- Packaging that makes the most of the space, height-wise
- Easy step-in, low load height
- Good forward visibility
- Modern connectivity and interface
- Front-wheel-drive layout not as well-suited for towing
- Single-clutch automated manual in diesel not for everyone
- So utilitarian that it’s soulless?
With the 2015 Ram ProMaster lineup, the big commercial van is back—thanks to the subbing-in of a world-proven Fiat design.
The 2015 Ram ProMaster is a commercial-duty, full-size van. It directly competes with Ford's also-new full-size van, the Transit, as well as the Nissan NV vans. The ProMaster serves as a replacement both for the Daimler-based Sprinter vans and the previous, hulking body-on-frame Ram vans that had gone mostly unchanged for decades.
The ProMaster follows an established design; it's closely related to the Fiat Ducato, of which Fiat has sold more than 4.7 million units worldwide, but assembled for the U.S. in Saltillo, Mexico. What might be controversial for some fleet buyers is that it’s front-wheel drive; but Ram insists that the layout has its advantages, such as that having the bulk of its mechanical components ahead of the cargo area should make ‘up-fitting’ for various commercial needs easier in many cases.
There’s a utilitarian aesthetic to the design of the ProMaster, especially on the outside. It’s essentially a box on wheels, although there’s a sense of identity in front, with the hexagonal crosshair grille and Ram logo. The front bumper is a three-piece design that can easily be replaced in part, if there are minor fender-benders, and the bumper corners include steps for keeping the windshield clean.
You have a choice between a V-6 gasoline engine or a four-cylinder turbo-diesel in the 2015 Ram ProMaster. The 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6, which the Chrysler Group now uses sedans, utility vehicles, and pickups—all in essentially the same form—makes 280 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque and is offered only with a six-speed automatic transmission. It can handle a gross combined weight rating (GCWR) of 11,500 pounds, while the 3.0-liter EcoDiesel four has a GCWR of up to 12,500 pounds. That diesel, by the way, makes 174 hp but a superior-for-hauling 295 lb-ft at just 1,400 rpm; it’s also paired to a unique six-speed single-clutch automated manual gearbox that has a deliberate yet smooth pause between gears (it’s smoother than the comparable setup in the little Smart Fortwo, we might add). This model should be more fuel-efficient than either of its predecessors—and have significantly lower ownership costs; and its oil-change interval is a wallet-preserving 18,500 miles.
The driver and passenger seat of the 2015 ProMaster are perched high, overlooking the short, steeply sloped hood, and the steering wheel is considerably more horizontal than compared to passenger vehicles (and some other vans). Although it’s impossible to forget that you’re in a huge, cargo-oriented vehicle, the ProMaster handles with relative ease compared to the larger vans of the past. The company says that its turning radius is best in class, as well. Behind the front seats, it’s a reconfigurable cargo box to suit your needs; and back in the cargo hold, there are 12 tie-downs with 1,000-pound ratings plus five side-wall tie downs with a 550-pound rating—which should make it easier to secure even the biggest, heaviest pieces of freight. The ProMaster can also tow up to 5,100 pounds.
Two different roof heights (91 or 101 inches) plus what Ram terms the most vertically oriented side walls among cargo vans—altogether add to that high level of configurability. An available three-position rear cargo door can open to 260 degrees, while the door opening is an extremely useful and convenient 49 inches by 70 inches in high-roof models.
The uni-body design of the Ram ProMaster vans should allow more safety than in traditional body-on-frame American vans; and Ram has bolstered the roster of features for the security-minded with many of the same features you’ll find in light-duty passenger vehicles. Electronic stability control is standard across the line of vehicles, and the ProMaster includes trailer sway control, as well as an available ParkView rear backup camera and ParkSense rear park assist.
In all, there are 14 configurations of the ProMaster for 2015, including standard-duty 1500 models and heavy-duty 2500 and 3500 versions. The feature set on the ProMaster is definitely less comfort- or luxury-oriented than what you’d find for a minivan—or even smaller, more carlike vans like the Ford Transit Connect or Ram ProMaster City—but it’s not without a good set of convenience items. A Bluetooth hands-free interface is included, while you can opt for a five-inch touch-screen system with navigation. A Uconnect Web service is also available, bringing a continuous data connection.