By Andrew Mikonis
Filling the full-size gap in Ram Commercial's van offerings comes the ProMaster, based on the third-generation Fiat Ducato van Ram has offered in Europe for several decades.
The most significant feature of this new van for North America is that it offers a front-wheel-drive-only configuration. Along with unitized construction, Ram said the configuration results in reduced weight, which increases payload. An all-wheel or four-wheel-drive model will not be offered, so it won't require the extra room needed for a driveshaft and rear-drive axle; this allows for a wider load floor with a lower step-in height, which Ram said will reduce driver fatigue when loading and unloading cargo.
However, as low as the cargo load-in height might be, to climb into the front seats you have to lift yourself a good distance. The driver has an elevated, upright perch that does offer amazing visibility - a little like a bus driver. A large, stationary front quarter window allows for an unobstructed view of the monstrous side mirrors, leaving a tall and narrow side window.
The 2014 Ram ProMaster 2500 Cargo Van we drove, with a high roof, offers some ergonomic hits and misses. Because of the upright seating position, legroom is a bit constrained. The bottom of the instrument panel extends quite low on both sides, leaving little room above the brake pedal. We found the brakes difficult to modulate because of the unfamiliar "stomping" angle. We also suspect some may have trouble with how close the narrow brake pedal and throttle are to one another. We also would have liked a tilting steering wheel to help us fit better behind it. Manual seats offered a lot of adjustments, including a spring-loaded height feature at the front and rear for tilt forward and tilt back. Backrest angle and lumbar support are actuated by knobs and offer a significant range of adjustments.
Storage compartments are plentiful in the cab. Our tester had a shelf above the sun visors and another tier above the occupants that extends to the back of the cab area. Massive door pockets and an open bin above the glovebox offer plenty of places to store small items. We liked the look of the rugged plastic door panels and the feel of the soft-touch elbow pad.
Outside door handles are vertical so they can be opened with either hand. Hinges look hearty, especially the cast external units for the rear doors that allow the doors to open all the way along the sides of the van. Exposed fasteners on front and rear door hinges should simplify repair should they be damaged. In another nod to serviceability, a three-piece front fascia can be replaced in sections as needed.
While most drivers are familiar with front-wheel-drive handling characteristics, it likely will feel different in the ProMaster. As you might expect, the rear end tends to pitch in hard cornering when the van is empty. Once we got used to the feel, we smoothed our technique to match the vehicle. We did find the ride a bit bouncy and noisy, but we're guessing that just goes along with a leaf-spring beam axle and cavernous cargo area. We also had to get used to the quick tip-in the throttle offered, which seems a little twitchier when empty. But we did find a remedy for that.
Our payload of 1,200 pounds in the cargo area during the test drive made the vehicle feel much more planted and controlled. It was apparent that engineering calibrations, from the suspension to powertrain, were optimized for loaded conditions - appropriately so. We only noticed a weight issue with the 280-horsepower, 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 engine when ascending a long grade. In normal city driving it provided perfectly adequate acceleration without a lot of noise. The six-speed automatic transmission downshifts quickly, even with just a light throttle input, to stay in the higher-revving powerband when hauling. There will be a turbodiesel option in the form of a small, Fiat-derived I-4 3.0-liter engine for those who need a stronger puller (offering 295 lb-ft of torque). Unfortunately, we did not get a chance to drive the new I-4 diesel or play with the manumatic transmission Ram Commercial will be offering because those models won't be produced until later in the van's production cycle.
Brake power assist is also biased to loaded conditions and is nicely modulated with a high, firm pedal. Perhaps the best advantage this new work van offers is its tight turning circle, well suited for its target audience of delivery drivers in urban areas. The base ProMaster has a turning diameter of 36 feet (that's basically the same as a midsize sedan).
We like that Ram engineers kept the interior controls and switches simple. The layout is simple and user-friendly. Climate controls consist of a classic three-knob setup. The system seemed to have no trouble keeping the front of the van cool on a 90-degree day. Our tester came with the optional Uconnect 5.0 and GPS navigation; Uconnect internet connectivity also is available.
The cargo area offers 56 inches of space between the wheel wells and a cargo volume of 530 cubic feet behind the front-row seat. Ram has been working with upfitters, including U.S.-based shelving makers, to have a range of accessories available for configuring the ProMaster for a variety of uses.
Fiat's 30 years of refining this product comes through in the ProMaster's many well-thought-out details. Wrapping it around a pair of strong powertrain choices will make it an appealing package many small and large business owners. It will be interesting to see if the traditional U.S. commercial customer will embrace this Euro-van-inspired model. We know Ford will be watching carefully as well.
For the full press release on the 2014 Ram ProMaster, click here.
For the complete specification sheet on the 2014 Ram ProMaster, click here.
Model: 2014 Ram ProMaster 2500 Cargo Van High Roof
Wheelbase: 159 inches
Engine: 3.6-liter 60-degree DOHC V-6
Horsepower: 280 @ 6,400 rpm
Torque: 258 pounds-feet @ 4,175 rpm
Transmission: 62TE six-speed automatic
Wheels: 16-inch steel
Tires: 225/75R16C all season
Brakes: Four-wheel disc
Axle ratio: 3.86:1
Front suspension: McPherson with stabilizer bar
Rear suspension: Leaf spring with solid beam axle
Base price: $33,870 (including destination)
As tested: $37,175
Options: Uconnect 5.0, GPS navigation, wood floor, power folding/heated mirrors