by Bill Cawthon in
December 2014 (4.5)
The ProMaster City is derived from the Fiat Doblò, but it isn't just a clone of the Fiat. Different powertrains and suspension changes are among the modifications made to adapt the small van to the preferences and needs of North American buyers.
At a recent event in Texas, Bob Hegbloom, Ram CEO, Joe Benson, head of Ram Commercial, and Mike Cairns, Ram Chief Engineer, presented some of the differences and were on hand to answer questions.
First, contrary to what we have seen, the ProMaster City will have the new styling recently unveiled for the Doblò. This improves the appearance, especially from the front.
As Allpar has reported previously, the ProMaster City is not a direct competitor to the Nissan NV200, base-model Ford Transit Connect, or the Chevrolet City Express (which is just an NV200 with a higher price tag). It also doesn't compete with the base Ford Transit Connect. Based on size, capacity, and capability, the ProMaster's direct competition is the long wheelbase version of the Transit Connect, which retails for almost the same amount as the ProMaster City.
The ProMaster City has best-in-class cargo capability with a 1,883-pound maximum payload, a new 9-speed transmission, and best-in-class horsepower and torque. It can tow up to 2,000 pounds. It also has a bi-link coil rear suspension, giving the ProMaster City the only true independent rear in its class.
All of these add up to a pretty nice little van.
The ProMaster City is sold in both cargo and passenger (wagon) forms; Nissan and Chevy don't have a passenger configuration, although Nissan does have a special taxi version. The Transit Connect is available in both van and wagon styles, but there's a big difference: Ford is marketing the wagon as a family passenger vehicle, a mini-minivan that Ford calls a crossover to avoid the minivan stigma. The ProMaster City passenger van is not marketed to minivan customers, but is intended for commercial use as a shuttle or crew vehicle.
Early the following morning, it was time to take the ProMaster City out for a spin. Ram had provided both cargo and passenger versions and Allpar got a little red wagon to play with.
Starting at the W Hotel in downtown Austin, we went out into the morning commuter traffic and immediately got a lot more experience than we wanted in driving the ProMaster in stop-and-go traffic. The small size and nimble handling were a real benefit when it came to changing lanes and the 2.4-liter Tigershark engine and 9-speed transmission worked well together, providing ample power to adjust to traffic and take advantage of opportunities to get around bottlenecks, something that's important to van drivers with schedules to keep and deliveries to make – and I speak from experience.
Our route took us over city streets, suburban boulevards, county roads and even highways. The ProMaster City was comfortable and easy to drive the entire way.
At one point on our route, I was stopped next to a couple of fellow auto writers in another ProMaster City, and the passenger rolled down his window and challenged me to beat them to the next traffic light. Putting the shifter into manual mode, I am happy to say I shut them down.
The ProMaster City doesn't provide the press-your-back-into-the-seat acceleration of a Challenger, or even a properly equipped Dart, but it does get up and go. I can think of a couple of medical labs and at least one blood bank that would appreciate that.
The rear suspension is a treat. Unloaded vans have light rear ends and they do tend to hop on poor pavement, but the ProMaster City was surefooted, even on a gravel road.
A couple of the vans had 600-pound payloads on pallets in the back, and they were also well controlled and responsive. I took one of those through an obstacle course set up at our destination, the Troublemaker Studios in East Austin.
Cab comfort and convenience are important to a driver who might spend hours each day behind the wheel, and the ProMaster City doesn't disappoint.
Entry and exit from the cabin is easy and effortless: no climbing involved. The seat is comfortable and the controls are intelligently laid out. There are also plenty of spaces for paperwork and small items that might be needed during the day.
As commercial vehicles, both the ProMaster City van and wagon aren't long on frills; their target market doesn't want them and isn't going to pay for them. But the basics are covered: A/C is standard, the front seats have adjustable backs, the steering wheel is adjustable, and there's an AM/FM radio. Uconnect (cellphone control) is an option, as is cruise control, though there's really no reason for standard cruise control on this type of vehicle; the driver would almost never use it. One option that might get some traction is a rearview camera, but the mirrors on the ProMaster City do a pretty good job in aiding backing up the van.
The one area that may be an issue is the rear seating in the wagon: Unless the driver is fairly short, rear seat passengers are going to be a bit cramped and the seat back angle isn't quite as comfortable as it should be. The seat really needs to be about three inches farther back if a driver wants his passengers to think kindly of him at the end of the trip.
According to Ram, the seat positioning enables the ProMaster City wagon to offer gobs of luggage, tool or cargo space, but the small amount of additional room a more comfortable rear seat would require wouldn't have that much impact on the load space.
It's my belief that no Chrysler (FCA US LLC) vehicle should ever be released unless Klaus Busse can sit comfortably in the back seat. At 6'7”, Busse is the ideal template for passenger space.
As mentioned earlier, Ram had set up an obstacle course at Troublemaker Studios. There were tight curves, a skid pad and other challenges. The ProMaster City had no trouble with any of these, including a panic stop on the skid pad.
Sales of small commercial vans are a niche. Through the end of November, total sales within the segment came to 50,071, with the well-established Ford Transit Connect taking the lion's share of the action. It remains to be seen whether strong entries like the ProMaster City can grow the market by persuading van buyers to downsize, especially at today's gas prices.
Ram has done its homework. The ProMaster City is a very good base and Ram has been working with aftermarket suppliers to develop commercial interiors with shelves, bins and other vocational necessities for a variety of applications.
After all was said and done, our day with the Ram ProMaster City was a day well spent with a dandy little van.
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