With their white liveries and limited retail appeal, commercial cargo vans like the 2014 Ram Promaster are almost invisible to the majority of vehicle buyers, blending into the urban landscape or worksite like so many high-capacity chameleons. The commercial utility market is an important one, however, for each of the three major American automakers, which makes the Promaster an important product launch for Chrysler that it hopes can steer its fleets sales back on course.
One Of A Kind
The 2014 Ram Promaster is poised to make a big mark amongst commercial van buyers for a number of reasons. It's the first genuinely competitive cargo model that Chrysler has been able to field in a number of years, ever since its partnership with Mercedes-Benz eliminated the re-badged Sprinter from its line-up and left it with a de-contented Grand Caravan minivan as its only dedicated hauler. The fact that the Promaster is in essence a redesigned Fiat Ducato continues Chrysler's trend of farming out van design to those with more experience and success in the segment.
Even more intriguing, however, is the Ram Promaster's front-wheel drive layout. Although smaller cargo vans like the Ford Transit Connect and the previously-mentioned Ram C/V feature a front-wheel drive design, full-size models like the Ford Transit, the Ford E-Series, and the Chevrolet Express come in rear-wheel drive editions (with the option of all-wheel drive from GM).
What are the advantages of transposing a full-size van onto a front-wheel drive chassis? As with passenger cars, the name of the game is space. Without a driveshaft snaking underneath the Promaster's floor to connect back with the rear axle, it's possible to free up additional interior room as well as significantly lower the vehicle's step-in height. It also offers genuine stand-up room inside the tall-roof editions of the vehicle (optional on 1500 series and standard on 2500 and 3500 series vans), which nicely compliments the Promaster's 260-degree rear door openings and large sliding cargo door on the passenger side.
Ease of cargo loading is important in a commercial vehicle, and perhaps more so in the 2014 Ram Promaster given that the van is so much bigger inside than many of its competitors. Once again, the low load floor is to thank, and 15,000 litres of storage space await those who select the high roof version of the vehicle. There are also three wheelbases that can be ordered, as well as chassis cab and cutaway editions of the vehicle.
Eye of the Beholder
The 2014 Ram Promaster certainly isn't easy on the eyes, but the commercial van space isn't a beauty contest and Ram has made sure that every bit of ugly serves an important purpose. The Promaster's flat front bumper keeps it manoeuvrable in tight spaces, and it is also divided into three replaceable panels to help keep the vehicle's cosmetics easy to maintain despite the abuse that the van will undoubtedly suffer in an urban environment. The Ram's headlights are mounted up high to place them above the fray, and small steps are built into the bumper that make it simple to get a leg up and take care of business under the van's hood. Inside, the vehicle's simple passenger compartment is relatively comfortable, although devoid of the creature comforts one experiences outside of the commercial realm.
I was able to drive a 2500 edition of the 2014 Ram Promaster that was outfitted with the vehicle's standard 3.6-liter Pentastar V6. With 280 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque on tap (managed by a six-speed automatic transmission), the empty van I drove was actually quite quick, surging forward with ease and delivering its generous engine output in a far smoother manner than I expected it to. The seating position in the vehicle I drove took a bit of getting used to, as one is perched almost directly over the van's front wheels, and the preproduction model's steering was sloppier than I would have liked. That being said, the Promaster wasn't designed to slalom, and dynamically its suspension system didn’t feature any of the bounciness that can be associated with unladen three-quarter ton vans.
Ram will also be offering a diesel option with the Promaster, a 3.0-liter four-cylinder unit good for 174 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque. A single-clutch automated manual transmission has been tapped to be available with this unit, a detail that could impact the van's creaminess but which will most likely improve its fuel efficiency.
A Worthwhile Effort
The commercial van space is in flux, with old-school models from Ford, Nissan, and General Motors competing against Euro-sourced designs that seem to be slowly taking over the market. The 2014 Ram Promaster is the first of this new wave of large cargo vans - aside from the still available, low-volume Sprinter - to arrive in Canada fully formed and ready to rumble. With so much space available, and with the promise of diesel efficiency just around the corner, look for the Promaster to make a lot of noise amongst commercial van buyers.