Mid-cycle refreshes come in many forms from the typical new colors and new wheel designs, to changes so extensive, it almost begs the question of whether it's an all-new vehicle.
The 2013 Ram 1500 firmly falls in the latter category. Although a first glance at the 2013 Ram suggests this is a minor makeover, a look at the spec sheet shows clearly a lot more has changed than first meets the eye.
First off, and the least surprising, is the Pentastar's final conquest in the Chrysler corporate lineup, officially making it the corporate V-6 across-the-board. Few tears will be shed over the passing of the wheezy, thirsty SOHC 3.7-liter mill, which produced a feeble (by current standards) 210 horsepower and 235 lb-ft of torque. The Pentastar's horsepower rating installed in the Ram bests that figure by nearly 100, jumping to a substantial 305 hp. Torque also gets a less-dramatic bump to 269 lb-ft.
But perhaps even bigger news than the Pentastar is the transmission to which it's mated. The 2013 Ram 1500 marks the debut of the TorqueFlite 8 transmission. This is the first application of an eight-speed transmission in a full-size pickup, and contributes to a 20-percent improvement in fuel economy for the Ram V-6, which crunching the numbers of the current V-6's 14/20 mpg city/highway figures, would bring it up to about 17/24 city/highway, putting it one mpg ahead of the next-thriftiest Ford F-150 on the highway, and matching the two-wheel-drive F-150 V-6 for city fuel economy.
Like the idea of an 8-speed transmission, but would prefer an equal number of cylinders under the hood? Fear not, the TorqueFlite 8 will be available with the Hemi 5.7-liter V-8 later in the truck's rollout schedule. Initially, Hemi fans will have to make do with the current 65RFE six-speed. The introduction of the eight-speed in the Ram lineup also signals a change in the gear selection mechanism. Gone are the column shifter, as well as the available T-bar console shifter in models equipped with the TorqueFlite 8. In their place is a dash-mounted rotary knob. Aside from the obvious benefit of freeing up more storage space in models equipped with a center console, Ram is claiming the shifter design enables quick "blind shifting" from drive to reverse when having to maneuver a trailer, or "rocking" back and forth out of mud or other low-traction situations.
Simply the addition of the Pentastar and TorqueFlite 8 would have been enough to qualify the 2013's makeover as an "extensive" refresh. But the Ram crew didn't stop there. The focus on aerodynamics and efficiency trickled down all the way from active grille shutters to a new electrical system, electric power steering, auto stop-start, and even a newly available air suspension.
The air suspension offers five height settings for specific circumstances. Normal ride height gives 8.7 inches of ground clearance. Aero mode lowers the truck 1.1 inches for improved fuel efficiency. Off-Road 1 lifts the truck 1.2 inches over the normal ride height, and Off-Road 2 lifts it one inch higher. Park mode lowers the vehicle 2 inches from normal ride height for easier ingress/egress and cargo loading. The combined effect of all the incremental aerodynamic refinements result in an overall coefficient of drag of 0.363 for a regular cab 4x2 model, down from 0.386 for a comparable 2012.
But we're not done yet. The 2013 Ram 1500 employs a new electric platform as well as a new physical platform. To facilitate deeper integration of remote functions, apps, and device integration, the truck features a new Powernet electrical architecture to let the different functions and modules of the vehicle communicate with each other quickly and efficiently, such as anti-lock brakes and electronic stability control. The Powernet architecture also facilitates the newly-expanded capabilities of Uconnect Access, which offers the availability of a built-in mobile WiFi hotspot, an integrated 911 emergency button on the rearview mirror, and the ability to lock, unlock, start or flash the lights remotely via the Web or smartphone app. The system will also send vehicle health reports and maintenance reminders to the owner.
But if you want to get even geekier about it, the Ram engineering team is with you all the way, as the new Ram employs pulse-width modulation to reduce parasitic electrical load from the front cooling fan as well as the fuel system.
Interior materials are upgraded for 2013, with soft-touch materials throughout, and a new burl walnut on the Laramie Longhorn trim, featuring revised woodgrain trim.
Similar to Ford's redesign of the Super Duty dashboard, the Ram doesn't abandon physical controls entirely, featuring redundant HVAC controls through both the 8.4-inch Uconnect touch-screen display, as well as manual controls. The 3.5-inch vehicle information screen located in the middle of the gauge cluster, previously available only on premium trim levels, is now standard on ST and SLT models. Available on the 2013 SLT and standard on the new Sport, Laramie and Laramie Longhorn models is a 7-inch thin-film transistor display. The 2013 model year also marks the first time Ram will be available with HD Radio.
Getting back to the nuts & bolts, a new hydroformed frame making more extensive use of high-strength steel is 20-percent stronger, and offers decreased noise, vibration, and harshness characteristics. The front suspension features redesigned upper control arms, aluminum lower control arms, new ball joints, and revised suspension geometry for improved responsiveness.
And if you've been a fan of the versatility and comfort of the Crew Cab, but didn't like the hit it took on load-hauling capacity, Ram's got you covered there, too. The full Crew Cab is available with a 6-ft 4-in bed option previously available only with the slightly shorter Quad Cab configuration. Adding further to the versatility factor is central power remote locking for the available RamBox exterior storage compartments, as well as the tailgate. And of course, there is the obligatory LED lighting option. In this case, in the form of a premium headlamp package with 15 amber LEDs for the park/turn lights, and three amber LEDs for the side marker lights.
But don't think all these high-tech refinements have made the Ram go soft. Au contraire. Equipped with the available Hemi V-8, the Ram 1500 has maximum towing capacity of 11,500 pounds and a payload of 3125 pounds. This bests the Ford F-150 by 200 pounds in towing capacity, and a mere five pounds in payload.
Ford may have wowed the truck world with its comprehensive power train revamp on the 2011 F-150, but it's obvious its Motown rivals were paying attention, as the upgrades made to Ram are far more exhaustive than you'd usually expect for a mid-cycle refresh. But it's no time for Ram to kick back in the easy chair, as the all-new GM half-ton models are expected for 2014, and you can bet the General isn't aiming for second (or third) place.
As of this writing, pricing and on-sale dates were not released, but we're expecting the 2013 Ram to start trickling into showrooms mid-summer to early fall 2012.