2020 Ram 1500 EcoDiesel First Drive – Third Time Lucky

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Image: © 2019 Matthew Guy

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It will surprise exactly no one to learn that a diesel engine option needs some sort of killer app in order to command the cash. Whether it’s power, towing capacity, or fuel economy matters not so long as it has some sort of advantage over its gasoline-powered brethren. Unfortunately for Ram’s EcoDiesel, the old engines were scarce on all three.

Being first to market is sometimes fraught with peril, but also has its advantages. Ram learned this in a number of different ways with its first couple of forays into the half-ton diesel game. Now that Ford and GM also have compression-powered arrows in their quivers, Ram is back with a third kick at the EcoDiesel jerry can.

This time around, it’s more than just a curious sideshow. This time around, it’s the first Ram EcoDiesel with a pulse.

Your author never understood EcoDiesel’s purpose in the last-gen Ram 1500. In the 2016 model year, a long-box Crew Cab 4×4 could tow but 8,340 lbs when properly equipped. The best any EcoDiesel could haul that year was 9,210 lbs in a regular cab 4×2 truck. Given the Hemi could pull much more in the same truck, and its fuel economy benefits were tepid at best, the EcoDiesel didn’t make sense and was generally as sharp as an aged cleric sweeping up leaves.

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Image: © 2019 Matthew Guy

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That ends for 2020. For its third attempt (yes, EcoDiesel’s been around that long; Ram as a stand-alone brand has been on the go for 10 years, by the way), the company has replaced or re-thought a good 80 percent of the parts in its half-ton diesel engine. A diamond-like coating now sheaths the piston’s wrist pin, for example, allowing for a smoother action as the mill compresses its way to a peak of 480 lb-ft of torque.

An earthy EcoDiesel growl definitely makes itself known when accelerating at low speeds, especially when alighting from a stop sign. There is a slight grumble at idle as well, enough to advertise its diesely personality to passersby. GM’s 3.0-liter inline-six Duramax, an engine we tested in a half-ton Silverado earlier this summer, was definitely more hushed in these specific conditions. Whether that’s good or bad is up to you and your aural preferences.

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Image: © 2019 Matthew Guy

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Once underway, the diesel sound largely disappears, like when your teenager takes their tunes to the basement. In fact, wind noise from the elephantine side mirrors speak the loudest at 60 mph. At that speed, the EcoDiesel is turning about 1,750 rpm in a truck with 3.92-ratio towing gears. Sampling a truck with 3.21s uncovered an engine speed about 500 rpm lower at the same velocity. There is no stop/start system and no engine brake. Ram doesn’t save EcoDiesel for its most expensive trims, either, making it available across the line, including base trucks and the off-road focused Rebel.

That wrist pin mentioned earlier is just ever-so-slightly offset from centre to help reduce piston slap. Mauro Puglia, chief engineer for EcoDiesel, told me that minutely transferring mass to the outside of the vee allows for a quieter operation at speed when the pistons are pumping furiously. Newly designed intake ports permit higher flow capability and, combined with a new piston bowl and injector nozzle, result in a diesel engine good for 260 horsepower at 3,600 rpm and 480 lb-ft of torque at just 1,600 rpm. Those are bumps of 14 and 8 percent, respectively. Like a young crop of football players, this engine peaks early. Difference is, that’s a good thing in the Ram 1500. The Gen3 EcoDiesel is also about ten pounds lighter overall than the Gen2 mill.

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Image: © 2019 Matthew Guy

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The familiar eight-speed automatic is EcoDiesel’s sole dance partner, shifting at about 2,500 rpm when left to its own devices and near four grand when flat out while towing a 5,000 lb boat and trailer. Fuel cutoff is 4,600 rpm, said Puglia, while mentioning a boost pressure of 2.1 – 2.2 bar. Properly equipped, EcoDiesel can haul 12,560 lbs, a heady 3k more than the old one. There’s an approximately 2,600 lb delta between the GCW of a ‘max tow’ truck and a typically equipped Crew Cab 4×4.

Out on the open road, it’s fair to say this new EcoDiesel is a good 10 to 12 dB quieter at cruising speed than the old one, resulting in a hushed cabin at speed and little more than an appropriately husky growl when pinning the throttle on an uphill section of rural highway, an action which pushed all hands firmly into the seatbacks. Only at idle, as mentioned, does the Ram belie its oil-burning roots.

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Image: © 2019 Matthew Guy

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Image: © 2019 Matthew Guy

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Speaking of cabins, it is the same glorious place in which to spend time as when it went on sale about one year ago. Stepping out of your author’s 2018 GMC Sierra and into this 2020 Ram 1500 is like trading up from Chino to Club Med. Because you’re all weirdos and I knew you’d like it, I nabbed the keys to a base model Tradesman 4×2 for the drive back though Minnesota. Even at its entry-level status, this new Ram 1500 is a comfortable place in which to spend time with all its controls logically and attractively laid out. The sumptuous (and costly) Longhorn and Limited interiors are especially pleasant with soft, pungent leathers and a 12-inch infotainment Jumbotron. I’d rather be in those than in Ariana Grande’s bedroom. Okay, maybe not.

As an aside, several of the Ram 1500s at this event were equipped with the brand’s Multfunction tailgate. Acting like a traditional ‘gate or a set of barn doors, the system allows for much freer access to the bed while still being able to bear the weight of a normal tailgate when dropped in a conventional manner. Thanks to requiring a largely different box, it can’t be retrofitted after the fact. Verdict? Recommend.

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Image: © 2019 Matthew Guy

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Ram’s mum for now on official fuel economy numbers, but you can bet a herd of Longhorns that the highway figure will be well in excess of 30 mpg. That base Tradesman we drove (equipped with a 3.21 gear set) returned an indicated 32 mpg on a 50ish mile trip that generally had the cruise locked on a steady 60mph. A fully loaded Crew Cab Limited 4×4 with 3.92s returned an indicated 26 mpg over a similar route.

While Ram spox wouldn’t say how big the fuel tanks are, we did manage to weasel out of them that two different sized fuel tanks will be available. This speaks to the company designing this thing to accept diesel addenda from the get-go, not as an afterthought in which they have to move stuff around to accommodate DEF tanks and such. For what it’s worth, Ram 1500 is currently available with three tank sizes: 23, 26, & 33 gallons. I’d be surprised if the diesel offerings are not two of those.

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Image: © 2019 Matthew Guy

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The decision to purchase a half-ton diesel (all of which from the Detroit Three displace 3.0L, it must be noted) is rarely an affair of the heart unless one is seeking to stand out from their buddies at the hunting lodge. It generally takes a scribbler full of sums to make the decision, so let’s set up the abacus and work it out.

Your author passed several Holiday gas stations in the Land of 10,000 Lakes while driving this Ram, all of which reliably advertised diesel fuel for 50 cents more than gasoline. EcoDiesel is a $4,995 option, working out to a $3,300 premium over the e-Torque Hemi on most trims. That engine is rated at 23 mpg on the highway and the EcoDiesel is not yet rated. Let’s call it 33 mpg.

Given a 26 gallon tank, both trucks would be able to travel 598 and 858 miles, costing roughly $65 and $78 for a fill up, respectively. Elementary math tells us the diesel enjoys an approximate 2c/mile advantage at these numbers. With the engine siphoning over three large from your checking account, the breakeven point doesn’t show up until nearly 165,000 miles. This does not take into account DEF fluid, more expensive oil changes, and presumes a best-case scenario of all-highway driving. On the flip side, it also does not take into account a potentially higher resale value for the diesel and the intangible benefit of extended range.

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Image: © 2019 Matthew Guy

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So what’s the takeaway? Clearly it’s third time lucky for EcoDiesel, as it finally posts hauling numbers worth talking about while being exceptionally well mannered. Its financial balance sheet takes a spell to even out but, as EcoDiesel will be available on work trucks, it might very well be just the ticket for big fleets. The rest of us will have to do our math carefully.

[Images: Matthew Guy/TTAC]

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