As Ram officials began looking at ways to improve the Ram 1500 pickup truck, they decided the No. 1 priority for the 2013 model would be fuel economy. Enter a new 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 engine that delivers 42 percent more horsepower and 20 percent better fuel economy when compared to the previous V-6. Priority No. 2, said Ram President Fred Diaz, was not to mess anything else up.

After our daylong test drive of the 2013 1500, it appears a big “mission accomplished” is in order. Ram officials knew the design of the truck and its residual values were already good, so much of the effort for 2013 was spent on fuel economy, Diaz told journalists gathered in Nashville for the launch of the new truck.

The new Pentastar engine delivers an estimated 17 miles per gallon in the city and 25 mpg on the highway, while still cranking out 305 horsepower and 269 lb.-ft. of torque.

A dozen design and powertrain features were added to achieve a fuel economy boost of at least 20 percent over the previous 3.7-liter V-6. Included fuel-saving technologies are an 8-speed automatic transmission, a stop/start system that turns the engine off at red lights, electronic power steering and a more aerodynamic design that includes grille shutters and an air suspension system that lowers and lifts the truck to four different positions to match driving conditions.

Also new this year is Ram’s TorqueFlite 8 transmission, which operates in some models via a rotary e-shift dial on the dash. The dial replaces the traditional gearshift lever and allows for quick shifting from “reverse” to “drive.” Besides, it’s just kind of cool – Jaguar-esque, if you will – to switch gears with a knob rather than a lever.

Towing capacity for the standard V-6 engine with the 8-speed transmission on the standard cab 4 x 2 is 6,500 lbs. If more power is what you need, Ram offers a 5.7-liter HEMI V-8 brute with 395 horsepower and 407 lb.-ft. of torque.

At the launch of the new truck, Diaz also discussed the switch from the Dodge brand trucks to Ram trucks. “Ram and Dodge needed to separate,” Diaz said. Ram has been a profitable brand with sales increases of 23 percent overall and 33 percent for the 1500, he said.

Meanwhile, many of the design changes for 2013 targeted aerodynamics. Surprisingly, Ram engineers learned in the wind tunnel they could make the running boards on the side of the truck more aerodynamically efficient by making them longer, ending them just before the rear wheels. Active grille shutters also contribute to better aerodynamics and fuel economy. The Ram 1500s coefficient of drag is a scant 0.360. And since weight is the enemy of mileage, Ram engineers found ways to reduce weight in the V-6 powertrain (76 lbs.) and in the aluminum hood (26 pounds).

Inside, the 1500 has lots of new features and technology, including Uconnect Access with Wi-Fi hotspot capability via the vehicle’s 8.4-inch touch screen display. Sprint provides the wireless platform for Uconnect. Voice recognition technology and steering wheel controls give Ram drivers a variety of ways to interact with their smart phones and music devices. Other upgraded interior features include a passive Keyless Enter ‘n Go system, wood accents, updated door panels and premium materials. The truck has new rain-sensing wipers, SmartBeam headlamps, power folding mirrors and a power sliding rear window with a defroster.

Convenience is enhanced for 2013 with the tailgate and optional RamBox cargo system, which will now both lock with the key fob. Push one button, and everything on the truck locks.

Just last week, Ram officials announced pricing on the 2013 1500 lineup will start at $23,585, which includes freight. Nick Cappa with Ram Truck Media Relations said the price is 1 percent higher than the 2012 model.

According to Ram, the new truck has more than 45 active and passive safety and security features, including front airbags, front and rear side curtains and seat-mounted side pelvic-thorax airbags.

The 2013 Ram 1500 is built primarily at the Warren Truck Assembly Plant in Michigan, and will go on sale later this fall. Regular cab models will be built in Mexico.

2013 Dodge Ram 1500

  • Engine: 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 or 5.7-liter HEMI V-8
  • Transmission: 8-speed TorqueFlite 8 or 6-speed automatic
  • Horsepower: 305 (V-6) 395 (V-8)
  • Base price: $23,585 (includes $995 in freight)
  • Estimated mileage: 17 mpg city / 25 mpg highway (3.6-liter V-6)