Armed with advanced features and exceptional fuel economy, the 2013 Ram 1500 SLT 4x4 pickup is the first V6-powered full-size pickup that doesn't sneer "cheapskate" every time you start the engine.
The Ram 1500 is the artist formerly known as the Dodge Ram pickup. Chrysler split the old Dodge lineup into two brands. Ram consists of pickups and a line of upcoming commercial vans. Dodge will concentrate on sporty and family vehicles, from minivans and crossovers to the Challenger and Dart compact sedans.
The 1500 arrives at a crucial moment in pickup trucks' evolution. New technologies and lightweight materials are about to boost pickups' fuel economy to unprecedented levels.
Until now, V6 pickups were generally low-priced base models with little power or appeal. The Ram changes that, with a long list of advanced features and a correspondingly high price.
It offers outstanding fuel economy; though the 3.6-liter V6's relatively light torque output is apparent under highway and midrange acceleration.
The 2013 Ram 1500 goes on sale in October. Prices start at $22,590 for a rear-wheel drive regular cab model with a 305-horsepower 3.6-liter V6 and eight-speed automatic transmission.
Like most full-size pickups, the Ram 1500 offers a dizzying array of combinations of cab and bed size, drivetrains and towing capacity.
There are three cab sizes -- regular, quad and crew.
Regular cabs have two doors and either bucket or bench seats.
Quad cabs have the same choice of front seats, plus rear doors and a rear bench seat.
The crew cab is the largest, seating five or six people and with more passenger space than a BMW 750Li luxury sedan.
The drivetrain lineup consists of the V6, a 310-horsepower 4.7-liter V8 or 395-horsepower 5.7-liter Hemi V8. A six-speed automatic transmission is standard with the V8s.
The eight-speed will be available with the Hemi early in 2013. Rear-wheel drive, part-time and on-demand four-wheel drive are available. The 1500 offers three bed lengths: 5 feet 7 inches, 6 feet 4 inches and 8 feet.
Quad cab prices start at $27,185. Crew cab models start at $29,765.
I tested an extremely well equipped V6 Ram 1500 Crew Cab SLT 4x4 with an estimated sticker price of $45,325. All prices exclude destination charges.
Thanks to its exquisite eight-speed automatic transmission and Chrysler's jack-of-all trades Pentastar V6, the 1500's fuel economy, features and capability far exceed other V6 full-size pickups.
Correspondingly, its price can escalate beyond what Chevy, Ford and Toyota ask for their V6s. It makes more sense, in fact, to compare the pickup I tested with other manufacturers' V8s.
The Ram's worth the money, but there are some trade-offs.
On the plus side, the rear-drive V6 rated 17 mpg in the city, 25 on the highway and 20 combined in EPA tests.
The 4x4 I tested rated 17/23/19 and matched its EPA highway rating during much of a recent 550-mile drive from Nashville to Detroit. An HFE model joining the lineup soon uses auto-start to add 1 mpg to its city and overall ratings. Those figures all beat competing pickups handily.
In addition to the new engine and transmission, several aerodynamic, engineering and weight-saving tricks contribute to the 1500's fuel economy.
The V6 1500 can tow up to 6,500 pounds -- 6,250 for 4x4s. I towed a 4,000-pound speedboat around the Tennessee hills with ease in a rear-drive 1500. V8 1500s can tow up to 9,250 pounds.
The V6's horsepower compares reasonably well to most other automakers' smaller V8s. It can't match their torque, however. That leads to somewhat challenged acceleration on the highway and at midrange speeds. It's one of the truck's few shortcomings.
The 1500 was comfortable and quiet on a long drive from Tennessee to Detroit. The optional air suspension absorbed bumps and kept it securely planted on the highway and curving mountain roads. The steering is responsive, with good on-center feel.
The roomy interior featured good seats, plenty of storage, straightforward controls and a pleasing design.
A dash-mounted rotary dial replaces the shifter, creating new storage space in the center console. The dial is compact and easy to use. Jaguar uses something similar for its luxury cars, and don't be surprised if other automakers follow suit as they adopt electronically controlled transmissions.
Chrysler's voice-recognition system for phone, audio and navigation is one of the industry's best. Chrysler also provides conventional controls for audio and climate and an 8.4-inch touch screen. The gauges are clear and easy to modify to display the information you prefer.
According to the EPA, a 4x4 V6 1500 like the one I tested would use $500 to $1,200 a year less fuel than competitive V8 4x4 crew cab pickups.
That payoff goes a long way toward excusing the V6's high price and unexciting highway acceleration.