Road Trip: 2014 Ram 1500 EcoDiesel Test

Jun. 18, 2014 By Josh Burns
Ram took the lead by being the first company to offer a light-duty truck with a diesel engine with the 2014 Ram 1500 EcoDiesel, and its fuel economy paired with a class-leading 420 lb.-ft. of torque has made a big impression in the truck market.

Being the first at something in the automotive market can be a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, you’re an innovator, you get the recognition for having the guts to stick your neck out there, and your industry-first moniker is one that can’t be taken away. On the other hand, this maverick move can upset the status quo, leaving you open to criticism about why it won’t work, why the previous technology was better, and detractors will be in waiting with an “I told you so” locked and loaded in the event of failure.

Overall, the arrival of the 3.0-liter V6 EcoDiesel in the 2014 Ram 1500 has been very well received. As the first half-ton truck with a diesel motor, Ram broke new ground with this small turbo-diesel that provides 240 horsepower and a whopping 420 lb.-ft. of torque. Word on the street is there are quite a few more options from other manufacturers coming in the next few years, so clearly Ram is on to something.

What we didn’t know when we first drove the truck was its fuel economy, but we now know it’s (as expected) just a bit lower than the diesel-powered Grand Cherokee that shares the same powerplant. With a fuel economy rating of 27 mpg highway and 19 in the city for a 4x4 (you’ll get up to 28 mph with a 4x2), the Ram EcoDiesel finally offers new truck buyers with a fuel-efficient option that doesn’t completely sacrifice power. Yet, some look at the Italian-made VM Motori diesel and ask where’s the Cummins? Others argue the motor isn’t quite big enough for serious truck work. Give a quick glance to the comment section for the original EcoDiesel video on our YouTube page and you’ll see the debate rage on.

The 3.0-liter VM Motori EcoDiesel engine make get all of the headlines, but what also helps the 1500 run smoothly and achieve great fuel economy is the EcoDiesel's pairing to an eight-speed automatic transmission.

We spent a day with Ram earlier in the year when the truck was first launched. We had a chance to run off the pavement, on the pavement, and we also did some towing around town. Though we were initially skeptical of the V6 motor, we walked away very pleased with the truck. Its stout performance and impressive fuel economy made us believers, and the 4x4 Ram EcoDiesel can pull up to an impressive 9,000-pound load. Overall, we liked what we saw at the press launch for the new truck, but we only spent a day with it. So, we made a call to Ram to get our hands on an EcoDiesel and log some more miles in it. We basically spent the better part of a week in an EcoDiesel, driving it around town and then venturing on a road trip out to Arizona to drive the 2014 Ram Power Wagon. The additional time would afford us a well-rounded impression of the truck, and more specifically, more time with the highly publicized EcoDiesel motor.

There's a great deal of optional equipment on our 1500 Outdoorsman Crew Cab 4x4, which pushes the price of our handsomely equipped truck up over the $50,000 mark. We did inquire with Ram on pricing options, and we did find that a buyer could get into a 1500 Crew Cab Long Bed 4x4 EcoDiesel for $39,695.

On the Road … Again
For truck owners who’ve only ever owned gasoline-powered trucks or larger diesel motors, the EcoDiesel motor will take some getting used to. Whereas a HEMI-powered 1500 or a 2500 with a 6.7-liter Cummins would fire off the line, the EcoDiesel tends to roll on the power slower at first and then come on strong once the turbo spools up and pumps more air into the motor. We noticed this right off the bat driving around town with the EcoDiesel, but like anything else, it only took a short time to get used to the feel of the motor. In all honesty, the truck does not feel at all underpowered.

Traditional coil-spring suspension or an optional four-corner air suspension system can be used on the 2014 Ram 1500 EcoDiesel.

For short jaunts around town, the EcoDiesel performs quite well. The 3.0-liter DOHC V6 turbo diesel is mated to an eight-speed TorqueFlite automatic transmission that flips through the gears smoothly. City driving isn’t where the EcoDiesel shines in the fuel economy department, but our average of roughly 21 miles per gallon in that time is nothing to scoff at.

Our 4x4 Crew Cab 1500 EcoDiesel came in the Outdoorsman trim and featured a host of upgrades, including four-corner air suspension, 20-inch black aluminum wheels, RamBox storage, rear backup camera with Park Assist, and the upgraded Uconnect system with navigation. Our truck also featured an upgraded customer package that included painted bumpers, leather wrapped steering wheel, floor mats, tow hooks, and the 3.92 rear axle ratio. The EcoDiesel itself is an upgrade as well. The 1500 comes standard with the Pentastar V6 motor, and the HEMI upgrade is $1650 more, while the EcoDiesel is an addition $2850 over the HEMI (or $4500 more than the V6). In all, our Outdoorsman is priced at an MSRP of $53,385. Although we appreciate the lower gearing in the rear that gives us improved towing capacity and the backup camera and Uconnect Navigation system, we could certainly do without a few of the upgrades (like the 20s). However, some might appreciate plush features like heated front seats and steering wheel for cooler mornings and can justify the added cost.

The DEF, or Diesel Exhaust Fluid, used on the EcoDiesel Ram 1500 can be easily filled at gas stations since the fill is right next to the diesel fuel petcock. Owners can also purchase 1-gallon bottles from dealers when it's time to top off.

The four-corner air suspension system on our 4x4 Crew Cab EcoDiesel test truck provides a lowered setting for easy entry/exit of the vehicle, lowering from its normal ride height of 8.7 inches down to 6.6 inches off the ground when parked. When getting in the dirt, there are two settings that lift the truck up; the first setting raises it to 9.9 inches (1.2 over stock height) and the next option up to 10.7 inches for a full 2 inches of additional clearance. When the truck reaches highway speed of approximately 52 mph, the system will also lower the truck for improved aerodynamics to aid in fuel economy.

After venturing around town in our Orange County, California, home base for a few days, we packed up and headed out to Arizona for the Power Wagon event, located in Sedona, Arizona, about 480 miles away. With a full tank, we really didn’t need to stop on our trip, but we did top off once we crossed into Arizona mainly for a quick snack/bathroom break. On mixed highway travel that included uphill and downhill sections and everything in between, we averaged just over 24 mpg. When traveling for extended periods of time in less hilly conditions, our fuel consumption improved to 27.1 mpg on the highway.

Our Outdoorsman EcoDiesel features the upgraded 3.92 gear ratio in the rear axle, which increases its towing capacity 1,000 pounds to 8,650 compared to the 3.55 gear ratio that can maxes out at 7,650 pounds.

Once we got into town, we found some time to get the truck off the pavement. Ground clearance is always an important aspect to being off the pavement, even if the truck will mainly serve as a tow vehicle for other OHVs. Those who plan to upgrade the truck’s suspension in the aftermarket would prefer the traditional coil spring setup on the 1500, but for others who don’t want to mess with the cost and trouble of that upgrade should consider the four-corner air suspension option. As we mentioned, our 4x4 was not necessarily the ideal off-road setup (20s, painted bumpers, etc.), but it, like any 4x4, is designed for off-pavement driving, and the air suspension system on our EcoDiesel makes life simpler for such a task.

We drove on some slick-rock sections in Sedona, getting near the clearance limitations of the truck while scaling a few small ledges. We also traveled down some bumpy, weather-beaten fire roads once back in Southern California, both cruising at slow speeds and then picking up the pace for more spirited, playful turns. The truck is not the ideal setup for off-roading, but it could be wheeled safely in moderation – and with a keen eye for obstacles. Most importantly, the air suspension seems to handle it all in stride. When driving on fire roads at a quicker pace (say, 20 or so mph) in Off-Road 2, the air suspension soaked up the bumps that kept the driver in complete control. While crawling up and down rocky ledges, the suspension was stiff enough to keep the truck in shape and wasn’t too soft so that the driver need worry about departing a ledge and having the truck bounce off the ground. Our 1500 was also outfitted with a transfer case skid plate shield as well as a front suspension skid plate for added peace of mind.

Having spent the better part of a week with the 2014 Ram 1500 EcoDiesel, we spent a good amount of time behind the wheel to gauge its fuel consumption. We averaged a little over 21 mpg in purely city driving, while our highway driving peaked at a little more than 27 mpg.

The Long Road Back
After spending a few days in Sedona with the Ram crew, we ventured a little farther north to Flagstaff to check out the Overland Expo. From there, we topped off the tank and headed back to So Cal. Overall, our trip back consisted of roughly 510 miles of highway travel, as we took the 40 over to the 95, cutting around Lake Havasu, took the 62 over to the 177 and then hopped on the 10 and so on. We drove into headwind for a good amount of the trip and knew we wouldn’t get the fuel economy figures we did before because of it, but we hoped to make the trek without needing a fuel stop with the 26-gallon tank topped off.

With the fuel light blinking as we neared the end of the climb up the 10 Freeway out of Palm Springs, we decided getting stranded because we ran out of fuel not a wise move, so we stopped and filled up. With pretty brutal headwinds for much of the trip, we still managed to average 20.68 mpg. Even though the number is a dip from our numbers earlier in the trip, they were under real-world conditions with some heavy winds, and any truck’s economy would have suffered.

The DEF gauge sits just within the speedometer on the 1500 EcoDiesel's instrumentation. The tank holds eight gallons of DEF fluid, which Ram says will last about 10,000 miles depending upon driving habits. Prices range roughly $7-10 dollars per gallon, so a refill should run under $100.

As noted previously, the EcoDiesel motor might take a little getting used to for some, especially gasoline-powered truck owners. That said, it’s not as drastic a shift as one might think. Whereas some diesel owners love the loud rumble of a 6.7-liter Cummins diesel engine, the 3.0-liter EcoDiesel is a relatively quiet motor, so the noise factor is not much of a consideration unless you’re truly dying for something with more grumble. We’re also happy to learn that the Diesel Exhaust Fluid, or DEF, is not a costly maintenance requirement for the truck. The 8-gallon tank should cost less than $100 to fill, as it runs roughly $7-10 per gallon and needs refilling about every 10,000 miles, which is the approximate oil change interval when 5W30 synthetic engine oil is used.

Although our test truck was not the ideal off-roader, our 4x4 Outdoorsman EcoDiesel was outfitted with the factory four-corner air suspension that provides up to 2 inches of lift to help clear mild obstacles off the pavement.

The EcoDiesel does come with an added cost to upgrade. As tested, our Ram 1500 Outdoorsman Crew Cab 4x4 is priced at $53,385, with a starting price of $40, 615. For those looking to get into a truck at a lower sticker price, we dug into pricing with Ram and here’s what we found. As Ram tells us, the one catch with the EcoDiesel is it is only available in the longbed option (which adds an additional $300 to the total), because the DEF system is not designed to fit on a regular cab with the short bed. So, the cheapest a buyer could get in a 1500 Regular Cab Long Bed 4x4 EcoDiesel would be $33,470, while a Crew Cab 1500 4x4 with the EcoDiesel would run $39,695 (neither price includes $1195 destination charge, however).

After a week with our Ram 1500 EcoDiesel, we still enjoy the performance of the EcoDiesel motor and appreciate its fuel efficiency. Our Outdoorsman Crew Cab 4x4 is a nice truck that is heavily loaded with a number of cool options, though we’d definitely trim a few of them to bring the price tag lower. Depending on how much one drives, the fuel savings for the EcoDiesel will take a few years to pay for the added cost, but in the long run the motor will pay off compared to most of the fuel ratings in current light-duty trucks. The overall performance of the EcoDiesel makes it an appealing option, and spending more time in it only reinforced this point for us.

Key Specs - 3.0-Liter DOHC EcoDiesel V-6
Type: 60-degree V-type, liquid-cooled
Displacement: 182 cu. in.
Bore x Stroke: 83mm x 92mm
Valve System: Chain-driven DOHC, 24 valves
Fuel Injection: Common-rail, 200 bar, Solenoid Injectors
Construction: Cast-iron block, aluminum alloy heads
Compression Ratio: 15.5:1
Power (SAE net): 240 hp (179kW) at 3,600 rpm
Torque (SAE net): 420 lb.-ft. at 2,000 rpm
Max. Engine Speed: 4,800 rpm (electronically limited)
Fuel Requirement: Ultra low-sulfur diesel
Oil Capacity: 8.2 qt. (7.8 liter)
Coolant Capacity: 12 qt. (11.4 liter)
Emissions Controls: Cooled EGR, oxidation catalyst, diesel particulate filter, SCR w/urea injection
EPA Fuel Economy mpg (as tested): 19 city/27 hwy Newsletter
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