Few vehicles are as taken for granted as the humble work van. Buyers expect these rolling breadboxes to work as reliably and tenaciously as they themselves do; to take a licking and keep on ticking is job number one for these workhorses. While this isn't exactly a trait affiliated with Italian autos, Ram's Fiat-derived ProMaster is nonetheless ready to spar with the heavyweights of the segment. To ensure it's taken seriously, it offers multiple wheelbases and configurations, and is also the only full-size front-wheel-drive work van available on these shores. But spec-sheet stats don't paint the whole picture. These vans only prove their mettle when the going gets tough. Is Ram's Euro-bred ProMaster tough enough for the American handyman?

Best Value

There's 14 different combinations available with the ProMaster, but our search for the Best Value focuses on what we imagine to be one of the more popular configurations: the high-roof, 136-inch wheelbase model.

Were we contractors rather than journalists, we would get our ProMaster in the 2500-series configuration. It costs $1,000 more than the 1500-series version, but includes heavy-duty brakes and suspension, as well as an additional 400 pounds of payload capacity. We'd also get the electronic tracking to ensure our workers keep it under 100 on the interstate and the double passenger seat in case a three-man job comes up. Rounding out our options would be the rear park-assist system and an alarm. All told, here's our ready-to-work ProMaster:

  • Model: 2018 Ram ProMaster 2500 Cargo Van, 136-inch Wheelbase with High Roof
  • Engine: 3.6-liter V6
  • Output: 280 hp / 260 lb-ft
  • Transmission: Six-speed automatic
  • Drivetrain: Front-wheel drive
  • MPG: The EPA doesn't rate the Ram ProMaster
  • Options: Security alarm ($245), electronic vehicle tracking system ($250), passenger double seat ($395), parking assist system ($295)
  • Base Price:$35,140 (including the $1,645 destination charge)
  • Best Value Price:$36,325

Performance

Ram ProMaster

In Japan, there's a race series pitting modified 1990s-era Ram cargo vans against each other (google it). After sampling the ProMaster, we don't see these racers picking up well-used examples for track duty.

This isn't to say that the standard-issue 3.6-liter V6 isn't a good engine – it is. With 280 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque, it runs smooth and has decent acceleration. It's hooked up to a traditional six-speed automatic, which is also a competent performer that won't make itself known as it goes about its duty. In an era where eight cylinders in a work van is becoming ancient history, this powertrain combo should be more than enough to get the job done with limited fuss. Only those Japanese racers will be missing the availability of a V8.

It's another story with the 3.0-liter turbodiesel four-cylinder that's optional across the ProMaster lineup. It makes 174 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque, and does so with all the refinement of the grizzled loggers and ranchers Ram loves to use in their marketing materials. Coupled to this uncomfortably gruff engine is a six-speed automated-manual that's equally cantankerous. While fuel economy is probably better with this combo than the V6 – the EPA doesn't rate the ProMaster, so we can't say for certain – we'd stick with the gas-burner.

Being front-wheel drive, the 118-inch wheelbase ProMaster boasts a 36.3-foot turning radius; the largest 159-inch model does the deed in only 46.8 feet. For what's essentially a rolling billboard that can measure up to 21 feet in length, this is darn impressive.

Not so impressive is the overall ride. Let's not mince words here: even though there's three available suspensions, all ride harsh and are especially terrible when unladen. We get that this is a work van and not a limousine, but it's still a disappointment, especially considering how well Ram's own pickups cruise while unburdened.

Style

There's few other vehicles on the market that are as aesthetically unattractive as the ProMaster. From every angle, there's something awkward and off-kilter. The front fascia is especially egregious, but being a modular design with only three pieces, replacement panels should be easy and cheap. From a styling perspective, we'd rather look at any other full-size van than this one.

But you don't buy a work van to look at it – you buy it to use it. In that regard, the ProMaster's spartan but roomy interior is ready for the rigors of daily use. According to Ram, at 21 inches from the ground, it has the lowest load height in its class, and with up to 463 cubic feet of cargo capacity, it's one of the most spacious vans on the market. There's also 76 inches of interior height with the high-roof models and 75.6 inches of width. This is a lot of room, to say the least. In fact, it's more room than both the Chevrolet Express/GMC Savana twins and the Nissan NV. It can't quite match the maximum interior height and cargo capacity of the ever-popular Ford Transit, though.

Up in the cab, there's no forgetting that this is a cargo van and not a Caravan. It's a sea of black plastic, and the controls are mostly manual and rudimentary. But rudimentary often means functional, and that's certainly the case here – everything is refreshingly straightforward. The one piece of cabin technology is the standard five-inch touchscreen housing a simplified version of the excellent Uconnect infotainment system. A navigation-equipped version of this system is optional.

The Best and Worst Things

With up to 463 cubic feet of storage, a number of work-oriented options, and 14 different chassis configurations, there's excellent versatility with the ProMaster.

Unfortunately, that excellent versatility stops short of people-moving. For 2018, Ram has dropped the passenger version of the ProMaster, meaning the passenger count tops out at three. Considering that most competitors offer 12- or 15-passenger iterations of their big vans, this is a disappointing simplification of the lineup.

Right For? Wrong For?

Ram ProMaster

One of the major selling points is the class-exclusive front-wheel drive. This makes it ideal for buyers who are up in northern climates and don't want to deal with the excitement of an unladen rear-drive van in the snow.

Anyone who's hoping to haul passengers needs to look elsewhere.

The Bottom Line

It has a harsh suspension and repulsive styling, but the ride issues should be mitigated once it's loaded up, and the styling – well, no one's buying a work van because it looks pretty. Beyond these two drawbacks, the general competence of the 3.6-liter engine, the novelty of front-wheel drive, and the sheer amount of cargo space make the ProMaster a decent, if not quite stellar, contender in the quiet but contentious segment of professional vans.