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2019 Ram 1500 goes hybrid in an effort to one-up its Detroit rivals

Electric cars and autonomous driving may grab most of the headlines, but old-fashioned full-size pickup trucks are still the best-selling vehicles in the United States. The 2019 Ram 1500 represents the continuing effort by United States automakers to keep their cash cows relevant in an era of stricter fuel-efficiency standards and technology.

The new Ram 1500 debuted at the 2018 Detroit Auto Show, where General Motors also unveiled a new version of the rival Chevrolet Silverado 1500. Like the Chevy, the 2019 Ram 1500 emphasizes weight savings in an effort to increase fuel economy. But Ram also took things further with a mass-market mild-hybrid system.

At first glance, the 2019 Ram 1500 looks fairly to its predecessor. The main difference is a new set of headlights that make the truck look like it’s squinting. Designers also felt the need to fill the massive grille space with a variety of bizarre shapes, and “Ram” lettering that can probably be seen from space.

All versions of the Ram 1500 are slightly longer than before, which creates more interior space, according to Ram. But the new truck is also an average 225 pounds lighter than its predecessor, Ram claims. The frame alone accounts for 100 pounds of weight savings. Aluminum components (tailgate, engine mounts, front axle center section, front suspension and transmission crossmembers, and steering gear) and a smattering of composite pieces account for the rest. While their new trucks include some aluminum parts, neither Chevy nor Ram has followed Ford in offering an all-aluminum truck body.

The biggest news on the powertrain front is a mild-hybrid system called eTorque. It combines the carryover 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 with a 48-volt electrical system and suitcase-sized battery pack. Rather than propelling the truck solely with electricity, eTorque provides a small power boost, powers electrical accessories, and enables a more aggressive engine start-stop system. GM recently tested mild-hybrid systems on a small scale, and Ford has promised a hybrid F-150, but Ram is currently the only brand ready to sell a truck with electric assist on a large scale.

In addition to the eTorque-backed Pentastar V6, the 2019 Ram 1500 will be offered with a 5.7-liter Hemi V8 at launch. The Hemi produces 395 horsepower and 410 pound-feet of torque, compared to the V6’s 305 hp and 269 lb-ft. Both engines get eight-speed automatic transmissions. Ram was the first to offer a diesel engine in a half-ton truck, but it seems the Ram 1500 will lose that option temporarily just as the Ford F-150 and Chevy Silverado gain it. Ram’s EcoDiesel is expected to return at some point, but the automaker isn’t offering details at this time.

While nowhere near as aggressive as the Ford F-150 Raptor, the returning Ram 1500 Rebel off-road model should be a nice foil to the new Chevy Silverado Trailboss. The Rebel gets model-specific styling, 33-inch Goodyear Wrangler DuraTrac tires, lifted suspension, and skid plates. For 2019, Ram is adding a 4×4 Off-Road Package for most trim levels as well that includes most of the Rebel’s features.

On the tech front, Ram went the “bigger is better route.” The Ram 1500 boasts an optional 12.0-inch touchscreen display (a smaller 8.4-inch screen is also available), and a 19-speaker, 900-watt Harman Kardon audio system that Ram claims is the most powerful available in a truck. The 2019 Ram 1500 is the first vehicle with SiriusXM 360L, which is supposed to replicate the experience of online streaming services, and its Uconnect infotainment system is compatible with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

The 2019 Ram 1500 goes on sale later this year, with pricing to be announced closer to launch. We’ll see if this reinvigorated Ram can take the fight to Ford and Chevy.

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