|298 - 464||Torque (lb-ft)||260|
|2 - 15||Seating (passenger)||2|
|9,900||Gross Vehicle Weight Rating||9,350|
If you are looking for a highly capable cargo van with large capacities and impressive payload capability, then you have probably considered the 2021 Chevy Express 3500 vs 2021 Ram ProMaster 3500. That said, there are fundamental differences in the construction of these two vehicles, and indeed even their intended purpose. The Express 3500 was designed and built for the American market from the ground up and is quite heavily built. Meanwhile, the Ram ProMaster is actually a rebadged Fiat Ducato that was originally designed for duty in Europe and is a less rugged unibody design.
The reason the origin of the ProMaster matters is that the tight confines and short distances common to Europe are often not very applicable in the United States. In the US, far larger distances more often need to be traveled, and generally speaking, more space is available for maneuvering. While the Ram ProMaster's priorities could make it a reasonable option for inner-city work in the US, in general, those tasks are better handled by the smaller city van vehicle segment. When it comes to using full-sized cargo vans in the US, the Chevy Express 3500 is very hard to beat.
The only thing truly moving everything a cargo van hauls is the engine. The engine in a van is just as important as it is in any other type of truck or commercial vehicle, and it gives the van its character. For vehicles capable of operating at gross weights of nearly five tons, the need for substantial power and torque isn't just about bragging rights but the basic ability to get the job done.
Both the Chevy Express and the Ram ProMaster have solid standard V6 engine options in their lineup, but for the ProMaster, the options end there. The Express has a much wider array of engine choices compared to the ProMaster's single available powerplant. In effect, this means that for moving heavy cargo, the Express is the clear choice. The engine options it provides besides a V6, allow it to be specifically tailored to the needs of operators and drivers, especially when those needs include heavier lifting.
The 4.3-liter engine option standard in the Chevrolet Express is a hardy and torquey high-displacement V6 that has been used in stressing applications for two and a half decades. These engines have been continually upgraded through that time, remaining high in technology while maintaining rock-solid reliability. These engines often find themselves in other light-duty utility roles, such as powering pickup trucks. That includes having powered the Chevy ZR2 off-road package-equipped S10 and Sonoma pickups, renowned for their ability to get their drivers out of trouble and back home from days on the trail. The current incarnation of the 4.3-liter V6 is all-aluminum and produces 276 horsepower and 298 pound-feet of torque.
The Chevrolet Express' option for maximum power is the 6.6-liter V8, gasoline-fueled and actually less expensive than the 4.3-liter V6 engine option in some applications. This monster of an engine produces over four hundred horsepower and well over four hundred and sixty pound-feet of torque. Even when saddled with the Chevrolet Express 3500's maximum Gross Vehicle Weight of 9,900 lbs, this thumper can get up and go. For those who require more than standard performance, this engine is a worthwhile option.
The 2.8-liter turbo-diesel may seem like the baby of the Chevy Express engine options, but its modern turbocharged diesel design makes this baby lift like a champion. Despite only having 2.8 liters of displacement, this engine can produce up to 369 pound-feet of torque, and at a remarkably low 2,000 rpm at that. Considering this engine's light weight, good fuel economy, and excellent 8-speed automatic transmission, it makes for a worthy upgrade equally capable of accelerating heavy loads and sipping fuel on the freeway.
While the Chevy Express 3500 has a trio of excellent engine options, the Ram ProMaster 3500 has a single engine option, the Pentastar. This is a well-engineered 3.6 liter V6 that offers 280 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. It needs to be mentioned, however, that the respectable torque number this engine archives is at 4,400 rpm. This means the engine needs to be revved harder, and thus worked harder, to achieve its maximum performance when compared to the Chevy Express engines.
Not only that, but its overall output in terms of torque is lower than any option available on the Express. While its horsepower statistics are not inadequate, these are far less important than torque when hauling heavy loads, and it is quite clear that the Pentastar was not designed for the heavier-duty work it has been assigned to in the ProMaster.
Cargo vans gain their utility from their voluminous interiors and what those interiors can do. Both the 2021 Chevy Express 3500 and the 2021 Ram ProMaster 3500 exemplify this, but they take very different approaches in providing utility to their operators. The 2021 Chevy Express 3500 comes from the factory with huge amounts of cargo space and several options to tailor the cargo area specifically to the needs of the operator. These include several factory-installed upfit packages that add storage lockers and other equipment specifically tailored for individual professions.
The 2021 Ram ProMaster 3500 is also highly customizable, in some ways more so than the Chevy Express. Where it potentially falls short is that for a long list of applications, the factory does not provide upfits. This means that all the most customizable trims of the ProMaster van literally leave the factory unfinished, requiring aftermarket support to be completed to the point where they can do useful work. While the problems with this approach can be mitigated if one already has connections with highly reputable upfiting companies, it adds cost, a middleman, and an extra step to what should be a straightforward process.
One of the worst offenders of this in the case of the ProMaster is the window van configuration. While it looks like a passenger van on the outside, it only comes with the two up-front seats from the factory. In fact, no ProMaster van comes with more than two seats. All variations sold in the US require aftermarket support for this enormous vehicle to seat more than two people.
In stark contrast, the Chevy Express passenger van can carry up to 15 passengers from the factory. The seats are not aftermarket, and they include the rigid US crash testing certification that aftermarket parts are not required to endure. All that comes with a more streamlined buying experience that gets an operator's van to work quicker and for less money.
All vehicles are a contest of compromises, and nowhere is this more true than in terms of drivetrain layout. Where the engine is located and which wheels the engine drives are critically important to the overall utility of the vehicle, greatly affecting how easy it is to use in different circumstances and how it performs. The 2021 Chevy Express 3500 and 2021 Ram ProMaster 3500 differ massively in their drivetrain layout, and it speaks to the varied design priorities Chevy and Fiat had when first engineering these vans.
The Chevy Express uses a tried and true front-engine, rear-wheel drive layout similar to pickup trucks. This effectively divides responsibility for propulsion and steering to the rear and front wheels, respectively, thus aiding handling and unloaded weight balance. It is a classic layout for many kinds of vehicles, but especially for cargo vans and other heavier trucks.
Meanwhile, the Ram ProMaster uses a front-engine, front-wheel drive layout, similar to modern economy cars and crossovers. This is a bold move and does allow for more compact packaging and slightly lower costs. However, it does dramatically detract from space available to work on the engine under the hood because of said compact packaging. More importantly, this configuration provides less grip when the van is fully loaded or towing a trailer, further reducing its already inferior power when compared to the Chevy Express.
Another of the issues the ProMaster has in terms of its engineering is that the upsides of its drivetrain layout decision are not fully capitalized on. For example, one of the biggest advantages to the front-engine, front-wheel drive layout is that it should leave more space for people and cargo. Yet the space between the cargo doors and the front seats is actually less on the ProMaster than it is on the rear-wheel drive Express, on both van's standard wheelbase trim.