First Drive

FIRST DRIVE: 2014 Ram Trucks

New models, features make the 2014 Ram lineup the most comprehensive ever

2014 Ram pickup

MILTON, ON – There’s no doubt the Ram truck brand has upped its game. There was a time, not so long ago, when Chrysler Corporation’s Rams were a secondary player behind heavyweights Ford and General Motors.

Consumer interest – and sales – focused on Ford’s F150 lineup and the GM twins, Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra; the Ram, not so much.

No longer.

2014 Ram 1500.jpgRam has been gaining traction and the 2014 lineup, which was shown to the media during a preview at Milton’s Country Heritage Park, is now definitely a prime contender.

In fact, after posting 46 consecutive months of year-over-year sales growth, Ram is now second only to Ford in Canadian truck market share – 15.1% versus16.4 % – and gaining ground.

And in a segment where toughness is the yardstick, an R.L. Polk study of all large pickups sold in this country during the past 25 years reported 79% of all Ram trucks sold were still on the road. Chevy/GMC followed at 72% and Ford trailed at 66%.

Award winners

As further evidence of the brand’s surge toward supremacy, experts are recognizing the Ram lineup’s capabilities and features with numerous awards.

2014 Canadian Truck King Challenge.JPGThe latest was just announced as judges for the seventh annual Canadian Truck King Challenge declared Ram the top truck in all three of the event’s categories – heavy duty, light duty under $45,000 and light duty over $45,000 – as well has naming the Ram 1500 with the new 3.0-litre EcoDiesel V6 as the overall 2014 Canadian Truck King.

The EcoDiesel V-6 is a first for the half-ton segment – no other manufacturer is offering a small-displacement diesel powerplant. Chrysler officials are expecting this turbocharged engine, a $4,500 option with 240 horsepower and a stout 420 lb-ft of torque on tap, coupled to a TorqueFlight eight-speed automatic transmission (another segment exclusive) will be a game changer.

After driving this truck, I’d have to agree. Even towing a dump trailer filled with 2,722 kilograms of gravel, this truck didn’t falter, eagerly hauling the load up grades and along paved and gravel roads – while delivering the lowest fuel consumption among 13 competitors in the Truck King Challenge.

Focus on fuel-efficiency

However, there’s more than this new diesel among the highlights of Ram’s 2014 lineup. Ram engineers have put a lot of effort into making all their trucks the most fuel efficient on the market.

IGM hydramatic 6 speed transmission.jpgn addition to the new diesel engine, the eight-speed transmission can be mated to a 3.6-litre Pentastar V-6 with variable valve timing (305 horsepower; 269 lb-ft of torque), named by Ward’s Automotive as one of 2013’s 10 best engines.

Or to the 5.7-litre Hemi V-8 (395 horsepower; 410 lb-ft of torque) with fuel-saving cylinder deactivation and variable valve timing.

The Pentastar V-6 delivers segment-leading fuel efficiency with 11.4 litres/100 km in city driving, 7.8 on the highway. The Hemi’s efficiency is rated at 14.1 L/100 km city, 9.3 highway. (Linked to the available six-speed automatic, its consumption is rated at 15.4 city, 10.2 highway.)

The EcoDiesel’s fuel consumption ratings have not been announced, but data collected during the Truck King Challenge showed its consumption rate to be significantly better than any of the 13 V-6- and V-8-powered entries in the event. The diesel consumed 9.1 L/100 km with the pickup bed empty; 10.5 with a payload and 16.1 towing.

Other fuel-saving features include stop-start technology, a thermal management system, pulse-width modulation to reduce parasitic electrical loads and active grille shutters.

Other changes for 2014

Ram also offers a class-exclusive four-corner air suspension system ($1,500) that allows the driver to adjust the ride height – an especially handy feature if the truck is used for off-road excursions as it provides best-in-class ground clearance. It’s also a valuable feature for towing or hauling heavy payloads, automatically levelling the truck.

Exterior changes for 2014 are subtle, with new halogen headlamps and LED tail lights, redesigned front fascia and bumper, vertical fog lights and a new, larger grille with four model-specific designs.

Inside, however, the changes are dramatic. Ram has stepped up its interior designs, with higher quality materials, even in the base model, plenty of storage space, a range of infotainment and connectivity features, including a Uconnect multimedia centre with 8.4-inch colour touch screen, plus available luxury trims that rival premium sedans.

The base ST, SXT and SLT models are offered in regular, quad cab and crew cab configurations. Moving upscale, the Outdoorsman, Big Horn, Sport and Laramie trim levels are available in quad and crew cab layouts, while the top-of-the-line Laramie Longhorn and Laramie Limited models, with leather seats accented with laser etching, luxury carpeting and other premium trimmings, are only available in the crew cab format.

Heavy Duty models

Ram’s heavy duty models have been improved as well for 2014. In addition to staking claim to best-in-class towing capability (13,608 kg) and the segment’s best Gross Combined Weight Rating (GCWR) at 17,055 kg, the big Ram now offers a class-exclusive, five-link coil suspension on its 2500 series trucks as well as a new rear air suspension that replaces the coil springs without compromising load capacity.

A supplementary air suspension system is also available on the Ram 3500. This system allowed the engineers to soften the rear 3500’s Hotchkiss leaf spring setup, improving the ride quality when the truck is unladen, but firming up the suspension and levelling the truck when loaded.

The list of available engines in this segment of the Ram lineup has been expanded with the addition of a new 6.4-litre Hemi V-8. This is a purpose-built truck engine, not a version of the 6.4 Hemi being used in the high-performance SRT car models.

It’s built on the same assembly line as the standard 5.7-litre Hemi V-8 and shares about 73 per cent of its parts with that engine. The 6.4L Hemi cranks out 410 horsepower at 5,600 rpm and 429 lb-ft of torque at 4,000 revs. The smaller Hemi delivers 383 horsepower at 5,600 rpm and 400 lb-ft of torque at 4,000 revs. Both V-8s are offered with the 66RFE six-speed automatic transmission.

For truckers requiring more grunt, there’s the 6.7-litre Cummins Turbo Diesel. This inline six-cylinder, when paired with a segment-exclusive six-speed manual gearbox, delivers 350 horsepower at 2,800 rpm and 660 lb.-ft. of torque at just 1,400 revs. Match this powerhouse with the 68RFE six-speed automatic and the output climbs to 370 horsepower and 800 lb.-ft. of torque.

The Cummins Turbo Diesel is also offered in a high-output version for the Ram 3500. It generates 385 horsepower and a class-leading 850 lb-ft of torque at just 1,000 revs. That impressive output is channelled through an Aisin six-speed automatic transmission.

One of the innovative features offered on Ram Heavy Duty trucks is an industry-exclusive active air intake system. Ram Active Air senses when things are getting hot under the hood and switches the air intake to the front of the truck to grab cooler, denser air. The system also senses low oxygen environments, such as at high altitudes, and engages the external intake to improve throttle response. It also recognizes when outside conditions, such as snow, rain or water-fording, exist and restricts the air intake to the under-hood inlet.

Ram’s commercial-duty chassis cabs, too, have been upgraded for 2014. There’s a new three-link front suspension on the 3500 that increases its load-carrying and towing capabilities. Engine choices include the new 6.4L Hemi V-8 plus two variants of the 6.7L Cummins diesel.

Ram officials are keen to grow the company’s share in this segment and anticipate their focus on offering features that reduce the total cost of ownership as well as simplifying the chassis for upfitters while retain class-leading capabilities will give them the competitive edge to achieve that goal.

New ProMaster van

With its most comprehensive line in the brand’s history, ranging from the minivan-based Ram Cargo Van to light and heavy duty pickups and commercial chassis cabs, one would think the folks behind the bighorn badge would be content. Not so. They saw an opportunity in the growing full-size commercial van segment and are responding with the 2014 Ram ProMaster.

2014 Ram Promaster Van.JPGBrad Pugh, head of Ram’s commercial van engineering department, says his team tapped on the lessons learned while selling the Sprinter van during Chrysler’s now-defunct marriage with Daimler.

Input based on experiences – good and not so good – while marketing that Mercedes-Benz designed van was applied to the development of the ProMaster, which is now starting to arrive at dealers’ showrooms.

This vehicle is based on the Fiat Ducato van, which has been popular in the European market for more than 30 years. However, Pugh says the platform has been significantly changed to make it suitable for North American users.

The unibody chassis is offered with two roof heights (223.5 and 251.5 centimetres), three wheelbases (299.7 cm, 345.4 cm and 403.9 cm) and four body lengths, ranging from 495.3 cm to 635 cm. Body styles include a cargo van in 1500, 2500 and 3500 configurations; chassis cab (2500 and 3500) and a cutaway variant (3500).

The powertrains offered are the 3.6L Pentastar V-6 (280 horsepower; 258 lb-ft of torque) coupled to a six-speed automatic, or a 3.0L Fiat turbo diesel four-cylinder (174 horsepower; 295 lb-ft of torque) that’s mated to an automated manual six-speed tranny.

What’s unique about the ProMaster is the fact it’s front-wheel drive. Without a rear driveshaft or rear differential, the engineers have been able to create a van with the lowest step-in height – just 53 cm – and lowest load floor in the segment.

Indeed, I found stepping up into the cab was far easier than in competitive vans and I’m sure it will be a feature much appreciated by users having to make frequent trips to and from the driver’s seat each day.

I’m sure they will also appreciate another benefit of the front-wheel-drive configuration – an amazingly tight turning circle. A short-wheelbase ProMaster’s turning radius is listed at 10.97 metres – in real-world terms, I was able to turn one around in less than three spaces on a parking lot. Delivery drivers trying to negotiate tight urban lanes will love it.

Access to the cargo bay is easy. There’s a sliding door on the curb side – a second sliding door on the driver’s side is optional – and the two large clamshell rear doors swing open a full 260 degrees so the truck can be backed up to a loading dock with no risk of damaging the doors. The side and rear door openings are designed to accommodate pallet loading by a forklift.

The walls of the cargo bay are nearly true vertical, allowing for easy installation of cabinets, racks or whatever. The flat floor and lack of a rear drivetrain also simplifies the job for upfitters and conversion specialists. In addition, virtually all primary vehicles systems are packaged forward of the cargo bay.

Other features include standard electronic stability control with hill-start assist, rollover mitigation and trailer-sway control, more than 35 active and passive safety and security features and a list of convenience and connectivity features such as Uconnect and Bluetooth.

Storage spaces abound, with numerous cupholders, cubby bins and a large overhead shelf similar to the Sprinter’s unit.

This new vehicle will be built exclusively at the company’s commercial truck assembly plant in Saltillo, Mexico.

With a lineup that offers superior fuel efficiency, towing and payload capabilities and segment-leading power, Ram should continue to gain more customers – and cause competitors more concern.

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