Mountain Wheels: Ram 1500’s diverse lineup welcomes high-mpg, light diesel option
A back-to-back experience with two very different builds of the ever-popular Ram 1500 pickup truck suggests there might be a Ram for everyone — mostly true, since there seem to be about 30 models and variants, not to mention a range of engines.
I got a short period with a unique 2019 Ram 1500 Big Horn that had been absolutely loaded to the gills with every possible option available in the Mopar catalog, minus maybe a CB radio and fuzzy dice. That was then followed by a week in a more sedate Tradesman model, though it was also my first experience with FCA’s long-awaited and somewhat controversial light-duty diesel engine.
First up, the big blue bomber, a vehicle so massive and All-American ridiculous that I felt absolutely at home among the equally towering, lifted pickups and their short-statured owners, filling the roadways of Northern Colorado.
The Big Horn 4×4 starts normal enough at $42,240, but I got an extra $10,000 worth of every single possible add-on and custom part available, ranging from off-road LED lights straight out of “No Country for Old Men” to gargantuan Nitto TerraGrappler G2 off-road tires.
That gave it a stature large enough to actually look down at police — or anyone else — in their Tahoe cruisers, if that is indeed your objective in the truckiest truck on the block.
That also necessitates a two-handed, three-hold mount to climb aboard, with Raptor-styled low-profile metal running boards helping in the vault.
It’s a pretty standard 5.7-liter Hemi setup, but here they also added exhaust perhaps literally borrowed from a Dodge Hellcat, turning me into That Jerk from Michigan With the Truck at every hilarious flattening of the pedal. All of that mass needs a lot of throttle to get up to Mad Max chase-scene speed; the most curious effect is full-on torque steering, with half of the truck wanting to head off in an entirely different direction than desired. In that, the very big Big Horn offered sort of a nautical experience.
As mentioned in experiences with the competitors, Crew Cab is definitely the way to go for passenger comfort, as those in the rear get so much leg room it’s unbelievable, and it looks as though you could lay out a twin-sized mattress on the floor, no problem.
The cargo bed got the biggest dose of Mopar action, with a special cargo deck filled with two roll-out containers big enough for a collection of full-sized garden tools, or a five-foot-long bag of sand, or whatever else approximates that shape and size. I did not ask.
Indoors, Ram’s ultra-stylized dash and oversized controls provide endless versatility, including a lockable storage box in the center console. Big Horn adds embossed leather to nearly every surface.
Meanwhile the Eco Diesel-equipped 2020 Tradesman model presented a considerably different driving experience, though I was able to pretty easily reach the 27 mpg Environmental Protection Agency rating, quite remarkable for a full-sized truck. (Big Horn’s highway rating is 21 mpg; the combined figure of 17 mpg was more realistic.)
A protracted battle over emissions numbers held up the diesel in the past, but in real life, the engine offers a hearty, fuel-efficient option that likely will appeal to haulers and anyone otherwise embarrassed by regular truck gas economy.
The 3.0-liter V6 makes a modest 280 horsepower, but its torque output tops out at 480 foot-pound, allowing diesel-equipped models to pull as much as 9,290 pounds. While cleaner in output and operation than the diesels found on heavy-duty trucks, it’s still palpably noisy at startup — like, you’re going to annoy your neighbors if you let it idle for a half hour, as diesel-heads love to do, for some reason — though the clatter largely dissipates at regular roll.
You don’t quite get the same blast-off sensation you’ll find on the bigger rigs, but power is steady and sturdy, and other than having to put my foot into it on hills, the setup allowed me to comfortably cruise at full speed on Interstate 25 north straight into 80 mph winds last week, with no signs of relenting. It will run on biodiesel and uses the urea/water-based diesel exhaust fluid system to scrub emissions; none of those thick clouds of black smoke spit out by coal-rolling morons, thankfully.
The engine is also considerably less expensive than the lighter-duty diesels offered by General Motors and Ford, coming in at a $3,000 to $5,000 additional price compared with standard Ram gas engines.
Andy Stonehouse’s column “Mountain Wheels” publishes Saturdays in the Summit Daily News. Stonehouse has worked as an editor and writer in Colorado since 1998, focusing on automotive coverage since 2004. He lives in Greeley. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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