2016 Ram ProMaster, A Cubist's Dream
SEE ALSO:Totally RAM
By Thom Cannell
The Auto Channel
Authors Note: No attempt at completeness, simply comments on one week’s driving experience—balanced against decades of experience and hundreds of comparisons.
Opening the window on our 2016 Ram ProMaster my friend remarked "It's a noisy engine." "Yes, it is a diesel,” I replied listening to the muffled clatter of a modern diesel. That is part of the story of the 2016 Ram ProMaster and its 3.0-liter diesel engine, its terrific functionality.
Again, we were moving boxes, wheelbarrows, framed artwork, cabinets and the whatnots accumulated throughout life. This time our prime mover was a 2016 Ram ProMaster. This van, introduced at the 2013 Chicago Auto Show, has quickly earned a solid reputation and place in the We Move Stuff pantheon of cargo vans, which have largely supplanted what were called B-vans. Stylish, sleek, well equipped, our week long test went smoothy.
ProMaster is part of the changeover from small pickup-based vehicles to purpose built large-capacity vehicles, most having their origin in Europe. However, our North American ProMaster is considerably changed from its Italian Fiat Ducato origins with changes in powertrains for our stricter emissions requirements, heavier duty cycles, and an improved suspension that is far more robust. Parenthetically, many of the changes engineered for North America have been accepted in other parts of the world, according to Ram spokespersons.
Though brand-related to the ProMaster City we wrote about recently, there is no kinship or part sharing. ProMaster is a medium duty (2500) van available with either a I-4 diesel or V6 gasoline engine. That gas engine, a 3.6-liter Pentastar rated at 260 pound-feet of torque and 280 horsepower is not what we wanted for test. No, we wanted the 3.0-liter turbodiesel, and that’s what we received. It’s lesser in the raw horsepower with “only” 174 horses, it has more torque (295 lb-ft) and torque is developed at a low 1400 rpm. That means plenty of grunt, immediately, for heavy cargos as well as good fuel economy. The gas engine is mated to a truck-rated six-speed automatic transmission, the diesel to a Dual Active Drive six-speed automatic manual transmission that’s electronically controlled.
The day the 2016 Ram ProMaster arrived we were ready to load it, perhaps not to its full 5,160 pound capacity, nor did we tow anything, though the ProMaster is rated to tow 5,100 pounds. What we quickly discovered was really good suspension; with only 400 pounds of load on very bad roads there wasn't the crash-bang we expected. We also appreciated sliding doors at both sides and very wide opening rear doors. Regardless Door Number 1-2-3, loading is a breeze, including loading with a fork lift through any door.
We were surprised by acceleration that, while adequate, is best described as lethargic, accelerating as if it had a full load. Part of the reason derives from the transmission, part the weight hauled and the weight of the truck, part the relatively small engine. For instance, on freeway entries we needed all of the ramp and entry lane to achieve 65 mph. Staying with performance aspects of the 3.0-liter diesel in our 2016 ProMaster, the automated manual transmission is the source of our only complaint. This M40 automated manual uses internal solenoids to hydraulically release an internal clutch and switch between gears. And often we found the sensation odd, to say the least. Like a beginning driver using a manual transmission it would often hesitate greatly upon upshifts, other times change gears smoothly and quickly. Needless to say this shift hesitancy was more felt than a true difficulty. Automated manuals were notorious for this behavior early on, so we’re mystified to find it here. That said, the 3.0-liter seems relatively unaffected by load, though we never exceeded 40% of its 2.5-ton capacity.
Since driving isn’t all about acceleration or capacity we note that the 2016 ProMaster has controls well placed for commercial operation. One thing anyone unfamiliar with trucks will find different is a steering wheel position that will remind you of a bus or semi. The steering column is adjustable for height, but leaves you with a city bus kind of “knees-under-wheel” driving position.
We found plenty of storage bins, several USB connectors, and multiple cupholders available to insure operator comfort, and modern utility. We think that with a partition behind the seats, which many upfitters offer, it would be a much quieter vehicle and quicker to warm up as the heater takes a very long time to unfreeze toes.
Like its competitors, the center console navigation and audio display is sufficient but clearly from an earlier design generation with its 5" screen. However the smaller size in no way indicates lesser operating efficiency. The touch screen works well and is responsive, but, for instance, without reading the manual (we're no different from you in that respect) there was no clear way to change scale on the navigation screen. FCA’s UConnect system has always been rated highly and the embedded Bluetooth hands free system works marvelously, as does satellite radio. What is requested by voice is accomplished without hesitation despite lack of mice or trackballs, instead focusing on hands-free function.
So, here’s the Bullet Points:
- The 2016 Ram ProMaster wins us over with good looks, stylishness, overall functionality, making it a wise choice for any operator. As is the overall high mileage we achieved. While less than the rated 29 mpg at around 24 MPG in 50% City, 50% highway use, we’re happy.
- Interiors are roomy, seats comfortable, and the turning radius is tight.
- Doors, all of them, open widely and easily, the rear doors wrapping around and secure with built-in magnets.
- Both high roof, standard roof versions and a cut-away are offered in 118”, 136”, and 159” wheelbase chassis for a wide variety of cargo and window vans with roof heights of 91” or 101”.
- Ram says the ProMaster has the lowest cost of ownership in its group, the primary attraction for fleet owners. In fact the US Post Office will begin using gas engined ProMasters.
- Edmunds dot com named the 2015 ProMaster a winner in its Best Retained Value ® Awards. Another selling point for fleets.
- Ram also says the 2016 ProMaster has the best-in-class ceiling heights, lowest load floor, and best step-in height. All factors in both loading and operator comfort.
- We’re surprised that the turbodiesel engine isn’t peppier, and by the slow-to-shift transmission.
- We’d think more D-rings might be good (they’re model dependent), but that’s an upfitter and model order thing. And we did like the wooden standoff rails that are standard.
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