In the track-day world, some cars are referred to as “momentum cars.” They aren’t the most powerful, but they make up for it with many other redeeming qualities and often end up turning similar lap times as those with more power but worse handling. They are competent, they are charming, and they will disappoint if you expect them to be something they’re not – quick in a straight line. I recently spent about 350 miles towing my enclosed trailer behind a 2020 Ram 1500 Limited with FCA’s EcoDiesel engine and found it to be a bit of a “momentum truck” of the towing world.
What Is It?
This is a 2020 Ram 1500 in top-tier Limited trim. While the current-generation of Ram trucks came out for the 2019 model year, the 2020 (and upcoming 2021) are still highly-regarded despite minimal changes since their launch. When these “DT” Ram 1500s launched to replace the old “DS” Ram 1500 (still sold new as “Ram 1500 Classic”), they were seen as a significant step forward from the first-launched-in-2009-updated-in-2013-prior-generation, of which I’m an owner.
Ram sent me this fully-loaded 1500 Limited to sample both in general and as a tow vehicle. My loaner truck was equipped with the $4,995 EcoDiesel engine, which Ram claims is an optimal choice for towing up to 12,560 pounds. More on the towing capacity later. The EcoDiesel is a 3.0 liter turbocharged V6, produced by VM Motori in Italy. VM Motori has worked with Chrysler for several decades, supplying small diesel engines for Wranglers, Grand Cherokees, Ram 1500s, and even David Tracy’s old Chrysler Voyager. While I drove a 2020 Jeep Wrangler earlier this year with the same EcoDiesel V6, it produces slightly more power and toque in the Ram 1500 – likely due to better cooling through the massive, blacked-out grille. In Ram 1500, the EcoDiesel produces 480 lb-ft of torque and 260 horsepower.
The EcoDiesel is paired to Mopar’s now-mostly-standard 8-speed automatic, sourced from ZF. Two-wheel drive is standard, even on Limited trim, though my truck was equipped with four-wheel drive with both automatic and driver-selectable high and low ranges.
Looking past the EcoDiesel up front, my Ram 1500 Limited was fully-loaded, only missing the few off-road options that are better suited to a lower trim level. Notable options include a $3,995 Black Appearance Package (which blacks out everything and then blacks it out again just in case), the “Limited Level 1 Equipment Group” (which adds driver assistance goodies and ventilated rear seats), the 3.92 axle ratio, larger 33-gallon fuel tank, RamBox boxes on either side of the truck bed, and a multi-function tailgate that swings down traditionally or like barn doors, with a 60/40 split. MSRP of my 2020 Ram 1500 Limited EcoDiesel came to $74,910.
Daily-Driving the 2020 Ram 1500 Limited EcoDiesel
Every modern half-ton truck in high-end guise does a pretty convincing imitation of a luxury car. Ram convinces perhaps the hardest with this Limited trim. All Ram 1500 Limited trucks get four-corner air suspension, which provides car-like ride quality while allowing ride height to change for off-roading and improved aerodynamics alike. There’s leather everywhere, combined with intricate cowboy-lite stitching and funky-in-a-good-way wood trim. Seats are very comfortable for longer trips, and your ears will be tickled with the (excellent) 19-speaker Harman Kardon sound system.
Unloaded, the Ram 1500 Limited EcoDiesel is a peach. Acceleration from the little diesel is strong, and the eight-speed clicks off gears to keep you in the meaty torque band in-town or merging onto the highway. Ram claims the 1500 EcoDiesel is good for 29 miles per gallon on the highway, unloaded, and we have no reason to doubt that. Maneuverability is relatively easy, and it’ll fit in (somewhat) tight parking garages with the air suspension dropped to Entry/Exit height.
I daily-drive a prior-generation 2016 Ram 1500 Sport, a low-mileage example that’s been well kept. This new Ram 1500 Limited blows mine away in terms of interior finishes. Yes, my loaner truck carried a $75k MSRP, but every knob, button and switch moved with purpose and had a solid feel. Entry-level luxury cars do not feel as well screwed-together as this truck.
Outside, things fall apart a hair. The Black Appearance Package includes a tri-fold vinyl tonneau cover that’s flimsy and hard to manage. More glaringly, the same appearance package includes massive 22″ wheels, with tires that don’t offer any form of sidewall to help protect the wheel. I attempted a U-turn in a space that accommodates my 2016 Ram easily enough (and its large, chunky tires) and gave the front right wheel a healthy dose of curb rash in the process.
I’m also not the biggest fan of the RamBoxes or multi-function tailgate. Both offer exceptional convenience, with RamBoxes offering locked storage on the sides of the bed and the tailgate allowing owners to access more of the bed by standing right against the rear bumper. But the RamBoxes take up valuable bed space – basically, where the wheel wells are – and while they include drain plugs, aren’t insulated to keep ice from melting. The multi-function tailgate is quite clever, but didn’t always latch fully and required a firm slam or two to prevent a warning light on the dashboard.
Towing with the 2020 Ram 1500 Limited EcoDiesel
I loaded my 1998 Volvo S70 T5M into my enclosed trailer, dropped the whole thing on the Ram 1500 Limited’s hitch, and set off for Summit Point Motorsports Park for our “Old Lady Rallycross Challenge.” This was a perfect opportunity to test the EcoDiesel drivetrain through the rolling hills of Loudoun County, Virginia, with every perforated leather surface set to “ventilate” and the 19-speaker H/K setup cranked.
Attaching a trailer with the four-corner air suspension is easy enough, and I did deploy my weight distribution bars to help send some tongue weight forward, to the truck’s front axle. I poked through a few screens on the 12″ UConnect infotainment system to set the truck in Tire Jack mode, which disables the air suspension while you fiddle with the hitch setup. The suspension can be re-enabled once everything is set as you like, and it will load-level a bit on its own. With the Ram 1500 in Tow/Haul mode, I set off.
Tow/Haul mode ensures the suspension stays in “Normal” ride height, instead of lowering to “Aero” at highway speeds. It also controls shift points under acceleration, and preemptively downshifts to allow engine braking on downhill stretches. Ram has significantly improved the downshift logic compared to my 2016 Ram 1500 – where mine is clueless, this 2020 Ram knows just what gear to choose. The air suspension does a very good job controlling the truck’s body movement over bumps and through corners.
Though I found myself impressed with initial acceleration from the EcoDiesel, it fell flat on hills, requiring momentum to help carry speed and maintain the posted 55 mph speed limit. The truck’s 480 lb-ft of torque works well to get you moving, but the EcoDiesel’s 260 horsepower is just not enough for steeper grades. Hemi V8-powered Ram 1500s offer slightly less torque (410 lb-ft) but a healthier 395 horsepower.
Fuel economy while towing was a strong suit for the Ram 1500 EcoDiesel, with the dashboard claiming 14.5 miles per gallon. Gasoline-powered trucks and SUVs pulling the same trailer often report single-digit fuel economy, with “10” indicating a light right foot. For those who tow often, a (roughly) 40% increase in economy is substantial.
Though Ram claims the 1500 Limited EcoDiesel can pull up to 12,560 pounds, a deeper dive into their Towing Guide indicates my particular truck was only rated to tow about 9,710 pounds. It’s still a high rating for a half-ton truck, but it’s important to work the numbers and understand if the particular truck you’re choosing is rated for as much as you need. Every option added reduces payload and towing capacity accordingly.
The Bones are Good
There is a lot to like about the 2020 Ram 1500. Everything feels well-built and substantial, worth the cost no matter what you spend (or don’t) on the truck you choose. The bones, as Maren Morris says, are good. I’m not sold on the slightly-bougie Limited trim or the EcoDiesel engine choice. Were I shopping for myself, I’d look to evaluate both Hemi V8-based drivetrains (naturally-aspirated or with ‘eTorque’ mild hybrid assist) to see how those handled a trailer and some hills compared to the EcoDiesel.
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