2012 Ram Cargo Van Road Test


The 2012 Ram Cargo Van makes a strong value play in the small-business segment, where large and small vehicles need to work especially hard for their owners. The Class 1 arena in the U.S. has relatively few competitors — think the Ford Transit Connect — but it is getting more attention as gas prices and overall cost of ownership become important priorities for companies look to create cost savings for customers.

Pound-for-pound, the Ram C/V is just about the strongest value choice we’ve driven in a long while, pickup or van. 

Base C/Vs start just under $23,000 and come equipped with the new 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6, rated at 283 horsepower at 6,400 rpm and 260 pounds-feet of torque at 4,400 rpm. The base model includes the new six-speed transmission. 

EPA fuel economy ratings are 17 mpg in the city and 25 mpg on the highway; however, during our test drive, our real-world fuel economy averaged closer to 21 mpg in combined driving around town and on a long-haul trip. 

Mechanically, the C/V’s greatest strength is how well the transmission is quick to sense how to efficiently pull through the gears under loaded or empty conditions. Shifts are smooth and steady in normal modes and seem to adjust slightly with more throttle input. Also, we found having the transmission shifter on the dash — a comfortable reach from where your right hand rests on the steering wheel — was hugely convenient when shifting manually. It’s a quick tap to the left or right to go up or down the gears as needed.  

Another strength of the C/V, appropriately enough, lies in the cavernous storage area. Our test unit came with the standard aluminum flat floor that offers almost 150 cubic feet of cargo space, big enough to hold a good-sized refrigerator or a washer and dryer set. The floor is 48 inches wide at the wheel wells and almost 7 feet long — almost the size of a long-bed pickup truck.  It’s worth noting that a Deluxe Load option included several storage door openings in the floor that allow access to the rear and midsection cubbies under the floor.  

Much like a good pickup truck, the payload rating on the C/V is 1,800 pounds. Our unit weighed 4,250 pounds with our 20-gallon tank full, giving us a gross vehicle weight rating of 6,050 pounds. Factory specs also have the C/V’s tow rating (when properly equipped; ours was not) at a class-leading 3,600 pounds. For those keeping track, that gives us a gross combined weight rating of 8,750 pounds.

If these numbers don’t sound like the typical minivan rating, you’re right. We’re told Ram Truck engineers worked long and hard to get the right front and rear spring rates set properly to allow for a good carrying capacity as well as offer better slower-speed control. In fact, the front springs are 44 percent stronger than its Dodge Grand Caravan twin, and the front springs are 37 percent stronger.  

As you might expect, when driving the C/V around town empty, the rear end is a bit bouncy and light, especially when moving over rough roads or hitting speed bumps. However, because the vehicle is front-wheel drive and has more weight in the back with the closed rear sections, there isn’t the same twitchy feel that sometimes accompanies an empty-bedded rear-drive pickup truck.  

Ram allows C/V buyers to order black-out windows, which gives the doors and side panel some added strength but, more importantly, makes it impossible for outsiders to see what type of valuable cargo might be inside the van. We should note that not having full visibility through the rear windows takes some getting used to, but the backup camera, included in the $1,390 Media Center Nav Package, made it quite easy to see all things behind us when backing up. We did wish we could continuously access a rearview screen like many motorhomes do to help keep track of what’s going on behind the van. It would be a good idea to offer bigger optional side mirrors when equipped with black-out window panels. 

For something called a “cargo van,” it might be a little odd to talk about the front seating area, but it deserves it. This is not your typical Spartan commercial interior setup when driving a cost-first workhorse. Let’s be honest: A lot of times it’s not the boss driving a vehicle like this, so comfort and amenities are typically not high on the order list. However, to its credit, the C/V’s interior is much more like a minivan than a commercial stripper model. Dash layout and materials are just as you’d expect in a well-equipped Caravan, with dual glove boxes, good-quality console, instrument panel and door materials, and quite comfortable seats. Our test unit came with the optional $200 eight-way adjustable driver’s seat with an adjustable lumbar support — worth every penny. If this is the vehicle you have to do an eight-hour shift in or over a long-haul transportation route, we’re guessing your back will be just fine at the end of the day. 

Standard features in the C/V include air conditioning with dual-zone climate control, an instrument cluster with a normal speedometer and tachometer, outside temperature display, an overhead console, A-pillar grab handle, 120-volt auxiliary power outlet, 12-volt front and rear area DC power outlets, interior air filtering, auxiliary audio jack for mobile devices, cloth low-back bucket seats, door courtesy lamps, driver and passenger visors with mirrors, map lamps, cargo rearview mirror, liftgate flood lamp, lower panel storage and cupholders, dual sliding doors with alert warning, power locks, power front windows, cruise control, steering-wheel-mounted audio controls, tilt/telescoping steering wheel and variable intermittent windshield wipers.

Safety features include active head restraints, advanced multistage front airbags, four-wheel-disc antilock brakes, Latch child-seat anchor system, driver’s knee airbag, electronic stability control, keyless entry with immobilizer and a tire pressure monitoring system.

Our test unit came with only a few options that included the Uconnect multimedia system ($690), side airbag curtain delete (-$150), full-width cargo divider ($450), eight-way power driver’s seat ($200), media/entertainment system ($1,390), Mopar wireless hotspot ($650) and $835 destination fee. The total of our Stone White test unit was $26,680 (). 

Considering what you get for the money, you’d be hard-pressed to find anything this well equipped and capable of carrying this kind of load in a lockable environment. Think of it as an awesomely priced regular cab pickup truck that you can lock all your valuables in and even sleep inside (fully stretched out) if you need to, comfortably protected from rain and snow. 


Latest expert reviews