2013 Truck of the Year: Ram 1500
For several years, it seemed all we ever talked about with trucks was torque and tow ratings. Things have changed, with truck buyers' expectations reaching a long way off the farm or job site. There's no single magic bullet that will meet every truck owner's needs, so even an entry payload model range like the Ram 1500 has to have far more breadth and depth than its forebears of a decade ago did. To demonstrate its half-ton's ability to cover the entire market, Ram delivered a V-6-powered SLT on the efficient and luxurious side and a V-8 powered Sport leaning toward power and performance.
While Ford may be using smaller forced-induction engines for the sake of efficiency, Ram is refining its powertrain options by offering more efficient engines bolted to a new, optional eight-speed transmission. Replacing the old 3.7-liter V-6 is the much-celebrated Pentastar 3.6-liter V-6, which offers 42 percent more horsepower and 13 percent more torque. A new eight-speed transmission is standard on V-6 models and will be optional on the V-8. At launch, V-8s will be available only with the current six-speed automatic, with the new transmission coming at a later date.
While the 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 isn't all-new, it is updated with variable valve timing. It is bolstered by more efficient systems within the truck including a revised cooling system, electric power steering, and an electrical system with pulse width modulation that more efficiently uses power to lessen load on the alternator. These technologies combine to allow Ram to claim best-in-class fuel efficiency in the V-6 and V-8 segments. It should be noted that, since the Ford EcoBoost is considered a V-8 alternative, it's lumped into the V-8 segment.
While many people focus on a truck's powertrain, that may be the least significant improvement in the 1500. The addition of air suspension is a giant leap for half-ton trucks. While coil springs are a big advancement over leaf springs, trucks have to be able to carry such a range of weight loads, from a single person to five passengers and a bed full of cargo, that a single spring rate just doesn't seem adequate. Although the Ram's air suspension may cause as much concern as Ford's turbos on the reliability front, we can tell you these modern air springs use materials that are more resistant to tearing and puncture, and they resemble those used on modern luxury cars that can easily weigh as much as smaller trucks.
As well as compensating for varying loads an air suspension can provide adjustable ride height. Two off-road modes will lift the truck 1.2 inches and 2.0 inches, respectively, while an aero-mode lowers the vehicle 0.6 inch. Lowering the vehicle at highway speeds improves aerodynamics, which improves efficiency. Besides the ride height, optional active shutters in the grille can close at highway speeds helps move air around the truck instead of under it. This combines with the redesigned body to lower the 1500's coeffecient of drag from 0.39 to 0.36, to net a 6 percent increase in aerodynamic efficiency.