Chrysler's Ram brand has consistently placed third behind Ford and General Motors among pickup-truck consumers and fleet buyers alike. However, with a new focus on the commercial market and several key updates to its heavy-duty pickups, Ram in the past year has increased its pickup market share to 11% from 9%, its executives say. The incremental gain may not put fear into the hearts of the competition, but the momentum continues into the 2014 model year, which promises best-in-class fuel efficiency, handling and capability—as well as a number of pickup-truck firsts.

First Half-Ton Diesel

Fuel economy is the top consideration for fleet buyers, according to a recent survey by Work Truck magazine. Ram is addressing that concern by becoming the first manufacturer to offer a diesel engine in a half-ton pickup. Dubbed EcoDiesel and offered on the 2014 Ram 1500, the 3.0-liter, turbocharged V-6 common-rail diesel will be paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission.

The powerplant, which boasts 240 horsepower and 420 lb-ft of torque at 2,000 rpm, will achieve more than 25 miles per gallon on the highway, according to Ram. By comparison, Ford's 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6, with 365 hp and 420 lb-ft of torque, earns an estimated 22 mpg. GM offers up to 23 mpg from a 5.3-liter V-8 that puts out 355 horses and 383 lb-ft of torque.

The EcoDiesel engine meets all state emissions requirements with assistance from a diesel-exhaust-fluid (DEF) system that should call for a refill around every 10,000 miles. Ram points out that the DEF system, unlike others on the market, allows the engine to run at full power even when the fluid level is low.

Ram's aging 4.7-liter V-8 is now discontinued, leaving buyers to choose between the new 3.0-liter diesel, a 25-mpg, 3.6-liter flex-fuel V-6 gasoline engine, and a 5.7-liter Hemi V-8, which comes back as the standard engine for the Ram 1500 Tradesman. EcoDiesel buyers can expect to pay $2,850 more than a comparable Hemi-equipped 1500 or $4,500 more than a Ram fitted with the base V-6.

It's a hefty premium, so we asked Bob Hegbloom, director of Ram trucks, to comment on the advantages commercial buyers would see with the EcoDiesel versus the standard gas-powered V-6. "When you go to a diesel engine, you're getting the torque and the benefit of the residual value down the road," he responded. "For a business, while there's the acquisition price up front that you pay, you'll get it back on the backside because it will continue to deliver."

Even with a fuel-efficiency rating that ENR estimates to reach about 27 mpg, the $4,500 premium might be hard to justify. Based on 15,000 miles a year of estimated average driving and Dept. of Energy fuel prices in mid-July—with regular gasoline at $3.64 a gallon and diesel at $3.87 a gallon—the EcoDiesel may save only about $100 over three years.

New Hemi V-8 Engine

Heavy-duty pickups get a new engine, too. Starting at $30,695, the 2014 Ram 2500 is priced within $200 of its competition. The standard engine for the 2500 and 3500 models continues to be the 5.7-liter Hemi V-8, which, for 2014, is accompanied by an optional 6.4-liter Hemi V-8 mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. Hegbloom explains why Ram is adding this engine to its lineup, saying, "There's a strong customer demand for increased capability without having to step into a diesel, and that's what this 6.4 is all about."