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2014 Ram ProMaster: Not perfect, but the price is right

By Jil McIntosh

Mar. 3, 2014

If you think competition is tough in the consumer car market, you’ve never seen the commercial side of the business. Fleet sales can generate a lot of revenue, but automakers need vehicles that meet a wide variety of specialized needs, while keeping purchase and operating costs as low as possible.

Mercedes-Benz’s Sprinter essentially revolutionized the segment by introducing a tall, easy-to-drive European van, originally badged as a Dodge. Chrysler now returns to the fold with the Ram ProMaster, a version of the Fiat Ducato.

The ProMaster comes in 1500 (base price $31,495), 2500 ($35,495), and 3500 ($37,495) configurations, and depending on the rating, in three wheelbase and four body lengths, and with two roof heights. Mine was a 2500, which comes only with a high roof, and with a 136-inch wheelbase. That base $35,495 was optioned to $40,745 on mine, before freight and taxes.

Pros & Cons

  • + Payload capacity
  • + Value for money
  • + Turning circle
  • - Driving position
  • - Styling
  • - Interior squeaks/rattles
Read the full review
  • Walkaround

    Far better looking from the back, the ProMaster is all about function over form. It’s an awkwardly long step up to the driver’s seat, but Ram claims the lowest load floor and step-in for the cargo area. And while the nose isn’t the handsomest, I do like the steps in the front bumper, so you can reach up to clean snow off the windshield.

    The passenger-side sliding door is standard equipment, but a second one can be added to the driver’s side as well.

    The rear doors open to three positions, including folded against the sides, so the van can be backed right up to a loading dock. Unlike on the Sprinter, where you have to release the hinge to open the doors all the way, the ProMaster’s just swing open with one hand. But the Sprinter’s open doors butt up to magnets on the truck’s flanks, which hold them firmly in place. The ProMaster’s doors hang in space, where they put more pressure on the hinges, especially if a gust of wind starts pushing them around.

    I noticed more body flex than I have in competitors’ vehicles, too: the rear doors creaked and rattled when accelerating from a stop, and over bumps.

  • Interior

    It’s a work vehicle, of course, which means lots of hard-touch but easy-to-clean plastic, but the overall design looks good. As you’d expect, there’s a great deal of front storage, which can be increased depending on the options you check off. On mine, a $200 convenience group added a shelf above the windshield, a locking glove box, and a clipboard moulded into the upper dash.

    Air conditioning is standard, and you can work the climate control dials even when wearing heavy gloves, although it takes a finer touch to adjust the small handles on the vents.

    The seating position is very high, which could be a problem for some drivers. I was fine with it, but a six-foot passenger complained he was looking almost into the windshield frame. I had trouble checking the right-hand spotter mirror, much of which was below my line of sight.

    The company says the ProMaster has a “tilt wheel,” but it really only telescopes; having it move up and down would have helped me find an ideal driving position. The pedals have an odd position, too, and sitting up so straight to reach the wheel, I had to hold my toe up to keep from mashing the throttle.

  • Tech

    As you’d expect, the base ProMaster doesn’t include too much high-tech stuff: USB and auxiliary outlet, a second charge-only USB port, and four speakers. My tester was optioned with a Uconnect stereo, which added Bluetooth, voice command, and audio controls on the steering wheel, for $600. Also added was satellite radio, at a rather jaw-dropping $325.

    All ProMasters are pre-wired for a rearview camera, and mine was optioned with the unit itself, for an additional $325, along with separately-available rear parking sensors for $375.

  • Driving

    Two engines are available: the 3.6-litre Pentastar V6 gasoline engine in my tester, and an optional Fiat-sourced 3.0-litre four-cylinder diesel for an additional $6,000.

    The gas engine makes 280 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque, mated to a six-speed automatic transmission, and it’s smooth and strong, with good acceleration and quiet performance. In combined driving, most of it unloaded, I averaged 16.3 L/100 km.

    Unusually for the segment, the ProMaster is front-wheel drive. That might turn some people off, but comparing the Sprinter and Nissan NV models as close to my tester as possible, the ProMaster has the highest rated payload capacity.

    What really impressed was the turning circle: it’ll spin on a dime and give you a nickel back in change. That’s a definite advantage when you’re wheeling around something this big.

    That optional diesel engine produces 174 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque, and will undoubtedly return better fuel economy than the gas engine, but try before you buy. I haven’t driven a ProMaster with it, but I did briefly pilot a European-spec Ducato, and I found its six-speed automated-manual transmission shifted with neck-snapping harshness.

  • Value

    There are so many configurations, and so many corresponding prices, that I can really only compare the base stickers. The ProMaster 2500, which comes only with a high roof, starts at $35,495 for the 136-inch wheelbase (the 159-inch starts at $36,495) with the gasoline engine. It definitely felt like it lived up to its price, even with the options that mine had.

    Sprinter’s 2500 cargo van, which comes only with a diesel, starts at $42,400 with a high roof (you can also get the 2500 with a low roof). Meanwhile, Nissan’s NV 2500 undercuts the ProMaster, with a starting price of $34,988 for the high-roof version.

    8.0Very good
  • Conclusion

    I think the Sprinter is the best van in this segment right now, but it’s also the most expensive, and by a considerable margin. It’s also not necessarily the easiest one to buy and service, given the limited number of dealers currently carrying it. The NV is a solid choice too, but it also has a smaller distribution network.

    The ProMaster has a couple of issues, but it’s well-priced, has a large dealer network, and it gets the job done, making it a definite contender in this hard-fought fold.

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