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While some people might think that pickup trucks are simply more or less functional vehicles and therefore comparatively Spartan when it comes to interior amenities, nothing is further from actuality as regards the 2013 Ram. While there is a trim package that has roll-up windows, that is the exception, not the rule. In addition to the various leather, there are Walnut Burl inserts in the Laramie Longhorn edition with the wood sourced, according to designer Greg Howell, from French fence posts. Another aspect that puts the Ram in a category that is more sedan-like than what may be thought to be truck-like is the available 8.4-in. centrally located touch-screen that offers the Chrysler Uconnect system. The functionality of this system ranges from navigation to voice-activated text messaging. What’s more, the Uconnect Access capability means that the vehicle is a WiFi hotspot, so there is in-cabin wireless Internet connectivity, via laptop, smartphone, or tablet. Yes, there is functionality. But not necessarily what might be ordinarily considered in the light-truck category.

“Refine. Refine. Refine.” That’s what Greg Howell, chief of Ram and Dodge Exterior Design, said was the approach to the design of the Ram. So they’ve changed the front grille and fascia, and implemented new headlamps (a quad headlamp design) and rear taillamps (using LEDs). A new set of wheels has been designed for the trucks. The badges on the doors have been oriented so that there is maximum space available for contractors and others to put their own graphics on the vehicle.

Unlike competitive trucks, the Ram 1500 has a five-link, coil-spring rear suspension setup which, points out Mike Cairns, head of Ram Truck Engineering, allows them to offer an optional air-suspension setup that replaces the standard twin-tube shocks and coil springs. The air suspension system operates automatically, though it can be operated manually via controls on the console or on the keyfob. The air suspension system offers five settings: Normal ride height, which provides 8.7 in. of clearance from the base of the door sill; Aero, which lowers the vehicle 0.6 in. from Normal to improve aero performance of the vehicle to improve fuel efficiency; Off-road 1, which lifts the truck 1.2 in. from Normal; Off-road 2, which lifts the truck 2 in. from Normal; and Park mode, which lowers the vehicle 2 in. from Normal.

The Ram 1500 features a newly designed frame that incorporates a number of different steels, including an array of high-strength steels. Hydroforming is used for some of the sections to provide dimensional accuracy. Two frame lengths are available, 120 and 140 in.

Not only is the Ram 1500 available with a class-exclusive eight-speed transmission, the TorqueFlite 8, (interestingly enough, the previous generation Ram, when equipped with a V6, offered a four-speed transmission, which just goes to show how different this Ram is) there is a dash-mounted rotary knob used for gear selection rather than having a column- or console-mounted shifter.

The standard powertrain for the 2013 Ram 1500 is the Chrysler Pentastar V6 mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission. (Yes, there is an available 395-hp HEMI.) The new 305-hp, 3.6-liter V6 replaces a 3.7-liter V6, and offers 42% more horsepower and 13% more torque (it offers 269 lb-ft).

Redoing the Ram

They started with a refresh and then designed and engineered to an extent that it is well beyond what anyone would ordinarily expect. With an eight-speed transmission, there is nothing ordinary about the 2013 Ram 1500.

The last time a Ram 1500 pickup was introduced, a 2009 model (see: autofieldguide.com/articles/the-09-dodge-ram-a-better-truck-for-tough-times), it was as a “Dodge Ram 1500.” For 2013 it is the “Ram Truck Ram 1500.”

That isn’t a typo.

As part of the reorganization of Chrysler from its near-death experience in 2009, the truck part of the Dodge brand was hewn away and a new group was created. While this might seem to be nothing more than a marketing decision—and Fred Diaz, president and CEO of Ram Truck and Chrysler de Mexico, acknowledges that through market research they determined that when consumers thought “Dodge,” they generally thought “trucks,” which isn’t particularly advantageous for the car lineup—this separation has another effect, as well, this one in terms of product development.

While the teams that develop trucks at the Traditional Three tend to be more focused on their products than their brethren on the car side of the business (with the possible exception of cars like the Dodge Viper and the Chevy Corvette, where vehicular obsession is seemingly part of the job), by having a whole brand dedicated to trucks and only trucks, the focus is even more laser-like.

And while this isn’t wholly a new 1500, the changes that have been made are so extensive that for all but those who are really picky about such things (probably truck development and production people) it is for all intents and purposes new.

Like simply consider the powertrain.

The base engine for the 2013 model is a 3.6-liter Pentastar V6. The Pentastar is a real performer in the entire Chrysler LLC lineup: it replaces seven other V6s that the company had offered, including the 3.7-liter V6 that was offered in the previous Ram. This engine is rated at 305 hp @ 6,400 rpm and 269 lb-ft of torque @ 4,175 rpm. These numbers are a 42% bump in horsepower and a 13% improvement in fuel economy.

The new engine features a 60° die-cast T380 aluminum block with cast iron bore liners. The cylinder heads are aluminum. There are dual overhead cams, four valves per cylinder, and integral exhaust manifolds. There’s variable valve timing with dual-independent cam phasing.

The Pentastar engine (for all the corporation’s products) is produced in two plants: Trenton Engine South in Michigan and in Saltillo, Mexico. The Ram 1500 is produced in two plants: Warren Truck Assembly in Michigan (Quad and Crew cabs) and Saltillo Truck Assembly in Mexico (regular cab). The Pentastars for the Ram are being sourced from the Satillo plant. (One interesting aspect of the Warren Truck plant is that they’ve been building trucks there since 1938. They’ve built more than 12.5-million of them. Clearly, the people there know more than a little something about how trucks are built.)

(And while on the subject of variants, the truck is available with three box sizes (5-ft, 7-in., 6-ft, 4-in., and 8-ft), and in 11 models/packages (ST, Tradesman, Express, SLT, Big Horn, Lone Star, Outdoorsman, Sport, R/T, Laramie, and Laramie Longhorn) In addition to which, there are both two- and four-wheel drive versions, and, for the latter, two Borg Warner transfer cases, one allowing part-time, four-wheel drive operation and another that enables on-demand four-wheel drive.)

What is possibly more remarkably different about the powertrain than the Pentastar is the fact that the standard transmission for the Ram with that engine is the 8HP45 Torqueflite 8 transmission. That is “8” as in eight-speed transmission. This transmission was developed by ZF Group (zf.com); it is being produced by ZF for Chrysler and Chrysler is also manufacturing the transmissions.

The Ram is also available with a 5.7-liter HEMI V8 (395 hp @ 5,600 rpm and 407 lb-ft of torque @ 3,950 rpm). It comes with the eight-speed, as well, a heavier-duty version, the 8HP70. The torque capacity for the 8HP45 is 332 lb-ft, while the capacity for the 8HP70 is 516 lb-ft.

These transmissions are fully electronic. There are more than 40 shift maps; the selection is predicated on factors including engine torque gradients, kick-down events, longitudinal and lateral acceleration, hill detection, friction detection, and downshift detection.

What is very distinctive is that rather than having a console- or column-mounted shift lever, there is a rotary knob on the dash. According to Diaz, when the knob was cliniced, the responses were overwhelmingly positive, as not only does the placement free up an extensive amount of real estate as compared with a console-mounted shifter, but it facilitates blind-shifting, which is particularly important when doing things like towing a boat. There are two knob designs; one with a black rubber overmold with chrome surround and the other a wonderfully machine-age solid spun aluminum; both provide a solid feel when going through Park, Reverse, Neutral, Drive.

(There is actually a third powertrain setup available, as well: a 310-hp, 330 lb-ft of torque 4.7-liter V8 that is paired with a six-speed automatic transmission. The six-speed is also available on the HEMI-equipped trucks.)

Two more points of interest regarding the powertrain. For vehicles with the TorqueFlite 8 there is a thermal management system that is designed to quickly raise engine and transmission fluid temperatures by circulating the engine coolant through a thermal exchange unit. The thermal exchange unit has passages that allow heating of the transmission fluid and the engine oil. The consequence is that parasitic losses from the fluids in a low-viscosity state are reduced. This helps improve fuel efficiency by 1.7%.

Another powertrain-related fuel-efficiency enhancement is the availability of stop-start technology, which can improve fuel economy by up to 3.3% (or about 1 mpg in a city drive cycle). The trucks so equipped have enhanced starters, alternators, and batteries (the starter, for example, was tested 2.5 times more than a conventional starter is, for more than 300,000 on/off cycles).

And then there is the use of electric power steering which, while not exactly part of the powertrain system per se, actually reduces the load on the engine by eliminating the need to be constantly powering a hydraulic pump. This translates into a fuel efficiency improvement of up to 1.8%.

There are active grille shutters; this is said to be the first application on a truck. Not only does this have a benefit as regards reducing drag by 3 to 5% (or a 0.5% fuel economy improvement), but it also helps reduce warm-up time (with the shutters being closed when cooling isn’t needed).

The engineering team went at reducing the weight of the Ram 1500. There is a new frame that features an increased use of high-strength steels; it is about 30 lb. lighter than the one in the previous vehicle. The hood is aluminum, which is a 26-lb. weight save compared with steel. The new V6/eight-speed combo is 76 lb. lighter than the pair it replaces.

The designers worked the overall aero of the vehicle such that a 2013 Ram 1500 Regular Cab 4x2 has a 0.360 Cd; the number for a comparable 2012 is 0.386 Cd.

All of this effort was done, in large part, to address fuel economy. Diaz is proud of what has been accomplished, as the Penastar/TorqueFlite 8: one of the many “best-in-class” aspects of the 2012 Ram 1500 is in this category. He says that the truck is EPA certified at 17 mpg city/25 mpg highway.