FWD Ram ProMaster mixes the cargo van market

Drawing attention in my driveway last week was a tall, strange-looking, Italian-based van; so tall it wouldn’t fit in my garage.

It’s the 2014 Ram 1500 ProMaster, the newest entry in the growing compact cargo van market in the U.S.

Based on the Fiat Ducato, seen for years in Europe, the new Ram is of front-wheel-drive configuration.

It competes with the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter, Nissan NV, Ford Transit Connect, Chevrolet Express, GMC Savana cargo and Ford E-series, all which are rear-wheel-drive structured.

Soon to be added to the mix will be the 2015 Chevrolet City Express van, to be built by Nissan Motor Co. under an alliance formed a year ago. It, too, will be of rear-drive.

An advantage of the new Ram FWD architecture is a lower load floor. With everything up front and no transmission, driveshaft or differential beneath the cargo area, the load floor is only 21 inches high, 7 inches lower than the closest competitors. With the low floor and tall roof, an adult can walk around insisde the cargo compartment without stooping.

Getting into the cab area can be a climb, as the grab handles over the doors are out of reach for shorter-statured occupants.

Elevated seating and large windshield and windows provide excellent vision to the front and sides, and, to help with rear vision and backing are oversized side mirrors, manually adjustable, with wide-angle magnified smaller mirrors at the bottom. The mirrors are similar to those on the Nissan Titan pickup I drove three weeks ago.

A big assist, too, in the van I drove are the rearview camera and rear park assist.

Providing the oomph for delivering all sorts of cargo are Chrysler’s 280-horsepower, 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 engine (258 lb.-ft. torque) and 6-speed automatic transmission. It’s a smooth combination, with plenty of power, and averaged 17.2 miles per gallon in an even split of city/highway maneuvers.

More performance is offered in the form of an optional 3.0-liter turbodiesel V-6 of 174-hp and 295 lb.-ft. torque.

The smooth automatic transmission, quick to downshift, fairly tight cornering and a relatively short 36-foot turning circle give the ProMaster a pleasant drive. Unloaded, the van can be somewhat bouncy and it’s noisy, partly due to the wide-open cargo area behind the driver’s seat.

Front suspension is strut-type, with a beam axle and Hotchkiss leaf-spring setup at the back. It rides on Continental 225/75R16 tires.

That cargo compartment measures 122.8 inches long and 73.6 wide (55.8 inches at the wheel wells) and 406.1 cubic feet of space. Payload is 3,810 pounds.

Base price for the ’14 Ram 1500 ProMaster cargo van with 136-inch wheelbase and high roof is $30,520.

A full-width shelf overhead of the driver and dual gloveboxes added $195. Boosting the sticker to $34,820 are these other additions – cargo net $95, manual lumbar $100, wood floor $395, lower side-wall paneling $195, rear defroster $150, rear-hinged doors $75, power heated mirrors $225, navigation $395, speed control $225, UConnect $350, SiriusXM satellite $195, wheel covers $195, rear park assist $250 and rearview camera $230.In addition to the 1500 high-roof model I drove, the Ram ProMaster is available in 2500 and 3500 ratings, low-roof heights, too, three wheelbases and four body lengths.

A look back

Thirty-five years ago this week, I reviewed in The Denver Post the 1979 Datsun 310 GX hatchback. Excerpts:

Datsun came up with an improved product in the front-wheel-drive market with its new 310 model, replacement for the F-10. The ’79 310 is a little bit longer, a little wider and a bit more comfortable than was the F-10. Braking performance of the vehicle is among the best of all the small, front-wheel-drive autos, and was improved this year through the use of a 33 percent larger master-vac power assist. The 310, with a 5-speed manual, showed its best colors in the mountains. Traction and stability were good on snowy curves between Central City and Nederland. The car hugged the road and handling was exceptional. The 100-mile run through the hills produced a fuel average of 32.6 miles per gallon from the 85-cubic-inch, transversely mounted engine. The GX, sportier than the sedan, is about $500 higher in price. Base price of the test car was $5,369, with $565 added for air conditioning and $110 for freight, a total of $6,044. The GX weighs only 2,020 pounds. On a wheelbase of 94.3 inches, it has a turning diameter of 31.5 feet.