The Ram ProMaster City is a hardworking utility vehicle capable of a 1,883-pound payload and a one-ton tow.
By Al Haas, For The Inquirer
It’s not too hard to understand why the small van has been so beloved by European tradesmen. It is a lot easier to maneuver than its big brothers, particularly in the tight spaces so abundant in Europe’s ancient cities and towns. It is also a lot easier on petrol.
The practicality and cost-effectiveness of these surprisingly roomy little guys were ignored in the U.S. market for quite a while. Then some automakers, in their never-ending quest for more sales, had an epiphany: What if we offered a small van roomy enough to fill the needs of a good number of urban businesses? It was a breakthrough question, sort of like: What if we sliced the bread before we sold it?
Ford was the first with the Transit Connect, which it had been selling for years in Europe. Then Nissan got into the act with its NV200, and Chevrolet joined in with the City Express.
The latest entry in a segment expected to sell 400,000 copies this year is the Ram ProMaster City, which begins arriving in showrooms in significant numbers this month.
Available as a cargo or passenger van, the ProMaster City is a tall vehicle with a generous 132 cubic feet of interior volume. With more than four feet between the wheel wells, the cargo area is wide enough to take a pallet, although not quite long enough to accept a 4-by-8-foot sheet of plywood. Its low floor – only 21.5 inches off the road – makes for easy loading, as do the sliding doors on both sides of the vehicle. Pressing a lever lets the rear doors swing well beyond their normal 90-degree openings.
The ProMaster City has a payload of 1,883 pounds and can tow a ton. It also has enough headroom for those players the NBA calls The Bigs – people not to be confused with their runty 6-foot-8 teammates.
The City, which starts at $23,130 as a two-seat cargo van and $24,130 as a five-seat passenger van, is a mildly modified rendition of the Fiat Doblo. Both the City and the Doblo run down the same assembly line in Turkey.
Pete Milo, head of Ram van engineering, said the Doblo platform was beefed up a bit to deal with rougher American roads. The City also uses Chrysler’s 2.4-liter Tigershark four-cylinder gas engine instead of the Doblo’s diesels, and sends its 178 horsepower to the front wheels via a nine-speed automatic gearbox.
That drivetrain allows the City cargo model to get EPA mileage ratings of 21 city and 29 highway, which is excellent arithmetic for a compact van. Milo expects the passenger version’s rating to be the same.
I had a chance to drive the City cargo and passenger models, as well as the Nissan and Ford cargo vans, at a recent regional media introduction.
The City’s relatively low seating position, coupled with its fully independent suspension, makes for a fairly carlike driving experience. The seats are comfortable, the instruments and controls are intuitively placed, and the interior is fairly attractive. The kindest thing to be said about the exterior is that it follows the Bauhaus credo of “form follows function.”
The cargo model’s uninsulated storage area was a predictable source of road noise. The sound-deadening seats, headliner, and floor covering in the passenger version made it so much quieter. (Interestingly, the rudimentary insulation in the storage areas of the Ford and Nissan cargo models didn’t make them any quieter than the City cargo.)
I thought the City was the best riding of the three, followed by the Nissan and then the Ford.