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October 3, 2013

Ram 1500 breaks new ground as first light-duty truck with diesel engine

WESTLAKE, Calif. — Diesel engines and pickup trucks go together like peanut butter and jelly, but manufacturers have been surprisingly reluctant to put diesels in their light-duty trucks.

And it's not because there's no demand.

Truck buyers love diesels under the hood because they're reliable, long-lasting, fuel efficient and make more trailer-pulling torque than their gasoline counterparts. Until now, though, you could only get diesel power by upgrading to a heavy-duty truck.

If you ask the manufacturers about that, they'll tell you how traditional diesel designs are too heavy to work well in a light-duty chassis and how the government emissions requirements are stricter for the smaller, mass-market, half-ton trucks.

I'm a bit of a conspiracy theorist about it, though. Call me crazy, but I think a bigger reason is that car companies don't want to lose any sales of their pricey, heavy-duty trucks by offering a cheaper diesel model.

In any case, that's all about to change now that Ram is offering a small, fuel-efficient diesel engine in its Ram 1500 line. It's not the giant Cummins diesel from the Ram Heavy Duty, but a compact, 3.0-liter design that's engineered for fuel efficiency.

Ram calls it the EcoDiesel.

After driving several versions of the EcoDiesel, I think Ram could have a huge hit on its hands. Not only is it great for towing — I pulled a big boat up a steep grade without the Ram breaking a sweat — but it's also a lot more refined than you usually expect from a diesel engine.

Everybody is familiar with the loud clackety-clack of diesels that pull up beside you in traffic. With this one, though, those characteristic metallic clangs are almost imperceptible thanks to lots of sound insulation under the hood.

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