Ram ProMaster City is a lot of small van

The Ram ProMaster City is a hardworking utility vehicle capable of a 1,883-pound payload and a one-ton tow.

The Ram ProMaster City is a hardworking utility vehicle capable of a 1,883-pound payload and a one-ton tow.

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.

“Drives like a car”

by Sean Kilcarr

It’s such the cliché in the truck-design business today: developing commercial vehicles that offer the comfort, handling, and operational characteristics of passenger cars.

Indeed, many years ago, a truck engineer shared with me that one of the “guiding lights” of his profession pretty much followed the mantra expressed above.

Paraphrasing our conversation, he told me that truck drivers should not experience a “significant difference” when they climb out of their work vehicles at the end of a long day – be that vehicle a Class 8 highway tractor or delivery van – and get into their personal cars to go home.

In essence, work vehicles shouldn’t be uncomfortable, require more effort to steer, or lack onboard capability such as navigation systems, when compared to personal vehicles, he said – because those are the kinds of differences that convince many potential candidates not to become commercial drivers.

From that perspective, then, the new ProMaster City van built by Chrysler’s Ram Truck division I got to test drive last week in Austin, TX, meets such marks.

Easy to drive whether loaded and unloaded, with plenty of power combined with excellent agility, the new ProMaster City – due to arrive in dealerships sometime in the first quarter of next year – offers functionality meshed with easy operation so someone like myself well-versed in family minivan operation finds piloting such a vehicle a snap.

Let’s start with some of the key “driver-centric” features of the new ProMaster City that makes it easy to operate.

First, the tucked front-wheel-drive packaging is compact allowing for a short hood – giving operators a wider forward view. Big oversize side-view mirrors and the optional ParkView rear backup camera system (featured on the pre-production ProMaster City models I operated) vastly improve the safe operation “zone” for drivers.

Here’s a nice touch: More protective cladding on the side and rear protect the body from knee-level bumps; a frequent issue when you’re driving around in tight urban confines.

And here’s another nice little design flair: The door handles and divot spacing are big enough so you don’t have to remove your work gloves to open or close either the side sliding or rear cargo doors.

Those door openings are not only big but designed with safety in mind. Take the 60/40 rear door size split: the larger (60) rear door is the one opening on the driver’s or traffic side of the vehicle, providing the operator more protection when unloading. That also means the smaller door on the curb side is less of a hindrance when unloading the van as well.

Both rear doors lock open at 90 degrees and reach nearly the height of the van and can open to 180 degrees, parallel with the rear of the van for easy dock loading.

In terms of performance, the van’s 2.4-liter Tigershark I-4 engine cranks out 178 hp and 14 lb.-ft. of torque, but when combined with the van standard 9-speed automatic transmission – dubbed the 948TE by Ram – not only does it help the vehicle get 21 mpg in the city and 29 mpg on the highway, it provides for very quick response times.

Meshed with a 4.70 first-gear ratio, the ProMaster City can go from 0-to-30 mph in an estimated 3.7 seconds and 0-to-60 mph in an estimated 9.8 seconds. I had occasion where I required a little extra “oomph” to pass other vehicles quickly and the ProMaster City delivered without delayed response or the dreaded high-pitched whine of strain engine.

In terms of maneuverability, the ProMaster City’s MacPherson strut suspension on the front axle combined with its independent bi-link rear suspension made the van more comfortable to drive as well as more responsive during the performance course testing.

Big 12-inch front disc brakes combined with 10-inch drum brakes also boosted the stopping power of the ProMaster City, especially on the wet traction segment of the performance course.

The biggest takeaway, though, from my albeit short experience with the ProMaster City is pretty simple: it’s intuitive to operate and easy to drive. At the end of the day, that’s what I suspect any commercial operator wants in a van these days.

2015 Ram ProMaster City: First Drive

Posted by Mark Williams | December 29, 2014

ProMaster Tradesman II

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.

ProMaster City front II

Engine Tigershark II

Trans 9-spd II

ProMaster City Wagon II

City Susp II

ProMaster City rear II

IMG_0473 II

IMG_0454 II

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