Posted by Mark Williams | December 29, 2014
Austin, Texas, is a quirky city that combines small-town no-nonsense charm with a cutting-edge, progressive music scene. You can simultaneously be both cool and a fuddy-duddy. As the locale for our first drive of the all-new 2015 Ram ProMaster City, Austin was perfect because this midsize commercial van is kind of cool and a little weird at the same time.
Based on an existing Fiat Doblo platform, the ProMaster City has been significantly modified to better cope with U.S. road durability needs and unique road conditions (that means our roads are more likely to have bigger potholes and wider temperature extremes than in Europe).
This hard-working small van comes in just one wheelbase length (122.4 inches) but will be offered in four trim levels: Tradesman Cargo, Tradesman Cargo SLT, Wagon and Wagon SLT. Pricing will start at $24,125 (including destination) for the Tradesman Cargo with a fully optioned five-passenger Wagon SLT running as high as $29,000. As to safety features, the City comes standard with seven airbags and features electronic stability control, trailer-sway control (it has a 2,000 pound towing capacity), hill-start assist, traction control, a backup camera and more.
All ProMaster City vans have one powertrain: an impressive 2.4-liter inline-four-cylinder dual-overhead valve engine called the Tigershark. The engine produces 178 horsepower and 174 pounds-feet of torque, but the real magic with this little van is in the compact nine-speed (948TE) transmission that can be set in drive or be manually shifted when you need a more controlled feel.
During our drive around the more commercial areas of Austin, we had the chance to grab a loaded Tradesman Cargo (no windows) with the bulkhead wall divider behind the front seats and a 600-pound load strapped down in the back area. The City had no trouble moving two adult males and its payload in traffic through urban streets. And that shouldn’t surprise anyone since this van has a max payload rating of more than 1,800 pounds, 3.73:1 axle gears and a 4.70:1 1st gear. That means the jump we felt at each stoplight and stop sign wasn’t our imagination – this little cargo hauler hauls.
As spry and crisp as the ProMaster City was during our city driving and morning traffic loop, the most impressive feature on the vehicle was its rear suspension. This is typically the area where these small vans (all vans actually) normally show their weaknesses. When you design a vehicle to spend most of its working life carrying an assortment of cargo, how comfortable it drives usually isn’t a top priority. However, we were pleasantly surprised at how controlled and smooth this van felt with and without a loaded cargo area. In fact, we were told the Ram engineers spent quite a bit of time beefing up the links, coils and configuration of the independent rear suspension on the vehicle for better carrying capacity, but more importantly giving the vehicle better ride capability.
Other details in the little van’s design seem pointedly aimed at making any number of work situations easier, like the 60/40-split rear doors that are double hinged to allow for full wide-open loading, the multiple in-floor tie-downs and the extra-wide cab that makes storing (in doors and the roof shelf) clipboards and paperwork a simple chore.
As you might expect, the wheels and tires are relatively small (215/55R16), but the wide stance offers a stable feel when cornering on dirt or broken pavement. During our diverse 20-mile run around town (and we were feather-footing a bit) we were able to average about 24 mpg with two adults and 600 pounds of payload. EPA fuel economy ratings for the ProMaster City are 21/29/24 mpg city/highway/combined.
The competition in the small van market is heating up as the ProMaster City enters a market dominated by the Ford Transit Connect. The TC certainly offers more configurations and powertrain options than anything else in the class, but after our drive we can easily envision the ProMaster City jumping well ahead of what the Chevrolet Express City and Nissan NV200 bring to the table. And when you compare how this new Ram van rides, we’re guessing it will make it to the top of the list for many small businesses, delivery services and fleet buyers.