Despite the recent emissions-related brouhaha, a diesel engine still offers several benefits over its gasoline counterpart. It produces much more torque for a given displacement, which is imperative if you haul heavy loads regularly, and it consumes much less fuel. And when properly (and honestly) tuned, it’s still a relatively clean source of power.
But, it also costs more to purchase. In the case of the 2016 Ram 1500 pickup, the EcoDiesel adds $3,850 to our top-of-the-line Laramie Limited 4x4 tester ($73,690 as tested). Choose a lower trim level and the price of the sparkplug-less engine premium is even higher. On the Outdoorsman, the least expensive Ram pickup you can spec with a diesel engine, selecting the Fiat-sourced 3.0-litre EcoDiesel V-6 adds $5,700 to the price tag. There’s also the added cost of the occasional replenishment of the diesel exhaust fluid, needed to help keep emissions clean.
So why choose a diesel? Let’s look at the numbers. The Laramie Limited comes standard with a 5.7-L Hemi V-8 that claims 395 horsepower and 410 pound-feet of peak torque. The EcoDiesel claims just 240 horsepower, but when it comes to the all-important torque output, it beats the Hemi by 10 lb-ft, at 420, and it peaks at just 2,000 rpm, or just about half the engine speed at which the V-8 peaks in torque.
The diesel’s smaller displacement, however, does have a slightly detrimental effect on the Laramie’s towing capacity. When equally equipped (4x4, 5-foot-7 box, 3.92 axle ratio), the V-8 can pull up to 10,190 lbs, whereas the EcoDiesel maxes out at 8,610. The same applies to the payload numbers. You can load up to 1,540 lbs into the Hemi-powered Laramie, and 1,330 lbs into the diesel.
But when it comes to fuelling up, diesel trumps gasoline hands down. The EnerGuide fuel-economy rating for the Laramie’s Hemi is 17.2 L/100 km in the city, 12.7 on the highway, while the EcoDiesel claims 12.1 and 8.8 respectively. Note the diesel claims better city fuel economy than the Hemi does on the highway.
Our test truck measured a very respectable 10.9 L/100 km average for mostly city driving, while its trip computer displayed a fairly accurate reading of 11.0 L/100 km. At our measured rate, the huge Laramie Limited could travel almost 900 km on one 98-L fill-up. Helping the diesel achieve those numbers is an eight-speed automatic transmission, while the V-8 comes with a six-speed. For comparison, my much smaller 2008 Mazda B4000 with a manual transmission averages 13.4 L/100 km of mixed driving. Ouch.
From a bystander’s perspective it would take a keen ear to notice that this Ram 1500 is equipped with a diesel engine; it is quiet and smooth. This is emphasized even more from the driver’s seat, as very little engine noise makes it into the cabin. The Laramie Limited comes standard with height-adjustable air suspension, which works wonders on broken, battered pavement, and is a big contributing factor to its overall level of comfort.
The transmission shifts smoothly, though the dash-mounted shift dial seems rather dainty for such a big, brawny truck. Shifting from drive to reverse repeatedly during tight manoeuvres feels awkward when you’re operating what can easily pass for an oversized volume knob. Although there are no alternative shifting maps like Sport or Economy, there is a Trailer mode, and you can shift manually or select the highest gear the transmission will shift into by using the steering-wheel mounted Electronic Range Select buttons.
The Laramie Limited has all the interior comfort features you’d expect in a high-end premium sedan, including leather seats with fancy stitching, heat and ventilation in the power-adjustable front seats, heated steering wheel (seat and steering wheel heat come on automatically when using the included remote starter), real wood trim and a power sunroof (a $1,395 option).
Out back, a spray-in liner protects the standard 5-foot-7 bed, which includes adjustable rail-mounted tie-down hooks. A handy bed feature is the 1500’s RamBox bedside storage compartments. These lockable storage bins can easily swallow a week’s worth of groceries and more, though they do chew into the truck bed’s total capacity.
Ram pickup sales have been climbing steadily since 2005, and the 1500 is the second-best selling vehicle in Canada, behind the Ford F-150. According to FCA, 25 per cent of Ram pickup buyers opt for a diesel engine (this includes the 6.7-L Cummins in the heavy-duty pickups), despite the added cost over the standard gasoline engine.
The reality is the EcoDiesel probably isn’t your best engine choice in a pickup of this size, unless your priority is saving on fill-ups; it costs more to purchase, and the Hemi can pull and carry more. Slip this engine into a mid-size pickup, however, and you’ll have a combination that’s going to be tough to beat. Perhaps it’s time to bring back the Dakota.
— Postmedia Network Inc. 2016