We've seen and driven the all-new 2019 Ram 1500 with the familiar 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 already, and we've gone into considerable depth regarding what's novel about this . However, we recently got our first chance to get behind the wheel of the new Ram 1500 equipped with the all-new mild-hybrid eTorque powertrain system.
This new power-assist system is woven into both the 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 (which is standard) and 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 powertrains (Ram will offer both an upgraded Hemi and eTorque Hemi) paired to the eight-speed transmission; the main benefit of the system is a 10 percent gain in fuel economy at a relatively low cost. (For reference, engineers typically spend months, and even years, trying to make improvements in increments of tenths of a percent.)
How eTorque Works
As we reported in January following the 2019 Ram 1500's debut at the 2018 Detroit auto show, eTorque is designated as a mild-hybrid system because its separate electric motor generator never fully powers the vehicle independent of the gasoline powertrain. Instead, it assists the engine the most during acceleration and deceleration as well as helping smooth out shift points between gears. As you might suspect, the system uses complex software programing to strengthen and improve the powertrain "handshake" while coasting and offers a more aggressive brake-energy regeneration program. This gives you an idea of how entwined eTorque is with the transmission and entire driveline.
The electric motor generator looks like a simple unit bolted onto the front of the engine where a serpentine belt runs off the crankshaft with two tensioning bars. What you don't see is the compact 12-cell 48-volt battery pack that sits behind the rear seats against the rear cab wall. The eTorque system adds 90 pounds of weight for the V-8 and around 150 pounds for the V-6 (the extra cooling power required for the V-6 explains the extra weight). However, since eTorque is standard on the entry-level V-6, the system doesn't add to the bottom line there. Move up the V-8 and it does. Choosing the conventional Hemi V-8 costs $1,195 and adding eTorque to the Hemi costs an additional $1,450. Ram hopes this pricing structure — which is less than normal price jumps for full hybrid vehicles — will make the system attractive to new and longtime half-ton pickup buyers looking to lower annual fuel costs.
As we see it, whether the cost jump to an V-8 eTorque makes financial sense will depend on how you drive or what you tow. Making your money back in fuel savings over time will likely be difficult and mostly dependent on which state you live in. Also, the biggest benefit of the system is the added torque the battery power offers: an extra 90 pounds-feet for the V-6 and 130 for the V-8.
How It Drives
After driving several Ram 1500s equipped with eTorque drivetrains, we were surprised by how such a relatively simple fuel-saving driveline system can work to provide such a smooth and civilized on-road experience, especially in a full-size pickup. It was if the throttle feel became stronger and more sensitive at the same time while also responding faster to fine-tuned inputs from the driver. While driving the V-6 eTorque over 60 miles of country roads and two-lane paved roads winding through the farmland of Kentucky, we averaged just more than 25 mpg on our trip computer. The V-8 eTorque system yielded 22 mpg over a similar route. In the real world that translates to around 2 or 3 extra mpgs from the mild-hybrid system, which is likely to save between $5 and $10 per fill-up, depending on which tank you have (Ram 1500s offer 23-, 26- and 33-gallon fuel-tank options).
We sampled Ram 1500 pickups ranging in price from just less than $64,000 (Laramie Sport crew-cab 4×4) to just less than $69,000 (Limited crew-cab 4×4). The Hemi V-8 with eTorque was smoother, quieter and just as powerful as the regular Hemi V-8, yet more refined in acceleration, idling, highway driving, pushing around corners and descending long hills. Although the engineers told us brake regeneration on this setup is fairly aggressive, we experienced very little of the pedal or coasting feedback exhibited by some hybrids. If we had a quibble about the system, it was the lack of an information screen or setting that allows the driver to see what's happening with the system, either in battery charging or discharging or how fuel savings are adding up. There should be a dedicated screen (and maybe one for towing or four-wheeling as well) that allows drivers to see the benefits of the system while doing the things they do: commuting, camping, towing, exploring, etc.
Currently the only feedback provided to the driver is a small, three-letter abbreviation (Eco) that appears when the V-8 eTorque engine goes into V-4 mode or the V-6 engine is "coasting." If Ram really wants eTorque to catch on, it needs to promote the system within the truck. Allowing drivers to see what the system is doing and how it's saving fuel seems like a win-win for Ram and consumers — especially since Ram is charging a premium for adding eTorque to the V-8.
We're guessing it will take some time for old-school pickup truck buyers to accept the eTorque system, but once they see and feel the benefits of the smoother-driving mild-hybrid system, it could be a strong selling point for the brand, especially if we see fuel prices spike in the future.
How It Towed
We also had the chance to do some towing with an empty two-horse trailer weighing about 3,500 pounds through the hilly farmland and found the Hemi with eTorque still offered all the low-end torque and confident feel we've come to expect of the Ram 1500. Of course, the towing mirrors, load-leveling suspension, noise-canceling interior, surround-view cameras and massive 12-inch navigation screen didn't hurt either. But we like the how the eTorque system worked to help us tow and make solid and clunk-free shifts while — according the Eco light on the dash — saving some fuel.
Model-year 2019 Ram 1500s equipped with the standard Hemi V-8 and V-8 eTorque are being delivered to dealerships now; however, the Pentastar V-6 eTorque engine (also slated for several Jeep models) will have late 2018 availability.
Cars.com photos by Mark Williams, manufacturer images