Who could have predicted that vans, probably the most un-sexy and utilitarian vehicles made today, could be whipping up such interest? Yet the van market, from compact to full-size, is chock full of brand-new entries, with more to come. One of the most intriguing is the 2014 Ram ProMaster. Not only for its distinctly European heritage and styling, but for its unique packaging and configuration.
Whether you want to interpret "unique" as ugly or functional is up to you. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and certainly, the ProMaster does not allure with sensual curves or fine detailing. But the straight-lined functionality of the ProMaster will appeal to its target market: commercial fleets and buyers looking for maximum functionality at the lowest cost.
Details that at first look odd or awkward have a functional benefit. Take the ProMaster's large, unpainted front bumper as an example. On mass-market passenger cars and crossovers, we usually give demerits for unpainted plastic because it gives cars a downscale appearance. But we give it a thumbs-up in the context of the ProMaster, and additional kudos for the bumper's three-piece design that allows for individual repair of the corner pieces, the parts most likely to be mangled in parking-lot or alleyway jousting. The headlights, which are mounted high on the body, are likewise deliberately placed there to keep them from being a casualty of roughhouse driving.
The ProMaster's front-drive layout, which is a unique configuration in the U.S. market (but not in Europe, where large front-drive commercial vans are fairly common) also adds to the utility factor by lowering the load floor relative to its rear-drive rivals. This results in a massive advantage in terms of cargo volume over the more traditional Chevrolet Express and GMC Savana, and a larger capacity than all but the largest Sprinter. It also out-packs the Nissan NV full-size high-roof by a substantial margin and it appears it will have higher maximum capacity than the 2014 Ford Transit as well.
The model that intrigues us the most, the EcoDiesel I-4 model equipped with the M40 automated manual transmission, will not be out until the first quarter of 2014, so the initial batch of vans going to dealers will all be equipped with Chrysler's corporate 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 mated to a 62TE six-speed automatic transmission. We were slightly skeptical at first whether that powertrain combination would be up to lugging around the ProMaster's heft, but found the Pentastar offered ample power and torque for the loads it was given. It also showed a surprising level of refinement.
The feeling of ample power was confirmed by its surprisingly fleet performance at the track. Unloaded, the ProMaster returned a legitimately quick (for a van) 8.2-second 0-60 time and 16.5-second quarter-mile at 82.5 mph. Plenty brisk for getting the knishes to the Bar Mitzvah on time, and faster than the 2012 Nissan NV2500 V-8 by .2 second.
Without any fuel economy figures to go by for the ProMaster (it's exempt from EPA ratings) we'd have to guess at fuel economy for the V-6 model, and you can bet we're going to track that figure closely for our Truck of the Year testing, but we're thinking an average of 17 or 18 mpg isn't out of the question.
But we think one of the ProMaster's most compelling attributes is value. Comparably-equipped, it should be quite a bit more affordable than a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter, with the standard gas engine giving in an additional cost advantage over the diesel-only Sprinter. Pricing out a comparable 2014 Sprinter with the newly-standard 2.1-liter I-4 diesel, and absolutely zero options got us to $42,535, including destination. Our gas-powered Promaster, which included navigation, the Uconnect 5-inch touchscreen headunit, rear parking sensors and rearview camera and power folding and heated mirrors, totaled $37,175.
Without a close apples-to-apples comparison and scrutiny of the options sheet, it's hard to say how much of a cost advantage the ProMaster will have, but considering the last passenger-van version of the Sprinter we tested came to nearly $60,000, we think it will fare well against its closest competitor in the bang-for-the-buck department. Stay tuned for our Truck of the Year testing, and later when we'll conduct a full test of the diesel model.
|2014 Ram 2500 Promaster 159 WB High Roof|
|BASE PRICE|| $33,870 |
|PRICE AS TESTED|| $37,175 |
|VEHICLE LAYOUT|| Front-engine, FWD, 2-pass, 2-door van|
|ENGINE ||3.6L/280-hp/260-lb-ft DOHC 24-valve V-6 |
|TRANSMISSION|| 6-speed automatic|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)|| 5079 lb (62/38%)|
|WHEELBASE ||159.0 in|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT|| 236.0 x 82.7 x 101.0 in|
|0-60 MPH ||8.2 sec|
|QUARTER MILE|| 16.5 sec @ 82.5 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH ||145 ft|
|EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON|| N/A|