One Year: 2014 Ram 1500 EcoDiesel Outdoorsman Crew Cab 4×4 Arrival

The First Back-to-Back Motor Trend Truck of the Year Winner

By Jason Udy | Photos By Alex Bernstein |September 23, 2014

As the first back-to-back Motor Trend Truck of the Year winner, the 2014 Ram 1500 owes much of its repeat success to its class-exclusive turbodiesel engine. It’s been more than 15 years since the last diesel half-ton pickup was available. Like last year’s Golden Calipers winner, the 2014 Ram 1500 EcoDiesel offers class-leading features including an eight-speed automatic transmission, Chrysler’s Uconnect infotainment system, available air suspension, and the innovative Ram Box.

We replaced our long-term 2013 Ram 1500 Laramie Crew Cab 4×4 with a new 2014 Ram 1500 EcoDiesel Outdoorsman Crew Cab 4×4 in Pearl Prairie Coat paint over Canyon Brown/Light Frost Beige cloth. Power comes from a Fiat-sourced 3.0-liter turbodiesel V-6 rated 240 hp with 420 lb-ft of torque. Like the Ram’s standard 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 and available 5.7-liter Hemi V-8, the EcoDiesel engine is mated to an eight-speed automatic.

A 19/27 mpg city/highway (20/28 mpg for RWD) EPA rating makes the 2014 Ram 1500 EcoDiesel the most fuel-efficient half-ton pickup available. In comparison, the 2014 Ford F-150 with the 302-hp, 278 lb-ft, 3.5-liter V-6 is EPA-rated 16-17/21-23 mpg, while GM’s 2014 half-ton pickup twins with the 285-hp, 305 lb-ft, 4.3-liter V-6 are rated 17-18/22-24 mpg.

Starting at $39,860 (including $1195 destination), our nicely equipped 2014 Ram 1500 EcoDiesel Outdoorsman Crew Cab 4×4 reached $53,440 with options. The 3.0-liter EcoDiesel V-6 (800-amp battery, heavy-duty cooling system) adds $4000 to the bottom line, while the stronger 8HP70 TorqueFlite eight-speed automatic adds $500. The $1545 Customer Preferred Equipment Package 28T has lots of desirable features, including Uconnect infotainment system with Wi-Fi, foglights, leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls, power heated exterior mirrors, power 10-way driver’s seat, 115-volt power outlet, security system with remote start, heavy-duty rear shock, anti-spin rear differential, transfer case and front suspension skidplates, Class IV receiver hitch, and much more.

Other options include a $1695 air suspension, $1400 black finish 20-inch alloy wheels, $1295 Ram Box, $600 wheel-to-wheel side steps, S595 rearview camera and front and rear park sensors, $500 navigation system with traffic, $475 spray-in bedliner, $395 Comfort Group (heated front seats and steering wheel), $300 nine-speaker audio with subwoofer, $230 trailer brake control, and $50 for a 3.92 rear axle. We expect to use the new Ram for more than just commuting. We plan to go camping, go off-road, take road trips, and haul and tow stuff. Stay tuned to see how closely the Ram EcoDiesel sticks to its fuel economy ratings in our Real MPG testing and the real world.

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Chrysler Increases Ram 1500 Truck Production

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Chrysler Group LLC has increased capacity at its Warren Truck Assembly Plant to meet growing demand for the Ram 1500.

The Auburn Hills-based automaker increased production by 100 vehicles a day, or more than 28,585 additional vehicles a year. Chrysler upped capacity by using new ideas and incremental investments to refine its production processes at more than 350 plant work stations — from automation changes in the body shop to improvements to its paint shop. The changes were implemented from the end of 2013 through the summer shutdown in August.

Chrysler attributes the new processes to hourly employees submitting thousands of suggestions as part of the automaker’s “World Class Manufacturing” initiative that was introduced by Fiat when it took control of Chrysler in June 2009.

Through WCM, which aims to reduce waste and increase quality, efficiency and safety, the new processes streamline jobs by improving workplace ergonomics. One simple example was creating “kits” of related parts that allow operators to focus on assembly.

“There was a lot of work done here by the workforce,” said Curt Towne, plant manager, during a media event Thursday morning to discuss changes to the plant. “This isn’t something that was management-driven. This is something that was driven from the floor.”

The Warren plant’s nearly 3,600 hourly employees, including 1,100 hired in the past 18 months, work four 10-hour days on two shifts that run at least six days a week. Towne said small improvements such as not making an employee walk as far to get a part or color-coordinating engine part bins can have a significant impact.

The new operations, according to employees, were tested for roughly six months and implemented primarily during the plant’s two-week shutdown last month. Allen Nichols, a plant launch team member, said the idea was to make sure everything worked before changing things.

“We tried to spearhead as many things as we could before that two-week process started,” he said, adding the company will be able to use the improvements for future vehicles.

Towne said WCM has brought a “common language” to Chrysler’s plants, where each plant operates similarly to adopt the best processes. He added the plant will continue to test new processes to increase production.

“There’s a lot more capacity here,” he said. “We’re always looking for opportunities.”

The 76-year-old plant has produced more than 228,000 vehicles through August. In 2013, the plant produced more than 291,500 trucks, up from 227,453 in 2012.

Ram Truck sales are up 21 percent through August compared to a year ago.

Michael Wayland, The Detroit News 5:39 p.m. EDT September 25, 2014

Review: 2015 Chrysler 200S AWD Gets Driven

2015 Chrysler 200 AWD

The new for 2015 Chrysler 200 debuted at January’s Detroit Auto Show as the first Chrysler-branded vehicle to debut since Fiat bought the brand a few years ago. Despite the heavy-handed, “Imported from Detroit” marketing message, however, there’s a lot of Italian heritage peeking through in this new Chrysler.

In the case of the Chrysler 200, that’s a good thing.

2015 Chrysler 200 | Look at It

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The grille of the 2015 Chrysler 200 is a generic affair. That makes sense, since the car was originally designed to be sold by several different brands in different markets – Chrysler and Lancia, in this case – and it needed to carry both companies’ logos well. Despite that, the look is somehow both nondescript and pretty, with just the right amount of chrome.

Further back, the body of the new 2015 Chrysler 200 has sort of a marine-animal vibe to me. Which is to say that it’s a bit big in the middle- “well insulated”, maybe- but that the look and feel is indicative of the powerful animal residing underneath. In the case of a beluga, what you’re getting a sense of is a few thousand pounds’ worth of coiled muscle and sinew. In the Chrysler, what you’re getting a sense of is the flexible, 295 HP naturally-aspirated Multi-Air engine, 9 speed automatic transmission, and advanced, torque-biasing all-wheel drive system.

For those of you keeping track, that 295 HP rating means that the 2015 Chrysler 200 is putting out almost 100 HP more than the legendary Lancia Delta HF Integrales of the late 80s/early 90s. The benchmark of the Lancia brand, easily, and one of the most stories 4-door performance cars of the last generation – and it couldn’t touch the new Chrysler’s 36 MPG fuel economy rating. So, there’s that.

2015 Chrysler 200 | Get in + Drive It

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The interior of the new 200 represents a quantum leap forward in terms of interior quality when compared the original Chrysler Sebring (which came to be called “200″ in 2010), and a good bit better than the 2014 200 that the new car replaces. The hard plastics and cheap-feeling switchgear of “pre-Fiat” Chrysler are almost completely gone, and the instrument cluster glows a friendly, soothing blue, The soft, comfortable seats were especially inviting, and remained comfortable even after two hours spent in a particularly nasty Chicago traffic snarl.

If I’m being honest, the interior of the new Chrysler 200 (especially the S model I was driving) is almost too serene. That’s because- in sport mode with the traction controls off and the driver’s right foot and manual paddle flapping acting as the primary influences on the car’s character- the 200 is a for-real sporty sedan..

In sport, the car seems to switch from a relaxed, “fuzzy logic” sort of load demand throttle to a more direct, 1:1 between the engine and the driver’s foot. The 2015 Chrysler 200 positively screams forward- maybe not super fast, from an objective/stop-watchy point of view, but definitely super-fast in a seat-of-the-pants, “this is way worth the money” sort of way that somehow eludes more expensive cars.

From the driver’s seat, a 6-second 0-60 time seems conservative- and a switch to red LED illumination in sport mode, while gimmicky and stupid, would make the new 200 feel a few tenths faster, still.

The week I had the car was, as evidenced by the pictures, particularly wet and windy (even by Windy City standards). Even so, the Chrysler felt utterly planted, secure, and always willing to switch from wanna-be race car to serene, comfortable “Slow down – the baby’s in the car!” commuter with a turn of the 200′s “Rotary E-Shift” transmission knob. Which is cool.

2015 Chrysler 200 | Final Thoughts

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When Fiat first aquired Chrysler and started talking about combining the Lancia and Chrysler brands’ product lines, I went nuts. As a lifelong fan of Lancias old and new, I wanted desperately for Fiat to bring a for-real Delta to the US, and had/have put off buying a new car until said thing actually happened. In that time, the Delta platform has been worked under the Dodge Dart and, indeed, under this new 2015 Chrysler 200, as well. Still, it’s not quite the same thing, you know?

Taking all that out of the equation and judging the 200 for what it is, though, is pretty difficult for me. I know too much, and- maybe- expected too much of the new 200. Maybe I liked it before I ever touched it, and it wasn’t that good. Maybe it wasn’t the first “real” Lancia you could buy new on US soil since 1982.

“Is this like, a normal Chrysler?” asked the wife, who came outside to check it out as it was being dropped off (a rare thing, as she’s pretty jaded when it comes to cars).

“Yeah,” I answered. “It’s the new one, but- I mean, anyone can go buy one.”

“I thought Chrysler’s were like, s***ty cars,” she said, getting into the passenger seat. “This is nice,” she said, as I turned it on. “This is really nice,” she continued, as the blue lights came on and illuminated the dash. “Wow. Are all Chryslers like this?”

“I don’t think so,” I said.

“That’s not good for them. This is really nice.”

“Would you buy one?” I asked her, as we are perpetually car-shopping, apparently.

She thought about it a while, before answering. “No. I mean, I would but this car- like, this exact car– but I wouldn’t want to tell people I bought a Chrysler. It’s not a good brand.”

Yikes.

Fiat-Chrysler definitely has a winner on its hands with the 200S, I think, but it’s going to have to do some work to get people to give the car a fair shake. That said, maybe it really should have been the new Lancia Flavia. If it were, I might have one on semi-permanent display in my garage by now.

Original content from Gas 2.

Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk at Home On and Off-Road: Trail Tested

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Since its inception, Jeep has offered rough and tumble 4×4’s best suited for bounding through brush and taming the untraveled trail. As of late however, the heritage off-road brand has added some decidedly tamer models to its lineup, though you’d be shocked to learn that this isn’t one of them. Rather, it’s a 50/50 mix of off-road prowess and on-road function – the 2015 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk.

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Released for the 2014 model year, the Cherokee boasts four different trim levels – Sport, Latitude, Trailhawk, and Limited. Chrysler’s 2.4-liter four-cylinder and nine-speed automatic transmission slot underneath each trim as standard. A 271-horsepower V6 remains an option on all models (except the Sport), as does 2WD or 4WD except on the 4×4-only Trailhawk.

Facing a challenging rutted, boulder-ridden, and boggy path that lay before me – I was glad to be sitting in the latter. The Trailhawk trim sports Jeep’s top tier Active Drive II 4×4 system, which means you get low-range gearing, a rear differential lock, as well as skid plates, tow hooks, off-road tuned suspension, terrain-specific traction control (Selec-Terrain), hill-start and hill-descent control. Quite the package.

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Unsurprisingly, the plucky SUV handles the tough stuff like a champ. Push the gear stick to the side, then move it forward or back to toggle speed, and the Trailhawk will crawl at a controlled rate through and over whatever obstacles befall you.

During our test, the suspension cleverly drooped and rebounded to create a remarkably harmonious off-road ride, and even when traction was broken, all it took was a turn of the wheel and some ABS computer-wizardry to pull the Jeep up over the lip. It should be noted that our Cherokee got through the same off-road course while following behind the likes of a Range Rover Sport.

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On road, the Cherokee trades its rock-crawling ability for everyday agility. Equipped with the 3.2-liter V6, the Trailhawk pulls eagerly through its nine gears (boasting a 4,500 pound tow rating) and provides excellent road holding and a supple ride quality. Perhaps not as nimble as the more road-oriented Mazda CX-5, but still very fun to drive. Jeep adds a new engine stop-start system on V6 models for 2015, which during testing felt quick to react and unobtrusive.

From inside the cabin, both engine and road noises are relatively mum, something that the buzzier four-cylinders in the segment can’t exactly match. Interior quality also feels top notch thanks to premium materials and a stylish dash arrangement. As in previous testing, Chrysler’s Uconnect infotainment system remains intuitive and easy to use.

How about some figures. The Trailhawk sports 8.7 inches of ground clearance, a 29.9-degree approach angle, and will vector 100 percent of torque to the rear wheels if needed.

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The Jeep falls slightly short in interior cargo space though. With the rear seats up, the Cherokee stows 29.7 cubic feet of gear while its contemporaries like the Toyota Rav4 and Ford Escape can swallow more: 38.4 and 34.3 cu. ft., respectively. Though the Cherokee will likely haul your gear much further off the beaten path than either of those two.

The Cherokee’s new front fascia might polarize some potential buyers, but thanks to the vehicle’s combination of on- and off-road performance, premium materials, and functional packaging, it makes the Trailhawk a tough option to pass up.

Chrysler and Google launch virtual plant tour

The Auburn Hills automaker invested more than $1 billion to renovate its Sterling Heights plant.

Brent Snavely, Detroit Free Press 1:24 p.m. EDT September 22, 2014

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Chrysler has teamed up with Google Maps to launch an interactive Web site that allows people to take a virtual tour of its Sterling Heights Assembly Plant to see how the 2015 Chrysler 200 is made.

The Auburn Hills automaker invested more than $1 billion to renovate its Sterling Heights plant, which was originally selected for closure during the company’s bankruptcy in 2009.

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After Fiat became Chrysler’s controlling shareholder, the company decided not to close the plant and invested $850 million in a new paint shop and $165 million in a new body shop.

For years, Chrysler struggled to compete in the mid-size sedan segment. The Chrysler Sebring, which was later renamed the Chrysler 200, was far behind its rivals in both quality and technology.

The 2015 200, which went on sale earlier this year, is widely viewed by automotive industry critics as a far better mid-size sedan than the outgoing model.

“It’s ‘all-new’ in every aspect, and will challenge consumer perceptions in the mid-size segment,” Olivier Francois, Chrysler’s chief marketing officer said in a statement. “I personally wish everyone could visit the plant to walk through and experience the fascinating process live.”

Chrysler sold 10,810 200s in August, up 6.6% from last year. Still, that’s far less than segment leaders such as the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, Nissan Altima and Ford Fusion which all sold about 30,000 or more in August.

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The site for the interactive tour can be found at: www.chrysler200factory.com

The tour takes consumers inside the newly renovated 5 million-square-foot Sterling Heights with Google Maps Business View. A navigation tool offers people a guided tour through 12 unique videos dedicated to individual areas of the assembly plant, or they can explore every inch of the 5 million square feet on their own.

“Since we can’t bring people to the plant, we’ve worked with Google to openly bring the plant to the people, so they can themselves experience how these processes drive precision, reliability and deliver an exceptional and truly all-new Chrysler 200,” Francois said in a statement.

The 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat is the King of Woodward

Graham Kozak

August 20, 2014
2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat on Woodward

FOR A FEW HOURS WE WERE THE COOLEST CATS ON THE AVENUE

The range of cars that turned up for last weekend’s Woodward Dream Cruise was huge — as per tradition, something like 30,000 vehicles came out of the woodwork. There was everything from an Ur-Quattro to a couple of Eliminator tribute cars. Some guy was rolling around in an old Escort covered in microchips, wearing a mask and rocking out to “Iron Man” on repeat. Loved that guy.

It takes lot to stand out in that crowd, especially in something newish. Arrive in a Superbird and you’ll draw appreciative cheers, at least until your car overheats. Make that a third-gen Challenger, and you’ll be lucky to be noticed at all.

That doesn’t hold if the Challenger in question is the 707-hp supercharged smoke machine that is the 2015 SRT Hellcat.

We somehow lucked into one — eight-speed automatic (very good, by the way), subtle silver paint job, tobacco brown leather interior — for the weekend, and for those few fleeting days, we enjoyed Woodward as royalty. We watched grown men fall beside themselves with excitement as we spun its wheels (fear not: we weren’t on public roads), honored to breathe in clouds of acrid, wonderful smoke. We bathed in the general attention and admiration of the masses.

Or rather, the car did. Park the Hellcat anywhere (we stopped by Pasteiner’s Auto Zone and dropped in at an LX Club meet unannounced on Cruise Saturday), pop the hood and watch a crowd materialize out of thin air. When you’re not behind the wheel, you’re practically invisible.

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There were a few other manufacturer-plated cars on the prowl over the weekend; some were more obvious than ours in red or green with giant Hellcat decals on the side. We didn’t even get a small growling cat symbol — the only badging that might have clued in onlookers was the subtle “SUPERCHARGED” badge on the front quarter panels. No matter. People asked if it was a Hellcat — they asked every few yards as we crept down Woodward.

But whether 7 years old or middle-aged, people asked with a surety that told you that they knew exactly what they were looking at. With a little effort and a healthy amount of horsepower, Chrysler has created a nameplate that could well stand up there with ‘Cuda, Road Runner, Super Bee, etc. Time will tell. At the very least, “Hellcat” has a nice ring to it.

Then they asked us to rev the engine (not as viciously loud as you might expect), do a burnout (we somehow resisted until we found a nice, secluded skidpad, thankyouverymuch) — they all did, no matter which of Detroit’s automakers they were personally affiliated with.

Even tuner guys love the thing. As we blazed down the expressway the evening before the cruise, a modified Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution caught up with us — just so the driver could flash us a huge smile and a thumbs-up.

It’s heartwarming, really.

2015 Challenger SRT Hellcat parked at the Woodward Dream CruisePark, pop the hood, watch the crowd appear. Photo by Graham Kozak

It goes without saying that the Hellcat family wasn’t developed with the grueling gridlock of the Dream Cruise in mind. This car is very fast. There are faster cars, yes, but the Hellcat costs $61,000, and for that relative pittance you are getting sensations of thrust and speed that — unless you are a Top Gun pilot or ex-Apollo astronaut, in which case, good for you, you’ve had an exciting life– you simply have no business ignoring.

The hammer-down immediacy and vault-like feel of this 4,449-pound vehicle is addictive. It’s a wheeled bank safe with a JATO rocket strapped to it; good luck replicating that in a lighter, more nimble sports car. It’s doesn’t pitch and roll like you’d expect of something this heavy, but it’s no ballerina, either. The back end swings out like a sledge if you take a corner too fast — you either fight its traction control systems or, if you turn ’em off, you square off against its mass. It would look absolutely hilarious on an autocross course. We’d love to watch, though.

Yeah, the Hellcat is about stupid, stupid straight-line speed. You know the numbers: 3.5 seconds to 60; 11-second quarter-miles off the lot. But strapping on a blower to get around bulk is kludge engineering. It shouldn’t work, but it does. It’s the automotive equivalent of Brock Samson (he drives a Charger, but still), proof positive that too much brawn is never a bad thing if you back up your threats with sufficient power.

It is the sort of thing that could have only come out of Detroit [Well, Canada — ED.], which is why it was so well-received on Woodward. Incidentally, we think it’s perfectly daily-driveable. But that might just be us.

King of the Woodward Dream CruiseThis man, though not a Hellcat driver, may have a legitimate claim to the King of Woodward’s throne. We didn’t have a crown.

The Hellcat is a gimmick, and a fairly blatant one at that. Here’s the thing about gimmicks, though: When they are followed through to the bitter end, when they’re sold with unwavering, unblinking confidence, they can really work. The Hellcat line packs enough shameless, outlandish brawn to incinerate cynicism as quickly as this Challenger smokes tires. To Dodge’s credit, it hasn’t tried to rationalize or justify its creations. Whether or not the Hellcats are to your taste, you have to have respect for the audacity.

We’ll confess to suffering from Hellcat fatigue around here. The buildup to the reveal, then test drive, of the Challenger Hellcat — followed by the completely expected unveiling of the four-door Charger variant — has probably been a little wearying to anyone who closely follows the automotive world. Beating 707 dead horses, or something like that.

But getting the keys to this brute on the weekend of the Dream Cruise made us unexpectedly giddy. Stretching the car out on the open road quickly — very quickly — obliterated our cynicism. And showing it off in a sea of some of the coolest classic cars on the road and experiencing the overwhelming, genuine automotive enthusiasm that this car has managed to create, was intensely rewarding. It was enough to make us feel, for a few hours at least, like the king of Woodward.