2015 Ram ProMaster City

AUSTIN, Texas — We started the morning on the streets of Austin, then moved onto the highways that ring the Texas capital city, and from there to a handling "test" track set up at Troublemaker Studios, a film production company. It gave us a good feel for the new 2015 Ram ProMaster City work van and how it could comfortably fit into the daily chores of such businesses as a floral delivery company or a plumbing repair shop.

We decided that it will indeed be a draw for small business customers as well as large-business fleet buyers and — in passenger configuration — a small number of would-be minivan buyers who perhaps are looking for something a bit different and want to stand out from the typical family-hauler crowd.

The ProMaster City, propelled by Chrysler's 2.4-liter Tigershark four-cylinder making 178 horsepower and 174 pound-feet of torque mated to a nine-speed automatic transmission, moves smartly in stop and start driving. And it handles itself quite well in high-speed traffic where merging and accelerating are important.

A relatively quiet interior and decent seats made our two
-hour trip pleasant, and great sight lines, standard backup camera and parking sensors aided in safe driving, backing and parking (which we successfully accomplished during our turn on the "test" course). All City vans also come equipped with hill-start assist and trailer sway control.

ProMaster City negotiating cones at Troublemaker Studio

Perhaps the comfortable ride we experienced on our short excursion was due in part because the ProMaster uses a multilink independent rear suspension rather than the conventional solid rear axle with leaf springs traditionally used in trucks.

We also discovered first hand that ProMaster is well designed for easy cargo loading and unloading with sliding doors on each side, 60/40 split rear doors, and a short 21.5-inch rear step-in height.

The front-drive ProMaster City is built in Turkey and based on the European Fiat Doblo van, which has been on the market since 2000. It's being imported to the U.S. and refitted in Baltimore as a two-seat cargo van or a five-seat passenger van. If you are thinking negative thoughts about the ProMaster City's Fiat roots, consider that both generations of the Doblo have been honored as International Van of the Year, and it has sold more than 1.3 million units since introduction.

Ram needed a vehicle to compete in this new segment of small vans pioneered in North America in 2010 by the Ford Transit Connect, which has been a sales success. An all-new Transit Connect hit the market this year and has been joined by the Nissan NV200 and the Chevrolet Express, a rebadged Nissan, in addition to the new ProMaster City.

The ProMaster City makes a compelling sales pitch according to Ram officials. They claim it leads the segment in payload (1,883 pounds), cargo volume (131.7 cubic feet), cargo width and length (60.4 inches and 87.2 inches), distance between wheel wells (48.4 inches— wide enough for a full-size pallet) and wheelbase (122.4 inches).

The Transit Connect is almost too close to the Ram to make a difference in such things as cargo volume (128.6 cubic feet) and towing capacity (both vehicles claim 2,000 pounds), but falls s
hort in published payload at 1,710 pounds. Nissan claims its NV200 has 48 inches between the wheel wells, but a payload of  only1,480 pounds, and just 122.7 cubic feet of cargo capacity.

Another bragging point for Ram is gas mileage because mileage is money for a small business. The ProMaster City has an EPA rating of 21 city, 29 highway and 24 combined on regular gas. For comparison, the Ford 2.5-liter is rated at 20/28/23 and the NV200 at 24/26/25.

The ProMaster City, which should now be reaching dealerships across the country, starts at $24,125 including destination charge for the base Tradesman Cargo, $25,650 for the upgraded SLT Cargo, $25,125 for the Wagon with rear and side windows, and $26,650 for the SLT Wagon.

— Jim Meachen