2013 Ram pickup gets major fuel-efficiency upgrades

  • 05-Apr-2012 04:17 EDT

2013 Ram 1500 gets a host of functional changes, but the even-bolder grille is what people will notice first.

Chrysler’s original plans for the 2013 Ram 1500 pickup were modest by all accounts. But the truck unveiled at the 2012 New York International Auto Show reveals how serious Sergio Marchionne’s engineers are in making one of their most profitable products the most fuel efficient in its segment.

Don’t let that even bolder new grille fool you—this isn’t a typical mid-cycle refresh. Instead it’s a significant investment in technology across the vehicle. Like Ford did with its 2013 Fusion, Chrysler applied major engineering resources to the new Ram—Pentastar V6 equipped with a new stop-start system (an industry first for light-duty pickups); eight-speed automatic; air suspension adapted from the Jeep Grand Cherokee for improved highway aerodynamics; active grille shutters, and essentially a new frame, to name the major changes.

No area of the new Ram went untouched in the quest for higher mpg. For example, the polished stainless steel running boards serve two functions. They are shaped to improve aerodynamics, and they extend from front- to rear-wheel openings, where they serve as steps for access to each side of the cargo bed. The Ram's Cd (coefficient of drag) was called best-in-class at 0.363 vs. 0.386 for the 2012. Exterior lighting was redesigned, using LEDs for side lamps and amber LEDs for parking lights.

The already-announced new powertrain—the 3.6-L Pentastar V6 with the eight-speed TorqueFlite transmission, a licensed ZF design—is what enables Chrysler to claim the Ram 1500 will deliver best-in-class fuel economy.

Rated at 305 hp (227 kW) and 269 lb·ft (365 N·m), the 3.6-L replaces the 3.7-L V6 and six-speed automatic. The eight-speed will have a luxury car-like touch: a rotary dial electronic shift control in the center stack. There is also a “manual shift” panel, with upshift and downshift buttons, on the steering wheel.

The eight-speed will see late availability with the 5.7-L Hemi V8. Until then, only the six-speed (with column shifter) will be packaged with the Hemi. This V8 has Chrysler’s MDS (Multiple-Displacement System) for cutout of one cylinder bank under light load and the camshaft-within-a-camshaft variable cam timing system for the pushrod valvetrain. The engine is rated at 395 hp (295 kW) and 407 lb·ft (552 N·m). The 4.7-L V8, scheduled for phase-out later this year, will initially be available, also with the six-speed.

When this article was written prior to the NY show, Chrysler had not announced EPA fuel economy numbers but said the 3.6-L V6 would deliver at least 20% better mileage than the 3.7-L V6 in the 2012 model, for which the numbers were 14 mpg city/20 mpg highway. A 10% increase for the 5.7-L V8 (also listed for 14/20 mpg in 2012) was promised, too. Both V6 and V8 numbers will be best-in-class, Chrysler said.

The V6 and V8 engines with the eight-speed will be available with idle stop/start, which includes a super-heavy-duty starter tested to 300,000 cycles plus an AGM (absorbent glass mat) high-performance battery and high-output (220-A) alternator. The control module initiates a restart as soon as brake pedal pressure is released or if the air-conditioning is on when the monitoring algorithm for cabin/passenger comfort reaches a threshold.

Stop/start also has a battery voltage sensor and an algorithm to prevent repeated idle stops when the vehicle is creeping along in a traffic jam. The system is not enabled until the Ram exceeds 8 mph (13 km/h). Although some car makers say there are few sufficiently long idle stops to make a meaningful difference in EPA window sticker fuel economy readings, Chrysler said its tests showed about a 3.3% improvement, which translated to 1.0 mpg in the city numbers. Low-rolling-resistance tires are standard.

Deceleration fuel shutoff also is used to boost fuel economy, both in city and highway operation.

A transmission oil warm-up system, seemingly similar to one on the 2013 Ford Taurus, is another light-duty truck first for the Ram, installed with the eight-speed auto. An electronic thermostat controls engine coolant flow through a heat exchanger for transmission oil to reduce friction losses. A 1.7% fuel economy improvement was claimed.

Numerically lower axle ratios will be used with the eight-speed, with most going from a 3.55:1 rear to 3.21:1, and tow packages dropping from a 3.92:1 to 3.55:1.

Electric power steering, another fuel saver, goes across the board on the Ram 1500. Other changes include active grille shutters and “smart” pulse-width modulation of the charging system and the radiator fan.

Grille shutters, once an aero upgrade for fuel economy only on premium makes, close when remaining ram airflow from road speed will be sufficient. Now they’re appearing on most vehicles where they help. The Chrysler system is, like others, controlled by a stepper motor and exact position of the shutters can be anywhere from fully open to fully closed, based primarily on engine oil temperatures. It improves fuel economy 0.5%, Chrysler said.

The storage boxes called Ram boxes built into the pickup bed have proved to be very popular, Chrysler said, and for 2013 they’ll also be available with the shorter, 6-ft, 4-in (1930-mm) bed so they can be ordered with the crew cab model. A new convenience upgrade is the addition of electronic locks to the box lids and the tailgate. So with the press of a keyfob button, the cab doors, Ram boxes, and tailgate all lock simultaneously—no need for individual locking.

Air suspension, adapted from the 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee, will be a 2013 option for the Ram 1500. Factory-filled with “hospital-grade” dry air, it provides automatic load leveling and five ride heights with a total travel of 4 in (102 mm). The highest—10.7 in (272 mm)—is for maximum off-road clearance. There is also a slightly lower one, next a “normal” height, then an “aero” mode for highway cruising, and the lowest—a park position for easy entry into and exit from the truck. The selected height will be displayed on the TFT (thin film transistor) instrument cluster’s electronic vehicle information center (EVIC).

The Ram 1500 frame was extensively modified for increased rigidity and to save weight. It has more high-strength steel and changes to accommodate the new powertrain and air suspension. It’s available in two lengths: 120 in (3048 mm) and 140 in (3556 mm).

Peak-available towing and payload numbers are 11,500 lb (5216 kg) and 3125 lb (1417 kg), respectively. Chrysler also claims these are best-in-class for light-duty pickups.

On the interior, soft surfaces, including on armrests, are used on the doors. The 8.4-in touch screen, Powernet electronic architecture, and UConnect infotainment introduced on the Chrysler 300 will be available on the Ram, with specific apps forthcoming for commercial customers. EVIC is reconfigurable and the TFT cluster offers pre-programmed EVIC choices, likely about 25 displays, including simulated analog gauges. One display includes transmission oil temperature so the driver can monitor that when trailer towing. Hundreds of displays reportedly are possible.

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