By on October 1, 2013

2014 RAM ProMaster Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

I have driven more cars than I can count this year but strangely enough, none of them excited me as much as the Fiat Ducato we had in July. Why? Well, my snazzy new retaining wall that arrived pallet-by-pallet in the Ducato certainly helped, but the real reason is: the Ducato serves as the basis for the 2014 RAM ProMaster. Yes, I know I have an odd place in my heart for commercial cargo haulers, but hear me out. The ProMaster quite simply the biggest thing to happen in the commercial world in my lifetime. The only thing that could have surpassed the intrigue of a front-wheel-drive cargo hauler would be a front-wheel-drive BMW M5. I know Europeans have had these things for a while, but let’s revel in the American novelty as we click past the jump.

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First things first. The ProMaster isn’t a Ducato with a RAM stuck on the front. Instead, Fiat and Chrysler decided to do their most interesting joint venture project thus far: refresh/re-design the Ducato with the North American market in mind. Why bother? Because major changes needed to be made to meet US legislation so the team took the opportunity to tweak just about everything. If you’re a Ducato fan, keep reading because I suspect that many of the American market changes will trickle back to the EU over time.

Exterior

With cargo haulers, it’s important that form follow function. The “box-on-wheels” is eminently practical. Because of this not much has changed externally from the Euro version and shoppers still have three body choices: a cargo van with or without windows, a chassis cab or a cutaway. Up front we still have the utilitarian dark grey bumper covers in a three-piece arrangement. The logic is that if you’re in a minor scuff-up, you can replace just the portion of the bumper you need to instead of the whole thing. Since they are all the same color regardless of the color of the van, parts costs are kept low and you can afford to have one or two in inventory.

Breaking from American tradition, the rear bumper is thin and shallow. While this makes me wonder what kind of body damage happens when the van gets hit in the rear, it makes forklift loading easier and keeps the van’s dimensions down. When it comes to dimensions, the ProMaster breaks from the mold. Rather than having an identical bodies in 1500, 2500 and 3500 versions, RAM’s “levels” dictate  which of the four bodies, three wheelbases and two roof heights you get. The 1500 is the only version available with a low roof in two different lengths. The 2500 and 3500 are high roof only and all that really changes is the wheelbase and body length. The shortest ProMaster is 29 inches shorter (body length) than a GM standard van while the longest is 26 inches longer than GM’s largest van. Regardless of body, you get 16-inch wheels wrapped in 225/75R16 rubber. The small tires and wheels are a result of the Euro roots and the contrast between the small wheels and enormous body make the ProMaster look a little like a pregnant roller skate.

2014 RAM ProMaster Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Cargo Hauling

The slab sides mean we get a large square rear opening almost as large as the van’s cross-section. This is significant change from GM and Ford’s existing vans where the rear portal is notably smaller than the cargo area. At 62 inches wide and 60 inches tall, the rear opening in the low-roof ProMaster is 5-inches wider and 13-inches taller than a GM/Ford van. Similar to Mercedes’ Sprinter, the ProMaster’s side doors swing 260 degrees and latch nearly parallel to the side of the van. The ProMaster’s sliding door rolls on an external stainless track for easy maintenance and thanks to the 49-inch wide, 60-inch tall (low roof) opening it reveals, you can insert one pallet in the side and one in the rear, something you can’t do in an E-Series or Savana. You can add a driver’s side sliding door for a reasonable $575 or $650 with glass, but if you prefer the side “barn doors” in your cargo hauler, look elsewhere. The RAM is sliding only.

Once you get beyond the unorthodox looks, you begin to realize how enormous the ProMaster is. At 283 cubic feet, smallest ProMaster (1500 short wheelbase) swallows one cubic foot less than GM’s biggest factory van. Need more? RAM’s positively ginormous ProMaster 3500 will haul 530 cubes, nearly twice the capacity of GM and Ford’s largest factory option. In fact when you look at the numbers, the ProMaster 3500 extended body extended wheelbase will schlep more than the average 12-foot box truck and nearly as much as the elusive 14-foot box truck.

A unique offering (so far) in the ProMaster is the factory installation of a steel bulkhead between the cargo and passenger compartment. GM and Ford offer a few dealer installed options but the total cost is higher than the ProMaster’s reasonable $495 for the partition with a window (about a hundred bucks less if you don’t want to look behind you.) Adding the partition not only improves safety but because of the factory fit and seal, it reduces cabin noise and improves air-conditioning performance. (An important consideration when you operate a black fleet in Phoenix.) 2014 Ram ProMaster 3.6 liter chassis with Pentastar V-6

Construction & Payload

Cargo volume without payload capacity is useless, and this is where the ProMaster’s Euro roots become obvious. The RAM doesn’t follow the American convention when it comes to payload scales. Not only can the 1500 haul as many widgets as an extended Ford or GM van, the payload capacity is just 111 lower than GM’s sturdiest cargo hauler and a full ton more than a Ford or GM 1500 series van. Scaling up to the 3500, payload increases to 5,290lbs. That is nearly 900lbs more than the highest payload Ford or GM. As a result it is more realistic to compare the base ProMaster to the GM 2500 series extended vans in terms of capability. Logically the ProMaster is also priced in this fashion starting about the same as that 2500 extended van.

How can a front wheel drive unibody cargo van haul that much stuff? Easy. It’s not really a unibody. Unibody haters can put down their pitchforks, the ProMaster is a hybrid, which explains how they can slice those enormous doors into the side of the van without it collapsing like a house of cards. Essentially bonded to the vehicle’s floor, is a heavy-duty rail system that stretches from bumper to bumper. For the US market this frame has been beefed up for higher payloads and rougher roads. You can see the FWD benefit in the picture above: by using a FWD drivetrain, the load floor doesn’t have to sit on-top of the transmission, driveshaft or differential allowing it to hug the ground. At 21 inches the ProMaster’s load floor is 7-inches lower than the closest competitor and even the forthcoming Ford T-Series won’t improve on this much because of the RWD layout.

2014 RAM ProMaster Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Interior

American cargo vans have never been known for modernity, creature comforts or leg room. The ProMaster, like the Nissan NV breaks the mold but the two vans do it in different ways. The Nissan puts the engine under a long hood while the ProMaster’s mill is transverse mounted freeing up leg room. The difference is night and day and my right leg remained un-cooked even after a 2 hour drive.  The first thing you’ll notice about the interior is how utilitarian it is. Easy to clean plastics span the interior (read: hard plastic), there’s a clip board integrated into the dash and instead of carpet you get a hard plastic floor with some textured grips. The second thing you’ll notice is how high off the ground you are. The passenger floor is 6-7 inches higher than the cargo load floor because everything that the ProMaster needs to move is located in front of or beneath the passenger compartment. This has two benefits, it allows the load floor to be lower to the ground and it also makes chassis cab and cut-away up-fitting easier. There are two access panels in the floor, one allows access to the battery (it’s the large one you can see in the picture above) and the other allows access to the fuel sending unit. Anyone who has a fleet of GM vans will tell you that replacing a fuel pump is a royal pain because you have to drain and drop the tank to get to it. In the ProMaster you just pop the cover off and have at it.

Chrysler decided to upgrade the headrests to a car-like fabric design instead of the rubbery Euro versions but the rest of the seat design is the same. This means we have a spring-loaded driver’s seat that adjusts for height, tilt, recline and fore/aft. Sadly the steering wheel is not as adjustable as it telescopes but does not tilt. In an interesting twist, the three-across seating option has made it across the pond for a very reasonable $225. This isn’t a bench seat, it’s a two-person seat that replaces the single passenger seat so the driver retains the more comfortable throne. While I think the Nissan NV’s thickly padded seats are the most comfortable commercial seats ever designed, the ProMaster takes an easy second place. If you want a splash of luxury, you can heat the seats for $170 a pop, adjustable lumbar support for $50, and a leather wrapped tiller for $145. If you hate your employees, vinyl seats can be had for $100.

 

2014 RAM ProMaster Interior, uConnect 5, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Infotainment

In Europe the Ducato doesn’t get much techno-love, but we Americans are a different lot so we get Chrysler’s 5-inch uConnect system as an option. While not radical by itself, the fact that there is the option of a well-integrated touchscreen navigation and entertainment system available in a commercial cargo van is practically earth shattering. The closest this segment comes is the Nissan NV which can be had with the Nissan Versa’s “Low Cost Navigation System” for $795, but only on certain models. The ProMaster on the other hand is very “ala carte” allowing you to add just the $395 touchscreen system with a CD player, XM radio, iPod/USB integration and voice commands, or option all the way up to the navigation software for an additional $395.

The 5-inch uConnect system is the result of the Fiat/Chrysler/Microsoft relationship and while the software looks like the larger uConnect 8.4 system, it’s entirely different under the hood. Sadly the system isn’t as responsive ad uConnect 6.5 or 8.4 but it gets the job done better than most systems. Voice commands are logical and the system had no troubles with my music library commands. Sound quality was nothing to write home about, it is a commercial vehicle after all, but it won’t bring you to tears either. In preparation for any impending legislation, the ProMaster can be equipped with a backup cam for $230 and parking sensors for $250.

 

 

 

2014 Ram ProMaster 3.6 liter Pentastar V-6

Drivetrain

The looks, front wheel drive layout and hybrid unibody aren’t the only things that set this van apart. The engines ans transmissions are unique to cargo vans as well. First off, there is no V8. Things start out with Chrysler’s 3.6L V6 engine in every body style. Yes, even that enormous 3500 with 5,291lb in the back and a 5,100lb trailer attached. Sending the 280 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque to the ground is a Chrysler 68TE six-speed automatic transaxle. This compact slushbox is the same transmission found in the Chrysler minivans except they swap in a much lower final gear ratio for ProMaster duty along with seriously upgraded cooling hardware.

For $4,000 you can toss in an Iveco/Fiat 3.0L four-cylinder turbo diesel. Before you laugh, this is the same engine found in certain medium duty Mitsubishi Fuso trucks, so it’s a solid heavy-duty contender. The oil burner cranks out 180 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque, about the same amount of torque you get from GM’s 4.8L V8. This engine is mated to Fiat’s M40 transmission which is a 6-speed robotized manual transmission. Chrysler tell us that they have heavily revised the shift logic and control systems for the American market and as a result this will be a late availability option hitting around January of 2014. If you recall my review of the Ducato, my biggest complaint about the diesel drivetrain was the time it took to complete a 1-2 shift. Chrysler promises this has been corrected and they have also altered the torque pattern for American tastes.

The diesel has a few advantages over the gasoline V6. Oil change intervals stretch out to 18,000 miles, low-end torque is improved, first gear is lower (19:1 including final drive) to help you get off the line with heavy loads and the fuel economy is excellent (based on our Ducato experiences). Oddly enough, that M40 transmission is also a selling point. Because it doesn’t have a torque converter the fluid change intervals are lengthy and the cooling demands are reduced. Fiat tells us the single plate clutch kit for the Ducato is about $150 in Europe and I expect the parts to be about the same price on our shores. How easy is it to replace? That’s the wild card as I haven’t seen a repair manual yet.

2014 RAM ProMaster Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Drive

Thanks to the new low final drive, the RAM is surprisingly quick off the line. The V6 model we tested scooted to 6o in 9.05 seconds, notably faster than the diesel Ducato we tested before. We didn’t get the opportunity to load the ProMaster as fully as the Ducato, but I expect the diesel to be the better hauler when full thanks to the better torque numbers.

Although not normally a consideration with a cargo van, the ProMaster delivers the most civilized ride in this segment. It’s also the easiest to parallel park thanks to an incredibly small 36.3-foot turning diameter in the short wheelbase model, smaller than many mid-size sedans. Even the long wheelbase, long body ProMaster 3500 impresses at 46.8. I know that sounds enormous, but in perspective, a long wheelbase Express needs a whopping 54.6 feet to do the same while carrying 50% less stuff. That’s the difference between accomplishing a U-turn or being the dude blocking all lanes of traffic while sea-sawing a multi-point turn.

Chrysler spent a decent amount of time lauding the Brembo front brakes which they claim gives the ProMaster the best fade resistance in the segment. Admittedly that’s a low bar to jump, but our informal tests around Malibu seemed to bear the claim out. One thing to note however is that with only 225 width rubber making contact with the ground, stopping times are no better than the competition.

2014 RAM ProMaster Exterior-008

Will the ProMaster be a success? I think it’s too early to tell. Fleet buyers are notoriously loyal to specific models because they have so much invested in uniformity. This alone accounts for the Ford E-Series sales leadership, despite being the thirstiest, oldest, and least desirable cargo van going. The largest unknown in the mix is: how reliable will the ProMaster be? Durability and total cost of ownership are extremely important in this segment and that’s an open-ended question. How will the 62TE stand up to a GVWR of 10,000lbs? Will it be as good as GM’s new 6L80 transmission they are finally putting in their vans? Rebuilt units are comparable in pricing so it will all come down to longevity. Chrysler is putting their 5 year, 100,000 mile powertrain warranty on the ProMaster to help entice shoppers. The combination of that small diesel and a long powertrain warranty to calm customer nerves could make a difference. However, if you option the ProMaster up with the diesel and a few options and you’re in Mercedes Sprinter territory and that is a dangerous place to be with the new Sprinter’s 7-speed auto and smooth diesel engine. Chrysler fights back with lower cost of service and ownership claims and a longer warranty.

The ProMaster is a compelling alternative to the Ford and GM 3/4 ton and 1 ton vans. delivering higher payloads and greater cargo capacity with low load floors, a more maneuverable chassis, a small diesel and excellent fuel economy. However, GM’s aggressive pricing and insane fleet purchase rebate program mean the less capable Chevy Express 1500 will likely be $2,000 (or more) cheaper than the least expensive ProMaster. Will the ProMaster’s ergonomic selling points and Euro charm win over commercial America? Or will the forthcoming rear-wheel-drive Ford T-Series (American Transit) win America’s hearts with its 5-cylinder diesel and twin-turbo V6? Stay Tuned.

 

Chrysler provided the vehicle for our testing at a launch event in Southern California. The flight and meals were on Chrysler.

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69 Comments on “Review: 2014 RAM ProMaster Cargo Van (With Video)...”


  • avatar
    Vulpine

    I expect we’re going to hear a lot of whining and complaining about how this isn’t a “true van”. Well, before it gets started I’d like to say I see a huge potential for this rig both in commercial and RV circles. This thing could easily out-class the majority of current Class B and Class C motorhomes here in the States in its size and weight rating. Add to this the low load floor and this thing even begins to challenge the majority of the 12′ and 14′ U-Haul box trucks for ease of loading and unloading.

    Personally, based on the writer’s personal experiences here as well has his conjectures, I believe the American cargo van as we know it is about to see its final sale.

    • 0 avatar
      Nicholas Weaver

      Yeah, it will rock for smaller motorhome purposes. And its not like its more expensive than an E-series cutaway. I could also see a design which takes the Window van configuration which has 3-4 pieces on rails that slide in to make it a respectable 2-person motorhome, and which slide out to be replaced with a cargo management setup for work purposes.

    • 0 avatar
      Sam P

      Yep. Get ready for comments touting the Nissan NV as the only cargo van worth buying, as it has a V8 and is untainted by any association with the UAW.

    • 0 avatar
      asapuntz

      90% of the camper conversions I saw in Spain and Portugal this summer were Ducato-based.

      • 0 avatar
        Wheeljack

        Same thing goes for Italy and Germany. I saw a lot of Ducato based campers out on the roads during a recent trip to Europe.

        • 0 avatar

          There are quite a few here in the states as well. I live basically at one of the largest national park cross roads and I can say with out a doubt I am seeing on average 1 Sprinter conversion a day. Sure I see 100 E series conversions. But that is quite a bit considering 3 years ago.. I serviced the only sprinter in the valley. I am also on occasion seeing the VW platform conversion based off the Routan (Or some obscure equivalent like the Winnebago/Renault 2.4 turbo diesel 4 speed of the 80′s vintage. *Worked on one quite a bit. Loved the motor when it was not eating it’s self*) or the Nissan NV on occasion.

          The numbers are growing, and now with this entry.. well here comes the flood. I say 10 years and you will see a 60% change to FF drive and small diesel in the small RV segment.

          Thing is, these vans are seriously capable and they might spread faster than that as fuel prices go up.

    • 0 avatar
      carve

      I rented an older Ducato Camper Van in New Zealand and was very impressed, despite having the vaguest shifter I’ve ever felt. Easy to drive around town like a car, but with a full kitchen and bath. I also pulled down about 23 mpg with the little 4 cyl diesel, and it would cruise comfortably at about 115 kph.

  • avatar

    I too agree that this has a lot of potential. There’s no reason that these vans can adequately serve contractors, workmen, etc. here, as they do so very well in Europe. The turbodiesel is a very intriguing option that can dramatically improve fuel efficiency.

  • avatar
    Lorenzo

    I’m surprised they didn’t attempt to hold onto Tradesman loyalists by calling it Tradesman or Tradesman II.

    Can I assume auto electronics maker Mallory allowed use of their Promaster name? I remember Chrysler having to pay, after the fact, for use of the Viper name, and a repeat of that wouldn’t look good.

  • avatar
    philadlj

    Great review. With all that volume and capacity, the optional cockpit partition and low load floor, this wouldn’t make a bad food truck. And it’s already plenty-quirky looking, all it would need would be the right paint-job/vinyl wrap.

  • avatar
    grzydj

    I think it’s a pretty cleverly packaged van with a lot of potential for light to medium duty fleets. I’ll be driving one in a few weeks from now once it gets its vinyl wrap.

  • avatar
    tjh8402

    how does the payload of the 3500 compare to the 4500/450 series GM/Ford vans? We use those as the chassis for our ambulances, much to my chargin – the GM vans don’t drive particularly well and have an interior that’s a miserable place to spend a shift and the Ford vans, while having nicer interiors and a being a better drive, are underpowered and haven’t held up very well over our typical 100k useful life. Wonder if these would be an alternative worth looking at.

    • 0 avatar
      Vulpine

      The last ambulance I had the “pleasure” to ride in, I have to say the ride for the patient was absolutely horrible; you could feel every crack and loose stone in the pavement! I’d rather ride supine in the back of my 25-year-old F-150 pickup truck than in an ambulance!

      • 0 avatar
        tjh8402

        Any idea what chassis or style it was? You’re going to see a huge variance in the types of ambulances out there and how they ride. Ride comfort is not just for me and my partner. For a patient with something like an abdominal infection or a fractured bone, every bump they feel is gonna be excruciating. Many times I’ve gotten specific instructions from my medic to drive as smooth as possible, drive around or go slow over the bumps, etc I’ll even choose driving routes based on which roads are the smoothest.

    • 0 avatar
      udman

      Here in the Hartford Area, there are several Ambulance Services that use the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter as the Ambulance of Choice. I’m really not that sure as to how well they hold up, but the fuel economy is superior to the Ford and GM alternatives.

      • 0 avatar
        tjh8402

        I think the purchase price of the sprinter would send my fire department running and screaming away. I was told by one of our fleet maintenance guys that we are switching from diesel to gasoline ambulances because of the DEF and regeneration cycles on the diesels, but I’ve seen several articles referencing exemptions for emergency vehicles from these regulations, so I’m thinking the real reason was cost. We always go for the lowest bidder…welcome to government work. I should add the Sprinter has the same potential issue that this Ram does – our ambulances are all 4500/450 series, whereas these Euro vans thus far only go to 3500 level.

        • 0 avatar
          mike1dog

          I’m thinking that it might actually be a good idea. It depends on how big an area the ambulances serve. If it’s a relatively small area then the fuel savings would be minimal to non-existent. You’d probably save some on maintenance, too. If you had to transport a patient a long way, though, it might not work. I wonder if they could add a propane system to an ambulance? There’s a fleet of Econolines, not ambulances, that have all been converted to run on propane by the local government. The man who’s in charge of the fleet told me that they were paid for by some federal program, and that if you run out of propane, they just switch over to gasoline automatically. He said propane was $1.35 a gallon and they got about 20% worse gas mileage on it.

          • 0 avatar
            tjh8402

            @mike1dog – I’d say our ambulances average around 25-30k year miles. we used to run gasoline ambulances and switched for reliability issues. We’re in Florida, so they’re gonna see some heavier duty use with our heat, humidity, traffic, and lots of idling.

            Our longest transports are around 30 miles, so I’m not too concerned about any one trip running us out of fuel, but when we get really busy and back to back to back to back (and so on), or have an extended time on scene for a fire or large accident, we could encounter some range anxiety. The Fords’ smaller tanks vs the GM’s is not helpful here. Also keep in mind that we have a separate generator to power the patient compartment, so a gasoline or propane fuel truck is going to be thirstier not just because of the vehicle’s engine, but because of the generator as well, and those that can easily run 12 or more hours non stop.

            I’m also not looking forward to driving around in a 14,000 lb vehicle with 100 fewer lb-ft of torque then I’ve been used to (and the van’s gas engines are a lot less powerful than the pickups – 300 hp from the V-10).

      • 0 avatar
        Big Al from Oz

        Some St John’s Amublance from the UK.

        This Ducato is used by other manufacturers.

        http://www.flickr.com/photos/teessideambulances/3329114698/

        http://www.flickriver.com/groups/929370@N20/pool/interesting/

        • 0 avatar
          tjh8402

          lol @ Big Al from Oz – Holy !@#$%^&* that thing’s a beast. Would never want to use that on a 911 response. I take it that’s a heavier duty specification than the US vans? How does the payload capacity of the Ram 3500 compare to the Chevy Express 4500 or Ford E450? I wonder if our boxes could be remounted on that frame…they do transfer from the E450s to the Express 4500s and back (whenever we buy a new ambulance chassis, we remount the patient care box from an older unit taken out of service), but I wonder if they would fit the Ram (or a Sprinter)

          • 0 avatar
            ReSa

            In The Netherlands we’ve seen a major shift in ambulances: from a predominantly Chevrolet Express market to Mercedes Sprinter/Rebadged Volkswagen Crafter. Why? Lower TCO, extended intervals, more flexibility in design.
            No Ducato’s though…

            Too bad the Chevy’s are disappearing though. Living near an intersection close to a hospital, I’ve seen many accidents with ambulances. Those things hardly ever had more than a few dents and went on their way to whatever emergency they were heading to.
            The ignorant driver that just hit the gas at the green light and payed no attention to the sirens was near totaled 9 out of 10 times…

        • 0 avatar
          IHateCars

          Man, I thought St.John’s just gave CPR and First Aid courses! Lol! You guys have some cool ambulance/response vehicles over there!

  • avatar
    Tosh

    Who is R.A.M.?

  • avatar
    Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

    I kinda want one as an EREV with a big battery inside that frame, and electric motors between the rear wheels to go with the motor and engine up front.

    • 0 avatar
      Toad

      There are a few of these on the market, but they are very expensive. Takes a very big battery to move a vehicle that size, much less with any kind of payload; think of a Prius on steroids. That battery is very expensive.

      UPS and FedEx are testing some, but they are getting big subsidies to do so. Don’t hold your breath for a consumer ready model.

  • avatar

    I wonder about model availability and out-the-door pricing, here in the South East. Haven’t heard about LPG options either.

    van @ cargovanconversion.com

  • avatar
    udman

    I must correct your point about the cargo partition… The Mercedes-Benz Sprinter (as well as the versions marketed by Dodge and Freightliner) has always offered a steel cargo partition, with or without a window. These were factory options from the beginning, and if you look at state regulations, partitions (or at least, partition mounting points) are required in a few states around the country.

    • 0 avatar
      philadlj

      Not unique in its existence; but unique in its affordability.

      A quick look at the U.S. Sprinter configurator shows that their factory partition will cost the customer between $830-$1,300 (with or without a passenger jump seat), compared to $395-$495 (without/with window) in the Ram.

      That’s on top of the Sprinter’s base price, which is $6K higher than the Ram for the 1500 cargo and more than $8K higher for the 3500 high roof.

      I imagine that’s a bit too costly for most fleets, which is one reason the Ford and GM vans outsell them 7:1 and 5.5:1, respectively.

  • avatar
    danio3834

    I kinda want to make a piggy-back car hauler out of a chassis cab version of this.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    The thing I walk away thinking is that the back view is too cluttered and has too many doo-dads on it.

    Big hinges, little red lights, big RAM LOGOS, big license plate surround, big vertical handle.

    I realize it needs to be utility-friendly, but this could’ve been executed much better.

  • avatar
    anti121hero

    I think this offers some excellent engineering that will definitely make business owners and people in charge of fleet sales interested. What with the insane cargo space for the size, and the gas mileage of the already proven 3.6 and fiat diesel. The biggest hurdle is going to get people to make the jump from the classic rwd v8 American vans that we’ve used for decades to this extremely awkward looking euro design with fwd and unknown reliability in the long term. In general, people are afraid of change but it will be interesting to see how this compares in sales to the transit and nissan vans. Personally, I’m rooting for Chrysler on this one.

  • avatar
    DevilsRotary86

    OK, serious here, will this come in a passenger version?

    I am slowly coming up on a time in my life when I can seriously consider doing track days, autocross, or other motorsports. This would be perfect. With seats it can be a family van, but have enough tow ability to haul around my RX-7. Plus it can carry extra wheels, tools, spare parts, brake pads, and fluids in a private and lockable cargo area.

    A minivan is of course the standard go-to choice, but I just don’t like modern minivans. Simple personal preference. Plus if I do get my RX-7 running again and track it, a minivan’s tow rating only barely passes muster.

    • 0 avatar
      Brian P

      I am thinking seriously about buying a diesel ProMaster to support my motorcycle roadracing / track day addiction. I currently use an open trailer behind my car, but I want enclosed storage and a place to sleep that isn’t a tent. The low load floor is a major advantage for loading bikes into the back. I’m waiting for a ProMaster to show up at the dealers to see if it is an acceptable daily driver.

      Plenty of other riders use GM or Ford full-size vans, but they are a pain to load and unload because of the high load floor, and you can almost forget about modern full-size pickup trucks for the same reason. Most riders who have those, are towing a trailer with them.

  • avatar
    Battles

    The mention of the $150 clutch kit in europe for the Ducato is a shady red herring. Did anyone mention the horror of the failed dual mass flywheel (DMF) at 30k-50k and the four hundred quid price – part only – for replacement?
    With turbodiesels being a relatively unusual in the US, the DMF problem might not be widely known. In the UK and Europe there’s a huge aftermarket industry swapping failed and massively expensive dual mass flywheels for simpler and cheaper models.
    Rant over, this is an issue that bugs me.

    • 0 avatar
      Sinistermisterman

      I’m glad someone else picked up on this. The Dual Mass Flywheel issue does often get overlooked. As you mentioned, the part is 400 quid, yet fitting it is the costly part. The complete job will set you back over £1,000 for parts and labour, and swapping the DMF for a solid flywheel doesn’t always work either. I’ve heard of a taxi-cab firm doing this and one by one their Ford Mondeo TD engines break due to increase stress on the crank.
      Fortunately for the North American market, if there is a big uptake in turbo diesels over the next few years, 95% of the transmissions that these engines will be mated to will be slushboxes with torque converters, which don’t have the wonderful designed-to-fail DMF.

  • avatar

    It will be interesting to see how the Dodge version sells in Mexico since we already have the Ducato and the Peugeot Manager, almost identical vans.
    Fiat’s has a 120Hp 4cyl 2.3L engine and Peugeot with a V6 3.0L 130Hp Diesel Engine.
    Probably Fiatsler/Dodge will stop selling the Fiat model, will see.
    Saludos!

  • avatar
    honda_lawn_art

    The Ram logo looks silly in the bumper, like a button in your lip.
    It reminds me of an Italian playing the part of a cowboy, like ‘Once Upon a Time in the West’.

  • avatar
    Joss

    Fleet watch it with the Sprinter [& ProMaster?] key fob. Leaving in the back door and banging open against the side breaks the head EASILY. A pricey, dealer captive replacement.

    • 0 avatar
      Perc

      One would think that a 2014 model would have remote central locking as standard.

      There’s no reason to ever put your key there to begin with. If there even is a keyhole there.

  • avatar

    I am really glad you brought up the maintenance thing with the clutch in the diesel powered option. If they have there stuff right I have a feeling I know what they have done.

    1) Ease of access to all normal maintenance items. Up to, engine timing components (Timing chain/belt water pump and associated items including tensioners. But NOT a head gasket) Call it a 100,000 mile service.

    2) Larger items (clutch, major engine, head gasket, and major transmission) will require a power train/suspension removal. Let me give a prime set of examples. All of it from first hand experience

    The transmission can come out the bottom and you have to support the engine. Some bell housing bolts ARE! going to be a pain in the keester. You have to split the suspension to remove the axles. Then get the thing out.

    To get the engine out, you have to take the transmission out of course. It MIGHT! perhaps with some coaxing slip out but. Nu uh. No the trans is coming out anyways to get the motor out.

    You think this is a pain. No, this is simple math and worn parts. Here is the prime example of how they ‘should’ do this.

    3 Months and 16,000 miles ago (Why do I sound like Abe Lincoln) Ahem. My 94 Legacy turned 200,000 miles, so it was time for the 200K service. My Lego at this point had some issues. Clutch was starting to give the warning sings. So right there we have the major (all fluids), Timing Belt, Tensioner, idlers serpentine belts, water pump, and valve cover gaskets. (You can NOT easily do them in the car), and other hoses and things. Ok so what has to give here.. the procedure.

    Normally a shop would just pull the gearbox, do the clutch and the axle, and then do the engine stuff and send it on it’s way. Perhaps with a fluid flush, and some gear oil in the back end. Wrong, expensive and slow way to do it.

    The way I did it and the way it was made was. 30 bolts, 4 hoses, leave the radiator in place, undo the break pipes on the struts and drop the engine and suspension on the ground and roll it away on it’s own tires. It took me 2 hours.

    Suddenly I had full access to everything. Suspension, engine, transmission. Front half of the exhaust. No problem to service. FULL access was granted down to the lowest clip on the cross member. With simple bolts to get at to remove major components.

    And of course, ease of stabbing the transmission on the engine? I can tell you, on the ground is MUCH easier than holding a gearbox up under a car, even with my transmission jack.

    Oh yeah ALL modern cars are built this way, meant to come out the bottom as a unit for major service. Just few do it.

    Now that we know all that.

    And they want ease of maintenance.

    It all comes out at some point for something big. Everything else should be done at the same time for a reasonable price. So the 3rd timing belt service is 150K, and that is when the clutch goes you know it is going to be this price. They SHOULD work there service limits around this. I hope because 3) is so fun.

    3) Offer power train module exchange. Van hits 200K.. tell them for 500 bucks more from regular 200K service, we put in a re manufactured suspension, engine, transmission with a 36,000 mile 3 year warranty.

    4) It costs them LESS to do that. Boom boom, Module in and out in 4 hours with a good team. Send the old one out to refurb.. where that is all they DO! Customer gets a warrantied reman.

    If they can pull that off. Market Cornered.

    5) Yes there is a 5. If they can keep the model updates really close in terms of power trains and suspension components. Units that come out latter in several years build cycle could have over stock reman parts in them from the service turn over plan.

    6) They pull that off, vehicle recyclebility goes up big time and will give them carbon points in the future when all that rolls out.

    7) Or perhaps breaks the drive trains down, inspect them and shove them right onto the normal main line production lines. That is the way to do it really. Hell GM nearly did it with the 3400 V6.

    Just saying.

    • 0 avatar
      CCrider77

      Totally agree on the maintenance SOP. When I worked doing diesel Audi’s as a mechanic, we’d just drop the whole drivetrain – and it was easy. Hardest part is keeping track of everything: hoses, wires, cables, nuts, bolts, etc…

      If folks are opting for the diesel and robo-manual, I think maintenance intervals will be extremely long. Those Iveco diesels will run for 500K or more between rebuilds and the automatic clutch engagement should double clutch life, without the human/slip factor in the mix. If the average clutch lasts 75K, this one should be closer to 150K.

      BTW – for strictly a clutch job without other major service, we often did them with the engine in the car, using an engine brace across the top of the engine compartment. They come apart pretty easy…

      I’d like to peak under the hood when our dealer gets one in.

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      No the “normal” way a shop would do those items in a Subaru would be to pull the engine. About an hour gets you the engine out and on the ground with full access to do all of that stuff. Even if it only needs the clutch pulling the engine saves an hour or more over pulling the trans.

    • 0 avatar

      If engine has its own mounts, and the bell housing bolds aren’t a PITA, it may be easier to drop the transaxle alone. I think it comes down to a particular car.

      • 0 avatar

        When you also have ball joints to do, a axel, the gear box is no good so swap, all the engine work, a reseal of everything. It also needed struts. It was really much easier to drop everything out to do the work. Easier to split the gearbox and swap it. Easier to reseal the motor (it need a oil pan to boot).

        Just wheeled it back up under it and bolted the thing together. If I were just doing the clutch and timing belt I would have pulled the trans. Left it at that. But with all the other bits that needed attention. It made 100 times more sense to wheel out everything work on it, and back in as a unit.

        I also do this on my Loyale, but that is because it has a franken motor and other fun bits that almost require that anything done (this includes timing belts) Engine comes out. Normally by then it has munched another gear box and something in the suspension as well. So I pull it out of the bottom for rebuilds every couple years. Pondering building a back up for it and leaving it in the corner of the shop.

        • 0 avatar
          Scoutdude

          If you do need to replace an axle and/or ball joint at the same time then I could see pulling the trans and or the whole thing if you are also doing the timing belt. But if you are just doing clutch, timing belt and some engine gaskets then pulling the engine is the way to go. Even if you are just doing the clutch pulling the engine is easier on a Subaru.

      • 0 avatar
        Scoutdude

        Not on a Subaru, getting the engine out is much easier than pulling the transaxle. Seriously I can have one out in about 1 hour and it is way easier to line everything back up when putting it back together too.

        • 0 avatar

          Well, Subie is special, no doubt. I meant to discuss a general arrangement like in Ducato where the engine comes down. On all cars I dealt with, engine had to be lifted with a cherry picker, so frankly I have no idea what the best way to deal with this thing is.

  • avatar
    CCrider77

    I was originally hoping Fiat would bring the Daily over, especially with the 4X4 option, but no dice. This Ducato-based van grew on me slowly, as it’s both ugly and uses a transverse/FWD layout. However after reading the numerous accolades of it’s European cousin, I’m now intrigued.

    I will eventually need to replace my aging Ram B-150 van and this is truly in a whole different league. I love the low floor, two sliding doors, 3 seats up front, payload capacity, interior space and little features to make this user friendly. That front fascia is pretty hideous, but I’ve heard Ram has an appearance option which includes a bright/silver grille. Kinda like lipstick on a pig…

    Perhaps my biggest let-down is that there is no passenger van yet, which I prefer. I wrote Chrysler and they didn’t say for sure whether that would be an option later, but this thing has airport shuttle written all over it & I would be really surprised if we didn’t see that in a year. Winnebago already confirmed that they are currently working on a line of ProMaster-based motorhomes for the States.

    Perhaps next year when the dust settles, I’ll probably pull the trigger.

    • 0 avatar

      http://mx.acelera.com/img/vehiculos/modelos/mx/37/95/14/peugeot_manager_2009_e285a73bb62bd1efd9768865bbe7658f_medium.jpg

      This is how it would look the Passenger version, actually this is a Peugeot Manager.
      Saludos

  • avatar
    ajla

    I’m excited because I know this RAM press event had a 6.4L 2500 and a 6.2L Ford, so maybe we’ll get a comparison review in a week.

  • avatar
    Garak

    Operating a Ducato is a tale of sweat, tears, curses and waiting for the tow truck. Hopefully the Ram version is better.

  • avatar
    Big Al from Oz

    Here are some Ducato Motorhomes here in Australia.

    http://www.rvbusiness.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/04/fiat-based-motorhome1.jpg

    http://www.caravanandrv.com.au/images/caravan_jayco_conquest.jpg

    http://assets.cougar.nineentertainment.com.au/imagegen/p/1024/768/assets/momoads/2013/08/20/40/dsc_0121.jpg

    Here are some Ducato trucks. They could do some of the work of an HD, but with better FE.

    http://assets.cougar.nineentertainment.com.au/imagegen/max/c/800/600/assets/TradePlantEquipment/GalleryMedia/Pallettaxi_1.JPG

    http://assets.cougar.nineentertainment.com.au/imagegen/max/c/800/600/assets/TradePlantEquipment/GalleryMedia/Ptaxi_2.JPG

    http://www.truckworld.com.au/TruckImages/L_41953_1_3.jpg

  • avatar
    spreadsheet monkey

    “If you’re a Ducato fan, keep reading because I suspect that many of the American market changes will trickle back to the EU over time.”

    Yeah, us Euro-losers know nothing about building FWD cargo vans. Fiat has been building the Ducato for over 30 years, and Ford (Europe) and VW’s vans date back even longer. Thank goodness Chrysler’s engineers have stepped in to show us how it’s done.

  • avatar
    ReSa

    @spreadsheet monkey: I think you’re missing the point here. The adaptation to the US market gave FIAT an opportunity to upgrade several other elements that could very well be implemented in the current Ducato.

  • avatar
    Big Al from Oz

    Hmmm? I don’t have a reply button on my previous post above?

  • avatar
    Perc

    After reading the review, I scrolled down to the comments expecting a bunch of FWD sceptics. I’m pleasantly surprised to find that this isn’t the case, but I’d defend it anyways. :)

    The Ducato is on its third generation since its birth 32 years ago. Always FWD, always in cooperation with the French. It has also always been a popular basis for a motorhome. I’d say that about 80% of motorhomes are based on Fiat hardware.

    Delivery drivers around here tend to prefer Sprinters, but the Ducato and its cousins is hugely popular among plumbers and other tradesmen. FWD is absolutely not an issue as far as I’m concerned. On the other hand, an unloaded Sprinter is useless in snow. Ducato drivers have it a lot easier. :)

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    I believe a unibody/ladder-frame hybrid construction is also what the Discovery 4/LR4 and old Range Rover Sport use…

  • avatar
    Slow_Joe_Crow

    I wish they would hurry up and produce a crew van with some rear seats. This would be a great alternative to the Sprinter for bicycle hauling duty. I’m also curious to see what Sportsmobile comes up with since the FWD layout gives some more flexibility for a camper at the expense of underfloor space.

  • avatar
    tonycd

    Pardon my ignorance, but can you still get the original Sprinter? The comparison seems obvious, both in appearance and in the availability of a turbo diesel.

    Alex, how does this vehicle compare overall in your opinion against the Sprinter?

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      You can still get a Sprinter but you have to go to a Mercedes dealer that carries them as not all do. Plus I’ve heard you have to pay a premium for that star on the grille vs what they went for when it had a ram on the grille.

  • avatar
    Point Given

    What interests me the most is how will this FWD configuration handle winter time? With snow/ice conditions affecting the drive wheels and a heavy load in the back what will traction be like?

  • avatar
    orobertscab

    Great review Alex! I hope you plan to review the 2014 Sprinter with the 2.1 four & 7spd. soon as well.
    I had high hopes for this van replacing my 2003 Express until I drove one last week. I am 6″4″ tall & this van does not have enough legroom for me to get comfortable. It has much to commend it with the FWD, low load floor, tight turning circle, etc. but if every day while driving it one is fidgeting around trying to get comfortable behind the wheel because of a lack of legroom it’s a no sale for me. The specs list the legroom under 39″, most compact cars have more legroom. I will have to move on to the Sprinter or Transit when it arrives.
    I drove a Sprinter 1 day after driving the Promaster & the driving position in the Sprinter is superb for taller drivers.

  • avatar
    DenverMike

    I swear that Ram pickup just ahead looks like it just pulled the Ducato out of some soft dirt. The laws of physics can’t work in favour of a FWD truck loaded to the hilt (or RV) in less than optimal conditions and or, off pavement. Just the very nature of camping or parcel delivery will take it far away from optimal situations..

  • avatar
    MJ845

    Looking to get a vehicle to use as my personal wheelchair vehicle. Don’t want the normal mini-van. Sprinter dealer is over 100 miles away, for servicing, Chrysler is 2 miles. Also looking at Chevy Express. Only load will be electric wheelchair, wheelchair lift and possibly a couple of seats in the back. How will ProMaster handle with such a light load?

    Like the option of doors on both sides, the high roof, Espress 1500 has AWD, but think FWD will work just as well in snow.

    Any thoughts, ideas?
    Semper Fi

  • avatar
    psychoboy

    I think I just found the replacement for my 2005 long/tall Sprinter.

    now i just need to find someone to buy the truck i want, use it nicely for about 8 years, and then sell it to me for a reasonable price.

  • avatar

    Just purchased the 3500 High Roof a couple days ago; our Operations Manager now has a new toy, and is testing the heck out of it.

    Was waiting for the longer, taller Transit to replace a smaller one, but Ford kept pushing back the release date; dual sliding doors were super sweet, but the cab area was severely squished when the bulkhead was installed.

    Sat in a spec at the Chicago Auto Show, and I agree with an earlier comment that it is not for the long-legged, so there’s concern about comfort and potential circulatory issues for long hauls.

    Also had an eye on the NV…

    Time will tell if the height, length, MPG, and passenger comfort will be worth the pricetag; the goal is to have the vehicle replace two vehicles straddling payload tiers, so hopefully, it will earn its keep during a potential Summer flux.


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