It’s hard to imagine a situation in which one might find a cargo van to be alluring. A useful tool, yes, but there’s not much about vans that inspires one to wax poetic about the joy of driving. Considering that so many of them are driven by people who spend whole days behind the wheel, that’s a little ironic.
Irony aside, full-size vans are workhorses first, and Ram is about to shake up the game with the all-new ProMaster. This new big van might even inject a little bit of excitement into the market, thanks to its exotic Italian heritage and unusual (for a commercial vehicle) powertrain layout.
Hey, wake up. Even if you’re not a contractor, the ProMaster’s kind of cool. It’s certainly the strangest-looking van to hit the streets since the Toyota Previa, or maybe even the old Dustbuster-like minivans from GM. And like most minivans, the ProMaster is front-wheel drive. That’s a huge departure from the full-size van norm, and certainly not the sort of un-truckish development one would expect from Ram’s newly formed Ram Commercial department. It’s a gamble, but will it work?
The ProMaster certainly has the numbers on its side. According to Ram, the new van boasts the tallest interior, the widest body and the highest payload in its class. How wide is it? The ProMaster’s cargo doors were designed to allow a full-size palled to fit between the wheel wells: Just drive a forklift right up to it and fill it up. This van will swallow a half-ton of cargo without even breaking a sweat, and the lack of a rear axle translates to a very low 21-inch step-in height at the rear.
Versatility is becoming a key factor in full-size vans these days. The days when two body lengths were plenty are no more; the Mercedes Sprinter has several configurations, as will the upcoming Ford Transit. The ProMaster’s ready for that. A choice of three wheelbase lengths, four body lengths and two roof heights are available, providing vans from a relatively compact 118-inch wheelbase to a massive 159-inch wheelbase and extended body. A cutaway frame and chassis-cab also are available, so expect to see plenty of ProMasters doing RV and ambulance duty. On the vans, the walls are nearly vertical, to maximize interior room, and Ram offers a choice of steel, rubber or laminate flooring inside. A total of 17 cargo tie-downs are provided throughout the interior.
To an extent, the ProMaster’s function dictates its form. The rear is a giant box, while the front is dramatically tapered, with a strange, duckbilled face. It’s stylish, in a way, but it also has a practical purpose. The high-mounted headlights are less susceptible to fender-benders, and the three-piece fascia is designed for inexpensive replacement after minor fender-benders. One look at the thousands of delivery vans prowling New York City or Chicago will make it clear why Ram kept repairs in mind while designing this truck.
As for the driver, the ProMaster provides comfortable chairs for two with a tall, commanding seating position. The strangely placed A-pillar does not limit visibility, but a cab-forward seating position emphasizes the Promaster’s vertical height. It’s easy to pilot, and the chairs provide enough comfort that being stuck in one all day wouldn’t be too torturous. A backup camera and backup alarm are standard. Chrysler’s UConnect enables hands-free calling through Bluetooth and an available navigation system.
The ProMaster is thinking far outside the typical full-size van box, no pun intended, so Ram has done away with the thirsty V-8 that traditionally powers a vehicle like this. Instead, buyers can choose between the 3.6 liter DOHC Pentastar V-6, which features 280 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque, and a 3.0 liter EcoDiesel four-cylinder. As with many commercial vehicles, the weapon of choice is going to be the diesel, which puts down 174 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque, and has no trouble keeping up with traffic. Fleet owners will be happy to see that it’s got an 18,500-mile oil change interval. The front-wheel drive offers sure-footed handling around town, and Ram says it improves fuel economy as well. A six-speed automatic transmission is standard with the V-6, while the diesel gets a six-speed automated manual.
Maximum payload is 5,145 pounds, and the ProMaster can tow up to 5,100 pounds. Gross combined weight rating is 11,500 pounds for the V-6 and 12,500 for the diesel.
The ProMaster, like all commercial vans, operates on an entirely different concept of “performance.” Forget cornering speeds; what matters with this rig is that it’s got a wickedly tight turning circle and it’s easy to maneuver it down a narrow alley. The ProMaster uses unibody construction, making it lighter than the competition, which improves steering response. Electronic stability control is standard.
Will this big, odd-looking van change the commercial-van game? Ram’s claims of a front-wheel drive advantage remain to be seen, but in the meantime, this is a very capable and easy-to-drive vehicle. Pricing for the Promaster cargo van starts at $28,630, though final pricing will vary widely thanks to the huge variety of available models.