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How do Promasters perform off pavement?

Original Post
Mark E Dixon · · Sprezzatura, Someday · Joined Nov 2007 · Points: 674

We are finally burnt out camping in freezing winter weather and looking for a van.
The Promasters are wide enough for us to sleep sideways, which opens up a lot of space.
But I'm concerned about their ability on harsh dirt roads.
Don't expect four wheel drive or anything, but would like something that does better than a minivan.
Any insights into getting to some of the rougher southwest areas?
I'm guessing Enchanted and Homestead are way too hard, but what about Last Chance?
Arrow Canyon? Black Velvet?

Jordan Gans · · Las Vegas, NV · Joined May 2012 · Points: 25

I put some beefier/larger tires on our PM, but haven't really had a problem at most climbing areas.

Black Velvet is not a problem...I'm more concerned about break-ins than the road there.  
Homestead and arrow canyon - I've walked both and wouldn't attempt driving up in the PM.  Homestead is just too steep, and arrow has the wash crossings.  It might be doable, but my wife wasn't stoked on trying.

Ours is pretty rear heavy with the bed and storage back there, so i think that affects it's pulling ability on steeper roads.  Never had any issues on rocky, mildly steep terrain though.  I could probably get it up to Cliffs of Insanity, but haven't tried yet.

Jordan

Dan Cooksey · · SLC, UT · Joined Jan 2014 · Points: 365

The Promaster is not ideal for off-roading.  When Driving on rutted roads for long periods of time it sucks and feels like the van is going to fall apart.  The most recent encounter was driving up Geology Tour Road in JT.  It sucks.  As far as serious 4X4 roads.....I wouldn't dare.  The shocks on them arent very good, and the 2500 model is more rigid(mine) than the 1500.  

The bottom line is you should take this into consideration in your build.  Make sure all your framing and interior features are secure.

However I have been all over the country in mine and made it to some fairly precarious spots.  You just have to use common sense, and I wouldnt let that deter you from getting one.  You will likely find that an extreme road that is not accessible in the van is going to be rare.

Dan Cooksey · · SLC, UT · Joined Jan 2014 · Points: 365
bruno-cx wrote: Build out a Tundra.

I often regret not doing a truck build.......

Matt Wetmore · · Unknown Hometown · Joined May 2017 · Points: 46

Yeah if you want to do a lot of off-road approaches I'd get one of those truck bed rv toppers and put it on a truck instead of getting a van. 

Shane F · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Aug 2014 · Points: 0

I am also looking into getting a van and have decided that the Promaster is likely the best fit for my needs. My justification is that I want a high top since I am 6'3", four-wheel/all-wheel drive is out of my price range, and 90 percent of the driving I plan to do will be on dry paved roads. As for the decision between rear-wheel and front-wheel drive in the winter I plan to go skiing a fair bit an front-wheel drive with studded winter tires can handle almost every road condition that will get me to a ski hill. Years back I drove a rear-wheel drive dually sprinter for work and the thing was the worst vehicle I have ever driven on snow. At the same time my personal car was a front-wheel drive GM econo-box that I had to try very hard to get stuck. I know that the dual rear tires made the sprinter behave worse but it truly was a piece of crap.

Aside from being able to pull really steep grades with loose surfacing or true 4x4 type trails, I don't think there are a lot of situations in which careful driving and good tires won't get me through. I plan to add a skip plate to protect the engine. Which brings up another good point for front-wheel drive, no exposed drive shaft running to the back of the vehicle. Fewer exposed mechanical connections means lower possible breaking points, at least in my book.

Another hit against four-wheel and all-wheel drive is the fuel economy hit. That being said the Promasters don't get great mileage compared to a diesel Sprinter but you get my point.

Rob T · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jun 2006 · Points: 10
bruno-cx wrote:

I'm shopping for a 50 gallon gasoline tank for my Tundra... it's an an epic gas hog, 13.5mpg. 

Is that with an camper in the bed?  Ours seems to live in the 15-16 mpg window, hills, headwinds, tail winds, whatever. Only major departure I’ve seen is getting closer to 17 when I drive to Sun Valley(55 mph speed limits and cops w a hard on for UT plates). 

Generally filled w kids and camping stuff, so load is all I can think of to explain the difference. 
slim · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Dec 2004 · Points: 1,107

if toyota made a big van on a tundra platform, it would literally be the holy grail.

Rob T · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jun 2006 · Points: 10

Huh, mines a ‘14 w about 45k. Makes me wonder if the newer ones are any better. I think they’ve used the same 5.7L for that whole run so must be other drivetrain tweaks. 

the schmuck · · Albuquerque, NM · Joined Feb 2012 · Points: 115

Mark, I have seen ProMasters at Last Chance and The Tower, so should have no issues there. The Homestead is another story. Despite what one of the above posters said, you really want 4 low to get through the crux. People have gotten stuck and even broken axels on that road. As a caveat, I have not as much as set foot in a ProMaster, so basically I'm talking out my ass. 

Dan Cooksey · · SLC, UT · Joined Jan 2014 · Points: 365
the schmuck wrote: Mark, I have seen ProMasters at Last Chance and The Tower, so should have no issues there. The Homestead is another story. Despite what one of the above posters said, you really want 4 low to get through the crux. People have gotten stuck and even broken axels on that road. As a caveat, I have not as much as set foot in a ProMaster, so basically I'm talking out my ass. 

If you want to hang out and take Instagram photos, I’ll hit you up next time I’m in NM.

Rexford Nesakwatch · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Oct 2018 · Points: 0

The low rear sway bar is not a clearance nightmare? Since it goes the whole width of the van, I assumed that a rocky road or deeper snow would be a nightmare.

I have had vehicles with a low rear differential or utility skid plate that I could manueaver around a rock or water bar, but that PM sway bar seems like a deal killer.

It is not as bad (i.e., low) as it looks?

Cocoapuffs 1000 · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jun 2008 · Points: 10
Rexford Nesakwatch wrote: The low rear sway bar is not a clearance nightmare? Since it goes the whole width of the van, I assumed that a rocky road or deeper snow would be a nightmare.

I have had vehicles with a low rear differential or utility skid plate that I could manueaver around a rock or water bar, but that PM sway bar seems like a deal killer.

It is not as bad (i.e., low) as it looks?

FYI- the "swaybar" is actually the axle itself.  I'm pointing this out this because bending an axle has higher consequences than bending/breaking a swaybar.

Mark E Dixon · · Sprezzatura, Someday · Joined Nov 2007 · Points: 674

Hmm, this is kind of discouraging.

How do econolines fare?
I actually like much about a pop-up conversion on an E250 or E350, but they are maybe just a little narrower, making sideways sleeping questionable.

John Reeve · · Durango, formely from TX · Joined Nov 2018 · Points: 5

is there a reason why you have to have "sideways sleeping"?

I have a 6' bed on my tacoma... it makes a really good bed (I'm 6'3, but I make do.  If you get a tall topper, you can put storage under the bed, but since it's just me I don't mind sleeping next to my stuff instead of on top of it.

Norm Larson · · Wilson, Wy. · Joined Jan 2008 · Points: 55

Ford Transit is coming out with AWD this year. Might be worth looking at. I’ll be checking them out.  It probably won’t have super high clearance but maybe with larger wheels and tires?

M Mobes · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Mar 2006 · Points: 910

Gear forum?

Eric Carlos · · depends · Joined Aug 2008 · Points: 40
Mark E Dixon wrote: Hmm, this is kind of discouraging.

How do econolines fare?
I actually like much about a pop-up conversion on an E250 or E350, but they are maybe just a little narrower, making sideways sleeping questionable.

I have a 1998 E-350 and get exactly 72" in the bed for sideways sleeping.  Works, because I am 5'7".  

Guy Keesee · · Moorpark, CA · Joined Mar 2008 · Points: 311
slim wrote: if toyota made a big van on a tundra platform, it would literally be the holy grail.

I’m with you. For the life of me I don’t know why one of the car companies don’t make something like the VW van again. Something smallish, sleeps 2, can go over and under stuff with ease and gets decent gas (diesel) mileage. Last I looked Go-Weste was booked up on their re-built vans for 2 years! And a 91/92 4x4 version sell for 80 grand! 

And those still have a crappy motor in them. 
The Raven · · SoCo · Joined Mar 2019 · Points: 0
Guy Keesee wrote:

I’m with you. For the life of me I don’t know why one of the car companies don’t make something like the VW van again. Something smallish, sleeps 2, can go over and under stuff with ease and gets decent gas (diesel) mileage. Last I looked Go-Weste was booked up on their re-built vans for 2 years! And a 91/92 4x4 version sell for 80 grand! 

And those still have a crappy motor in them. 

VW has one in the works.

Mark E Dixon · · Sprezzatura, Someday · Joined Nov 2007 · Points: 674

@ truck advocates- I agree that's probably the best compromise for off road capability plus #vanlife, but the family consensus is a van
@ Eric- good to hear, as I'm 5'6" and my sweetie is shorter. Sleeping sideways opens up room for a bench and hopefully allows leaving the bed in place during the day.
@ Guy and raven- the upcoming VW 'California" won't be available in the US and costs from $65,000. Which isn't that bad really... Pleasureway has a model that is very much like the old Westys. Called the Tofina. Costs $69,000 or so new. But I think there's a 200 lb limit on the pop top, which means it's only good for one person.

@BillS- I just want to get to climbing, so hard core 4x4 is mostly a waste for us.
But I'd still like to maximize the van's off road potential as much as is reasonable. 

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

General Climbing
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