Ram launched its 2019 1500 pickup earlier this year, and we’ve tested the Hemi-powered truck both on and off road. But arguably the most noteworthy piece of the new truck’s puzzle is the eTorque mild hybrid system, and that’s what brings me to Lexington, Kentucky this week. From crowded streets through small towns to wide-open highway runs, the Bluegrass State is a perfect place to test out the Ram’s new hybrid hardware.
Behind the scenes
The 48-volt mild hybrid system doesn’t hinder the Ram 1500’s on-road manners. Some regenerative braking systems are abrupt in engagement, making for jerky stops, and I’ve tested many a stop-start system with noticeable harshness during engine restart. But none of these are an issue in the Ram. Brake force is progressive, the regen helpful in recharging the 430 watt-hour lithium-ion battery pack, and the stop-start system works with the 48-volt belt-drive motor generator instead of a traditional starter, for quick, seamless power-on transitions.
On the expressways outside of Lexington, cylinder deactivation is also mostly imperceptible when cruising at a steady 70 mph. There’s still a slight shudder when the Hemi V8 switches back and forth between eight- and four-cylinder modes, but active frame-mounted dampers absorb most vibration and noise cancellation snuff out the majority of the audible racket inside the cabin. Really, Ram’s integration of the hybrid system is excellent and most people likely won’t know it’s working away behind the scenes.
Don’t need V8 power? Ram has you covered. The base 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 comes standard with eTorque, putting out 305 horsepower and 269 pound-feet of torque, and able to tow a respectable 7,750 pounds. A very brief drive in the V6 again impresses with the hybrid integration mirroring the experience in the V8 with normal brake pedal behavior and brisk engine start-ups. On the road, the V6 eTorque behaves a lot like the V8, in that you don’t really notice it all that much. There is a clear power difference between the two models, of course, but the V6 is by no means slow.
What’s the primary goal of all the eTorque mild hybrid sorcery? Efficiency, of course. According to EPA estimates, the eTorque system is good for a 2-mpg improvement in the city cycle with the V8, for 17 mpg, compared to 15 mpg in the standard Hemi model. On the highway, the Hemi by itself returns 22 mpg with two-wheel drive and 21 mpg with four-wheel drive, but with eTorque increases those figures to 23 mpg and 22 mpg, respectively. Official fuel economy numbers aren’t available just yet for the V6, but Ram engineers say the eTorque setup should result in a small bump over the 2018 Ram 1500 V6’s 17 mpg city and 25 mpg highway EPA ratings.
The other benefit of eTorque is, well, torque: 130 pound-feet of additional electric launch thrust, though the truck itself has a total output of 395 horsepower and 410 pound-feet. That means this 5,300-pound pickup is no slouch off the line, and the Ram has no problem getting up to speed in a hurry.
Comfortable and capable
In addition to the slick drivetrain, my 1500 Limited test truck features luxury-level ride comfort on its standard air suspension system that’s optional on lower trim levels. It also takes corners with competence — for a big truck, anyway — with controlled body roll, good grip on the 275/55R20 Bridgestone Dueler H/L tires and satisfying steering heft and response.
The cabin is incredibly spacious, with the cab length growing by four inches for this generation Ram 1500, with three of those inches benefiting rear passengers. Speaking of back-seat riders, they can now enjoy a flat floor and seat backs that recline up to eight degrees. Storage certainly isn’t in short supply, with cubbies and pockets in the doors, and a center console that’s configurable in 12 different ways, depending on what you need to stash. The interior is nice and quiet, too, thanks to the Ram’s improved aerodynamics, acoustic windshield and front side glass and active noise cancellation, which is all the better to enjoy in the Limited’s comfy leather seats.
At the foundation of it all is a new frame constructed from 98 percent high-strength steel that’s 100-pounds lighter and more rigid to help improve handling and all-out capability. Max payload for the Hemi eTorque model stands at 2,300 pounds and max towing increases to 12,700 pounds.
Gold star tech
While the 1500’s hybrid technology is mostly unnoticeable, the interior’s Uconnect 4infotainment tech with an available 12-inch configurable touchscreen is impossible to miss. The gigantic screen is intuitive to work through with large icons, crisp graphics and immediately reacts to commands. In my Limited tester, the Uconnect system controls a 19-speaker Harman Kardon audio system, navigation with 3D map imagery, a Wi-Fi hotspot, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. On lower trim levels, Uconnect 4 works with an 8.4-inch display, while Uconnect 3 is the base level system with a 5-inch screen.
Charging options are plentiful with three USB ports, a 115-volt plug and optional wireless charging pad up front, while there are an additional two USB ports and a standard plug on the back of the center console. Four of the five USB hookups are Type C/A ports allowing for quicker charge times. No phone or tablet in the Ram 1500 should ever go dead.
The safety tech menu is also extensive with adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning with lane keep assist, rear cross traffic alert, 360-degree camera and forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking and blind spot monitoring, all of which work as advertised.
V8s now and V6 later
The all-new 2019 Ram 1500 begins at $33,390, including $1,695 destination, for the V6 model that still doesn’t hit dealerships for another couple of months. If you’re one of the many people who don’t want the V6 and prefer the big 5.7-liter Hemi V8, that’ll cost you an additional $1,195 and going all out for the V8 eTorque tacks on yet another $1,450. Ram 1500 production has been off to a rocky start, but V8 models are in showrooms now.
Like every full-size pickup, the price tag can climb at an alarming rate; my very heavily optioned, range-topping Limited test truck comes in at $68,340. That sounds like a lot, but is right in line with the full-zoot Ford F-150 Limited 4×4 that begins at $66,280.
The pickup wars are fierce, with the Ram facing stiff competition from the aforementioned F-150, not to mention the completely redesigned Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra. But no other truck offers electric assist right now, and that might be enough to give Ram a bit more competitive edge in this highly competitive segment.
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