A 20-percent improvement in fuel economy might sound staggering, but that's what the 2013 Ram 1500 delivers--along with a new V-6 engine, a new eight-speed automatic transmission, a new air suspension, and a more carlike interior, with Chrysler's latest Uconnect Touch interface and much-improved materials and trims. And all of these improvements come with towing and hauling ability that's somewhat reduced on V-8 models for now, but boosted on the base six-cylinder trucks.
Chrysler calls the Ram 1500 “the most recognizable pickup on the road,” and we fully agree. Over the years, its scaled-down big-rig look makes it easy to spot from a distance. All that said, on the outside there's not all that much to distinguish the 2013 model from the 2012—unless you're already a Ram or Dodge fan. Designers have made the front grille slightly taller, and added a new upper fascia panel, while the Ram crosshair grille is now flush. New vertically oriented foglamps have been added, while 4WD models get larger openings for the tow hooks. Headlamps also get a new design, with a twin-beam projector design plus LEDs now used in the running lamps, turn signals, side-marker lamps, and tail lamps. Polished stainless steel running boards have been added down below, and a new 6'-4” bed option is offered in Crew Cab models. And there are five new exterior hues, including some two-tone themes.
The Ram's interior gets many of the same improvements that Chrysler, Dodge, and Jeep vehicles have seen over the past couple of years. The interior look has been only modestly redesigned, but materials and trims are completely new, with the center stack reworked and all-new climate-control interfaces and multimedia and infotainment systems. And, perhaps most notably, trucks with the new eight-speed automatic will get a new rotary shift selector—located just on the left side of the lower center stack, with buttons for the transfer case located conveniently just below. Ram designers designed the new rotary selector to be easy to use with work gloves, and it's intended to be the same across a wide range of seating options and layouts. The Laramie Longhorn remains the standout of the lineup, with unique burl walnut real-wood trim and plush leather.
The hoary old Chrysler V-6, a 3.7-liter that made an anemic 210 horsepower, has been dropped in favor of a Pentastar 3.6-liter V-6 tuned to make 305 horsepower and 269 pound-feet of torque. It's powerful enough for casual truck users, and is rated at 17/25 mpg--18 mpg city when stop/start technology is specified, making it the best full-size truck by a wide margin. Its eight-speed automatic doesn't feel at all busy, though the rotary-knob shifter takes a while to grow accustomed to. It's now a relevant piece of the Ram powertrain puzzle, even before you factor in the additional eco gold of a stronger but lighter-weight frame (more high-strength steel), aerodynamic shutters, low-rolling-resistance tires, and pulse-width modulation (which improves the efficiency of the alternator and accessories) and a new thermal management system. HEMI models now make 395 horsepower and 407 pound-feet, and they incorporate both variable valve timing (VVT) and a cylinder shut-off system. A version of the new eight-speed automatic comes to the HEMI engine early in 2013, although a few of the lower-cost trims of the 2013 Ram will carry over the six-speed automatic--and some will carry over the now pointless 4.7-liter V-8 and six-speed automatic combination. Cost no object, oil no peak, the HEMI's still the way to go, and its muscular power means 0-60 mph times of far less than 7 seconds. Fuel economy numbers aren't out yet, but the eight-speed automatic and HEMI combination will also get stop/start technology at some point in the near term. Four-wheel drive is available on every model, either in part-time or full-time flavor. Tow ratings are comparable to 2012 models, only minus one model that sported an 11,500-pound rating. For now, the maximum capacity stands at 10,450 pounds, while Ford and GM trucks can hit 11,700 pounds.
The big Ram's redesigned suspension loses no ground, and its ride quality still stands above all its competition for on-road smoothness. Electric power steering is new, and it's about what you'd expect in a work-duty application--though on-center feel is more than acceptable, there's almost zero feedback beyond a few degrees off center. The Ram's new air suspension option enticed us on the preview tease, but after driving it, we think there should be some more compliance dialed into one of its everyday driving modes: of the five that allow best-in-class ground clearance, step-in height, and departure/breakover angles, the "normal" mode is tuned to lower the truck at highway speeds for better gas mileage, and that tends to firm up the ride a bit too much.
The Ram's new frame means existing crash-test results from the IIHS and the NHTSA don't carry over from 2012. Still, standard safety features remain strong, with the usual airbags, stability control with a trailer-sway system, and hill-start assist. A rearview camera is available on all versions; parking sensors can be ordered on all but the regular-cab trucks.
Chrysler's big 8.4-inch Uconnect Touch screen-based system is available in the Ram, and it can incorporate Uconnect Access, which tethers the truck to Sprint data services, adding on a host of features including voice recognition, apps, and WiFi hotspot capability.
The available navigation system offers voice-activated features, new 3D terrain imagery, and lane guidance, as well as fuel-price, weather, sports, and movie info through Sirius Travel Link. There's also a new seven-inch reconfigurable gauge cluster (in Sport, Laramie, and Laramie Longhorn models) that effectively replaces a conventional gauge cluster and can quickly communicate information depending on how it's customized, with up to three 'analog' gauges at a time (when towing, an owner would configure the trans temp gauge to be in the foreground, for instance). The Ram comes with new powered USB, SD card, and aux-in ports, as well as full iPod control via USB, as well as expanded steering-wheel controls.
Other new features for the Ram lineup are rain-sensing wipers, power-folding side mirrors, and a power-sliding rear window with defrost; and the innovative RamBox cargo management system is now locked and unlocked with the vehicle's central locking system.
The V-6 Ram 1500 is on sale now; the V-8 Ram 1500, with the new eight-speed automatic, is expected to go on sale in January of 2013.