What took so long?

The U.S. market adores pickup trucks because so many segments of the economy need them, from carpenters and contractors to farmers and landscapers. Many customers purchase pickups to pull boats, mobile homes, horse trailers and snowmobiles, so torque is key.

Sure, diesels dominate the market for heavy-duty pickups, but not everyone needs so much brute strength. That’s why the arrival of the new 3.0L turbodiesel V-6 in Chrysler’s Ram pickup and Jeep Grand Cherokee is reason to celebrate.

Truck buyers routinely pick V-8s because a naturally aspirated V-6 doesn’t always get the job done when the bed is loaded.

The light-duty diesel V-6 is the way to go for two main reasons: They are more fuel-efficient than gasoline V-8s and they trump them in torque, too, by a wide margin. The Ram diesel can tow 7,400 lbs. (3,357 kg). And diesels are most efficient compared with gasoline engines when pulling heavy loads.

Let’s consider two state-of-the-art gasoline 6-cyl. engines with forced induction, Audi’s 3.0L supercharged V-6 and BMW’s N55 3.0L turbo inline-6.

The German engines make more horsepower, but the Ram’s new turbodiesel with the same displacement out-torques the Bimmer by 40% and the Audi by 29%.

Take the comparison one step further and the diesel delivers 11% more torque than Ford’s excellent and reasonably new 5.0L V-8 in the F-150.

The other engine in the Ram pickup, Chrysler’s 5.7L Hemi V-8, also stumbles in comparison to this groundbreaking diesel, which beats the Hemi by 8% on the torque front.

Engineered in Italy by Fiat-owned VM Motori, the 3.0L turbodiesel serves up the red meat truck lovers can’t resist. It has a nice grumble, without being overly loud or annoying. Finally, pickup buyers can have the fuel-efficient torque they deserve.

WardsAuto editors say this engine “fits the Ram perfectly” and “is one of the quietest diesels I’ve driven.” Even in a truck, the 3.0L is barely louder than diesels of the same displacement in expensive German luxury cars.

Fuel economy during our testing approached 24 mpg (9.8 L/100 km) – not bad for a truck weighing close to 6,000 lbs. (2,722 kg).

On the technology front, Chrysler gets by with conventional solenoid injectors, rather than more expensive, faster-acting piezo electronic sprayers, and the urea tank for selective catalytic reduction needs to be refilled every 10,000 miles (16,093 km). Chrysler expects the Ram diesel take-rate to be about 15%.

Diesel detractors talk about the price premium for all this technology, but this engine can be had in Ram Tradesman trim for just over $30,000, a bargain.

The cost of diesel fuel is another moving target. Let’s run some numbers.

The average retail price of diesel in October was $3.89 per gallon, compared with $3.35 for regular unleaded gasoline. The owner of a V-8 pickup getting 17 mpg (13.8 L/100 km) will pay almost $0.20 per mile driven. Meanwhile, the diesel V-6 truck getting 24 mpg will cost $0.16 per mile. Don’t be surprised if real-world fuel economy exceeds 24 mpg, making the diesel even more appealing.

So, what took so long for a light-duty diesel to arrive in a U.S. pickup?

Automakers were afraid Americans would resist diesels because they remember the dark days when low-grade oil-burners rattled like maracas and threw off massive clouds of black smoke, assuming they could start at all.

At least two generations of drivers don’t even know that chapter of automotive history, so congratulations to Chrysler for capitalizing on European diesel expertise in bringing this technology to the U.S.

Take note, General Motors and Ford. Time for you both to catch up.

tmurphy@wardsauto.com