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2014 RAM 1500 Laramie EcoDiesel (Doug Firby for The Globe and Mail)
2014 RAM 1500 Laramie EcoDiesel (Doug Firby for The Globe and Mail)

Road Test

Luxury Ram pickup is powered by a tiny diesel engine Add to ...

Talk about an image mashup. The new Ram 1500 eco-diesel is a rolling model of testosterone-fuelled eco-luxury.

That’s right. This Big Dog is a 4x4 full-size pickup with a conscience, luxurious enough inside and out to cruise the streets in style before heading to Ontario’s California Road Trail for a little off-road detox.

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Take this hunky, plush and brash all-American piece of iron for a test drive, and you’ll be looking to add a second mortgage to the house (which at the $70,060 as-tested price, might be necessary).

The test model came with a long list that includes: granite clear coat paint, eight-way adjustable leather bucket seats, chrome side steps, power sunroof, air suspension, multimedia hub, premium Alpine surround-sound audio system driving nine-inch speakers, lift-gated mounted backup camera, and … well, you get the idea.

What might seem odd in the $16,000-plus accessory list are the features that equip this thing to go off-road – tow hooks, transfer case skid plate shield, front suspension skid plate. I mean, seriously, are you really going to take this thing into the boonies?

The gilding is great, but what has the industry all aflutter is the heart of the beast: A comparatively puny 3.0-litre diesel engine that will destroy every notion you have about the much-maligned power plant.

Diesel engines have gotten a bad rap as noisy, smelly, smoke-belching beasts that were hard to start in Canadian winters. This engine is about as unlike the stereotype as anyone can imagine. It is actually quieter than a high-revving gasoline-fueled engine. It’s also odour-free, with absolutely none of the diesel smell or associated particulate emissions. And, with the innovation of compacted graphic iron in the engine block, it’s virtually as light as a standard V-6, thanks to the ingenuity of the engineers at VM Motori, the Italian marine-diesel-engine builder behind this marvel. The smooth-as-silk turbo boost helps deliver the tow-power torque of a diesel – 420-lb-ft.

Basically, that means it’ll really haul your trailer while delivering a real-world average city/highway mileage of 9.9 litres/100 km. Lots of little technology goes into achieving those numbers, like an eight-speed automatic transmission and optional air suspension ($1,595) that actually lowers the vehicle (and reduces drag) at highway speeds.

How do the numbers translate into the driving experience? We hitched up our compact hard-shell trailer and headed west on the Trans-Canada for a weekend test. On the highway, this truck truly felt as though we were towing nothing at all. And, when it came to passing, the turbo launched us like a slingshot.

This baby is phat – in the best possible sense. But if there is one shortcoming, it is that it is also fat, weighing in empty at 2,600 kilograms.

Chrysler has beaten its two primary pickup competitors, Ford and GM, to the punch with the first domestic small-displacement truck diesel in North America. Notwithstanding Ford’s EcoBoost gas engine, the competitors will have to scramble hard if they want to lock horns with this Ram.

LOOKS

The aggressive shape is a slight refinement of the familiar Ram look. It’s all testosterone.

INTERIOR

High-quality fit and finish, with plush leather seats and accents of chrome and wood grain. The only distraction is the chrome accent on the centre console, which glares in the mid-day sunlight. Seats are firm with electrical lumbar adjustment. It’s like driving from the comfort of your living room.

PERFORMANCE

So quiet, it’s hard to believe it’s a diesel pickup. Rock steady on the highway, gentle-but-firm suspension and exceptionally responsive power for passing.

SAFETY

It sits so high, it’s hard to imagine it losing a fight with many cars. Comes with supplementary side curtain and front and rear air bags, anti-lock four-wheel disc brakes, electronic stability control and tire pressure monitoring display.

CARGO

The quad cab means the truck comes with a short cargo box. But the Ram boxes mounted on each rear fender and the main box extender give you the flexibility you need.

INFOTAINMENT

The premium Alpine system delivers crystal clear sound. , with the option to plug in your iPod or switch to Sirius satellite.

THE VERDICT

9.0: A great luxury utility vehicle, made all the better with the powerful and quiet eco-diesel engine.

YOU’LL LIKE THIS VEHICLE IF: You’re looking for a half-ton pickup that raises the bar yet another notch over the Ram 1500 by delivering superb fit and finish, modern looks and just about every luxury feature you can imagine.

TECH SPECS

2014 RAM 1500 Laramie EcoDiesel

Engine: 3.0-litre six-cylinder turbocharged diesel

Base price: $52,995

Transmission: Eight-speed automatic

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 10.6 city/7.4 highway using regular fuel

Horsepower/torque: 240/420 lb-ft

Drive: 2WD/AWD

Alternatives: Ford F-150, Chevy Silverado, GMC Sierra

If you have questions about driving or car maintenance, please contact our experts at globedrive@globeandmail.com.

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