Move over, horsepower wars (or, for trucks, torque wars). It’s now time for the fuel economy wars!
In all seriousness, we are probably at or near a peak in which future powertrain advances will be applied to keep power output reasonably steady while improving efficiency. This is a major shift from the past three decades, where probably more than half of the advances in powertrains went to improving performance while keeping efficiency relatively flat. With 250+ horsepower family cars now commonplace, do we really want to arm minimally-trained drivers with 300-horsepower cars?
This brings us to today’s news about the updated-for-2013 Ram pickup. Though it’s just a mid-cycle refresh and not an entirely new model, there are some significant changes above and below the sheetmetal that warrant mentioning.
The big news is that with the new 3.6 liter Pentastar V6 and an 8-speed automatic, the Ram 1500 4×2 is rated at 18 mpg city/25 mpg highway. That’s pretty great for a full-size pickup, V6 or not. The 2012 Ram 1500 4×2 is rated at 14/20 city/highway (16 mpg combined), whether it has the base 3.7 liter V6, 4.7 liter V8, or 5.7 liter HEMI, so this represents a substantial improvement.
The Pentastar is more powerful and more efficient than the old 3.7 liter V6, and certainly the 8-speed automatic helps by keeping the truck in the right gear at all times (and allows the engine to lope along at highway speeds, likely a big part of that 25 mpg rating). Additionally, the extra ratios will allow a very low first gear, which will help multiply the V6’s torque, and possibly allowing 2013 Ram buyers to consider the V6 when they may not have in the past. The 3.6 liter V6 produces 305 horsepower and 269 lb-ft of torque. Incidentally, the big 5.7 liter HEMI V8 will also get the 8-speed auto, while the 4.7 liter V8 soldiers on with a 6-speed unit. The 8-speed automaticdoubles the number of gear ratios backing the Ram’s V6 compared to the 2012 truck’s antiquated 4-speed/3.7 liter team.
Chrysler engineers employed a number of other tricks to boost the Ram’s fuel economy. These include optional air suspension that lowers the truck at highway speeds, a stop/start system, active grille shutters, improved aerodynamics, electric power steering, and even a system that pre-heats fluids to operating temperature more quickly.
Most of the interior remains intact, which isn’t necessarly a bad thing – the Ram has had a pretty decent interior (for a truck) since its most recent re-do when the current generation debuted for the 2009 model year. However, there is an infotainment upgrade coming to the 2013s – a revised UConnect system will boast the same giant 8.4 inch central LCD display found in the Charger, 300, and Dart and has mobile hotspot capabilities (with the data coming from Sprint – for an additional monthly fee, naturally).
Ram seems to be taking sort of a middle ground with the evolution of its flagship pickup. While Ford is going to focus big-time on fuel efficiency in its next-generation F-150 (including an aluminum-intensive construction), GM appears to be content with incremental improvements in its own next-generation Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra, with powertrain improvements but no wholesale switch to lighter (and more expensive) materials. Of note, the 2013 Ram’s hood is now made of aluminum, which represents a 26-pound weight reduction vs. the 2012 Ram’s steel hood.
With Ford’s new truck not due for more than a year, and GM’s not coming much before then, the 2013 model year may be an opportunity for Ram to take more marketshare from its rivals, at least in the short term. After that, we’ll enjoy watching this battle. Don’t expect Ford to be content with second place in the fuel efficiency race, particularly with its bestselling and expensive-to-develope next-generation F-150.