The 2014 Ram ProMaster is the first commercial van available from Chrysler since the Sprinter was returned to the Mercedes-Benz fold. Like its predecessor, the Ram ProMaster isn’t a domestic effort: it’s actually a re-branded Fiat model imported from Europe in order to cash in on the current perceived demand for front-wheel drive, city-friendly haulers. Reasonably fuel efficient, the Ram ProMaster has a tough nut to crack in a market dominated by commercial vans built by General Motors and Ford.
It’s hard to judge a commercial vehicle based on its looks, since fleet buyers and small businesses are typically focused on utility and reliability rather than styling, so we’re going to completely ignore what happens when a European product is put through a domestic filter to achieve visual harmony with other members of its new brand. Where it counts, the 2014 Ram ProMaster delivers, with near-90-degree sidewalls making it easy to stand up inside its cargo area and an available 260-degree rear clamshell door package for easy loading. The ProMaster can be had with a roof height of as much as 101-inches, comes with up to 17 tie rings rated to withstand 1,000 lbs each, and it offers 118-inch, 136-inch, and 159-inch wheelbases.
The 2014 Ram ProMaster provides a choice between a Detroit-designed V-6 and a Fiat-sourced four-cylinder turbodiesel. The former takes the shape of Chrysler’s Pentastar motor, which displaces 3.6-liters and offers ProMaster buyers 280 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque. The latter is a 3.0-liter turbocharged diesel that delivers 174 horses and 295 lb-ft of torque at a very low 1,400 rpm. Ram is promising ‘best-in-class’ fuel efficiency – most likely from the diesel unit – but official figures have yet to be released.
Each engine comes with its own unique transmission. The gas-powered V-6 is matched with a traditional six-speed automatic, while the turbodiesel mill swaps in an automated six-speed manual. The gross combined weight rating (GCWR) for the ProMaster 1500 checks in at 11,500 lbs for the Pentastar motor, with the diesel adding on another 1,000 lbs. Total payload is 5,145 lbs, and the van can tow 5,100 lbs in total. The ProMaster is front-wheel drive, a layout that is starting to gain traction amongst urban commercial vans but which is still trying to make significant in-roads amongst rear-wheel and all-wheel drive dominated fleets in North America.
The name of the game for the 2014 Ram ProMaster is storage, storage, storage, and the interior is not only capable of accepting a forklift load through each of its cargo openings but it is also ‘upfitter friendly’ according to Chrysler, which means that those who want to graft on a larger rear box can do so with ease. The ProMaster is available with the Uconnect multimedia and communications system, which is one of the best on this side of the Atlantic, and two rows of passenger seating can be added to the van, bringing its potential human load total to seven (two rows of two seats, plus a front bench). Swivel seats in the first two positions are also available. For those who want to do make the ProMaster a more hospitable place for those riding out back, Chrysler claims that aftermarket solutions are already out there.
Chrysler has a very hard road ahead of it with the 2014 Ram ProMaster. The company is touting 30 years of experience with the ProMaster platform in Europe, where the vehicle is sold as the Fiat Ducato, but Ford and GM have the commercial and fleet market sewn up in the United States, which means that each point of market share gained by the new van is going to be hard fought. The diesel engine is an intriguing option for some commercial buyers, but it remains to be seen if those holding the purse strings at the large companies that buy these vehicles by the hundreds are willing to take a gamble on an all-new model instead of going with the tried, tested, and true. There is also the question of relationships: with Chrysler having offered at least three commercial platforms over the course of the past 15 years – two of which are no longer supported by the company – a significant amount of trust will have to be built between Ram and buyers looking for a long-term solution and good return on investment in maintenance expertise.
Photos by Megan Green