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2014 Ram Promaster Review
The RAM truck line, formerly Dodge RAM trucks, features the 1500 series models, the 2500 and 3500 models, and RAM Chassis CAB. New for 2012 and 2013 is the RAM C/V..
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The Ram ProMaster is the result of letting Ram truck engineers loose on the Fiat Ducato, for years one of Europe’s most successful commercial vans. They left the outside alone and beefed up the suspension for American roads and loads; then they added creature comforts and “Americanized” the interior.
In short, while the ProMaster looks just like a Ducato, the two are very different, and it’s not just because ProMaster uses a Chrysler gasoline engine and six-speed automatic transmission. (The diesel powetrain is straight from Fiat, and is also used by Mitsubishi Fuso trucks.) ProMaster has a far higher capacity, a stronger suspension and body, and a comfortable, familiar cab. It took three years of engineering to convert Ram to American needs.
The first European-style van in America was the Sprinter, a Freightliner/Mercedes joint project sold by Dodge for a time. With fuel mileage far superior to domestic full-size vans, Sprinter found many buyers, but its high price and some complaints about reliability have brought it a mere 8% market share. The tall, narrow vans were also not suitable for all jobs.
Compared with Sprinters of similar size and capacity, ProMaster is far less costly — around $5,000 less, depending on the size and capacity. ProMasters also have a lower load floor for easier loading, and the front wheel drive both keeps weight down and increases snow/slush traction. The odd-looking front end was allegedly designed to minimize costs in minor accidents, while their lighter weight should save on brakes. Superior front visibility and an optional rear camera should also help to avoid accidents. ProMaster appears to win the cost-effectiveness battle over Sprinter hands down, from initial purchase through to long-term total cost of ownership.
In addition, ProMaster offers far more capacity than the traditional American vans: up to 530 cubic feet of cargo space, compared to 319 cubic feet in the Ford E350 Extended Wheelbase even with the Ford’s front passenger seat removed. With the high roof, ProMaster is a true walk-in van.
The best-in-class 36-foot turning radius is handy for maneuvering, while a nicely tuned suspension helped correspondent Bill Cawthon manage twisty roads in a test drive along the foot-hills of the Santa Monica Mountains. There was no problem keeping the big van in the lane; it was easy to drive around in tight spaces and to park in a standard shopping center lot, big plusses for a delivery vehicle.
The Pentastar V6 was more than sufficient for in-city stop-and-go driving and for merging with freeway traffic. The diesel, which we did not test, should provide good responsiveness; though acceleration won’t be as strong, its high torque will help get heavy loads moving quickly.
The ProMaster cabin is a nice upgrade to typical commercial vans, not plush but comfortable, with good air conditioning. The controls are within easy reach, and the lack of a drivetrain “hump” makes access to the cargo area much easier.
I tried two different ProMasters: first, a quick spin in a basic low-roof 1500, then an extended wheelbase, high-roof 2500 for a trip from Thousand Oaks to nearby Westlake Hills to pick up a load. Both vans handled well, even on dirt roads. Since any unladen van is light in the rear, I expected them to be skittish on unpaved surfaces, but they were sure-footed, with no bouncing and no feeling the rear end was going to break loose at any minute.
The van handled well on both well-maintained city streets and country roads that might not have seen serious upkeep in decades. Even after picking up a load in Westlake Hills, the ProMaster had no trouble with climbing narrow mountain roads.
There are already slide-in vocational fittings to suit a variety of purposes, from package shelves to workbenches and cabinetry for locksmiths, plumbers and other jobs. ProMaster has 13 different configurations, with three wheelbases, low and high roofs, and cargo van, cutaway, and chassis cab versions.
The Ram ProMaster has a maximum 5,145 pound payload capacity, with a 5,100 pound maximum towing capacity. The gross combined weight rating for the 3.6-liter V6 is 11,500 pounds and 12,500 pounds for the 3.0-liter diesel. These capacities are far higher than Fiat Ducato, whose maximum payload is roughly 3,472 pounds.
The frame rails are fully boxed and welded to ensure stiffness, stability, and strength; the eight upper and lower cross members create a structural “ladder-frame” for integrity, torsional stiffness, and durability. The cargo van has a reinforced sub-frame extending the length of the van, while the chassis cab’s unibody structure stops at the back of the cab; the ladder-bar frame extends to the rear. The frames use high-strength steel.
Up to 17 tie-down rings with a 1,000-lb. rating fold away to maintain a flat floor; optional partitions protect against load shifts. Floor finishes include a resin-finished wooden load floor, painted steel, or rubber-coated steel. Side walls can be painted or composite finished (lower and/or upper parts); a cargo partition with window is available to separate the cab from the cargo. The roof can carry 400 pounds, and has three roof-rail mounts on each side with tapping plates to assist mounting roof racks.
ProMaster has a step-in height of 21 inches and a non-slip rear access step. The 62”-wide rear clamshell doors open 180° or 260°. A sliding right-side door is standard, with an optional sliding left-side door; pallets can be loaded from the side or rear. The slide mechanisms are not hidden, as with Chrysler minivans, but seem tough.
A passive speed limiter gives an audible reminder when a set speed is surpassed; it can be set to 55, 60, 65, or 70 mph.
Ram ProMaster’s rear suspension has a tubular beam axle configuration with a Hotchkiss leaf-spring system. Position-dependent dampers work with weight distribution and help the van to keep its low 21-inch step-in height without loss of capacity. The front suspension uses double A-arms and McPherson struts; 62-mm twin-tube shocks are used at each of the four corners. Electronic lining wear sensors tell the driver when a brake pad replacement is needed.
The standard is the 3.6-liter Pentastar V6, generating 280 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. There is also a Fiat diesel, with 174-horsepower from four cylinder cylinders, generating 295 lb.-ft. of torque at 1,400 rpm. A front-end accessory drive accommodates an optional 220-amp alternator (180-amp is standard). Urea diesel exhaust fluid is integrated with heated lines to protect the system from freezing, and the five-gallon tank gives nearly 4,000 miles of service. The diesel is coupled to a single-clutch automatically shifted manual transmission for greater efficiency.
An oil-level sensor helps operators to get up to 18,500 miles between oil changes, increasing on-the-road time.