When DaimlerChrysler dumped its Chrysler unit in 2007, there went Dodge’s access to the Sprinter commercial van that’s so beloved by bike guys. Nearly as big as a MotoGP shipping container, the Sprinter was seemingly made for riders who need tons of headroom, space for multiple bikes, good fuel mileage, and the ability to secure stuff out of the weather and away from thieves.
Chrysler needed fresh blood in the segment, hence the new 2014 Ram ProMaster range. Available in four lengths, it’s a real international omelet—engineering by Fiat, built in Mexico, featuring an American 3.6-liter gasoline Pentastar V-6 engine (a diesel version is scheduled for mid-2014), and boasting Czech Republic tires and “Made In Romania” bits under the hood. The van is almost 21 ft. long and 8.5 ft. tall, so naturally it’s incredibly roomy inside, with a storage area more than 13 ft. long, over 6 ft. wide and nearly 6.5 ft. high. But the money features are the flat cargo floor and modest 2 ft. load-in height, courtesy of the front-wheel-drive powertrain and rear beam axle.
We drove the 3500 ProMaster 700 miles while delivering a bike to Las Vegas. En route we marveled at some features and came to loathe others. First, the good. The powertrain is a sweetheart, with a tabletop-wide torque curve that makes accelerating and freeway cruising easy. We averaged 17.6 mpg for the trip. The handling is likewise good for a big van, and the sharp turning radius is appreciated. And the giant windshield and side windows, lofty seating position and backup camera all provide a workable view of the outside world.
The cargo bay devoured our single bike easier than that old whale swallowed Jonah, and with a 4,280-lb. payload capacity, the ProMaster didn’t even notice the weight. Seventeen tie-down rings on the floor and walls made it easy to find attachment points. But the cargo area is unfinished, save a floor pad and twin interior floodlights—buyers will need to add second-row seating, wheel chocks and gear racks on their own.
So while the back half of the ProMaster got the job done just fine, the cab-forward ergonomics gave us fits. A flat steering-wheel position and upright seating mean there isn’t room to straighten your legs due to the intrusive wheel well, pedals, steering-shaft cover and engine tunnel. Other demerits include a long reach to the audio and HVAC controls and cup holders, a basic TomTom navigation system with a screen no bigger than a good Android phone’s, budget interior materials, and significant cabin noise that spiked our sound meter to 83 dBA on a particularly harsh roadway. On a positive note, Chrysler’s available Uconnect feature turned the ProMaster into a rolling WiFi hotspot!
At $40,450 as equipped, the 2014 ProMaster 3500 offers a lot while also leaving much to be desired. If you can tolerate the ergonomic issues, it’s clearly a great tool for motorcyclists. But if creature comforts and the drive experience are equally important, the Sprinter still rules.
|PRICE AS TESTED||$40,450|
|ENGINE||3.6-liter 24-valve V-6 with VVT|
|FUEL ECONOMY, CW OBSERVED||17.6 mpg|
|SUSPENSION, FRONT / REAR||MacPherson struts / Beam|
|OVERALL LENGTH||250.0 in.|
|OVERALL WIDTH||82.7 in.|
|OVERALL HEIGHT||101.0 in.|
|TURNING DIAMETER||46.8 ft.|
|INTERIOR FLOOR LENGTH||159.0 in.|
|INTERIOR FLOOR WIDTH, MAX.||74.0 in.|
|FLOOR WIDTH BETWEEN WELLS||55.8 in.|
|INTERIOR CEILING HEIGHT||75.7 in.|
|CARGO TIE-DOWN RINGS||17|
|INTERIOR CARGO LIGHTS||2|
|CURB WEIGHT||5,070 lb.|
|PAYLOAD CAPACITY||4,280 lb.|
|TOWING CAPACITY||5,100 lb.|