Thanks to significant updates this year, the 2014 RAM 1500 half-ton pickup elevates what is possible in a full-size truck. Topping the list of changes is a new 3.6-liter V6 engine and an 8-speed automatic transmission -- a setup RAM says will give the 1500 the best fuel economy and best tow rating of any V6 truck. An available air suspension helps smooth the ride and provides four adjustable ride-height settings as well as auto leveling when towing. Inside, the RAM 1500 cabin looks as if it were plucked from a Chrysler 300: rich in detail and craftsmanship and loaded with an array of electronics, including the full suite of UConnect apps, voice-activated navigation and even a Sprint-backed wireless hub. 

Additional improvements are found in the bed area, where Crew Cab models can now be equipped with a 6-foot-4-inch bed. RAM Box side storage bins further increase versatility, while a new locking rear tailgate helps deter thieves (a common problem for pickup truck owners). Lastly, the RAM 1500 offers the most powerful and fuel-efficient line of engines to date, with the HFE model reported to top 25 miles per gallon highway. And we can't forget the all-new diesel engine -- a first in a full-size, non-heavy-duty pickup truck. It gives the RAM excellent gas mileage and improved towing capacity. 

In essence, the RAM 1500 excels at just about anything. Whether you need a truck for towing, hauling or fuel efficiency, you'll find what you're looking for in the RAM lineup. 

What's New for 2014? 

Following a significant update for 2013, the RAM makes two major changes for 2014: Last year's 4.7-liter V8 is no longer offered, while a new 3.0-liter turbodiesel V6 joins the lineup. 

What We Like 

New diesel engine; upscale interior; smooth ride; powerful engine lineup; 8-speed transmission; UConnect infotainment and connectivity options 

What We Don't 

Awkward 8-speed's rotary gear selector; styling may prove too much for conservative truck buyers 

How Much? 

$25,400-$50,200 

Fuel Economy 

The 2014 RAM 1500 offers three engines. Base models use a 3.6-liter V6 that makes 305 horsepower and 269 lb-ft of torque. It's mated to an 8-speed automatic. Gas mileage is 17 mpg city/25 mpg hwy with 2-wheel drive or 16 mpg city/23 mpg hwy with 4-wheel drive. 

The RAM's available 5.7-liter HEMI V8 provides 8-cylinder power. It makes a whopping 395 hp and 410 lb-ft of torque. Depending on the model, it's mated to one of two automatic transmissions: a 6-speed or an 8-speed. Fuel economy with the 6-speed is 14 mpg city/20 mpg hwy with 2-wheel drive or 13 mpg city/19 mpg hwy with 4-wheel drive. Trucks equipped with the 8-speed return 15 mpg city/22 mpg hwy with 2-wheel drive or 15 mpg city/21 mpg hwy with 4-wheel drive. 

The RAM's newest engine addition is a 3.0-liter turbodiesel V6, which is new for 2014. It makes 240 hp and 420 lb-ft of torque, and it's mated to an 8-speed automatic. Fuel economy ratings for the diesel are not yet out, but Chrysler says it'll beat the truck's standard V6. 

Standard Features & Options 

The RAM 1500 is offered in a complex array of body styles, trim levels, engine sizes and drivetrain options. We've summarized the trims here, but note that there may be some variation in features -- and pricing -- depending on the truck you choose. 

At the bottom of the RAM lineup is the commercial-oriented Tradesman ($25,400), which comes with only the basics: steel wheels, vinyl floor coverings and seats, air conditioning and a locking tailgate. You won't even get features such as keyless entry, power locks or power mirrors, though those items are optional. 

Next up in the RAM world is the HFE model ($29,900), which stands for High Fuel Economy. Only offered with 2-wheel drive, the RAM 1500 HFE includes a 3.21:1 axle ratio, a start-stop engine that shuts off when idling and a tonneau cover -- all geared toward improving gas mileage. It also includes cloth upholstery and power accessories as standard equipment. 

Above the HFE in the RAM lineup is the SLT, which starts at $30,000. It adds alloy wheels, chrome exterior trim and dual glove boxes. This is the RAM's volume trim level, as shoppers can add many options to equip it in just about any way they desire. 

Topping the SLT is the RAM 1500 Sport ($35,500), which adds power folding mirrors, integrated mirror turn signals, an overhead console with a garage door opener, 20-in alloy wheels, dual-zone automatic climate control, an 8.4-in touchscreen with Chrysler's Uconnect infotainment system, wireless hot spot capability, voice control, power adjustable pedals, heated front seats and a power driver's seat. 

Next up is the RAM 1500 Laramie ($41,100), which is essentially a luxury pickup truck. It adds leather upholstery, driver-seat memory, a power passenger seat, an upgraded audio system, wood trim and chrome bumpers. 

Topping the range is the crew cab-only Longhorn ($46,800), which adds a remote starter, park assist, a navigation system with traffic updates, a larger fuel tank and tow hooks. An available Limited package boasts automatic wipers, a keyless ignition, heated rear seats, ventilated front seats and rear air suspension. 

The RAM 1500 offers many options. Several of the truck's lower trim levels, for instance, offer optional features from high-end RAM models. And there are even a few available option packages, such as the feature-heavy Lone Star (for Texas truck shoppers) and Big Horn (for shoppers elsewhere) editions, which are available on the RAM 1500 SLT, and the off-road-oriented Outdoorsman, which offers skid plates, all-terrain tires and other 4-wheel-friendly features. 

Safety 

Standard safety equipment includes front side thorax airbags and full-length side curtain airbags, as well as electronic traction and stability control, trailer sway control, hill-start assist and automatic reverse pinch protection on the windows and sunroof. Rain Brake Support uses the brake pads to occasionally brush water away from the rotors, helping to keep them dry and better able to stop the vehicle. 

In National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) tests, the RAM 1500 Quad Cab earned four overall stars. That rating included four stars in frontal and rollover tests, along with five stars in NHTSA's side-impact assessment. The regular cab RAM achieved the same results. 

Behind the Wheel 

The RAM 1500 delivers one of the best rides we've experienced in a full-size pickup. The cabin is solid and well-insulated from outside noise, and the new seats are supremely supportive. The new electric power steering setup delivers good feedback and on-center feel; it also helps improve fuel economy by taxing the engine less. When equipped with the available air suspension, the RAM 1500's ride is nearly luxury-car smooth, absorbing most road imperfections with ease. Off road, the air suspension allows the RAM 1500 to bound over dips and hills without bottoming out, all while keeping tight control over body movements that usually translate to passengers being tossed about the cab. 

The new 3.6-liter V6 is a capable workhorse, delivering good off-the-line acceleration and impressive fuel economy. But for heavy towing and rapid passing power, the 5.7-liter HEMI V8 is still the best choice for this big, heavy truck. The V6 is tow-rated at 5,630 pounds, while the HEMI V8 tops out at 11,500 pounds (RAM 1500 Tradesman Heavy Duty). 

While we have yet to drive the diesel, we're excited to get behind the wheel -- largely because we're eager to see just how high we can get the fuel economy. It would be a very successful truck if it matched the performance of the V6 while improving on its gas mileage. 

Other Cars to Consider 

Chevrolet Silverado -- The recently redesigned 2014 Silverado includes new engines, new styling, a new interior and many cutting-edge features. But it still doesn't offer the RAM's diesel power, available air suspension or bold look.

Ford F-150 -- The F-150 offers all the style and luxury of the RAM 1500, with more model choices and a turbocharged V6 engine. The F-150's resale is also stronger than the RAM's, but the RAM offers a better powertrain warranty. 

Toyota Tundra -- The Tundra isn't as large, luxurious or powerful as the RAM 1500, but its resale and reliability ratings are tough to beat. 

AutoTrader's Advice 

If you're pulling heavy loads, there is no substitute for the power and torque of the 5.7-liter V8. We'd get it in the Sport or Laramie editions, which are nicely equipped and reasonably priced. If your truck use is on the lighter side (just moving jet skis or mountain bikes), the new V6 in the SLT is hard to argue with. It has plenty of power, delivers impressive fuel economy and can be equipped with most of the desirable options in the RAM inventory. But we suggest driving the diesel first to see if it matches your expectations for acceleration and passing power.

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