I’ve driven a few Dodge Ram work vans in my lifetime, but they were nothing like the tall, diesel-powered ProMaster Ram Trucks unveiled at the Chicago Auto Show.
According to a Ram Trucks blog post at Chrysler’s media site, the ProMaster is a Fiat Ducato with minor styling and powertrain tweaks for American consumer and regulatory demands. The Ducato has what the blog called “a 30-year reputation for reliability and durability, exceptional cargo capacity and a unique front-wheel-drive system.”
You read that correctly: This full-size van is front-wheel drive. Van traditionalists have already been voicing skepticism over whether the load-handling characteristics of the van will be adversely affected compared to rear-wheel drive vans with which American working folks are familiar. All I know is a front-wheel drive van would seem a lot less likely to pull an unwanted half-donut in the middle of a wet street than an unladen rear-wheel drive van. Don’t ask.
The 3.0-liter EcoDiesel four-cylinder engine will make 295 ft-lbs of torque at a low 1,400 RPM, while an available Pentastar gasoline V6 will make 260 ft-lbs of torque at surely much, much higher RPM. Those who opt for the diesel will get a first for American vans: an automated manual transmission with six forward speeds that can be shifted manually or automatically. Gassers are expected to offer only a six-speed automatic transmission.
The unibody (!) ProMaster will offer two roof heights, three wheelbases, and four overall length options, and will have the lowest step-in height in its class, according to Ram literature. It will offer many of the connectivity options found on consumer-grade Ram products, including Uconnect with voice recognition texting ability and an available backup camera in addition to Uconnect’s ability to turn the ProMaster into a WiFi hotspot, should the owner elect to take that option.
Between this introduction and Ford’s bringing the European Transit to our shores, things are more exciting in the van business than they’ve been in a long time. That leaves GM as the only Big Three OEM still offering only a traditional American-style van in the form of the Chevrolet Express and GMC Savannah. Time will tell whether traditionalist fleet purchasers flock to the familiarity of the GM vans’ platform and powertrain choices, or if they’ll take a chance on the new Euro-flavored vans hoping to score better fuel economy and productivity.