What is it?
With the ProMaster City, Ram hopes to tap into the expanding market for small, Euro-style Class 1 vans. That market was created in 2010, when Ford rolled the dice and brought its established Transit Connect from Europe. The Transit Connect’s success was sufficient to draw Nissan and its NV200 in 2013, which in turn convinced Chevrolet to offer its own NV200 badged as the City Express.
Now comes the ProMaster City, nee Doblò, to Ram dealers across the United States and Canada. It's the latest in a widening range of Italian-American ventures from the Fiat Chrysler Automotive group, yes, but it debuts with solid credentials, as front-drive commercial vehicles go. Since its launch in 2000, the Doblò has averaged more than 100,000 sales a year and earned International Van of the Year awards in successive generations.
Tweaked and trimmed for life in the New World, the ProMaster City makes some big claims. Ram says its compact van has the most floor space among competitors, the largest cargo volume (131.7 cubic feet), the heaviest payload (1,883 pounds) and a 2,000-lb towing capacity. It also has the most horsepower and the highest EPA highway rating (29 mpg) among comparably configured competitors, without the drone of a CVT transmission.
Nothing in the published data suggests Ram is stretching the truth, and the ProMaster City’s ability to do work will obviously play big with commercial customers. Yet there’s at least one more distinction that shouldn’t be minimized. While its competitors live with a solid rear axle underneath, the ProMaster City gets a genuine, fully independent, dual-link rear suspension.
The suspension was one of two primary areas Ram addressed when prepping the ProMaster City for North American duty. To account for the greater vertical loads generated by our crappier roads, ride height was increased. Key chassis components and anchor points were upgraded. Some structural elements in the unibody were strengthened to meet U.S. safety regulations, and the van’s engine box was widened to accommodate a new powertrain.
That powertrain was Ram’s second area of focus. In place of a range of smaller turbos and diesels used in the Doblò, Ram has fitted the ProMaster City with the 2.4-liter Tigershark four—familiar in the Dodge Dart, Chrysler 200 and Jeep Cherokee, and assembled with a balance shaft and MultiAir oil-actuated intake valves in Dundee, Mich. The ‘shark is mated to Chrysler’s nine-speed 948TE automatic transaxle, also borrowed from the 200/Cherokee.
In the ProMaster City, the Tigershark generates 178 horsepower and 174 lb-ft of torque. That beats the 2.0-liter four in the NV200/City Express by at least 25 percent on both counts, and the standard 2.5-liter four in the Transit Connect by eight hp and three lb-ft. The Tigershark matches Ford’s upgrade 1.6-liter EcoBoost in horsepower, but falls 10 lb-ft short in torque.
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When it comes to EPA ratings, the ProMaster City sits in the thick of it. Its combined rating of 24 mpg trails Nissan/Chevy by one, thanks partly to the Nissan’s CVT. The ProMaster City’s 29 mpg highway is surpassed only by the short-wheelbase Transit Connect with EcoBoost (30 mpg). It tops any long-wheelbase Transit Connect in both combined and highway. We presume these things matter to commercial operators. A lot.
The ProMaster City’s single wheelbase of 122.4 inches surpasses the long-wheelbase Transit Connect by about two inches, and the single-wheelbase NV200 by seven. There’s 4 feet, four inches of flat width between the rear wheel wells, and seven feet of floor length behind the front seats.
The five-passenger ProMaster City wagon offers four feet of cargo floor behind the rear seats, six with the seat folded. All come with sliding rear doors on both sides and 60/40 rear cargo doors that open 180 degrees. High-roof and seven-passenger variants are offered elsewhere, and Ram says it could get them to North America in fairly short order if it believes there’s demand.
The ProMaster City cargo starts at $24,125 including a $995 destination charge. The wagon adds $1,000. Both will be offered in two trim levels and three window configurations, with glass optional on the rear side and rear cargo doors. Engines and transmissions are shipped from Dundee, Mich. and Kokomo, Ind., for vehicle assembly in Bursa Turkey, and all ProMaster City vans arrive as passenger wagons to avoid the so-called chicken tax on light trucks.
The instrument panel of the 2015 Ram ProMaster City.PHOTO BY FIAT
How’s it drive?
Very well indeed, though we aren’t sure where drivability ranks when companies are filling commercial fleets. Nor can we tell you what it’s like to climb in and out of the back of a ProMaster City 100 times a day on busy city streets, or to squeeze a large, heavy object through its rear doors with a forklift.
Ram offered the ProMaster City for 30 miles of road time, some parking lot exercises and short loops in competitors with much higher mileage. We appreciated the opportunity, but we were left to evaluate the van as we might consider a Toyota Corolla, and that evaluation could have limited value for people buying what will primarily be a commercial vehicle. It could have even less value for people buying several.
We can tell you that the ProMaster City gets out of the hole with more vigor than its competitors, thanks to the nine-speed trans and a very low first gear ratio. To 30 mph or so, it goes almost as well as that Corolla, and we’d bet $50 that it’s the quickest among its competitors. Quick is relative, of course: In a timed 0-60 mph run, the ProMaster City might squeak through in a tick under 10 seconds.
Its brakes are better than adequate for safe, hard stops from 60 mph or so—at least when the ProMaster City is empty. It’s well planted and exceptionally maneuverable, in the North American context of a commercial van, even with 1000 pounds loaded in back. The steering has genuine feel—neither too light nor too heavy—and evokes fading tactile memories of brand new, fully hydraulic power assist. On a less positive note, we’d bet the farm that the ProMaster City has the biggest curb-to-curb turning arc among its competitors.
The 2015 Ram ProMaster City cargo van.PHOTO BY FIAT
Speaking of big, the five primary interior knobs (two for audio, three for HVAC) are just that. They’re easy to find and grab, whether you’re wearing gloves or not. The ProMaster City’s dash/switch scheme is a strength versus the competition. The Transit Connect layout, modeled after the mobile-phone-modeled button array in the Ford Fiesta, is more dense and cumbersome than the simple knob/touchscreen arrangement in the Ram.
There are nice touches throughout, even in the most bare-bones ProMaster City: USB and auxiliary ports, decent interior lighting front and rear, and big, easy-reach door releases with the door locks incorporated. Unlocking and opening is one simple motion. If the wipers are on, the rear wiper automatically starts when you engage reverse.
There are annoyances, too—like the cabin-wide overhead bin. It holds lots glasses, gloves or wallets, but you can’t see where they are once you’ve put them in. More troublesome is the power-mirror switch, especially in a vehicle that might have multiple drivers. Its way up by the driver’s side A-pillar, and unless you play in a professional sports league, you probably can’t reach it with your back settled in the seat in driving position. So you lean forward and adjust, lean back and look….and again until you get the mirrors right.
The ProMaster City is surprisingly quiet inside. There’s almost no boom or vibration in the big, empty sheet metal box behind you. Thanks to the independent rear suspension, there is less rear axle noise than you’ll hear in competitors as you bounce along, and generally less bounce or tire skip, loaded or empty. All told, the ProMaster City might be the most drivable small van of the bunch. We’re just not sure how much that matters.
Are you a plumbing contractor, HVAC technician or florist? Do you operate a delivery service? If so, you certainly might. The ProMaster City will do a lot of commercial jobs you don’t need a full-size, truck-based van to complete, and it will do many of them better with much, much lower operating costs. That’s the primary reason the Ford Transit Connect has launched a small wave of new competitors.
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