We can credit two things for there being a 2018 Ram ProMaster 1500 at all: Chrysler breaking Ram out of Dodge as its own division and FIAT absorbing Chrysler into its family, forming FIAT-Chrysler (FCA). As a separate division, Ram is able to better respond to the needs and demands of truck customers. Discounting the Mercedes-Benz-built Dodge Sprinter, there hadn’t been a cargo van in Chrysler’s lineup since the 2003 Dodge RAM Van. Customers were asking for one, and Ram responded.
The ProMaster is Ram’s take on a cargo van that FIAT markets in Europe. Ram engineers and product specialists Americanized it to create the ProMaster. Unlike hulking cargo vans of the past, the ProMaster is front-wheel-drive. It doesn’t make for the greatest towing (although it can pull up to 5,100 lbs.), but it does result in a more nimble and maneuverable vehicle. Another benefit of FWD is a low step-in and cargo floor.
The overall result is a user-friendly workhorse. In the world of cargo vans, it hauls like a heavy weight, but drives like a middle weight. Most of us wouldn’t make a ProMaster photo our screen saver, but looks aren’t really very important when there’s work to be done. Would we drive one across country for fun? Hardly, but as an everyday workhorse, it’s well-suited to the challenge.
What’s New for 2018?
Short of a total redesign, things don’t change much in this segment. Integrated Voice Command with Bluetooth is standard; a rear backup camera is standard.
What We Like
Huge, space-efficient cargo area; available high-roof body style; lots of available features; fuel-efficient diesel engine; excellent capabilities
What We Don’t
Odd driving position with no tilt steering wheel; 1500 model lacks 159-inch wheelbase; unwieldy handling; diesel engine’s jerky automated manual transmission
The ProMaster offers two engines. Standard is Chrysler’s 3.6-liter Pentastar V6, which makes 280 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque. It comes standard with a 6-speed automatic transmission and, unique to a commercial van, front-wheel drive. This should be appealing in poor weather areas where rear-wheel-drive vans can be a handful.
Optional is a fuel-saving 3.0-liter turbodiesel 4-cylinder power plant, which makes just 174 hp but has a muscular 295 lb-ft of torque. It comes with a 6-speed single-clutch automated manual, which you may find produces jerky responses at low speeds. Though the ProMaster is exempt from Environmental Protection Agency fuel economy ratings due to its size, we’d count on about 15 miles per gallon with the gas-powered V6 and 18 mpg with the diesel.
Standard Features & Options
Although the 2017 Ram ProMaster 1500 doesn’t offer trim levels, it comes in three available configurations: There’s a low-roof model with a 118-in wheelbase, a low-roof model with a 136-in wheelbase and a high-roof model with a 136-in wheelbase. There’s a longer wheelbase available on the 2500 and 3500 versions, which are reviewed separately.
Priced from $31,640 with shipping, each trim level is equipped about the same. Standard features include 16-in steel wheels, air conditioning, six airbags, keyless entry, power windows and locks, a backup camera and Uconnect 3.0 with a 5-in display, Bluetooth connectivity, a USB port, an auxiliary audio jack and steering-wheel-mounted audio controls.
The ProMaster is also offered with a wide range of options. They include rear parking sensors, a navigation system, sliding side doors, heated seats, cruise control and alloy wheels.
Like most cargo vans, the ProMaster isn’t crash-tested by the federal government’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration — and it’s not rated by the nonprofit Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, either.
But it offers a wide variety of safety features, from standard items such as front and side-curtain airbags, a backup camera, antilock brakes and traction control to options such as rear parking sensors. We’d like to see a few more safety features available on the ProMaster — including a blind spot monitoring system, which can be a huge help on windowless cargo vans.
Behind the Wheel
The 2018 Ram ProMaster drives exactly as it looks: like a huge van. That means vague steering, lots of body roll and an overall size that sometimes makes you question whether you’re driving a bus. Don’t take these comments too harshly, though: They could be applied to almost every other commercial van. "Almost every," because you’re likely to find the ProMaster to be far more maneuverable than the truck-based GM and Nissan vans.
For better and worse, the ProMaster’s driving position stands out. Thanks to a cab-forward design with the seat almost over the front axle, the ProMaster gives you a sweeping view of the road and the van’s corners. Unfortunately, the driving position itself is reminiscent of a bus, with you perched awkwardly above its steering wheel that telescopes, but doesn’t tilt.
When it comes to engine performance, we suspect most shoppers will prefer the V6. It’s a more traditional engine with a more traditional transmission — and its capabilities are about the same as the diesel’s. With that being said, the diesel might offer enough of a fuel economy benefit to justify its additional cost and potential transmission-related annoyance.
In terms of capabilities, we like the ProMaster’s low, flat load floor, which is excellent for loading cargo. We also love the high-roof option, which isn’t available on all the ProMaster’s competitors. Once you’re able to walk around inside the back of a cargo van, you’ll wonder how you hunched and crawled around all those years.
Other Cars to Consider
2018 Ford Transit — The Ford Transit is built in the United States and replaces the ancient Ford E-Series. It offers a very similar experience to the ProMaster — right down to the strong visibility and flat, low load floor.
2018 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter — Few vans offer the all-out capabilities of the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter, but it’s an expensive van to buy. As such, you may want to consider a used model. And if the Mercedes-Benz name seems too ritzy for your business, remember that it’s also sold as a Freightliner.
2018 Nissan NV — Nissan’s full-size NV van offers high- and low-roof configurations and a capable, truck-based chassis. But it’s a lot less fuel-efficient than the ProMaster, and it’s cumbersome to maneuver.
Even though diesel engines tend to return most, if not all, of their extra cost upon resale, we would still recommend the V6. We would go with the 2018 Ram ProMaster with the Pentastar V6, with an option or two like the sliding doors and cruise control. We’d opt for the high-roof configuration and 136-in wheelbase to maximize cargo room.