It is the sum of its parts, but those bits and pieces were curated by a team of engineers in Michigan. At the risk of hipstering its history, the Ram HFE (High Fuel Efficiency) package was truly custom-tailored for one purpose: Achieving an EPA-rated 29 mpg on the highway, which is 1 mpg better than a standard Ram 1500 EcoDiesel.
It did just that. No, it did better than that, but more on that in a minute.
The Ram has stuck with its "son of big rig" styling for nearly 25 years; opting for the EcoDiesel V6 means you can fill up next to Peterbilts. My goal was to bypass truck stops entirely. I left Denver early in the morning and aimed to enjoy lunch with Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt, and Lincoln looking over my shoulder before heading home for dinner.
Mt. Rushmore is about 370 miles away from the northernmost truck stop within Denver, where I filled the Ram HFE's tank and headed northbound on Interstate 25 toward Wyoming and a series of smaller highways that roughly follow an old stagecoach route from Cheyenne to what is now Mt. Rushmore in South Dakota.
The Ram was such a fuel miser that I could have driven an extra 50 miles each way and still avoided the pumps.
It's beautifully stark country: the kind of desolate place where the FM radio does a lot of seeking; that's all the audio I had on board because the Ram HFE is decidedly lacking in comfort and convenience features.
To get to an EPA-estimated 29 mpg highway figure, Ram engineers had to goals: To strip weight and improve aerodynamics. In the wind tunnel, the medium-size 4x2 Quad Cab with 20-inch wheels and the Ram Express trim level's one-piece front bumper proved the most aerodynamic configuration of the many flavors of Ram available. Interestingly, testing revealed that adding full-length tubular side steps and a tri-fold tonneau cover normally offered in the Mopar accessories catalog aid aerodynamics. The end result is a truck that feels like a no budget, after-hours skunkworks package where the engineers raided the proverbial parts bin.
That wasn't quite the case, but Ram PR guru Nick Cappa told Autoblog that Ram's designers and engineers are a small, close-knit group with intimate knowledge of the ins and outs of this big truck and its myriad configurations. Together, they cooked up the right recipe to bump a very specific Ram up 1 mpg in EPA testing. That was no easy feat.
The Weight Watchers program was easy: Start with a base model. While I did have FM to listen to livestock reports in rural Wyoming, I didn't have satellite radio or Bluetooth. The locks are power-operated, but you must put the key in the door to unlock them. Vinyl covers the front bench, which is not height adjustable. The driver doesn't even get a vanity mirror. The only factory option on the HFE is a block heater. It's work truck grade inside—which might raise a few eyebrows at the $39,575 as-tested price.
The end result is a truck that feels like a no budget, after-hours skunkworks package where the engineers raided the proverbial parts bin.
Average audio aside, the Ram makes a terrific, quiet highway companion with its coil rear suspension delivering a planted, settled ride. Its smooth-shifting eight-speed gearbox makes the most of the 420 pound-feet of torque on offer. I decided not to hypermile my way to the monument, since that's cheating. Instead, I set cruise control at the posted speed limit.
With the fuel needle still solidly at "full" by Guernsey, Wyoming, I became more confident in this truck's long-haul ability. A detour to view where wagon tracks from those bounding along the Oregon Trail more than 160 years ago remain visible proved irresistible. No oxen died on my journey, and, as of this writing, I don't appear to be showing signs of dysentery.
Hours of AM talk radio later, I reached the Black Hills of South Dakota with well over half a tank remaining, the trip computer showing 29.5 mpg, and a newfound appreciation for angry radio hosts. That's impressive—but a light tail wind and a slightly different return route boosted the final tally to an astounding 31.5 mpg over nearly 750 miles.
As it turns out, the Ram was such a fuel miser that I could have driven an extra 50 miles each way and still avoided the pumps. I debated channeling my inner Al Swearingen, who would approve of the Ram's bravado, by trying my luck at one of Deadwood's many casinos about 50 miles from where the monument's sculptor, Gutzon Borglum, dedicated the final 14 years of his life to commemorating four presidents in stone.
Had I set out in a Ford F-150 with the 2.7-liter EcoBoost V6, I would have topped out at an EPA-rated 26 mpg. Given that the EcoBoost V6 is well into its turbo boost to maintain 75 mph, exceeding the EPA figure seems unlikely. At the very least, it is safe to say that this particular Ram configuration bests anything in its class by at least 5 mpg on the highway in real world use.
A pickup that can cruise all day at Western highway speeds while achieving small crossover fuel economy is an amazing achievement—but the real story is the simple ingenuity that went into making the miserly HFE a reality. That's my kind of global patriotism.