2012 Ram 2500 SLT 4x4 CNG First Drive
Red, White and Blue Flame
The 2012 Ram 2500 CNG is the first mass-market manifestation of Chrysler's commitment to natural gas. Like the bi-fuel Ford F-250s we recently drove, it is relatively transparent in its operation, with the only downside from the driver's seat being slightly diminished power when running on CNG. Unlike the Fords, which were aftermarket conversions, the Ram is a fully in-house effort. The factory-built nature is apparent in the cleanliness and integration of the conversion -- for instance, there aren't any tacked-on gauges sitting on top of the dashboard or taking up a spare 12-volt outlet. The Ram's CNG gauge is built into the main cluster in place of the voltmeter, right next to gasoline gauge.
Still, as was the case with the Ford models, the CNG conversion significantly impacts the Ram's bed capacity. In fact, the Ram's solution, which involves a dual-tank setup, takes up more space than either of the single-tank solutions from Venchurs and Westport that use a tank that looks like a toolbox. The upside is that the Ram looks cleaner from the side since there's no bulge protruding above the side of the bed. Just don't plan on hauling a load of 4'x8' plywood and closing the tailgate. The filler nozzle for the CNG is also awkwardly squeezed in under the gasoline filler door, necessitating about 3 attempts to lock the filler hose onto the nozzle. With the 2013 Ram HD diesel finally adding a DEF fluid catalyst system, we're hoping the new HD models have a wider fuel door, allowing for an easier-to-access CNG filler.
The Ram CNG comes standard with an 8-gallon 'pony' gasoline tank to get you back home or back to the fleet yard on readily-available dino-juice if you're far from a CNG filling station. Our tester had the optional, full-capacity 35-gallon gasoline tank, which combined with the estimated 300-mile CNG range, results in a bladder-bursting estimated total range of more than 900 miles.
The 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 is plenty powerful on-paper, with an output of 383 hp and 400 lb-ft of torque. Those figures are slightly lower on natural gas, but the Ram still scoots around with plenty of verve. However, the Ram's 7000+lb weight amplifies the Hemi's characteristic peaky power delivery. Passing and merging sometimes required a deliberate stab of the vertical pedal, but the Ram CNG can hardly be called gutless.
Depending on your duty cycle and the accessibility of CNG in your area, the Ram CNG may make practical sense, but financially it's a harder sell. The CNG package adds $11,000 to the price, pricier than even the $7795 cost of the Cummins diesel. Even with CNG currently running about half the price of diesel per gallon-equivalent, that's a premium that'll take a long while to pay off. There's also the aforementioned impacted bedspace and inconsistent, though improving, nationwide CNG fueling infrastructure. All of those downsides need to be addressed before CNG becomes a realistic option.
Should CNG become widespread enough, the need for a gasoline tank could be eliminated, which would enable packaging improvements and the optimization of engines to run on the fuel and thus reduce or eliminate the power penalty by increasing the compression ratio to take advantage of CNG's 100+ octane rating. Bi-fuel engines by their nature are a compromise, and the Hemi is optimized for gasoline.
We may be years or decades away from that rose-colored scenario being a reality, but if you want to get an idea of what a natural-gas-powered future might look like, the Ram CNG is a good preview.
|2012 Ram 2500 4x4 SLT CNG|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front -engine, RWD /4WD, 5-pass, 4-door pickup|
|ENGINE ENGINES||5.7L, 383-hp / 400-lb-ft bi-fuel OHV 16-valve V-8|
|CURB WEIGHT||7540 lb (mfr)|
|LENGTH X WIDTH X HEIGHT||248.4 x 79.1 x 78.3 in|
|0-60 MPH||9.5 sec (MT est)|
|EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON||N/A|
|ON SALE IN U.S.||Currently|