(Author's Note: As was pointed out to me on Facebook, the diesel engine is nowhere to be seen on the consumer site or the configurator. Yet, it appears in FCA's media materials. In an email sent this afternoon, Ram Trucks spokesman Nick Cappa said the option has been dropped for 2018. This review has been updated with this new information. -WM)
I’ll admit that I was a bit crazy requesting a 2018 Ram ProMaster van for review. Ever since it was introduced, I have been interested in this rebadged version of the Fiat Ducato van sold elsewhere. Unlike most vans that use a rear-wheel drive layout, the ProMaster uses a front-wheel drive one. I wanted to know if this works for a vehicle designed for work. But I also have an odd curiosity to cargo vans in general as I wondered what it would be like to drive one for a week as my daily driver. This is what I found out.
Function over form best describes the design brief for the Ram ProMaster. The overall profile reminds us of an oversized dustbuster with a steeply raked and short front end and tall sides. Awkward is the kindest word to use on the ProMaster’s front end with the grille placed very low, acres of gray plastic, headlights positioned near the windshield, and a large glass area. The rest of the ProMaster’s design fits in line with other cargo vans with clean sides, split-opening rear doors, and a set of optional wheels.
The ProMaster offers a wide variety of configurations. With three weight classes, three body styles, and various roof height and length options, you’ll be able to find a van that fit your needs. Our particular tester is one of the popular configurations; a 2500 with the 159-inch wheelbase and high roof option.
Getting inside the ProMaster isn’t tough thanks to wide opening front doors and steps to help you climb up. Once in, you’ll notice one of the key benefits to the ProMaster’s exterior. The large glass area not only makes the interior feel airy, it provides excellent outward visibility. This helps make maneuvering in tight spaces easier.
The design is very utilitarian with a plain look and controls within easy reach of the driver and passenger. There are some clever touches such as the integrated clipboard latch on the top of the dash to hold paperwork and numerous storage spaces. Many surfaces are covered in hard plastics which will hold up to the various work demands being put upon by owners.
One area that will be a major issue for drivers is the seating position. Instead of you sitting in front of the steering wheel, Ram has the wheel set up similar to a school bus or semi-truck where you sit over it. Not helping is the placement of the pedals where you step down instead of push forward. The end result is a driver being in a hunched over position. This could be somewhat alleviated if there was a tilt adjustment for the steering wheel. But Ram only offers a telescoping adjustment. The only way to get a sudo-tilt adjustment is to adjust the angle of the seat.
The seats themselves are perfect for a long workday with excellent support and firm cushioning. It needs to be noted that the ProMaster only offers the bare minimum when it comes to seat adjustments such as angle and position. If you want lumbar adjustments, you need to tick that box on the option list.
All ProMasters come with a 5.3-inch touchscreen with FCA’s UConnect infotainment system. Our test van came with the optional TomTom navigation system. The small screen makes it slightly difficult to look at quickly or use while on the move. We would skip the TomTom navigation system as the graphics are quite dated and it takes some time to process before providing directions. At least the base UConnect system has many of the qualities we like on the larger systems such as a simple user interface and snappy performance.
Step behind the cockpit to enter the massive cargo space. Our particular ProMaster configuration boasted 420 cubic feet of space and max payload of 4,020 pounds. One of the reasons I had requested the van was to get a number of items at my parent’s house to be donated. The van was up to the task by swallowing up everything including a dining room set. The low step-in height, rear-doors that open up 260-degrees, and numerous tie-down points to keep cargo in its place were appreciated.
There are two engines on offer for the ProMaster. We had the base 3.6L V6 producing 280 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. This is paired with a six-speed automatic.
There is an optional a 3.0L turbodiesel inline-four with a six-speed automated manual. (No more diesel for 2018 according to FCA). The V6 engine moves the van with no issue even with a large amount of cargo. As for the automatic, it delivers smooth shifts. However, the transmission showed some slowness to change gears. We’re assuming this is due to van only having 350 miles when we took delivery. For those who need a specific setup in the cargo area such as plumbers or painters, Ram offers various uplift packages that include such items as shelving, integrated tool boxes, and dividers.
The low mileage might also explain the fuel economy figure of 15.7 mpg in mostly city driving. No EPA numbers are available due to the van’s gross vehicle weight being above 8,500 pounds.
It is evident that Ram’s prime consideration for the suspension was tuned to deal with heavy loads and not comfort. With the van empty, the ride quality is quite harsh with many bumps making their way inside. Fill up the van and the ride begins to smooth out somewhat. Steering takes a lot of effort as it's very slow and requires a driver to make a number of rotations to do simple turns. There is a fair amount of road and wind noise coming inside the passenger compartment.
If I was to judge the ProMaster like I would with a normal passenger car or SUV, it would be towards the bottom. There is a long list of problems such as the odd driving position, the number of comfort features that are optional, slow steering, and harsh ride. But I need to look at the ProMaster in a different light since it isn’t built for people like me. It is built for people who need a vehicle that can handle holding a lot of cargo or tools, along with being on some sort of worksite for periods at a time. Then the ProMaster begins to show some bright spots. The massive cargo area with the low step-in and tie-down point make it great for deliveries or moving. Using a front-wheel drive setup doesn’t hurt the ProMaster’s capability in terms of payload, and will help the van when the weather becomes terrible like a snowstorm. Finally, the V6 engine is plenty powerful for any situation the ProMaster is in.
While I found the ProMaster to be a bit much to be used a daily driver for me, I can very much see the appeal for those in the commercial market. Just be sure to try the seating position as that will be the item that will influence your decision the most.
Disclaimer: Ram Trucks Provided the ProMaster 2500, Insurance, and One Tank of Gas
Make: Ram Trucks
Model: ProMaster Cargo
Trim: 2500 159" Wheelbase - High Roof
Engine: 3.6L DOHC 24-Valve V6
Driveline: Six-Speed Automatic, Front-wheel Drive
Horsepower @ RPM: 280 @ 6,400
Torque @ RPM: 260 @ 4,400
Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined - N/A
Curb Weight: 4.483 lbs
Location of Manufacture: N/A
Base Price: $35,095
As Tested Price: $43,460 (Includes $1,395 Destination Charge)
Sliding Driver-Side Door without Glass - $595.00
Trailer Tow Group - $585.00
UConnect 3 Navigation with 5-inch Display - $495.00
16-inch x 6.0-inch Aluminum Wheels - $445.00
Wood Composite Floor - $445.00
Premium Appearance Group - $395.00
Interior Convenience Group - $345.00
ParkSense Rear Park-Assist System - $295.00
Rear Hinged Doors with Deep Tinted Glass - $295.00
Speed Control - $295.00
Upper and Lower Side Wall Paneling Group - $295.00
LED Cargo Areas Light Bars - $285.00
225/75R16C BSW All-Season Tires - $250.00
Driver/Passenger 6-Way Adjustable Lumbar Seats - $245.00
Power Folding/Heated Mirrors - $245.00
Security Alarm - $245.00
DOT Certified Roadside Safety Kit - $195.00
Heated Driver Seat - $195.00
Leather-Wrapped Steering Wheel - $195.00
SiriusXM Sat Radio w/1-Year Subscription - $195.00
Rear Assist Handles - $150.00
Heated Passenger Seat - $145.00
Instrument Panel Bright Bezels - $95.00
12-Volt Rear Auxiliary Power Outlet - $45.00