Test Drive: 2017 Ram ProMaster 1500 Cargo Van

The thing about transporting motorcycles is that it is a stressful experience. A truck will do it, but the load point is high, so you need a long ramp, and more than one person. A truck leaves the bike exposed too. Not only to the elements but to the prying eyes of nefarious thieves. So when I had to take a Kawasaki ZX10-R to Calabogie for our superbike comparison test, I thought it would be a good opportunity to try out a van. A proper van.

We’re not talking about a sports car, so what I look for in a van is that it drives predictably and doesn’t tax my meagre brain too much. I got that experience here.

Enter, the 2017 Ram ProMaster.

Our tester is the long one, with the 3,454 mm (136") wheelbase, but I could have easily done the job in the 118" base model with its 2,667 mm load length. It’s equipped with Chrysler’s versatile 3.6L Pentastar V6 engine, good for a decent 280 hp and moderate 260 lb-ft of torque.

That excellent little engine from Chrysler is applied well in this configuration, and the six-speed automatic is geared appropriately. The engine is unremarkable in the right way. It’s not noisy or obtrusive, it’s just there, lugging away. The numbers might not be prodigious, but I never found the ProMaster wanting, and even made some car-like overtakes on the single-lane highways of Ontario.

It’s not a bad performer on the fuel economy front either. While official ratings aren’t required for commercial vans and hence not supplied, I saw an average of 12.91 L/100 km. There was a heavy amount of highway in that number, but also a lot of winding stuff and undulation, and nowhere near as much constant throttle as you might think. There’s a reason this engine wins awards. If you were looking for a reason to select the ProMaster over a Sprinter or a Transit, the engine would be the place to start.

Another difference is the layout. And whether or not you see that as a positive or a negative might depend on your needs.

The ProMaster is front-wheel drive, which means the load point is low, and the 1,651 mm interior height of this standard roof model is enough for your hobbit of a writer to stand almost upright in. Most taller folk will be able to stand in the 1,930 mm interior of the high-roof model. Class-leading cargo dimensions are the benefit of the layout, but size isn’t everything.

Front-wheel drive may also mean the ProMaster will struggle for traction on wintery roads with the back loaded to its full 1,760 kg capacity if you listen to some. I can’t say I’ve ever experienced anything that supports that hypothesis, but I’ve also never tried to drive a fully laden ProMaster up a snowy hill.

I will point out, however, that the ProMaster is based heavily on the Fiat Ducato, and that unit does plenty of duty in Europe, which has more than its fair share of wintery hills. I see a lot of those Fiats on the road over there, so perhaps the fears about this platform are not as well-founded as you might think.

I found the ProMaster easy to drive, even on the undulating winding back roads of eastern Ontario. We’re not talking about a sports car, so what I look for in a van is that it drives predictably and doesn’t tax my meagre brain too much. I got that experience here.

The wheel is light though, and I think a little more resistance in the electric steering will help make this van drive with more confidence. Sure, it could be purely psychological, but the ultra-light steering touch triggers a sense of vagueness for me. Heavier steering would feel more appropriate and natural.

I put that theory to a delivery driver I know, and he disagreed strongly. “You try driving one for eight hours straight and then tell me you want heavier steering effort,” he snorted.

But anyway, back to the bike in the back. And not only the bike. I had a car event and a bike event on back-to-back days, which meant a lot of luggage, plus my track gear for the bike, plus tools (just in case), and my ramps. So being able to spread that stuff out in a comfortable and secure way, plus being able to tie everything sturdily to the multiple harness points within the chassis of the ProMaster was a massive positive.

And because the load is carried low, and by a vehicle sprung to accept it properly, I was confident that everything was secure. There wasn’t even any clattering or rattling from the back over large bumps, and that’s important for peace of mind. Still, I’d like for mine to be optioned with the window in the partition. This $350 partition wall didn’t have one.

Options and upgrades in the ProMaster lineup are too many to mention, and the ability to pick and choose à la carte is immense. Auxiliary power connections for example, can be picked for $50 each, and put just about everywhere.

The $200 locking glove box was an example of things going too far, in my opinion but then other things like the $425 parking assist system and $475 back-up camera make perfect sense. Just try to get out of a minor rear-end bump with less than $900 damage these days – one beep and this system pays for itself.

Our tester had a $750 suspension seat too, but I couldn’t figure out the adjustments and found myself bouncing around like I was on a trampoline for the first 300 km of my drive. I had to pull over and look it up on the internet, and then set it. I still don’t think I did it right. But you can choose your type of seat, steering wheel, cargo partition, cabin storage and just about everything else. You can’t get a heated steering wheel, which is the biggest oversight in the history of oversights, but you can get just about anything else.

The point I’m awkwardly stumbling toward is that it’s easy to package your ProMaster in a way that makes sense for your needs, without losing value. At the base $35,695, you could budget another $3,000 for options and still come out with a well-equipped rig that doubles as a storage place for your race bike(s) for less than $40,000 before tax. Heck, you could even sleep in it at the track for that.

That previous paragraph, by the way, was cut and pasted from a text message I sent my wife from Calabogie. I thought I had a pretty good case… she said no. I shouldn’t have added the “s” to the end of “race bike” I guess.

It’s a shame. Because I want a ProMaster.

2017 Ram ProMaster 1500 Cargo Van 136" WB
Engine Displacement: 3.6L
Engine Cylinders: V6
Peak Horsepower: 280 hp
Peak Torque: 260 lb-ft
Fuel Economy: 12.9 L/100 km observed
Cargo Space: 8,608 L
2017 Ram ProMaster 1500 Cargo Van 136" WB
Base Price $35,695
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $1,795
Price as Tested $45,830
Optional Equipment $8,240 – Mopar Trailer Tow Group $475; Interior Convernience Group $200; 220-amp alternator $150; auxiliary power connection $50; rear assist handles $150; cargo partition without window $350; driver suspension seat $750; left sliding door without glass $750; power folding; heated mirrors $250; 2 key fobs $150; rear heat and air conditioning prep package $350; remote start $615; 12-volt power in rear $75; GPS $500; cargo area lighting $285; auxiliary switches $200; security alarm $200; splash guards $215; cruise control $375; UConnect 5.0-inch $600; Sirius XM $375; leather-wrapped steering wheel $75; 16-inch wheel covers $200; rear park assist system $425; back-up camera $475
Optional Equipment
10 0
Scoring breakdowns 8.1
7 Styling
8 Powertrain
7 Quality
7 Comfort
10 Practicality
9 Drivability
8 Usability/Ergonomics
8 Fuel Economy
8 Features
9 Value