Chrysler’s Ram brand has an entirely new truck and two new engines just entering the market, and work-oriented customers might find them to be terrific tools. The new truck is the ProMaster full-size van, and the engines are the large-displacement 6.4-liter gasoline V-8 for Ram Heavy Duty models and compact 3-liter diesel V-6 for the Ram 1500 pickup.
Last Friday Ram executives showed them off at a press event near Westlake Village, northwest of Los Angeles, and even a jaded old guy like me couldn’t help being impressed with their features and performance. Let’s start with the new big van.
The ProMaster, as previously reported, is a European unibody design based on the Fiat Ducato. That truck’s been in production for over 30 years, so is well proven and durable, Ram execs said. But this one’s been North Americanized with bigger engines and brakes and a stronger body structure to take the greater stresses seen on this side of the pond.
It’s now being assembled at the Chrysler plant in Saltillo, Mexico, and is arriving at many Dodge BusinessLink dealers. It’ll have 14 variations considering roof heights, wheelbases, doors and other basic details, plus there’ll be chassis-cab versions with fabricated steel frames.
The ProMaster is Ram’s first big van since Chrysler split with Daimler of Germany and lost access to the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter, which was sold for a few years with a Dodge nameplate. The new truck is a worthy successor, and its front-wheel-drive layout not only makes it unique but also gives it the advantage of a low, flat floor because there’s no driveline over which to place the body.
Step-in height is only 21 inches, our hosts pointed out, which means a lot to a delivery driver who might be in and out of the truck many times a day.
Getting into the cab is another story. Its floor is several inches higher, and while there’s an interior step to ease the climb, there’s not much to hang onto until you’re behind the seat. The driver can grab the steering wheel, of course, but there’s almost nothing for the passenger to grasp. Above each of the high doors is a fold-down handle that both people can reach up for, but by then they’re headed for the seats anyway.
Young people won’t mind jumping up and hopping down, but large handles still ought to be placed on the A pillars, like those in Ram pickups. And that, folks, is my only complaint with the ProMaster.
The seats are comfortable, and the rest of the interior is unadorned and businesslike, with only the gauges and switches and controls needed for proper operation. There is a small black-on-grey LED screen that conveys various engine-condition and mileage information; its characters are small but readable.
On the go the truck is quick and nimble, rides well, has great visibility, and offers plenty of room and strong underpinnings to carry large, heavy items. The tall-roof version, which I drove, offers more than 6.5 feet of standup room, so no more crouching and crab-walking or crawling around on one’s knees while fetching tools or sorting through packages. There is just a little booming from the tall steel walls, but the van is otherwise rather quiet while underway.
The ProMaster really scoots with the standard 3.6-liter 280-horsepower Pentastar gasoline V-6 driving through a Chrysler 62TE 6-speed automatic transmission. All shifts were smooth and appropriate for varied conditions. The powertrain is mounted transversely, as in many cars, so there’s little intrusion into the cab.
Stated payload is 4,400 pounds, and there was about 1,200 pounds of bagged horse feed on a pallet in back, but it did almost nothing to hinder our progress. About two-thirds into our run a forklift removed the loaded pallet, but the truck felt and handled no differently.
Several times my driving buddy and I did sharp U-turns, partly to get back on the prescribed route (“Hey, I think we’re lost!”) and also to test the claim of a 35-foot turning circle – about the same as a midsize sedan – and it seems to be true. That and the snappy engine are the main ingredients in “nimble.”
Not present at this event were any ProMasters with the optional 3-liter inline 4-cylinder diesel with a 6-speed dual-clutch automated mechanical tranny. That powertrain will be come later, and will probably deliver better fuel economy and add several thousand dollars to the price. List price on this long-wheelbase, tall-roof van was $40,450.
Ram Heavy Duty pickup and chassis-cab trucks have the capable 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 and the burly 6.7-liter Cummins Turbo Diesel, but they’ve lacked a large-displacement gasoline engine for customers who have serious hauling jobs and want to stay with gasoline power.
That’s why Chrysler engineers developed the 6.4-liter (391-cubic-inch) Hemi V-8. It’s got big output – 410 horsepower and 429 pound-feet – and while it will use more fuel than the Cummins diesel, it’ll cost about $6,500 less to buy.
The 6.4 Hemi also raises payload and towing numbers, and has diesel-like features such as dual alternators, left- or right-side PTOs, and timed idle shutdown. Cylinder shutdown occurs under light loads in drive and PTO modes. The 6.4 will cost $1,495 more than the Hemi 5.7, which will still be standard in lighter HD pickups up to the single-rear wheel Ram 3500, while the 6.4 will be standard in duallies.
This is not a converted Dodge SRT auto engine, execs at the event insisted, but a truck engine all the way through. Computer simulations and exhaustive testing indicate it will perform reliably for at least 200,000 miles. (The Cummins diesel’s minimum life is 250,000 miles, but it goes much longer because it’s basically an ISB commercial engine.)
Among the 6.4 Hemi’s features are cooled exhaust-gas circulation, an active two-path air intake, with the second one opening when sensors tell engine controls that more cooling is needed; and dual-runner-length intake manifolds. It has hardened valves and valve seats, so propane and natural gas fuels might be authorized in the future.
Driving it in a Ram 3500 pickup was both impressive and surprising. The engine’s definitely got the go-power of a “big honkin’ motor,” and we moved briskly over dirt roads on a horse ranch in Ventura County, then up and down hills and around sharp bends on a road that cut through the coastal mountains and skirted deep ravines on its way to California 1, the Pacific Coast Highway.
This was a single-rear-wheel Ram 3500 with a very roomy four-door crew cab with a sumptuous Laramie interior –almost too nice to work but capable of a lot of it: Payload is 7,320 pounds and towing capacity is claimed to be 30,000 pounds. It had a five-link, coil-spring rear suspension, so rode rather well.
The 66RFE 6-speed automatic (also used with the 5.7 Hemi) was controlled by a column-mounted shifter with an up- and down-shift slide switch near the end of the lever. On the downgrades I used it a lot to help control our velocity, but left it alone on the level.
The engine made a nice deep exhaust note, but much of the sound seemed to come from mechanical sources and combined to make it seem rather busy. Modest calls for power were answered with an immediate rise in revs from 1,600 or so with no pedal to 2,000 and above. A serious stomp saw revs climb fast to 3,000 and 4,000 RPMs as the tranny stayed in lower gears until desired road speed was reached, all accompanied by a roar from under the hood.
I thought an engine this big ought to loaf more and let torque rather than horsepower do the propulsion job. Then again, Ford’s gasoline V-10 also wants to rev when the go-pedal is pushed. I guess I’ve driven too many low-speed diesels and want the gasoline engines to behave the same way.
Up ‘til now the highly popular light-duty pickups had only gasoline engines, and trucks fans have been demanding diesels. Now they can get one in the Ram 1500 – the VM Motori-sourced 3-liter EcoDiesel. Not to be confused with the I-4 diesel slated for the ProMaster van, this one’s a V-6 that’s as lively as anything you’ll drive.
The cylinder banks are angled at 60 degrees, and the engine has dual overhead camshafts and high-pressure fuel injection. Of course it’s turbocharged and intercooled, has cooled EGR and urea injection in the exhaust.
Maximum output is rated at 240 horsepower and 420 pound-feet, and it felt like all of that as I ran the Ram 1500 crewcab pickup over the hilly course to the Pacific and back over more level back roads and urban boulevards to our base at the ranch. It revs like a gasoline engine and sounds like a diesel, but only faintly, and there’s absolutely no smell to the exhaust.
The standard and only transmission is the ZF-made TorqueFlite 8-speed automatic. A rotary shifter on the dash dials in P, R, N and D, while up- and down-buttons on a steering wheel spoke allow manual operation. It works better than you’d think. My thumb got really busy while moving downgrade and I punched the tranny from 8th all the way to 4th and 3rd to help with retarding, even though the big disc brakes would’ve been more than enough on their own.
The EcoDiesel not only goes and will pull heavy loads with its hefty torue, but also delivers fuel economy that’s expected to be better than the Pentastar gasoline V-6’s 23/25 city/highway MPG – said to be the best in a half-ton pickup. My run over the mountains ended with the info center in the dash reporting 26.4 mpg – terrific if it’s accurate.
Partly because it’s a V-6 rather than a V-8, the EcoDiesel is priced at just $2,850 over the 5.7 Hemi engine. That’ll be hard to resist by anyone who puts on a lot of miles working or playing with his Ram 1500 pickup.