Signaling in no uncertain terms Ram's transition from a model within the Dodge family to a legitimate, stand-alone brand is the new 2014 Ram ProMaster van. The new commercial van, based on the Fiat Ducato, thus becomes the first bespoke product for the brand besides the well-known trucks.
Although the ProMaster certainly shares the majority of its sheetmetal and specifications with its European cousin, some significant changes were made in accommodation to North American tastes and needs. The most significant of these was the addition of the 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 to the powertrain lineup, giving the van a gasoline engine -- in Europe, Fiat offers the Ducato exclusively with diesel engines. Fear not, one of those diesels is making the trans-Atlantic journey, a 174-hp, 3.0-liter four-cylinder VM Motori turbodiesel mated to a unique single-clutch automated manual transmission codenamed M40.
The most significant difference between the ProMaster and its competitors is its drivetrain configuration. Whereas the 2014 Ford Transit, Mercedes-Benz Sprinter and Nissan NV series are all rear-wheel-drive, the ProMaster is front-wheel-drive, an unusual configuration for a heavy-duty commercial vehicle, at least in North America. The layout does offer some advantages over rear-drive: cargo floor height, step-in height, and ceiling height are all lower than a comparable rear-wheel-drive model, with the added claimed benefits of reduced overall weight and maintenance costs.
Speaking of doing things differently, the aforementioned M40 single-clutch six-speed automated manual transmission shifts via an electro-hydraulic actuation system. The driver can select gears manually, but the system's default operation is automatic. The M40's short 4.56 axle ratio, combined with the 3.0-liter EcoDiesel four-cylinder's stout 295 lb-ft of torque at just 1400 rpm promise sprightly around-town performance.
The Pentastar, which in this application produces 280 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque, is mated to a conventional torque-converter six-speed automatic. In the ProMaster, that gearbox is Chrysler's familiar 62TE, appropriately beefed up for commercial duty. Service intervals on the Pentastar are up to 10,000 miles between oil changes and up to 18,500 miles on the diesel. Operators will be notified if more frequent maintenance is necessary via a vehicle service monitor alert in the gauge cluster.
With 90- and 101-inch roof-height options, as well as 118-, 136-, and 159-inch wheelbase options, the ProMaster promises cavernous cargo capacity. Ram did not release official total cargo volume figures for the various configurations, but did say that it tops out at 530 cubic feet. Ram is claiming "best-in-class" cargo volume, but the most cavernous Sprinter out-packs the Ducato by 17 cubic feet with a 547 cu. ft. rating. However, the top rating does come out higher than the top rating for the new Ford Transit, which maxes out with a 496 cubic foot capacity.
A total of 13 chassis configurations will be initially offered on the ProMaster, ranging from a 1500-series short-wheelbase, low-roof cargo van up to a 3500-series chassis-cab cutaway with the 159-inch wheelbase and extended frame. For cutaway and cab-chassis customers, the ProMaster features an upfitter interface block with 15 outputs, accessing 40 feature operations. This harness acts as a plug-and-play interface for upfitters.
The Ducato's functional, rugged styling carries over with just minor changes, the most obvious of which is the adoption of the traditional Ram cross-hair grille. To facilitate maximum accessibility to the cargo area, the ProMaster features unique double-hinged rear side-opening doors, which swing open nearly 260 degrees, lying almost flush with the side of the vehicle. This allows for easier accessibility for forklifts loading a cargo pallet, according to Ram. The cargo hold features 17 tie-down rings with a 1000-lb rating to securely fasten cargo.
The Fiat Ducato has been in production for more than three generations and 30 years in Europe, but for the ProMaster's North American debut, Ram made sure it was packed with practical and up-to-date tech features. In addition to the obligatory Bluetooth hands-free calling, the ProMaster offers available hands-free text reply and a five-inch touchscreen display with navigation. The ProMaster also is available with integrated wireless connectivity, making the van a rolling hotspot.
Additional safety features include several functions integrated into the braking and stability-control systems, including emergency brake assist, hydraulic boost compensation (which will run the ABS pump to maintain system pressure), trailer-sway control, hill-start assist, drift compensation, rollover mitigation, and automatic brake lamp actuation. To keep drivers from getting too crazy out on the road, passive speed limit alarms can be set for 55, 60, 65 and 70 mph.
In its quest to make Ram into a full-fledged commercial vehicle brand, Ram may have a few more van models up its sleeves, all of them possibly carrying the ProMaster badge. One possibility is a smaller model based on the Fiat Doblo, similar in size and mission to the Ford Transit Connect, that could be named ProMaster City, Another is a larger, rear-drive model based on the Iveco Daily (ProMaster Max? ProMaster HD?). Both will probably have adaptations for the U.S. market, like greater availability of gasoline engines, with a model the size of the Daily potentially getting an engine as large as the Hemi V-8, provided it will fit under the Daily's short European hood, which is designed to fit a nothing bigger than a turbodiesel four-cylinder.
Also conspicuously absent for the initial ProMaster press materials was any mention of passenger versions and no mention of the crew cab chassis-cab version offered in Europe and in Mexico. Either or both could be coming later.
All that's pure speculation on our part. For now, we can confirm that the North American-spec ProMaster will be built at Chrysler's plant in Saltillo, Mexico, where the Ram HD pickup models are currently produced.