By Tim Esterdahl
Moving from one house to another is a long and tiring process. But the right tools make it easier. Enter the 2014 Ram ProMaster 1500 Cargo Van. While normally reserved for commercial uses, the ProMaster also can wear a moving van hat. During a recent move its large storage capacity and loading ease surprised everyone, including our professional movers.
I moved my family from Colorado to Nebraska in May with the aid of a 2014 ProMaster 1500 Cargo High Roof ($34,820 as tested, $31,515 base price; both prices include destination) and fellow journalist Aaron Turpen. During the process, we used the van to its full potential. In our estimation, the van is a great offering from Ram with just a few issues to work on.
Naturally, the most important feature of a commercial van is cargo space. This area should be roomy, customizable and easy to enter/exit for both loading items and people. The ProMaster hits all these targets.
The folding doors make it easy to access the ProMaster's cargo area. These doors can be completely folded back to 260 degrees (there are built-in detents of 90 and 180 degrees), allowing full access to the cargo area. This makes it easy to load all manner of cargo items, including pallets of goods. There are ample cargo hooks for securing loads, and the high ceiling on our ProMaster (it comes in two lower-roof versions as well) meant tall items fit without issue.
Professional movers loaded the van for us. They were surprised we had the van and then surprised by the amount of cargo it could hold. They had no problems loading all the mattresses and nearly all the furniture from a three-bedroom home. Loading and securing the mattresses, ranging from full to king, was quick and easy. The sturdy and low-loading floor meant most items had to be lowered — instead of raised — to fit into the van. This low-loading floor is definitely one of the van's strengths.
Our test model had a 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. This powertrain (280 horsepower, 260 pounds-feet of torque) proved ample for handling the load. While it is disappointing that the ProMaster doesn't offer the new eight-speed ZF transmission or 3.0-liter EcoDiesel as an option (that one is offered on the Ram 1500 pickup truck), the standard powertrain handled the job. We have heard there are plans to add both options to the van at a later date.
For this road test, Turpen drove the van unloaded from Wyoming to Colorado. We then rode together with the van loaded to Nebraska. Turpen, an experienced commercial semi-truck driver, said he found the unloaded van somewhat difficult to handle. He noted driver fatigue was pretty great driving the van empty. With cargo in the hold, the van drove and rode well for a commercial vehicle of its size without feeling overburdened over some challenging terrain.
The trip to Nebraska consisted of high-speed highway driving with elevation gains of around 1,000 feet to Cheyenne, Wyo. Then the elevation dropped several thousand feet heading into our final destination. During the trip we tested the van's ability to maintain speed up an incline along with highway handling with wind gusts coming from passing vehicles like semi-trucks and its turning radius. The ProMaster excelled in all areas.
Fuel economy averaged around 18 to 19 mpg.
As one would expect, the ProMaster's cabin is pretty basic and utilitarian. It is built for commercial purposes and lacks any of the refinement found in other Ram products. That said, the cabin is set up well for a commercial driver. There are plenty of storage options within reach of the driver, plus the optional navigation ($395) and Uconnect 5.0 multimedia systems ($350) with Bluetooth capability were easy to use.
Our biggest complaint about the ProMaster is the seating. With its clipped front end, the van feels radically different than other vehicles since the engine and transmission are moved closer to the cab. This means the driver and passenger have higher seating positions. And even though our tester came with the optional lumbar adjustment for driver and passenger ($100), the ProMaster seats just don't adjust that well. On our test vehicle there was actually no height adjustment, which means taller drivers like Turpen (6 feet 3 inches) must drive the vehicle with the steering wheel hitting their knees. Also, in this seating position a structural pillar obscures the view through the rearview mirror. For shorter drivers and passengers like me (5 feet 7 inches), the seats were quite uncomfortable. I wanted to lower the seat to improve visibility and feel less like I was standing up behind the wheel. Much of the time I felt like I was leaning back on a severely tilted stool.
Overall, though, the ProMaster is nearly ideal for commercial users looking for a spacious cargo van that's easy to operate and load.
Cars.com photos by Tim Esterdahl