And now for something completely different. At least different from what most people—including us—drive from day to day, except for plumbers, electricians and other tradesmen and such who need to take their office on the road, and assorted delivery services. This different drive is the 2014 Ram ProMaster. It’s a new breed of van—at least in the U.S., where the classic van has been from engine and rear drive, and what we’ve always known as a van van. That last time that Dodge one, it was called the B-Series van, and was discontinued in 2003.
The Ram ProMaster, however, is a European concept, with front-drive that allows a lower cargo floor, thanks to keeping the drivetrain all up at the front end. Competitors with the same concept include the Nissan NV Series, and the Ford Transit.
The Ram ProMaster, which replaces the Dodge Sprinter, is the result of the Fiat/Chrysler merger. It’s an adaptation of the Fiat Ducato, a commercial van with 30 years of development and more than 4.5 million sold in Europe and elsewhere. If you are accustomed to Fiats as small economy or sports cars, prepare to disabuse yourself of that notion. It’s big, even if in the rest of the world it has “Fiat” on its nose. Get over it.
Of course, it’s size that makes the ProMaster. Open the rear doors and it’s like looking inside a shipping container, big, square and empty. Our test vehicle was mid-size, with a 136-inch wheelbase—the ProMaster also comes in a 118-inch wheelbase and 159-inch wheelbase—and a 1500 standard-duty chassis, with 2500 and 3500 versions available for heavier payloads, not to mention chassis cab and chassis cab cutaway versions for converters. Overall, there are 13 basic configurations, almost as many as a pickup truck. Our test 2014 Ram ProMaster was also a “low roof” model, meaning it was only 90 inches tall—more than seven and a half feet—compared to the 101-inch tall high roof version.
The Ram ProMaster is designed as a work truck and to be easily upfitted with cargo handling features, shelving or whatever the particular application the truck will see. A sliding side door is standard on the passenger side, and rear doors open 260-degrees, folding almost flat to the side of the van.
Two engines are available for the U.S. market. One is the ubiquitous Pentastar 3.6-liter V-6. In the ProMaster it’s rated at 280 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque. A Fiat 3.0-liter inline-four turbodiesel is also offered, making a 174 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque. Transmission choices are a six-speed automatic, or a six-speed manual automatic.
No EPA fuel economy estimates are available because they don’t do that for heavy duty vehicles. But we did spend a week driving around in a 2014 Ram 1500 ProMaster Cargo van with as mentioned the 136-inch wheelbase and a low roof. With primarily highway and exurban driving in a hilly area with cold temperatures, we were able to record an impressive 19.1 mpg. On the other hand, this was for an empty non-upfitted vehicle, but that’s pretty darn good for a truck this size.
It is a work truck, however. Hard plastic abounds inside, certainly more durable when getting banged up, down and around. But the ProMaster came equipped with a lot of little things that make a work truck easier to use. There’s a tray, for example, that runs across the windshield header, part of the interior convenience group. Our test ProMaster also came with a clip on the dash for whatever you’d want to clip on the dash.
It’s a long step up into the front seats—the cabin floor is higher than the cargo area—but Ram elected to not put handgrips on the A-pillars to help pull yourself up. For dates, we’d recommend a step ladder.
The seats themselves aren’t particularly comfortable, flat and hard and industrial. The steering wheel/pedal relationship is odd, too. When the pedals were the right distance, the steering wheel was too far away, and with an almost flat layout of the wheel, reaching the front was a long reach.
The turning circle of the 136-inch wheelbase ProMaster we drove is 40.7 feet. The shorter ProMaster goes around in just 36.3 feet, while the long wheelbase model requires 46.8 feet for an about face. That compares to about 38 feet for the average automobile. It’s downright nimble for its size.
Adding to that, the flat front of the ProMaster and the high seating position means that the driver can see just a few feet in front of the vehicle. Rear view is more difficult of course, though the invention of the rear-view camera is a life saver, perhaps literally.
The rearview screen itself is on the small side. It and the audio controls all fit into the standard double-DIN hole in the dash. It’s legible, however, and anyone who knows how to use a TomTom navigation system will know how to work navigation system in the ProMaster. It’s a $395 option, however.
The Ram ProMaster does come standard with a radio, in fact an audio system with AM/FM/MP3 (though a CD player is a thing of the past) with four, count ‘em, four speakers. Our test ProMaster came with the optional SiriusXM satellite radio, a lifesaver in its own way, since we’re in a marginal terrestrial radio area and we haven’t ripped our CDs to thumb drives yet (and just when we were figuring out how to get our LP’s to CD’s).