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Ram ProMaster delivers the goods (test drive)

by Bill Cawthon on

Ram-ProMaster-1-Web

Allpar recently spent a day getting to know the new Ram ProMaster, the Fiat Ducato-based commercial van reconfigured for the American market and the first true business van to wear the Ram badge.

The ProMaster is the second Eurovan to hit American shores. The Mercedes-Benz Sprinter was the first, and while it isn’t exactly a barn-burner with about 8.0% of the full-size van market, the game is changing as Ford gets set to replace its venerable E-Series van with the European Transit next year. Considering the E-series and its passenger counterpart, the Club Wagon, have been the best-selling vans since 1980 and currently account for nearly half the sales in the entire segment, this is a major move. So the timing could be just right for the ProMaster.

Commercial vans are boxes. Their purpose is maximum payload room with enough left over for necessities like an engine and driver. In this, the ProMaster offers far more capacity than the traditional American vans. The ProMaster offers up to 530 cubic feet of cargo space compared to 319 cubic feet in the E350 Extended Wheelbase with the front passenger seat removed. The ProMaster with the high roof is a true walk-in van that allows the operator to stand in the cargo area, reducing fatigue.

One of the key features of the ProMaster is the best-in-class, 36-foot turning radius. This advantage became apparent as I drove the ProMaster 2500 on the twisty roads in the foothills of the Santa Monica Mountains near Thousand Oaks, California. There was no problem keeping the big van in the lane. The ProMaster also was easy to maneuver and park in a standard shopping center lot, another plus for a van that will likely see a lot of such use as a parcel delivery or tradesman vehicle.

Ram-ProMaster-2-WebThe Pentastar V6 provided plenty of power for in-city stop-and-go driving and merging with freeway traffic. No one is going to win any quarter-mile challenges in a ProMaster, but that’s not the point of a commercial van.

One feature that is offered on the ProMaster is the Parkview rearview camera which is almost a must-have option. I can tell you from personal experience that even experienced van operators will appreciate the outstanding view of all the stuff that is normally hidden from the driver’s view unless one invests a lot in extra mirrors. And even then, the view is not as good as the one provided by the camera.

Driver accommodations in commercial vans tend to be fairly Spartan; the ProMaster cabin is a nice upgrade. It’s not plush but the seating is comfortable and the A/C does a pretty good job of keeping at least the front of the van comfortable. The controls are easily within reach and the lack of a drivetrain hump makes access to the cargo area much easier. I drove vans for few years back in the day and the ProMaster has it all over those Fords and Chevys.

My one complaint was the information display in the instrument cluster: without a manual or pre-flight orientation, it was impossible to figure out how to change it to provide the desired data, in this case the miles-per-gallon. I did master increasing and decreasing the display brightness, but that was it.

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 and the front-wheel-drive ProMasters don’t even have the weight of a differential I were expecting them to be skittish on unpaved surfaces. Both vans impressed me with their sure-footed handling: no bouncing; no feeling the rear end was going to break loose at any minute.

I had the luxury of a solo ride in the 2500, which was great. The van handled well on both well-maintained city streets and country roads that might not have seen serious upkeep since Ronald Reagan was the governor. Even after picking up my “load” in Westlake Hills, the ProMaster had no trouble with climbing narrow mountain roads.

ProMaster operating costs should be lower than a conventional American van and 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.

When the ProMaster was first announced, there was a lot of speculation about how the controversial front end might be changed to make it more in tune with American tastes. However, I was fairly certain that any changes would be made in the grille and other soft fittings. The look is something to which we will have to become accustomed. Fortunately, with the latest iteration of the Sprinter and the upcoming Transit, we will have plenty of opportunity to learn to like the ProMaster.

Bill Cawthon grew up in the auto industry in the 1950s. His Dad worked for Chrysler and Bill spent a number of Saturdays down on the plant floor at Dodge Main in Hamtramck. Bill is also the U.S. market correspondent for just-auto.com, a British auto industry publication, and a member of the Texas Auto Writers Association, which has named the Jeep Grand Cherokee the “SUV of Texas” several times and named the Ram 1500 as the “Truck of Texas” two years running.

Bill has owned five Plymouths (including the only 1962 “Texan”), one Dodge and one Chrysler and is still trying to figure out how to justify a Wrangler. He also has owned at least one of every 1:87 scale model of a Chrysler product. You can reach him directly at (206) 888-7324 or by using the form.


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