Behind the Wheel

2020 Ram 1500 EcoDiesel Review: The best parts of this truck are not under the hood

The 2020 Ram 1500 is formidable but with the EcoDiesel power plant, it begins to stumble.

Photo courtesy of FCA US LLC

With its easy steering and luxe interior, the 2020 Ram 1500 Limited has earned every right to be considered a luxury truck. It defies typical convention in other ways too, as it soaks up the bumps in the road like a full-size sedan and offers rear seat legroom akin to 27A on a Delta-operated Airbus 321.

But can it "truck"? I'm so glad you asked. While the Ford F-150 and Chevrolet Silverado are typically thought of as America's work truck, when the redesigned Ram 1500 debuted as a 2019 model, its appointments (rightly) earned it a coveted place in the lifestyle truck category.

2020 Ram 1500 EcoDiesel The Ram 1500 EcoDiesel is the newest engine option for the full-size truck.Photo courtesy of FCA US LLC

The answer is yes, it can "truck". Though you're more likely to see the 1500 Limited at a Home Depot for weekend warrior type of projects than at a worksite, it's obvious to anyone that test drives it that the Ram is more than capable, especially with the nifty multifunction tailgate, which splits 60/40 and opens outward rather while also allowing a traditional tailgate drop to permit easier access to the bed.

However, how much capability you require and the drive experience you want will dictate the engine you choose - just as it does in a truck from any other automaker.

The latest test version of the 1500 Limited to roll into my driveway was powered by a 3.0-liter EcoDiesel V6 engine. The engine makes the truck capable of achieving 480 pound-feet of torque and has a max towing capacity of 12,560 pounds. Both those numbers best then capabilities of the F-150 and Silverado with their own 3.0-liter six-cylinder diesels under the hood.

Is the Ram engine the best? The short answer to that is no.

2020 Ram 1500 EcoDiesel Under the hood of the model, as tested, is a 3.0-liter EcoDiesel V6.Photo courtesy of FCA US LLC

The EcoDiesel is about as fuel efficient as the other two engines but it suffers off the line compared to the Chevrolet inline-six. Though it has more torque, even without a full load in the bed, the Ram feels slower from a standstill than the Chevy. It frustratingly gets up to 45 mph then cruises competently from there on. The delay is enough to make you have to plan ahead when pulling out in traffic.

That postponed response of the accelerator replicates turbo lag. Why? It's likely because Rom needs to ensure the engine hits mpg targets. The company is especially cognizant of that in the wake of the $307.5 million settlement Ram's parent company, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA), paid to compensate for installing emissions cheating software in diesel engined vehicles.

Aside from the engine, the Ram 1500 Limited is a mighty fine truck. It's attractive inside and out with supple leather on the seats and soft-touch materials where it matters. The seats remain comfortable, even when on long drives.

2020 Ram 1500 EcoDiesel The interior of the Ram 1500 Limited is sumptuous.Photo courtesy of FCA US LLC

As much as the 12.3-inch vertically orientated infotainment screen is appealing at first sight, the more it gets used, the more frustrating it becomes. There's no quick way to access the camera for parking or navigating a drive thru, and scrolling through radio stations is a chore, but perhaps the biggest annoyance is adjusting the climate controls. One errant tap too many and suddenly the heating or air conditioning is on full blast. Readjusting the correct temperature can be a quick fix, but it takes longer for the mechanics to adjust. In the meantime, you're uncomfortable for more time than is ideal.

If you're in the market for a full-size truck with a diesel engine, and interior isn't as important, the Chevrolet Silverado is your best bet. If you don't absolutely require a diesel engine and prefer a nicer interior for daily driver duties, the Ram 1500 is the way to go. However, the forthcoming 2021 Ford F-150 Hybrid may shake up this recommendation.

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Nuts & Bolts

 
 

GMC has a winner with its new Yukon Denali.

Photo courtesy of GMC

The 2021 GMC Yukon isn't just a new SUV. It's a maturation of the brand, continuing the growth ushered in by the Sierra truck redesign two years ago.

GMC, a division of General Motors, didn't just make the SUV more luxe than the Chevrolet Suburban and Tahoe, or a more rugged choice than the Cadillac Escalade. The Yukon is its own beast. And make no mistake, it is a beast in proportions though on the road it proves impressively maneuverable.

2021 GMC Yukon Denali Each Yukon Denali comes with the Denali trim level's new grl Photo courtesy of GMC

The three-row full-size SUV is solid and capable. It's also the most elegant model in the GMC lineup, especially as tested in the Denali trim level. From the unique grille with satin chrome surround to the dual exhaust system with dual steel tips, the Yukon Denali stands out.

Riding on 20-inch wheels and powered by GM's 6.2-liter V8 engine, the Yukon Denali makes a proficient 420 horsepower and 460 pound-feet of torque. The engine is connected to a GM's 10-speed automatic transmission, which cannot be smoother in its operation.

The four-corner air suspension ensures that the ride is stable whether on smooth pavement or dirt, rounding corners at speed, or turning into a parking lot. It also raises and lowers the vehicle to an optimal height depending on the vehicle's current driving or resting function.

Pulling into that parking lot and getting properly into the space is easy thanks to accurate steering and the Yukon Denali's class-leading nine camera views.

2021 GMC Yukon Denali The rear of the Yukon Denali is a new look for the model. Photo courtesy of GMC

Shifting of the Yukon Denali is done via a new lever and button configuration that is placed on the dashboard near the steering wheel. In a world of stick, column, push-button, and rotary shifters, this new take is easy to use and intuitive. It's certainly head and shoulders ahead of the push-button shifter featured in the current generation Traverse's center stack when it debuted a few years ago.

GMC has equipped the Yukon Denali with a four-wheel drive system that allows proper traction in a variety of weather conditions. Only sunshine graced the SUV during its 36-hour test drive so there was no opportunity to truly put the system through its paces.

The Yukon Denali's cabin is more premium than ever before. It truly feels luxurious, even despite its parts bin center console controls, which are shared with the Sierra. Leather and soft-touch surfaces abound. The cabin is appointed in authentic materials in the areas where your eyes traditionally rest while being a passenger.

2021 GMC Yukon Denali Fine materials are on display throughout the cabin. Photo courtesy of GMC

It has a unique moving center console that allows front row passengers to have more space while making the center console more accessible to second-row occupants.

Speaking of the second row, its captains chairs are made for comfort. In front of the passengers are twin 12.6-inch entertainment screens. The screen system no longer supports DVDs. The shift is in favor of USB- and Bluetooth-connected devices as well as streaming content. It can now accommodate Amazon Fire TV, Chromecast, Playstation, Apple TV, Roku, and Sling devices.

Access to the third row is easy through the center of the second row and adults can more comfortably sit back there thanks to the Yukon's elongated body style for the 2021 model year.

In front of the driver is a 15-inch head-up display that offers music information from the 14-speaker Bose sound system, navigation, and speedometer in an unobtrusive way.

2021 GMC Yukon Denali A new push button and lever shifting system is employed in the model. Photo courtesy of GMC

At the center of the dashboard is a sizable 10.2-inch infotainment screen that utilizes GM's standard operating system and graphics. Unlike what's in Genesis and Lincoln models, GMC's parent company hasn't refined the system with different styling for the premium model line. The Yukon Denali has up to eight USB ports, wireless charging, and wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

GMC has equipped the Yukon Denali with a host of standard safety features - most everything you'd expect. GM's Super Cruise hands-free driving technology hasn't yet made it over to the model, which is a shame.

2021 GMC Yukon Denali The Yukon Denali utilizes switchgear from the Sierra. Photo courtesy of GMC

Despite the complete redesign and impressive enhancements to the Yukon Denali for 2021, GMC has upped the price just $600 from the cost of the 2020 model. Including the destination charge the SUV comes in at just over $75,000. While $75,000 might sound steep to many buyers out there, compared to what you get from luxury automakers and truck sellers for that price, the Yukon Denali's cost is impressively low. That includes three rows of seating, high-end appointments, comfort, style, and a towing capacity of up to 7,900 pounds. The Yukon Denali could be priced at $90,000 and it would hardly elicit a second thought.

2021 GMC Yukon Denali Dual entertainment screens are available in the Yukon Denali. Photo courtesy of GMC

From the interior to the exterior it's easy to see that GMC has gotten this one right. Twenty-five percent of GMCs sold are Denali badged and it wouldn't be surprising to see that number creeping up with the freshly enhanced model.

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Photo courtesy of Hyundai Motor Group

Hyundai Motor Group, the parent company of Hyundai, has announced the formation of a new unit - New Horizons Studio. The new venture is focused on the development of what Hyundai calls Ultimate Mobility Vehicles (UMVs).

New Horizons Studio is part of Hyundai's larger focus on the future of mobility. Unit workers will work to envision vehicles that wander with "unprecedented mobility". These products will focus on target customers that have unconventional travel needs whether it be to access places they have never been or adapt their mobility limitations to their surroundings.

Hyundai 'Elevate' Walking Car Concept

Photo courtesy of Hyundai Motor Group

New Horizons Studio is led by Vice President Dr. John Suh, who has held several leadership roles at Hyundai Motor Group since 2011. He served as founding director of Hyundai Ventures, and then led Hyundai CRADLE (Center for Robotic-Augmented Design in Living Experiences) as its founding director based in Silicon Valley. He brings over 35 years of expertise in the automotive and emerging technology sectors, including roles at Stanford University, Palo Alto Research Center (PARC; formerly, Xerox PARC), and General Motors Company.

"We aim to create the world's first transformer-class vehicle, also known as the Ultimate Mobility Vehicle," said Dr. Suh.

Dr. Ernestine Fu will move to New Horizons Studio as Director of Product Management. She has led research on human operator and autonomous vehicle interactions at Stanford University's Volkswagen Automotive Innovation Lab, as well as scaled emerging technology companies for over nine years as a venture capital partner at Alsop Louie Partners.

The Hyundai Elevate is the first vehicle being developed by the Studio. It debuted at CES 2019 and does not rely solely on wheels to makes it way across urban, suburban, and rural landscapes. The unit sees the Elevate as being able to respond in emergency situations like natural disasters or assist with persons who do not have access to an ADA ramp.

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