- Stellar packaging for cargo
- Excellent visibility
- Easy step-in, low load height
- Wide range of bodystyles
- Front-wheel drive not as towing oriented
- Single-clutch automated manual is a little crude
- An acquired taste to look at
The hugely versatile 2017 Ram ProMaster has just about everything a commercial operator could want, all wrapped up in a maneuverable package.
Odds are that you've seen a Ram ProMaster outfitted in United States Postal Service livery recently—that's because your mail carrier was probably issued one. But the 2017 Ram ProMaster does more than just deliver mail. It's a highly maneuverable, useful commercial van that offers a unique flavor against its rivals.
The ProMaster replaces the Sprinter vans that Ram dealers sold when their parent company was affiliated with the Germans. Today, Ram is part of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, which means that the ProMaster is actually a version of the Fiat Ducato sold globally. The ProMaster is offered here in a host of configurations—1500, 2500, and 3500 levels of duty, as well as passenger, cargo, chassis cab, and cutaway configurations.
Changes for 2017 are modest: A radio is standard on all models now (but can be deleted for credit) and a wider axle is included on chassis cab and cutaway models.
Overall, we score the Ram ProMaster a 5.5 out of 10—but its size means it doesn't have to report fuel economy figures to the EPA and it hasn't been crash tested. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
2017 Ram ProMaster styling and performance
Especially from the outside, the ProMaster delivers a thoroughly utilitarian aesthetic inside and out. It's essentially a box on wheels once you get beyond its big Ram badge and hexagonal crosshair grille up front. Last year, Ram added a chrome grille to some variations, which cuts down on the plasticky, generic look. Then again, that look is largely intentional since the ProMaster's front fascia is designed to replaced cheaply when damaged. There are some great design elements that are fully functional and not cosmetic, like steps built into the front bumper corners to help drivers reach the windshield with a squeegee.
Inside, the look is simple and work-oriented, although there are some design elements that match the look and feel of other Rams like the tidy, urban-oriented ProMaster City. The two may share a name, but they are distinctly different.
What might be controversial for some fleet buyers is that the ProMaster is front-wheel drive instead of rear-wheel like traditional vans. But the advantage to this layout is both a tight turning radius and the fact that the bulk of the van's mechanical components are ahead of the cargo area, which makes for a low floor and unmatched customizability for the cutaway variant.
The Ram ProMaster offers a choice between two engines: a 3.6-liter V-6 gasoline engine, or a turbodiesel inline-4.
The V-6 is essentially the same engine installed in a wide range of Jeep, Dodge, and Chrysler passenger vehicles—not to mention the Ram 1500 pickups—and in this commercial van application, it makes 280 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque delivered through a 6-speed automatic transmission. The diesel makes a mere 174 hp, but its peak torque of 295 lb-ft at a very low 1,400 rpm makes it an ideal choice for serious hauling and towing. The diesel is paired to an unusual single-clutch 6-speed automated manual that pauses in a deliberate but relatively smooth fashion for when it changes gears. It'll take some getting used to, but the diesel's superior fuel economy may make it worthwhile in the long run.
Hauling is what ultimately matters with big vans and the ProMaster City can handle a gross combined weight rating (GCWR) of 11,500 pounds with the V-6, while the turbodiesel features a GCWR of up to 12,500 pounds. Although fuel economy figures aren't listed for the ProMaster because of its weight ratings and vehicle classification, expect up to the low-20 mpg range with a moderate load and a lot of highway driving. But Ram has tuned these engines for ultra long service intervals to help lower operating costs.
Those in the front seats are kept surprisingly comfortable and they have a commanding view out the expansive windshield. The driver and passenger seats are perched high, overlooking a short, steeply sloped hood, and the steering wheel is considerably more horizontal and bus-like than compared to passenger vehicles (and some other vans). Although it is impossible to forget that you’re in a huge, cargo-oriented vehicle, the ProMaster handles with relative ease compared to larger vans of the past.
Behind the front seats is what matters most, and here you'll find a configurable cargo box to suit varying needs: Cargo, humans, or nothing at all (cutaway vans are ready to be upfitted with a larger box by an aftermarket firm). In the cargo model, you'll see a dozen tie downs with 1,000-pound ratings and half as many side wall loops with a 550-pound rating to help secure hefty freight. Two different roof heights (91 or 101 inches) are available, the latter of which provides excellent stand-up space for a mobile office. An available three-position rear cargo door opens up 260 degrees, while the door opening is 49-inches-by-70-inches in high-roof models—extremely convenient, no matter what the use.
While commercial vehicles like the Ram ProMaster aren't crash-tested by either the IIHS or the NHTSA, these vans' unibody design should allow more safety than in traditional body-on-frame vans. Furthermore, Ram has bolstered the features roster for the security-minded with many of the same items you’ll find in light-duty passenger vehicles—like front and side impact airbags and stability control. Trailer sway control is included, but a rearview mirror and rear parking sensors are optional.
As with most commercial vehicles, the ProMaster is offered in a very wide range of configurations, including standard-duty 1500 models and heavy-duty 2500 and 3500 versions—some of which head straight to upfitters who then configure these vans for specialized needs. For 2016, Ram added 20-amp auxiliary switches to the instrument panel, as well as a second battery prep package, which enable upfitters to easily adapt a variety of conversions.
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 car-like vans like the Ford Transit Connect or Ram ProMaster City—but it’s not without a good set of convenience items. Available items include a mobile hotspot and a 5.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system that can be further upgraded with navigation. And for weary drivers in wintry climes, let's hope that fleet operators select the available heated seats.