By now, you're probably aware of the 2014 Ram ProMaster full-size vans taking the place of the outgoing Mercedes-Benz-based Sprinter. Although externally similar to its predecessor, it's on an all-new platform, to the U.S. market at least, shared with its European cousin, the Fiat Ducato. Unlike the Sprinter, the ProMaster is front drive, an unusual configuration for the U.S. market, but a relatively common one in Europe for big vans.
And when we say big, we're not exaggerating. Stretching 250 inches bumper to bumper, our long-wheelbase, extended-length 3500 model is 2 feet longer than a Chevrolet Suburban, and just 9 inches shorter than a Ram 3500 Crew Cab long-bed dualie. Width (excluding mirrors) is a Humvee-like 82.7 inches, and a staggering 90.5 inches with the mirrors out. Yet for the ProMaster's imposing presence, its weight is surprisingly feathery. At just 5060 pounds, our ProMaster in its longest, tallest configuration was lighter than a fully equipped Grand Cherokee, and several hundred pounds lighter than your typical well-equipped full-size pickup.
There's no getting around its size, but, aside from parallel parking and finding a parking space and the somewhat awkward front cabin ergonomics, the ProMaster isn't at all difficult to drive. The transverse powertrain packs all the engine, transmission, and driveline components under the front seat area. Consequently, it's a climb up to the driver's seat, where you're greeted by a steeply angled steering wheel and bolt-upright seat. On the road, you're eye-to-eye with UPS drivers, and almost the same height as big-rig drivers.
One Tall European
The ProMaster's European ancestry is immediately apparent from the driver's seat, with only the audio head unit and touchscreen display and climate controls being recognizably American. Even the ProMaster's turn signal shows its European roots with a five-flash pass feature rather than the usual three. Without A-pillar mounted grab handles, hoisting yourself into the driver's seat requires grabbing the steering wheel on the driver's side, and the right-front cupholder cavity to get a sure footing for the passenger.
Sitting on top of the front wheels gives a unique sensory experience compared with typical trucks and cars. Unlike many vehicles where you feel like you're going 20 mph slower than the indicated speed, it's the opposite effect in the ProMaster, where 60 mph feels like you're screaming down the road at 80 mph. The short gearing in the six-speed automatic and quick throttle calibration on the 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 make the ProMaster feel surprisingly quick. And although no slouch, especially by commercial van standards, with a 0-60 time of 9 seconds flat, its accelerative prowess is about average among newer cars and trucks.
As you would expect for an 8.5-foot-tall vehicle, strong crosswinds can upset straight-ahead tracking on the highway, and compared with the similarly sized but slightly heavier Sprinter, we'd have to give the nod to the Mercedes for being a little more relaxed at higher speeds.
Focus on Function
As for styling, there's not much to be said other than the fact it's supremely functional. As we noted in our earlier review of a 2500-series ProMaster, the design and placement of the front bumper and headlights were made specifically for quick and affordable repairs. The twin swing-out rear doors open 260 degrees to allow for rear loading of the cavernous 530-cubic-foot cargo bay by a forklift.
Typical for this class of vehicle, the ProMaster's rear cargo area becomes a metallic echo-chamber when empty, amplifying road impacts and pebbles bouncing off the underbelly. Unburdened with a payload, the ProMaster's leaf-sprung rear axle also makes for a predictably bouncy ride.
If you have a need for a capacious, covered vehicle that allows six-footers to stand upright and an interior that allows for almost unlimited customization options, and aren't prepared to shell out upward of $50,000 for a Sprinter, the ProMaster presents a compelling alternative. But Mercedes' design leadership in this segment shows in the Sprinter's more comfortable driving position, and more planted feeling at speed. The big game-changer in the segment could be the 2015 Ford Transit, which will bring the most-modern design to the segment, as well as a choice of three powertrains to the ProMaster's and Sprinter's two.
For a purely utilitarian implement designed for work, the ProMaster fills the bill. But it feels like what it is: an adaptation of a design optimized for another market and a model that has been on sale overseas since 2006. That gives this generation of ProMaster a model run of perhaps three years until it gets a comprehensive redesign. We hope an improved driving position and ergonomics are high on that list of improvements. Aside from that, the ProMaster is well-suited to its target audience.
|2014 Ram Promaster 3500|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$40,450|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, FWD, 2-pass, 2-door van|
|ENGINE||3.6L/280-hp/260-lb-ft DOHC 24-valve V-6|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||5060 lb (58/42%)|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||250.0 x 82.7 x 101.0 in|
|0-60 MPH||9 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||17.1 sec @ 79.9 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||144 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.61 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||32.1 sec @ 0.47 g (avg)|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||N/A|
|ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY||N/A|