For those of us who ride motorcycles for everyday transportation in addition to riding them for fun, the notion of driving a four-wheel vehicle is practically anathema. Except, of course, if said vehicle is used for the express purpose of transporting motorcycles. Whether we're hauling race bikes to the track, or our non-plated dirt bikes out to our favorite OHV area, a capable and reliable hauling machine makes being a "cager" worth the trouble.
Enter the 2016 Ram Promaster cargo van. For the better part of 2016 the RideApart editorial team has been hauling, delivering and returning motorcycles and scooters of practically every type all over California in the Ram Promaster 1500. The handy hauler has pulled 18-foot trailers loaded to the gills with dirt bikes, and been a home away from home as we camped in it track-side at weekend motorcycle races and even delivered a palate of Pabst Blue Ribbon tall boys to a mechanical bull rodeo party.
We tested the flexible van in just about every moto-hauling scenario and, despite a few ergonomic and door hardware complaints, the 2016 Promaster's low bed height, spacious cargo capacity and in-town maneuverability had our pick-up trucks collecting dust for the months we drove the big black van. As our long-term loan is coming to an end, to say that we're experiencing some separation anxiety is an understatement.
Our long-term Promaster was the 1500 low roof model with the mid-sized 136-inch wheel base (also offered in a shorter 118-inch and longer 159-inch WB versions). Optional equipment highlights included: Mopar roadside safety kit, Electronic Vehicle Tracking System, Sidewall tiedown rings, Driver Suspension Seat, integrated GPS, and sliding doors with tinted windows on both the driver and passenger sides of the van, back up camera and towing package.
The first thing that impressed us about the van was its Euro-looking cab-forward styling, which makes sense as the Ram Promaster is a re-badged U.S. version of the Fiat Ducato sold overseas. Fiat, of course, is Chrysler's parent company. The Promaster's huge front window, forward placed front seats and narrow, tall stance give it very non-American looks. For us this was a plus, but some domestic van enthusiasts might be put off by its looks.
The interior of our Promaster was kitted with a three-passenger back row bench seat. We loved the idea of being able to haul bikes and passengers but quickly discovered that keeping the back row of seats meant there wasn't enough room for even a single bike. So, out they came, which was a tool-heavy operation, dashing any thoughts of quickly re-installing the seats should the need arise.
Our Promaster was also up-fitted with a three-shelf tool rack that included locking removable tool drawers and customizable storage drawers. The tool system was great for storing tiedowns, bike parts and gear of any kind and the removable drawers made getting at and moving the stuff you need super convenient. One small downside of the shelving unit was that it took up about 18 inches of valuable motorcycle space from its position over the rear passenger side wheel well. Ultimately, however, the added benefit of the tool rack more than made up for the space it occupied.
Hauling Loads: What it does best
When it came time to load and haul our first motorcycle, we were left wanting for some better placed tie-down points at the front of the van. After a little improvising, however, the rear mount points of the driver and passenger seats did the trick. Not being specifically designed for motorcycle transport, the van wasn't equipped with front wheel chocks. But after a little more improvisation a 5-foot long plank of 4x4 fit nicely onto the floor of the van behind the cockpit making a secure place to brace the front wheels of two forward-facing bikes.
The best feature of the Ram Promaster 1500 is its very low bed height, which is a best-in-its-class at 21 inches floor to ground. The low bed removes much of the stress of loading and unloading expensive motorcycles, by removing the need to place s step at the rear of the van. Even more so for when you find yourself having to load the van alone. Behind the driver and passenger seats the 2016 Ram Promaster 1500 offered a cavernous 304 cubic feet of storage capacity. And even with the low roof height option, moving around and securing cargo was a breeze – made even more convenient with windowed sliding doors on both sides of the vehicle.
The rear doors of the van are mounted to rotating hinges that allow them to be opened all that way around, so they rest out of the way for loading against the sides of the van. We did experience some reliability issues with door handles on the sliding doors and rear doors over the course of our loan. The side doors would sometimes take a couple of pull attempts to open and the rear main door handle all but stopped working by the end of our test, requiring us to have to open it from the inside of the van.
On the Road
For being a essentially large box with wheels the Promaster is an easy vehicle to handle in tight spaces. Forward visibility is excellent and the windows on the rear and sliding doors made spacial awareness excellent. Maneuvering the Promaster in tight spaces is made even easier by back-up proximity sensors and a high-quality back-up camera. Coupled with the smooth six-speed automatic transmission and a curb-to-curb turning radius of 40.7 feet the Promaster is an accessible vehicle for non-professional truck drivers.
When at speed, we found that the Promaster has two distinct handling personalities: the empty van and the loaded van.
First the good: when loaded our Promaster felt planted on the road. Driving on the freeway, it was easy to keep in its lane and wasn't too adversely affected by crosswinds.
Driving the empty van, however, was not as confidence inspiring. When unencumbered, the medium duty suspension made the rear wheels feel like they were hopping from time to time, and in heavy crosswinds could make holding a lane on the freeway a handful. The equipped Electronic Roll Mitigation System does kick in when the turn angles get a little of of hand, but we prefered driving a loaded van over an empty one.
Comfort and Ergonomics
The interior fit and finish is utilitarian but not austere. The integrated GPS, Uconnect communication system, and hands-free phone system work well, and amenities like satellite radio and a leather wrapped steering wheel make you feel like you're driving something nicer than a box van.
Comfort from the driver's seat does leave a bit to be desired. Because of the cab-forward position, the driving position is over the top of the steering column. And rather than pressing the brake and gas pedals forward to the firewall you feel like you're pressing them down into the floorboard. As a result, you can never stretch your legs out completely. Moving the seat back completely still doesn't open up any legroom and puts the steering too far away to drive comfortably for extended periods of time.
Engine and Performance
Promasters are available in the United States in a handful of engine configurations: our loaner was the 280-hp V6, but they are also available with a 174-hp turbodiesel four. Both engines have a six-speed automatic and front-wheel drive. While you're not going to burn up the quarter mile on a Promaster, the Ram’s 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 will go from 0 to 60 mph in a not-too-shabby 8.1 seconds. The van rides comfortably along at freeway speeds and we found that we could get just under 380 miles of range from a single fill-up of the 24-gallon tank.
The front wheel drive provides surefooted handling when the surfaces get slippery, but does cost some traction points when hauling a heavy trailer.
After six months of living in and with the Ram Promaster 1500, we are sorry to see it go. Despite a shortcomings it proved to be a fantastic motorcycle hauler. The security of keeping some of the beautiful bikes we haul every week covered up and out of the elements was a huge plus, that makes us dread going back to the old pickup truck routine.
The Base MSRP Price of the model Ram Promaster 1500 is: US $30,170. As equipped: US $38,640.