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2018 Ram ProMaster 3500: New Car Review

The 2018 Ram ProMaster 3500 is the big daddy of ProMaster cargo vans. It is the largest in this range of Ram vans that includes the ProMaster 1500 and ProMaster 2500, which we review separately. What that means is, with the ProMaster 3500 you get the maximum cargo volume and payload (weight) capacity that ProMaster offers.

Although Chrysler engineers did what they could to Americanize it, we can give FIAT much of the credit for ProMaster. You see, FIAT builds and markets this van as the Ducato in other countries around the world. Because it was originally designed and engineered for Europe, it has front-wheel drive, accounting for the low load floor and step-in. Not only does its front-wheel-drive design give it a more car-like agility, it provides more traction and stability in foul weather than does rear-wheel drive.

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?

The ProMaster 3500 is largely unchanged for 2018, adding as standard equipment Integrated Voice Command with Bluetooth and backup camera.

What We Like

Huge space-efficient cargo area; 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; unwieldy handling; diesel engine’s jerky automated manual transmission

How Much?

$37,940-$40,690

Fuel Economy

Like the other ProMaster versions, the 3500 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 on 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 to produce jerky responses at low speed. Although 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

The 2018 Ram ProMaster 3500 doesn’t offer trim levels like most traditional models. Instead, it comes in two available sizes — standard-length and extended — both of which feature a high-roof body style for extra storage.

Priced from $37,940 with shipping, each ProMaster 3500 starts off about the same. Standard features include 16-inch steel wheels, air conditioning, keyless entry, power windows and locks, a backup camera, and Uconnect 3 with a 5-in display, Bluetooth, a USB port, an auxiliary audio jack and steering wheel-mounted audio controls. Regardless of which ProMaster 3500 model you choose, you’ll get a 159-in wheelbase, though extended models offer a longer body that includes a little extra cargo room behind the rear wheels.

The ProMaster is also offered with a wide range of options. They include a navigation system, heated seats, sliding side doors, rear parking sensors, cruise control, a chrome grille and alloy wheels.

Safety

Like most cargo vans, the ProMaster 3500 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 for a cargo van, from standard items such as front and side-curtain airbags, a backup camera, anti-lock brakes and traction control to modern options, including rear parking sensors.

Behind the Wheel

The 2018 Ram ProMaster 3500 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 if 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.

The 3500 model’s standard high-roof design can make things even more challenging, since you have to keep in mind that you can’t enter every parking garage. On the other hand, it also allows for considerably more cargo space than those same truck-based vans provide, along with the ability to walk around upright inside. We also like the low, flat load floor, which is excellent for loading cargo.

For good and bad, 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 immovable steering wheel.

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. With that being said, the diesel might offer enough of a fuel economy benefit to justify its additional cost and potential transmission-related annoyance.

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.

Autotrader’s Advice

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, as well as an option or two like the sliding doors and cruise control. We’d opt for the high-roof configuration and stick with the 136-in wheelbase, unless we really needed the maximum cargo space.

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