Ram ProMaster 1500 — A new way to haul cargo

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

When the question arose as to what we were
driving we were ready with a rather devious answer — it's bright red and has two seats. We knew visions of sports cars were instantly dancing in their heads.

The mood changed rather abruptly when it was time to admit that our bright red two-seat vehicle was a 2014 Ram ProMaster cargo van. While the new-for-North America full-sized van based on a Fiat platform may be one of the worst date-night vehicles on the planet, we found it very proficient — carrying large amounts of cargo in a fuel-efficient manner.

The ungainly looking European-styl
e van should be a popular addition to the Ram truck fleet. Based on the Fiat Ducato, it has been a workhorse in Europe for decades and the latest iteration boasts some features not found until recently in competing vans in North America. It's Chrysler's first full-sized van since 2003, coming to our shores thanks to the merger of Fiat and Chrysler.

It has a front-wheel-drive layout and partial unibody construction giving it a low step-in height, huge interior volume and a surprisingly tight turning radius. We found the mid-sized-car-like 40.7-foot turning circle extremely helpful negotiating a crowded parking lot. Finding a suitable parking place was quite another matter however.

The ProMaster can carry up to 530 cubic feet of cargo. Our 136-inch wheelbase low roof test truck came with a cargo volume of 353 cubic feet and a payload of 3,910 pounds. It also carried a tow rating of 5,100 pounds.

The cavernous interior is a model for incredible functionality with nearly unlimited customization possibilities for plumbers, electricians, home improvement companies, and garden stores. Our empty test truck — configured for fun, perhaps — gave us a small measure of entertainment as an impromptu echo chamber during our test week. Obviously, we are easily entertained.

The ProMaster comes in three main configurations — 1500, 2500 and 3500 — with the 1500 available in a low or high roof option. The 2500 and 3500 come only with the high roof. Note that the high roof is just that — high. Head room is 6-feet-4, which means for the average person walking around in back will never be a head-bumping exercise.

The 1500 can be purchased with a 118-inch or 136-inch wheelbase. The 2500 has the choice of 136- and 159-inch wheelbases, while the 3500 comes with only the 159-inch. The 3500 can also be order with an extra-long body adding to its cargo-carrying potential. Payload ranges up to 4,417 pounds.

To make loading and unloading as easy as possible, the ProMaster features a standard sliding door on the passenger side with an optional sliding door on the driver’s side. The sliding door openings are based on roof height — 49 x 60 inches for the low roof model and 49 x 70 inches for high roof models. Two-position rear clamshell doors swing open up to 260-degrees, folding almost flat to the side of the van. All three door openings enable fork lift pallet loading and unloading.

In terms of performance, the ProMaster can more than adequately handle the highway commute when outfitted with Chrysler's award-winning 3.6-liter V-6 making 280 horsepower mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. Also available is a fuel-efficient and torque-rich 3.0-liter 4-cylinder diesel making 174 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque mated to an automated six-speed manual transmission. Mileage will vary depending on truck size. EPA ratings were not offered.

The cab-forward stance, huge windshield and tight turning radius made the ProMaster easy to maneuver in tight spaces. And we found to our surprise that the van is relatively agile on curving roads with a flat cornering stance. To make backing chores easier we strongly recommend purchasing the $230 backup camera.

Inside, the ProMaster offers no-nonsense functionality with large, clear gauges including a multifunction display between the speedometer and tachometer. Climate controls were blessedly easy to operate using the tried-and-true three-knob design. Cupholders are large and storage areas plentiful.

Standard features for a starting price of $29,440 including air conditioning, power windows and locks, keyless entry, a telescoping steering wheel (there is no tilt feature), a four-speaker sound system with USB jack, and hill start assist. Options include navigation, heated seats, upgraded audio, cruise control and steering-wheel mounted controls.

As you might surmise, prices vary considerably with the various configurations and range up to $47,085. Our 1500 van with 136-inch wheelbase and low roof carried a base price of $30,515 and with a few options a bottom line of $33,625. One selling point for small businesses might be Chrysler's five-year, 100,000-mile powertrain warranty.

Base price: $29,440; as driven, $33,625
Engine: 3.6-liter V-6
Horsepower: 280 @ 6,400 rpm
Torque: 258 foot-pounds @ 4,175 rpm
Drive: front wheel
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Seating: 2
Wheelbase: 136 inches
Length: 213.1 inches
Curb weight: 4,638 pounds
Turning circle: 40.7 feet
Cargo capacity: 353 cubic feet
Towing capacity: 5,100 pounds
Fuel capacity: 24 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: NA
0-60: 8.1 seconds (Car and Driver)
Also consider: Nissan NV 2500/3500, Mercedes-Benz Sprinter, Ford Transit

The Good
• Massive cargo space
• Low load height
• Peppy V-6 engine or fuel-efficient diesel

The Bad
• No tilt feature on steering wheel

The Ugly
• High seat makes entry taxing