The full-size Ram pickup truck, revamped for 2013, still has its Hemi V-8. But a new and impressively powered V-6, with best-in-class fuel economy plus towing might, is getting all the attention.
The new, 3.6-liter, double overhead cam V-6 is naturally aspirated and mated to a first-ever-in-a-full-size-pickup-truck eight-speed automatic transmission.
The V-6's 305 horsepower and 269 foot-pounds of torque at 4,175 rpm are up appreciably from last year's 3.7-liter V-6 that produced 215 horsepower and 235 foot-pounds of torque at 4,000 rpm.
Some Ram passengers might not even realize they're in a V-6-powered truck, because the burly-looking Ram just seems like a V-8 kind of truck and because the new Ram's V-6 power can come on easily, smoothly and with strong sounds.
Best of all, a 2013 Ram two-wheel drive model with the new V-6 carries a government fuel mileage rating of 17 miles per gallon in city driving and 25 mpg on the highway. This compares with the previous tops-in-the-class Ford F-150 with V-6's rating of 17/23 mpg. Note the Ram's V-6 rating is nearly identical to the 17/23-mpg government rating for the smaller, 2012 Chevrolet Colorado pickup with two-wheel drive and lower-powered, 242-horsepower, five-cylinder engine.
Last year, the best federal government fuel economy rating for the 2012 Ram with old V-6 was 14/20 mpg.
As new Rams start traveling to showrooms, consumers are debating online whether a V-6 can win over hardcore, full-size truck buyers who value utility and ruggedness and are accustomed to V-8 power.
But as gasoline prices remain high and business and household budgets stay lean, the newly efficient 2013 Ram has appeal.
And that's before looking at the truck's well-styled interior, special exterior Rambox storage areas and pricing.
Ram officials say the 2013 base pricing is not changed much from 2012.
Starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, for a base 2013 Ram Tradesman Regular Cab model with two-wheel drive, short bed and carryover, 310-horsepower, 4.7-liter, single overhead cam V-8 is $23,585. Note this V-8 comes mated to a six-speed automatic, not the new eight-speed transmission.
The lowest starting MSRP, including destination charge, for a 2013 Ram with four-wheel drive is $27,345. This is a Tradesman Regular Cab with short bed and carryover, 310-horsepower, 4.7-liter V-8.
Buyers can substitute the new V-6 for the V-8 in the Tradesman, for an additional $1,000, a Ram spokesman said. Or, they can move up to an SLT, with starting retail price of $28,445 with two-wheel drive, regular cab and short bed, to get the new V-6 and eight-speed transmission standard, plus a range of SLT features.
Competitors include the 2013 Ford F-150, which has a starting retail price of $24,665 for a base, two-wheel drive XL model with regular cab, short bed and 302-horsepower V-6 with six-speed automatic.
Ford also sells a 3.5-liter, turbocharged V-6 for its F-150 light-duty truck.
Meantime, the 2013 Chevrolet Silverado's base engine _ a 4.3-liter, Vortec V-6 _ produces 195 horsepower but 260 foot-pounds of torque at 2,800 rpm. Starting retail price is $23,590 with two-wheel drive, regular cab and four-speed automatic transmission.
There are dozens of configurations of Ram that provide for crew cab seating or full-out, roomy Quad Cab six-passenger seats, plus beds that stretch 8 feet long and a third engine that's a 395-horsepower, 5.7-liter Hemi V-8.
The model variety and Ram's in-your-face, Kenworth semi-hauler front exterior styling have propelled Ram to third best-selling pickup in the United States, after the Ford F-150 and Chevy's Silverado. The 2013 Ram keeps the aggressive look but has mild-to-the-eye changes that most people won't notice.
Stretching at least 17.4 feet from bumper to bumper and standing more than 6 feet tall, with a raised hood that's at chest height on most people, the 2013 Ram is an imposing presence, even when it's just a two-door regular cab with short bed, as was the test truck.
The tester with 20-inch wheels fit nicely inside a home's two-car garage, though a worried driver stopped to ensure there was clearance for the tall truck's roof.
The new-for-2013 power-folding outside mirrors handily provided walk-around space inside the garage, where the truck parked neatly next to another vehicle.
The tester was painted a bright red that attracted attention. So did the Ramboxes _ two not-too-deep, plastic-lined, narrow storage spots atop the sides of the pickup bed. Even short-statured people can reach in and get items out of these boxes.
For 2013, these optional Ramboxes have locks linked to the truck's central locking system, so when doors lock, the boxes automatically lock, too. A driver doesn't have to walk from one side of the bed to the other to manually lock them.
The test V-6-powered Ram moved with spirit up hills and through traffic, with everyone on board seeing above other vehicles. The ride was quieter than expected, though strong engine sounds came through during hard acceleration.
Alas, because of pedal-to-the-metal driving, the tester only got 15.4 mpg in travel that was 80 percent in city traffic and 20 percent on highways.
Note there's no shift lever for the eight-speed transmission. Drivers turn a rotary dial to shift gears, which is weird-feeling.
While the Ram's regular suspension kept the sharpness of most road bumps away from passengers, the ride still was bouncy. The truck responded quickly to steering inputs and felt centered, but the Ram felt big in its handling. Turning circle for the regular cab tester with 20-inch wheels was nearly 40 feet.
Ram offers a new air suspension system that raises the truck body for off-roading over obstacles and lowers the body for aerodynamic highway travel.