Remember when Mahindra & Mahindra was close to offering a compact diesel pickup here? A million voices from the truck-and-bed-loving tribes of the Internet cried out at once in anticipation, only to be silenced in disappointment when it didn't happen. And this was for a jitney with a bed that didn't exactly look robust in its press photos. The message these fans had was clear: light-duty truck + a diesel engine = a prayer answered for a significant contingent of truck buyers.
Ram tells us a fullsize diesel half-ton has been the number-one demand from customers, and it will be the first manufacturer to grand the wish when the 2014 Ram 1500 goes on sale early next year – "late availability" in Q1 of 2014 is the official word – with a 3.0-liter, six-cylinder turbodiesel provided by VM Motori. If you're wondering about the engine source, VM Motori has been a Chrysler supplier since 1992. DaimlerChrysler bought VM Motori in 2000, and after a few ownership-stake changes since then, it is presently a 50-50 joint venture between General Motors and Fiat. That will change shortly, however, with Fiat recently announcing it will buy GM's share and take full control of the company.
- The 3.0-liter diesel puts out 240 horsepower at 3,600 rpm and 420 pound-feet of torque at 2,000 rpm, and will be paired with the company's TorqueFlite eight-speed transmission. Fuel economy hasn't been announced yet, but we have been told to expect something in "the upper twenties." Ram's David Elshoff said, "We know for sure it's higher than 25 miles per gallon, so 26 or higher will be the commitment." During a press conference at the Texas State Fair today, Ram Trucks boss Reid Bigland announced that the truck's latest estimate is 27 mpg on the highway. The engine is compatible with B-20 biodiesel, as well.
- The 50-state compliant common-rail diesel weighs just 40 pounds more than the 5.7-liter Hemi V8 thanks to a cylinder block and bedplate of compacted graphite iron, along with aluminum pistons and heads and a structural aluminum oil pan. Other technologies in the new engine design include fast-acting high-temperature glow plugs, an electronically controlled variable-geometry water-cooled turbocharger, electronically controlled Exhaust Gas Recirculation system, a 10,000-mile oil-change interval and a front-end accessory drive.
- Compared the diesel's numbers to its brethren in the Ram stable: The 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 makes 305 hp at 6,400 rpm and 269 lb-ft at 4,175 rpm, returning 18 mpg in the city and 25 mpg on the highway. The 5.7-liter Hemi V8 produces 395 hp at 5,600 rpm and 410 lb-ft at 3,950 rpm, and gets 15 mpg city, 22 mpg highway.
- In addition to slightly better mileage than the Pentastar V6 and lots more torque, the diesel will have an even bigger edge when it comes to fuel economy when towing, since gas mileage typically falls more quickly and dramatically than diesel mileage under load. The 3.0-liter diesel is rated to tow 9,200 pounds, the 3.6-liter V6 is rated at 7,450 pounds and the 5.7-liter V8 is rated at 10,400 pounds. We were told that when it comes to towing, the diesel is perfect for "Ski boats, midsize campers, snowmobiles. It's 90-percent of the Hemi with a night and day difference in fuel economy." During our day of driving, there was a diesel demo unit hooked up to a 4,500-pound ski boat/trailer combo, but a brake issue that developed on the trailer midway through the day meant we didn't get a chance to drive it.
- Ram said that it expects the 5.7-liter to remain its major seller, but it figures around 15 percent of the model 1500's mix will be diesel. For buyers choosing between Ram engines – as opposed to conquest customers walking in just for the diesel option – Elshoff said, "The diesel will take from the 5.7."
- The diesel will come with a price premium of $2,850 over a "similarly equipped" 5.7-liter Hemi and cost $4,500 more than 3.6-liter V6. At today's fuel prices, Ram expects diesel buyers to recover that $2,850 in less than three years, which is less than the 4.5-year average that buyers hold onto a truck. The new 1500 starts at $24,200 for the Pentastar V6, plus $1,095 destination. The Laramie Longhorn Edition Crew Cab 4x4 we drove had a base price of $48,730 and an as-tested price of $56,420.
- The diesel won't be offered on Sport models or the two-wheel-drive, regular cab, short-bed Tradesman. The ancillaries for the engine were designed with the long-wheelbase 1500 in mind, making the short wheelbase packaging too compact.
- Even though diesel 1500s will wear large "Ecodiesel" badges on their flanks, the option won't be pitched as 'green' to truck buyers. Pickup buyers have made it known that fuel economy combined with capability is a big deal, but the green they're concerned about is in their wallets. Still, that's how you get national ad campaigns in which Ram touts the best V6 fuel economy, General Motors touts the best V8 fuel economy and Ford promotes the best combo of towing and fuel economy with its EcoBoost V6.
- The closeness of the Chrysler/VM Motori relationship has allowed Ram to get its diesel to market more quickly than competitors – it is expected to hit retail outlets by the end of the year. This is important because Ram should have the market to itself until the Nissan Titan arrives next year with its Cummins 5.0-liter V8 diesel. However, when asked about the coming Titan diesel, one Ram rep asked, "Do you really consider a 5.0-liter a small diesel engine? We'll see how that works out."
- Behind the wheel, the diesel quickly shows itself to be a good engine. With more torque than the Hemi V8 combined with the capable eight-speed transmission, getting off the line quickly and accelerating from low speeds and rpm is not a problem. We took it through the same canyons used to test the 2014 Jeep Cherokee, and although it didn't display the same reflexes, it was still a fun drive, especially for a pickup. If you want more control, there are gear selector switches on the steering wheel. The 40-pound weight gain compared to the Hemi wasn't enough to change the feel of the front end. Understeer and wallow – beyond what you might experience in any pickup truck through mountain esses – wasn't really an issue.
- The engine is also refined. You have to stand next to it to hear the traditional, yet muted, diesel chatter. Standing in front and enduring the hot temperatures of our drive day, we could only hear the fans. From inside the cabin – even while accelerating – the engine barely sounds like a diesel. Stopped at light, it doesn't rock noticeably from side-to-side, a feat achieved without balance shafts.
- Since 2013 was the big redesign year, no other significant changes have been made for 2014. After a year on the market, no changes stick out as needed. The cabin is large, the seats are comfy, there's good-feeling materials everywhere, the Uconnect screen is large and a little busy, but easy to use. The new model year will offer a capless fuel filler as standard, an optional front park assist system and two new exterior colors: Blue Streak and Granite Crystal.
- On a side note, the first Dodge Ram truck with a Cummins engine was at the event, the initial engineering prototype Cummins built after approaching Dodge about an engine tie-up. The 1985 Dodge Ram 350 Royal SE sounded every bit as heavy duty as the 2014 Ram 2500 we parked next to it, but was about one-third the size. That original 5.9-liter inline six-cylinder had 146 hp, 400 lb-ft and redlined at about 2,500 rpm. The 6.7-liter Cummins in the current Ram achieves 385 hp and 850 lb-ft.