HALIFAX – As much as I love cars, I have a confession: I hate filling them up. I don’t mind actually pumping the fuel itself, but stopping at the station is nowhere near the top of my like-to-do list. So, I appreciated that I didn’t have to do it once while travelling through three of the Maritime Provinces.
It was a bit of a stunt by Chrysler to show off the Ram 1500 with its EcoDiesel engine. Typically the truck can go about 1,225 kilometres before needing a drink, and the 760 klicks that I covered didn’t even come close to that. But it was an opportunity to try the truck’s long-distance comfort and find out some sales figures, as well as see some of the country’s most beautiful scenery.
(Disclosure: Travel, accommodation, meals and a pre-determined route were provided to the writer by the automaker.)
The Ram currently stands alone with the only diesel in the half-ton segment. All of the Detroit automakers offer diesels, but other than this one, they’re confined to three-quarter and one-ton models. Nissan will be offering a diesel in its upcoming Titan XD, but says that truck is primarily intended to slot higher than a half-ton and below a three-quarter.
While the Ram 2500 and 3500 use Cummins inline engines for their diesels, the 1500 uses a 3.0-litre V6 supplied by Fiat and first seen in Canada in the Jeep Grand Cherokee. The company says it’s mostly because of packaging: the Cummins engines use a six-speed automatic, but the 3.0-litre exclusively mates to an eight-speed automatic.
It makes 240 horsepower and 420 lb.-ft. of torque, which isn’t a lot more twist than that provided by the truck’s available 5.7-litre Hemi V8, which churns out 395 horses and 410 lb.-ft. However, the diesel’s torque peaks at just 2,000 r.p.m., while the Hemi has to spin its way up to 3,950 r.p.m. to do the same.
Along with the torque arriving sooner, there’s also the fuel economy. The diesel’s published combined city/highway average of 10.6 L/100 km (in 4×4, as the trucks I drove were equipped) undercuts both the Hemi and the Ram’s available 3.6-litre V6 gasoline engine.
My trip started in Fredericton and went across to the Bay of Fundy for a lunch stop in Alma before heading up to Moncton. The Ram is a bear to manoeuvre in city traffic—all pickup trucks are unnecessarily huge, but I find the Ram drives bigger than the competition—but it’s some sweet on the highway. An available four-corner air suspension fitted to some of the trucks I drove automatically levels the truck when it’s loaded, and also helped a little to smooth out some of New Brunswick’s nastier potholes.
From Moncton, I headed to the coast and to the Confederation Bridge, which links Prince Edward Island to the mainland. It was my first time on it, and it’s quite the marvel of engineering. You don’t pay a toll to get across to the island, but you do have to shell out to get back. From there, it was another 50 kilometres to my first night’s stop in Charlottetown.
Chrysler might have been sticking its neck out to offer this diesel, but it seems to be paying off. The company says that one out of every four Ram half-ton trucks sold in Canada has one under its hood, and in the Longhorn and Laramie, the two top trim lines, the engine accounts for 50 per cent of sales.
But it’s not cheap. It’s one thing to buy the diesel just because you want it, but if it’s strictly about fuel economy, there is math to be done. The least-expensive Ram equipped with a diesel starts at $39,295. The engine itself is a $4,700 option, and you might not be done yet. That’s the full price if you’re adding to a trim line that already comes standard with an eight-speed automatic. But if your trim normally defaults to a six-speed, you have to add $1,000 to the price of the engine to cover the difference in the transmission.
Maintenance will also cost more. A dealer quoted me $70 for an oil change on the Hemi V8, or $110 if I wanted synthetic oil. The diesel, meanwhile, is $250. It also requires periodic filling with diesel exhaust fluid to control emissions. Unless you put a lot of kilometres on your truck, it can take quite a while to see the payback.
It’s a good alternative to those who want a diesel but who don’t need to move up to an even pricier 2500 or 3500. That said, be sure to look at the specs when you’re making your decision. Towing and payload depend on a few factors, one of them being the overall weight of the truck plus the trailer and load. Since the diesel engine is heavier than the V8, the Hemi has a higher maximum towing capacity.
I didn’t return across the bridge, but instead drove another 50 kilometres to the Wood Islands Ferry, a trip complete with dolphins swimming alongside the ship, and finally docking in Caribou, Nova Scotia. From there I drove down to Sheet Harbour and finally across to Halifax. It would have been shorter travelling inland, but I took the scenic route along the coastline before taking the MacDonald Bridge that links Dartmouth with Halifax.
At my very best, my truck’s computer said I was averaging 7.7 L/100 km. All of the writers on the trip switched between four trucks, and the final tally for all of them was 8.8 L/100 km for the entire trip.
We weren’t towing or hauling heavy loads, which can dramatically affect fuel economy. We also spent most of our time on rural highways, rather than in city traffic. The diesel will still do better than Ram’s available gasoline engines in comparable use, but if you work your truck hard, you won’t get those ultra-low fuel numbers.
But there is a market for the Ram EcoDiesel, and I can understand its popularity. It’s a great engine, it gives you diesel performance without getting into a larger truck, and at the end of a trip that took me over 760 kilometres and three provinces, I still ended up using about three-quarters of a tank of fuel. Even if you don’t mind stopping to fuel up, that’s still a decent haul.