By Don Fuller, Contributing Editor
In the big- van segment the 2016 Ram ProMaster goes against the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter, Nissan NV and Ford Transit. The ProMaster, in 1500, 2500 and 3500 series, is derived from the successful European Fiat Ducato and Americanized with a Pentastar V6 engine, 6-speed transmission and numerous specific and customization features. A 4-cylinder turbodiesel is optional. Unique in the segment, and perhaps its best feature, is the ProMaster’s front-wheel-drive layout, which gives the lowest load floor and step-in height and highest ceiling in the class, thus resulting in more, and more accessible, interior room for hauling cargo or as a mobile workspace. The ProMaster’s unit-body construction, combined with the 3.0-liter diesel, helps it claim several best-in-class accolades, including fuel economy, cargo capacity, turning radius and payload.
The only reason you’re shopping this segment is if you earn your living with a big van, and the ProMaster offers unique, useful attributes: front-drive, lowest floor, lowest step-in height, tallest ceiling, cavernous interior, easily configurable in about a zillion ways. If the ProMaster fills your bill, check it out.
There is, as yet, no passenger version of the Ram ProMaster – it’s strictly for the kind of work that often requires gloves and tie-downs. Somewhat unproven in the United States, it has a 5-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty on the diesel.
Changes to the Ram ProMaster for 2016 are minimal but worthwhile: The long-wheelbase, high-roof extended version has a new window availability and, based upon customer feedback, it can now handle increased electrical power to more easily adapt a variety of conversions.
The concept of “driving experience” needs recalibration for big commercial vans. Ride quality needs to be controlled and stable, particularly when loaded. Handling refers to steering ease and maneuverability in...
... tight spots and stability on the highway. The goal is not driving fun but ease and confidence. And here the Ram ProMaster does just fine. The big windshield and side windows help with the visibility that’s important in dealing with traffic and parking, and its surprisingly snug turning circle of only 36 feet – tighter than a lot of midsize sedans – is helpful in crowded spots. Ram’s 3.6-liter standard Pentastar V6 moves the 2016 ProMaster with surprising response, and the front-drive layout also contributes to good crosswind stability. Some found the steering feel to be less than wonderful, but maybe they’ve been spending too much time in high-performance sports sedans. We think the big ProMaster’s driving experience is entirely acceptable.
While we're used to rear-wheel-drive full-size vans, the Ram ProMaster's unit-body cab and front-drive layout give it several advantages. There's that tight turning circle and a flat cabin floor that's the lowest in its class. Additionally, the Ram weighs less and has better traction in snow.
The goal of a big commercial van being to haul stuff, having the lowest floor and step-in height, the highest ceiling and most-vertical side walls are significant advantages. Whether you’ll be carrying cargo or using it as a mobile machine shop, the ProMaster’s generous interior makes any job easier.
A big commercial van is for work boots and old gloves, but the 2016 Ram ProMaster still delivers on comfort and convenience. An available suspension-enhanced driver’s seat provides long-haul comfort and available swiveling seats ease access to the rear. There are three wheelbase lengths, two choices of ceiling height, four choices of body length, up to 17 tie-downs. Add in what’s available from the near-limitless upfitter industry, with racks, shelves and workbenches, and the ProMaster can be turned into just about anything for any purpose. The low load floor and high ceiling might be justification enough to choose the ProMaster.
The counterculture of the 1960s would have loved the ProMaster’s high-funk exterior but, functionally, it all works. There are three models, 1500, 2500 and 3500, in what can be thought of as duty ratings; available wheelbase lengths are 118, 136 and 159 inches; there’s a choice of a low or high roof; the 159-inch wheelbase is available with an extended body; and there are Chassis Cab Cutaway versions. It’s also available with a single cargo door on the passenger side or an additional sliding door on the driver’s side; in all cases, the doors will accept a standard-size pallet.
The 2016 Ram ProMaster van, like all big commercial vans, is essentially a blank slate. Standard equipment includes Brembo brakes, a telescoping steering wheel, remote keyless entry, power windows and a 4-speaker radio with USB and auxiliary inputs. Safety-wise, there's electronic traction and stability control, Trailer Sway Control, six airbags and Hill Start Assist to prevent rolling backward on steep inclines. There's a 220-amp alternator, auxiliary oil coolers for the engine and transmission, and air conditioning that can be delete-optioned. As with other commercial vans, most of the rest is up to the owner’s choices and the extensive upfitter industry.
Options for the 2016 ProMaster include swiveling front seats, heated seats, a pneumatic-suspension driver's seat and 3-across seating with vinyl upholstery for carrying the whole crew. Other options are Uconnect touch-screen navigation, Bluetooth, a rearview camera and backup sensors, cruise control, an overhead shelf and a driver-side sliding door. Available in-vehicle Internet access via Uconnect Web can help the business side. Typical for the industry, many of these vans end up being fitted with all manner of accessories from the upfitter market, and that can usually be arranged right at the dealership and included in the entire deal.
Standard in the 2016 ProMaster is the 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 we've liked in other Chrysler products. In the ProMaster it delivers 280 horsepower, 260 lb-ft of torque and commendable performance and power. The available 3.0-liter 4-cylinder turbocharged EcoDiesel makes 174 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque at only 1,400 rpm. It promises low-end power and, according to Ram, class-leading fuel economy. Both engines are matched with a 6-speed automatic transmission; the EcoDiesel is also available with an exclusive 6-speed automated manual transmission that allows the driver to choose gears, or can be left on its own and driven like an automatic. If it were our money we’d go with the standard 3.6-liter V6; it’s smooth and powerful and will cost less than the diesel.
3.0-liter turbocharged diesel inline-4
174 horsepower @ 3,600 rpm
295 lb-ft of torque @ 1,400 rpm
EPA estimated fuel economy: NA
280-horsepower @ 6,400 rpm
260 lb-ft of torque @ 4,175 rpm
EPA estimated fuel economy: NA
The standard low-roof, short-wheelbase 2016 Ram ProMaster 1500 has a Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) of about $29,000; the 136-inch wheelbase adds roughly $1,000 and the tall roof adds another $1,000 onto that. The ProMaster 2500 starts at about $32,000, with the longer version adding $1,500. The window model is about $34,500. The maximum-duty 3500 starts around $36,000, and roughly $37,000 for the extra-length version. The open-bed Chassis Cab and Cutaway models start at about $28,500 and $28,000, respectively. That's competitive with the Nissan NV and new Ford Transit van, and considerably less than the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter, which begins around $37,000. Check the Kelley Blue Book Fair Purchase Price to see what others in your area are paying for a 2016 Ram ProMaster. Work vans generally don't retain high residual values, and seeing as the ProMaster is still new, we’ll have to give it some time to establish its resale value.