It looks like a truck, drives like a truck and hauls like a truck. So the 2013 Ram 1500 is, you guessed it, very much a truck.
This is despite the fact that beneath the handsome sheet metal are two key elements that, until recently, would have disqualified it from many full-size-truck buyers' lists: an eight-speed transmission and a V-6 engine.
Both are new additions for the current Ram truck, which received a thorough mid-life makeover for the 2013 model year. The new drivetrain and thoughtful upgrades mean this truck is well positioned to take on the longtime sales champ — the Ford F-150 — as well as all-new full-size pickups from Chevrolet and Toyota due out later this year.
This generation of the Ram was initially launched in 2009. But until this refresh, buyers who didn't want (or couldn't afford) a V-8 had to settle for a tepid V-6 and a four-speed automatic.
Fuel economy has also becoming a serious consideration for truck buyers, and truck makers have responded with less thirsty models. Ford's turbocharged EcoBoost turbocharged engines have received most of the attention.
Keen to steal some of these sales, Chrysler dropped its excellent Pentastar engine into the 2013 Ram 1500 and matched it with an all-new eight-speed transmission. This engine is a gem in any application, including the Chrysler 300 and the Jeep Grand Cherokee, and it lives up to its reputation in the Ram.
To be clear, no one will mistake this motor's power or exhaust note for a V-8, two versions of which are optional on the Ram. But the 3.6-liter V-6 — making 305 horsepower and 269 pound-feet of torque — was hearty enough for daily chores and driving.
Our two-wheel-drive V-6 test truck could also tow a healthy 6,050 pounds, thanks to $615 in towing-related options, including trailer brake control, which allows automatic or manual modulation of the trailer's brakes. Two-wheel drive models without these add-ons can still lug 4,350 pounds.
All V-6 Ram 1500's come with the eight-speed transmission, which Chrysler says is a first for full-size trucks. The smartly calibrated gearbox works well with the engine; it knows when and when not to shift.
It also lives up to the fuel-economy claims. During 300 miles of testing, with more city driving than highway, we averaged 17 mpg. The 4x2 Ram 1500 is rated at 17 mpg in the city and 25 mpg on the highway.
The gearbox is controlled by a rotary knob on the dashboard, which frees up space in the center console. It also gives the truck a bit of an upscale feel, which was only compounded by a quiet and well-designed cabin.
An optional height-adjustable air suspension offered additional comfort. This $1,595 option featured five settings for between 6.7 and 10.7 inches of ride height. Though we weren't able to test the highest "Off-road 2" setting, the ultra-low "Park" mode proved a necessity for navigating a low-slung parking garage.
Other options on our four-door $43,630 SLT Crew Cab test truck included power cloth seats that were split 60/40 in the rear, a Uconnect 8.4-inch color touch-screen infotainment system (but no navigation), 506-watt Alpine stereo system, backup camera and parking sensors (vital if you ever want to park this thing).
This final price is about $10,000 higher than the base price of a 4x2 Ram 1500 SLT Crew Cab with the V-6. Although that's certainly not chump change, it's similar to what you'll pay for rival trucks.
And those rivals are getting better every day. With the all-new Chevrolet Silverado headed to dealers this summer, and Toyota's revised Tundra landing later in the year, getting this model right was essential for Ram.
Fortunately, the one-two punch of the Ram's stout V-6 engine and its well-tuned eight-speed transmission, mixed with the handsome design inside and out, mean that the company's best truck ever should have no trouble staying competitive.
2013 Ram 1500 SLT
Times' take: A heavy makeover leaves this truck sitting pretty
Highs: Efficient drivetrain; quiet and comfortable cabin
Lows: Not a substitute for V-8 power, pricey
Vehicle type: Four-door, five-passenger, full-size pickup truck
Base price: $34,515
Price as tested: $43,630, SLT Crew Cab 4x2
Powertrain: 3.6-liter V-6 engine; rear-wheel-drive
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual shifting
Torque: 269 pound-feet
Zero to 60 mph: 8.0 seconds for Quad Cab, according to Edmunds.com
EPA fuel economy rating: 17 mpg city / 25 highwayCopyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times