Well, that’s a loaded question. If you have a business that delivers large parcels, or you are a contractor, you’ve got a couple of new options. The 2014 Ram Promaster debuted at the 2014 Los Angeles Auto Show, and the 2015 Ford Transit did, as well. Unfortunately, the Ford has been delayed until the 2015 model year. This leaves Ford out of the game for a new offering until late next year. If you want a van from the Triassic Period, go to your local Ford dealer and buy an Econoline van. Mercedes-Benz is selling the Sprinter, as well as Freightliner (badge engineering!), and the Chevy Express/GMC Savanna are the dinosaur offerings. The 2014 Ram Promaster is what I want to talk about, though.
Basically, the 2014 Ram Promaster is a rebadged Fiat Ducato. The Fiat version has been around since 1981, and over 4.5 million copies have been sold everywhere BUT North America. Go figure. This gave Fiat time to refine and hone in their technique for the Ducato. When Fiat bought the Chrysler Corporation in 2011, all of the Dodge Ram pickups became a separate brand – Ram. Yes, I AM expecting somebody to make some sort of bad battering ram joke (pun intended!)! Anyways, the 2014 Ram Promaster/Fiat Ducato is Americanized. But, what sets it apart from its competitors is it’s front-wheel-drive architecture. Yep, it’s front-wheel-drive.
Ram says that FWD carries many pros. First of all, it offers best-in-class load height (21 inches), more interior space, and better fuel economy.
There are two very good engines available: The now-familiar 3.6-liter Pentastar V6, making 280 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque, and a brand-new 3.0-liter EcoDiesel diesel engine with four cylinders. The diesel makes 174 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque. The Pentastar V6 is mated to an Aisin six-speed automatic, while the diesel is mated to an automated six-speed manual. Basically, there is an electro-hydraulic system that controls the clutch and gear actuation. Ram says that the diesel/automated manual system fuel economy should range well into the mid-20s. That is a good thing for those who need to haul, but don’t want to see $200 bills at the gas station.
The engineers of the Ram Promaster have made it pretty dang hard to damage. It has standard electronic stability control (an industry 1st), you can get Chrysler’s optional ParkView backup camera and Parksense radar/sonar system to make it easier to navigate in parking lots, alleys, and other tight spaces. Should the Promaster get it’s bumpers damaged, the bumpers are three pieces. That allows for the damaged piece to be replaced, not the complete bumper itself. That gust of air you just felt were all of the body shop technicians who work at Ram dealers giving a collective sigh. Six airbags (three of which are curtain airbags) are standard.
According to Ram, the ride is smooth for a commercial van. Most vans, however, have too much vertical travel with the suspension. It’s normal if you feel it while driving the Ram Promaster. The suspension is designed that way so that you can put huge loads into the cargo bay and still have a comfortable ride. The Pentastar engine is a smooth powerplant, as evidenced by the other hard-working vehicles in the Chrysler/Dodge/Jeep/Ram lineup (think Dodge Grand Caravan, Dodge Durango, Chrysler 300), and it probably won’t be loud with a large load. Say you and a friend are moving 1,500 pounds of file boxes, and you are driving the Ram Promaster. That’s easy enough for any cargo van. The Pentastar engine is a powerful engine that should easily take care of most getting-up-to-speed needs.
There should be no unwelcome issues with the front-wheel-drive architecture, because it is lower to the ground, and front-wheel-drive gives a smoother ride. Ram/Fiat designed the Promaster to have a tight turning radius, so that you can easily snake into a parking spot or do a u-turn (a legal one!).
Some people will probably complain about the classic Italian driving position. This means that the steering wheel itself is very flat and far away from the driver. Since Italians tend to be shorter with longer arms, the pedals are close to the driver. I hope you are built like an Italian if you buy a Ram Promaster! This will be made worse for you because the steering wheel doesn’t telescope, but instead moves a few degrees total. Are you looking forward to having a steering wheel in your chest? Chrysler’s Uconnect system is mounted in the center console (don’t ask why – I don’t know!), so it is not only small (5 inches), but far away. It will NOT work for a driver who needs navigation to deliver materials.
The 2014 Ram Promaster should start coming to dealers near you soon, as the Saltillo, Mexico plant has started production, and Ram Promasters are now on their way to dealers. It will be available in 14 different combinations at launch, including a chassis cab, a high-roof version, a long-wheelbase version, and other combinations. I can’t wait to report more on the 2014 Ram Promaster. It starts at a measly $29,630, so it is a bit cheaper than a base Mercedes-Benz Sprinter cargo van, and $400 more expensive than a Nissan NV 1500 S cargo van.
Winnebago debuted a Promaster-based motorhome at the SEMA show, and people showed a LOT of interest in it. Not only is it lower than a Ford E-Series-based motorhome, but it is cheaper, as well.
For those of you looking into buying a new cargo van, the 2014 Ram Promaster is a good, safe bet. It has a short hood, and that will aid many owners who park a lot in seeing where the front of their van is. If you don’t know what I am talking about, go rent/lease/buy a Nissan NV and try to park it. Then, try it in a Ram Promaster. You’ll be surrprised at how easy it will be in the Ram Promaster!
You can learn more about the 2014 Ram Promaster at http://www.ramtrucks.com/en/2014/ram_promaster/.