat so the more sensitive items could be piled high inside. Our three personal suitcases went into the Subaru's front racing seats, and five garbage bags full of clothes and bedding got unceremoniously stuffed between the seats and on top of the rally car's dash. I piled a few more items on top of the car parts in the trailer's lockable Jobox toolbox for good measure.
Five of those flip-top plastic storage boxes (each inside a trash bag) went into the bed in front of the row of seven tires, now neatly lined up against the tailgate. Then we tucked my tarp carefully over everything in the bed, stretched one of those spiderweb bungee cords over the top and fastened its hooks to the low-mounted tie-downs in each corner of the Ram's bed. It was getting dark and starting to rain again as we finished, but there was no need for a flashlight because of the overhead bed light that's mounted in the third brake light housing above the rear window.
We said goodbye and were ready to roll with a 6,000-pound trailer that weighed even more because of the items we'd added, a full bed and a very full cab. I don't think the total load rose up to the level of the Ram's GCWR, but we couldn't have fallen short by much.
The actual drive home was anti-climactic. The Ram failed to strain up any of the numerous grades. The little 3.0-liter turbodiesel V6 engine that could, did — without hesitation.
The trailer and the load didn't change the driving experience much, except that I now had to abide by slightly slower towing speed limits. The trailer brake controller was flawless, up to and including a 40-mph panic stop when someone cut me off as we were leaving town.
Throughout, there was absolutely no tail-wagging-the-dog feeling whatsoever despite numerous curves, passing 18-wheelers and crosswinds. A big dollop of credit goes to the Ram's coil spring rear suspension. I experienced the same calm, effortless trailer-tow feeling in a Ford versus Ram V6 towing test I conducted a couple of years ago. It's not the coil springs, per se, but the lateral Panhard rod that comes along with them. Count this as yet another reason why I am in full support of the coil-spring rear suspension decision made by Ram's engineers and top brass.
By far the biggest negative was the Ram's tendency to allow speed overrun when going downhill on cruise control, and it didn't matter if I was in tow/haul or not. I found myself downshifting manually and dabbing the brakes much more than I thought necessary to control speed. How many times would have been acceptable? Zero.
After all, the computer knows my target speed and it has eight transmission gears at its disposal. There's no excuse why it can't drop a gear or three to keep the rig's speed from climbing. And if I'm going to have to manually downshift all the time, how about giving me the nice Grand Cherokee Ecodiesel steering wheel shift paddles instead of these lame little buttons on the right spoke that are easily confused with the cruise control buttons.
Our owner's manual mentions an exhaust brake, but there's no button. That's because the Ram representative I spoke with reminded me that the 1500 Ecodiesel doesn't have one. Is it a misprint? No. The 1500, 2500 and 3500 share a manual, and the latter two have this feature. Based on what I experienced, the 1500 Ecodiesel needs better downshift intelligence when running downhill (on cruise control or not), a diesel exhaust brake feature, or both.
We made the 1,140-mile run home with two fuel stops, and upon arrival I filled up once more just before I dropped off the trailer to lock-off the towing portion of the test. Over the entire distance the Ram 1500 Ecodiesel averaged 18.8 mpg with this not insubstantial load. Along the way the Ecodiesel's best towing range was 438 miles and its best-tank fuel economy was 20.5 mpg. The worst towing tank, the one over the rainy mountains out of Bend and over several summits along the I-5 corridor in Oregon to Yreka, California, had been 17.1 mpg.
That's pretty remarkable, in my book. The main thing I had in my favor was the low-profile nature of the load, aside from the diesel engine, that is.
Pulling torque, a rock-steady suspension, towing-friendly hitching and trailer braking features, fuel consumption, outright range: There are many reasons why the 2014 Ram Ecodiesel is a good choice for trailer towing. And that's regardless of the relative prices of gasoline and diesel. There's more to this rig than the cost of the fuel, a factor that's hard to predict over the time you'll own the truck in any case.
Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing @ 21,079 miles