A smart van for the city |
The ProMaster City is a very interesting offering in the market.
There’s a strange phenomenon that goes on with utility vehicles. Anyone who was around for the 1970s would probably have some memory of the van craze that seemed to take the car scene by storm for a few years before quickly fading away. As a child of the 90s, I am more familiar with the mini-truck craze circa early-90s. Walking around the lot at a typical car meet these days, you’re likely to see plenty of full-sized pickups sitting on massive lift kits. For whatever reason, vehicles built for a utilitarian purpose became the object of attention with certain enthusiast crowds. That said, pickup trucks have had all the glory for the last few decades and cargo vans have been largely relegated to duty as work vehicles. Now, I’ve driven my fair share of work vans over the years, and they’re almost always beat up, loose, inefficient rattle traps that nobody in their right mind would want to drive around in unless absolutely necessary.
Recently though, a few manufacturers have made some waves in an attempt to make the common work van a lot more palatable. The most noteworthy newcomers have been the Nissan NV200, the Chevy City Express, and now the Ram ProMaster City. Essentially, these three are rebrands of European equivalents, but the idea is certainly a valid one- an economical, maneuverable and pleasant driving van that still offers the utility of a traditional body-on-frame work van. I was intrigued, so I borrowed a brand new Ram ProMaster City to see what it was all about.
The ProMaster city is based on the globally successful Fiat Doblo, now in its second generation after over 15 years of proven sales and reliability outside of North America. Ram offers the ProMaster City in two keys models; a typical cargo van configuration, and what I suspect to be a less popular 5-passenger wagon version. Both versions come in the base ST trim, or a more upmarket SLT trim. Prices are not exactly rock-bottom with the base cargo starting at $28,495, whereas my fully optioned out wagon SLT came in just under $35,000.
At this price, my test van came pretty well equipped with things like: heated front seats, power rear windows, 6-speaker stereo (all part of the $650 popular equipment package) back-up camera ($700), GPS navigation ($1200) and upgraded wheels and lighting ($600). Some of these features may seem a little silly on a utilitarian van, but some buyers are likely to spend many hours a day in their van, so little touches like a decent stereo and heated seats can start to make sense. For what it’s worth, the 16” alloys and Continental tires equipped on my van helped to give it a much more friendly and modern look over the basic steel wheels. I wasn’t impressed with the GPS Navigation system; despite the fact that it’s integrated into the typical UConnect 5.0 system, it’s not the standard Chrysler navigation that I love and it’s not worth the extra $1200.
The Wagon model offers an interesting balance between people and cargo capacity with a slightly tight 2nd row bench that will seat three. The rear bench doesn’t offer any excess leg room, but that does allow for a very large cargo area behind the rear bench. Clearly, a lot of thought has been put into the space, and all the details make perfect sense. The walls are flat and tall, there are 4 (6 in the cargo) loop style anchors on the floor and there is enough space between the wheel wells for a typical 4x8ft sheet of plywood or drywall – width wise at least. The 60/40 rear bench does fold if you need some extra length, but not perfectly flat which may be an issue for some. The van’s front wheel drive configuration allows for a flat and very low floor, which makes loading cargo an easy chore. Even the rear doors have been well thought out, opening at 90° and with the push of a latch 180°.
The ProMaster City is all about function up front. It does take a bit of getting used to, but after awhile I grew accustomed to the ProMaster’s utilitarian function. What took the most getting used to is the driving position; it feels like you’re sitting “on” the van rather than “in” it and the large amount of glass around you only adds to the feeling. That said, forward visibility is remarkable, and when accompanied by the optional rear view camera and the van’s tight turning radius, makes parking in the city a breeze. The rest of the cabin is Spartan and filled with hard plastics, but the massive overhead storage bin is a nice touch and the dashboard even has pockets molded into it in an attempt to maximize every inch of usable space.
So far, the ProMaster City sounds like a good work van, but where it really surprised me most was on the road with manners that are actually quite pleasant. Powered by the corporate TigerShark 2.4L 4-cylinder producing 178 horsepower and mated to Chrysler’s 9-speed automatic, the ProMaster City’s acceleration is far from spirited. However, it has no difficulty keeping up with traffic. Most importantly, unlike many work vans, it’s compliant and relaxing to drive. City bumps are absorbed surprisingly well and its lower center of gravity compared to traditional vans helps to minimize body roll through corners. I was also surprised at how well it cruised on the highway. Despite being out of its element, the ProMaster City is actually reasonably quiet and composed on the highway, which nicely rounds out this versatile package. The 9-speed transmission still needs some refinement; it definitely made for awkward shifts on occasion.
The hard working 4-cylinder and 9-speed transmission do make an efficient pair. My fuel economy average for a week of commuting into the city, plus a loaded run to the dump came in at 9.8L/100kms. That’s pretty impressive for any van, and particularly impressive when you consider this van’s capabilities. Speaking of which, I was surprised again to discover that my Wagon model carries a payload of 1700lbs, and the cargo model would bump that up to 1883lbs. That’s full-size light-duty pickup territory, with a 4-cylinder front wheel drive van! Where the van does fall a little short is its towing capacity, which is only rated at 2000lbs. If you can’t fit your cargo in the back, you might be out of luck.
In an effort to put the Ram van to work, I’d been saving up a nice pile of stuff for a big run to my local Salvation Army. Bright and early on a Saturday morning, my brother and I easily loaded and stacked a few bins full of stuff into the ProMaster’s rear cargo area and shut the doors. The van didn’t seem to mind the extra weight at all, and if anything it served to improve the ride quality on cracked city streets. We unloaded the van in a matter of minutes and set off having made light work of the task.
The ProMaster City is a very interesting offering in the market. I really think it’s going to be a success with many urban and suburban business owners who really only need a reasonably-sized yet efficient work or delivery van. The Wagon model adds the extra versatility of having a usable rear bench, which may serve to open up even more opportunities in the market. If you can get past the awkward looks of these European vans, they may just be the answer many businesses are looking for. More interestingly, the ProMaster City may serve as a gateway to more Euro-derived vehicles in the North American market.
2015 Ram ProMaster City Gallery