“You gotta zing it to make it work—but once you do that, it’s ready to do whatever you need.” Robert Patton, the charismatic long-time club racer whose Turbo Diesel Registry serves as a spiritual home and information repository for diesel-powered Mopar fanatics, knows “his guys” can get upset about the VM Motori-sourced three-liter “ECODiesel” fitted to the previous-generation Ram truck. His magazine details the strategies used by ECODiesel owners to avoid overheating and maximize performance—the most fascinating of which is probably substituting the bare-bones “Tradesman” grille on high-end trucks to increase airflow.
Now there’s a significant revision to the ECODiesel for 2020—and it’s not just about the numbers.
Which isn’t to say that numbers don’t matter to pickup-truck fanatics. Sometimes they’re the only thing that matters. Take towing capacity. When RAM introduced a 35,100-pound pull number for its Cummins-powered “big six,” Chevrolet took a deep breath and hit back with 35,500. Does it really matter in a world where even the power users—such as the interstate auto transport drivers who will pull four cars on a fifth-wheel rig—rarely exceed 18,000 pounds? You bet it matters, the same way sports-car enthusiasts will argue about Nürburgring times set by factory drivers in caged cars with mysterious ECU settings.
Chevy’s new “small” Duramax diesel makes 277 horsepower and 460 pound-feet of torque. Ten years ago, that would have been enough to shade the big diesels—but, as Robert points out, you gotta zing ’em to do it. Peak horsepower is at 3750 rpm, about a thousand revs above where the Cummins inline-six tops out.
No surprise, then, that the new ECODiesel tops Chevy at 480 lb-ft, although the horsepower number is a bit lower at 260. The Italian-sourced engine retains the quad-cam layout but revises the cylinder head, pistons, and turbocharger. “Looks like a major update,” Patton notes.
FCA expects the ECODiesel to lead the way in economy as well. A class-exclusive air suspension will help balance trailers and control outsized loads, although the fifth-wheel crowd has little interest in small diesels. Finally, there’s a bit of a secret weapon coming in the form of an ECODiesel-powered RAM Rebel, which combines the outrageous styling and popular price of the Rebel trim with the coal-rolling appeal of the ECODiesel.
The previous ECODiesel was a big winner for FCA, and it opened up an entirely new segment of the American pickup marketplace—but it also generated some legislative scrutiny of its emissions to go with customer complaints about heat sensitivity. Robert Patton, who daily-drives an ECODiesel RAM, is light-hearted on the subject.
“Just keep an eye on the temperature gauge and drive smart,” he says. “Otherwise, put the truck on the road and enjoy it. That’s what we buy ’em for.”