In addition to declaring itself no longer a Dodge colony, the 2013 Ram 1500 is entitled to declare itself a distinct improvement over its predecessor. From the significant fuel-economy gains, courtesy of a new V-6 engine and eight-speed automatic transmission, to a load-leveling air suspension and the use of real walnut veneers on the upmarket models, this is a markedly different truck.
True, the 2013 Ram 1500, due in showrooms during the fourth quarter, is technically a mid-cycle refresh rather than a redesign simply because it didn't undergo stem-to-stern restyling. The front end, including the grille, fascia, and headlights, was redesigned, but little else.
But the vehicle has enjoyed so many mechanical and electronic upgrades, not to mention an array of new interiors, that it really seems newer than a lot of so-called redesigns that amount to fresh sheet metal and interior fabrics.
Some of the Ram 1500 highlights:
The Ram 1500 SLT Crew Cab that I drove was equipped with Chrysler's Pentastar V-6 and eight-speed automatic, both new to the Ram 1500.
The 3.6-liter Pentastar, also employed in Chrysler, Dodge, and Jeep vehicles, develops 305 horsepower in its Ram application. And coupled with the economies realized from the eight-speed automatic, weight-shaving engineering, and assorted techno-tweaks, the 1500 winds up with outstanding fuel economy for a big pickup. Chrysler expects the rear-drive 1500 to get EPA mileage estimates of 17 m.p.g. city and 25 highway, which would make it best in class. Adding the new stop-start option (the engine shuts off when you stop and then starts up when you take your foot off the brake) tacks 1 m.p.g. onto the EPA city rating.
In addition to a 20 percent mileage increase, the Pentastar power train provides a 42 percent bump in horsepower over its V-6 predecessor, twice as many gears, and a best-in-class towing capacity of 6,500 pounds.
As I mentioned, the Ram 1500's fuel economy is augmented by an extensive lightening effort that took about 130 pounds out of the truck. This project ranged from using aluminum in the hood and redesigned front suspension to redesigning the frame using high-strength steel.
Of the new nifties on the 2013 model, the air suspension - an option to be offered on the higher-end models beginning with the SLT - is probably the most grabby. An adaptation of the system employed in the Jeep Grand Cherokee, this mechanism automatically levels the vehicle and provides ride heights for different driving situations. These include a normal ride height, a slightly lower one for cruising, two higher settings for off-road, and a "park mode" that lowers the car two inches for easier entry, exit, and cargo loading.
I was struck by something when I lifted the tester's hood: Because the engine bay was designed to accept the 5.7-liter Hemi V-8, the space between the shorter V-6 and the radiator was large enough for your carry-on suitcase.
I was also struck by the V-6's power. It's not going to make you forget its Hemi big brother, but it furnishes more than enough pep.
Another worthwhile memory from the test drive was the big guy's quietude, and the way it rode and handled on and off the road.
Ram prices had not been announced at this writing.
2013 Ram 1500 SLT Crew Cab
Base price: $33,500 (estimated).
As tested: N/A.
Standard equipment: 3.6-liter engine, eight-speed automatic transmission, rear-drive, antilock disc brakes, 17-inch alloy wheels, 45 safety and security features, and a generous array of amenities.
Options: Spray-in bed liner.
Fuel economy: 17 city and 25 highway.
Engine performance: Quite adequate.
Styling: Much macho, masculine, manly manfulness.
Ride comfort: First-rate.
Warranty: Three years/36,000 miles bumper to bumper.
The Ben Key: Four Bens, excellent; three Bens, good; two Bens, fair; one Ben, poor.
Contact Al Haas at firstname.lastname@example.org.