Mountain Wheels: Learning to love the Ram ProMaster City van
2015 Ram ProMaster City Wagon
MSRP: $24,130; As tested: $27,590
Powertrain: 178-HP 2.4-liter four-cylinder, nine-speed automatic transmission
EPA figures: 24 combined MPG (21 city, 29 highway)
The general description I had to use to help explain what I was driving to people a couple of weeks ago was not exactly dripping with automotive sexiness: An odd-looking, affordably priced, Turkish-made Fiat delivery van.
The equation got a bit more exciting when I said it was all magically turned into a ProMaster City when imported to the U.S., modified and branded as a red-blooded American part of the Ram family. Though it is, indeed, still a Turkish-built Fiat delivery van.
Oh well. If you’ve noticed, the competitors are also selling a lot of odd-looking Euro-style work vans of various sizes, ranging from Ford’s new, unusual Transit vans to the very strange but soon-to-be-unavoidable Nissan NV and NV 200s. All looking like a “Star Trek: The Next Generation”-era space shuttle, almost literally.
The ProMaster City wagon — one of eight variations of this new-to-the-U.S. machine — fits into the smaller side of that new genre, created as an alternative to all of those million Sportsman, Tradesman and Ford Econoline vans still roaming the Earth, full of plumber’s supplies and drywall installers and what have you.
In this case, Ram has bargained that there will be more than a few industrial-themed users who are interested in an austere but well-appointed work vehicle that is able to get 29 highway MPG, and starts at just over $24,000 — but still has over 131 cubic feet of storage space.
That’s a figure that does not include a set of flop-flat 60/40 split rear seats in the semi-passenger-friendly wagon configuration I got to test; it’s still a lot of room for stuff, with a space between the wheel wells that’s 48.4 inches wide and a total payload capacity of 1,883 pounds.
In the slightly more passenger-friendly model, the rawness of the original Fiat Doblo (manual side mirror controls, for instance) is gussied up a bit with windows on the side doors, rear carpeting, a sufficiently car-like interior with comfortable and stylish bucket seats, piano black inserts on the console and wheel, plus a decent setup that combines stereo, a rudimentary touchscreen navigation system and a backup camera.
The sculpted dash and doors tie into a similar center console with work-oriented trays, multiple 12-volt outlets and a USB input, plus a joyfully large, console-mounted gearshift.
That connects to the nine-speed automatic transmission Fiat/Chrysler has been playing with in more traditional vehicles including the (small) Jeep Cherokee; the company likes to remark that the gearing really helps get the best out of the 178-horsepower 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine, and make it faster off the line than a traditional moving van.
In reality, as I have found in other variants of the nine-speed setup, that is a whole hell of a lot of gears to jump around in, with the first three cogs often shooting off like fireworks, before the van catches up in about fourth or fifth gear. There’s also some generally aimless ambling otherwise.
Braking is also troublesome and stabby, leaving the Promaster feeling more than just a bit disconnected, even when empty of payload.
Steering is also remarkably van-like, feeling at times like you are literally sitting on top of the front wheels – which you sort-of are, actually. If you come into the experience thinking that the wheel is more like a tiller than a finely crafted tool for gently getting race-tuned performance out of the vehicle, you will emerge from the experience a happier driver. The ride is indeed car-like and it’s easy to handle the relatively small ProMaster City (cruising on a 122.4-inch wheelbase) on the highway, versus the roamy galoots that are your average full-sized van.
The most polarizing part of the package is the ProMaster City’s external design, though this will again be absolutely endearing to certain customers. With a low-slung nose and a disproportionately large body, it’s unlike much else you’ve ever seen before in the U.S. — a black bumper, grille and some body cladding on the basic models do help to smarten up the all-utility look, plus futuristic-looking lamps. The higher-level SLT models get a body-colored bumper and a fancier grille.
On the sides of the cabin, dual sliding doors allow easy access for whoever it is exactly you’re ferrying around in the second row of your Turkish-made Fiat but branded as a Ram delivery van, with pop-open vent windows.
And the rear is no less unusual in its design, with incredibly tall, vertically mounted brake lamps. The doors open half way and then can be unlatched to swing open 180 degrees, to help access that very low cargo deck.
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