First Drive

2015 Ram ProMaster City Tradesman First Drive [w/video]

Which Baby Box Is Best?

  • Image Credit: Seyth Miersma
  • Trim
    Cargo Tradesman
  • Engine
    2.4L I4
  • Power
    178 HP / 174 LB-FT
  • Transmission
    9-Speed Automatic
  • Drivetrain
    Front-Wheel Drive
  • Engine Placement
  • Curb Weight
    3,512 LBS
  • Towing
    2,000 LBS
  • Seating
  • Cargo
    131.7 CU-FT
  • MPG
    21 CIty / 29 HWY
  • Warranty
    3 Years / 36,000 Miles
  • Base Price
  • As Tested Price
From the perspective of a reviewer, there's a refreshing clarity to be hand when approaching a vehicle like a small commercial van. Where the inherent value equation for most vehicles is composed of both objective facts (price, fuel economy), and subjective opinions (looks, emotional response while driving), the reckoning of something like the new Ram ProMaster City is more straightforward.

The light commercial van segment in the US has seen a remodel over the last half-decade, moving from paneled-over minivans to the versatile, economical, European-style boxes on wheels you see with increasing frequency today. Ford, Nissan and Chevrolet are all players here (though Chevy's City Express is essentially a rebadged version of Nissan's NV200), and though Ram's entry could be seen as late to the party, it also matches up very nicely in many of those straightforward areas of measure.

Kindly, Ram brought along both the Nissan and the Ford for us to test alongside its new product, so we could get firsthand comparative impressions.

2015 Ram ProMaster City 2015 Ram ProMaster City 2015 Ram ProMaster City 2015 Ram ProMaster City

The 2015 ProMaster City is roomier, more powerful and more maneuverable than its competition, though it trades those advantages for a higher price and a thirstier engine around town. We headed down to Texas where, between breaks for tacos and Topo Chicos, our goal was to see if Ram had created the new best box van in the US.

Based on the already successful Fiat Doblo van from Europe, the baby ProMaster's visual transformation after its continental hop isn't radical. Ram has fitted a crosshair grille, new headlights and taillights, but largely the curvaceous, nose-forward styling remains the same.

As we mentioned at the top: style is going to be very low on this list of priorities for a buyer of light commercial vans. Still, we'd rate the City as mid-pack for the options in the US; more attractive than the Nissan/Chevy twins and less so than the crisp Ford Transit Connect. (Though the optional five-spoke wheels of our test vehicle make it seem downright sporty in this group).

Open the driver's side door and slide into the almost totally flat front seat, and any notion of "style" goes right out the window. Surfaces are almost exclusively black and gray, with workaday textures and frustratingly easy-to-scratch-plastics.

2015 Ram ProMaster City 2015 Ram ProMaster City 2015 Ram ProMaster City 2015 Ram ProMaster City

This is a functional space though; trays, cubbies, cupholders and bins are far more numerous than you'd expect from a compact, two-seat cabin. We especially appreciated the huge storage shelf that runs over the driver and passenger seat, which is big enough to hold water bottles, notebooks, or any loose tools that a van driver might need pretty close to hand. The shelf has a small cargo net at the lip, too, which should keep all of those items from flying over the drivers head when coming to a quick stop.

But the most important space is that gaping one behind the one row of seats. And it's in terms of cargo space that the ProMaster City strikes its first blow against the competition. With 131.7 cubic feet of space, the Ram offering easily beats the NV200 (122.7 cu-ft) and even the long-wheelbase version of the Transit Connect wagon (130.6). Its cargo doors are split 60/40 so you can reach many items just by opening one. They can also be folded back a full 180 degrees for flush loading against a dock.

That big empty space back there doesn't help ride or noise quality, either. The ProMaster was boomy and rattly on the road when empty, and a lot more pleasant when loaded down with cargo (or in passenger-ferrying Wagon form, which I'll review in depth soon). The City is, perhaps, slightly more refined than its predecessors in this class, but it's certainly no monastery at speed.

2015 Ram ProMaster City 2015 Ram ProMaster City 2015 Ram ProMaster City 2015 Ram ProMaster City

The ProMaster City is roughly the same size on the outside as the other light cargo vans (though a bit wider than the Nissan and shorter by a few feet than the LWB Transit Connect), but it's slightly more maneuverable than all of them. The most impressive stat here, especially for those looking for a work vehicle in the tight confines in the city, is a total turning circle of just 32 feet, some four feet tighter than the other guys.

Ram wanted to highlight the maneuverability of its van, so it assembled a kind of atypical autocross course for us to run in it, along with the normal street driving. Emphasizing tight turns, stability and maneuverability, the ProMaster acquitted itself well, but annoyingly, comparative vehicles weren't invited to try the same torture test. You can see a shotgun view of the course in the video, here.

In regular driving, the advantage that the ProMaster might offer over its rivals is harder to suss out. The Ram was clearly more agile than one would guess from its exterior dimensions, but a sterling quality of all these Euro-style light vans is their capacity for tight handling.

There was much more of a noticeable edge when it came to the powertrains, however. Ram will offer a single engine and transmission for the ProMaster City to start: the 2.4-liter Tigershark four-cylinder engine and the company's advanced nine-speed automatic. (Yes, we asked about diesels and manuals for the van. No, Ram wouldn't cop to any plans to bring them here to the US.)

Making 178 horsepower and 174 pound-feet of torque, the City offered plenty of pep in and around town, and accelerated with traffic in an unfussed way. Acceleration still felt adequate when driving a rig loaded with some 600 pounds in the hold, too. The four definitely sounded thrashy when we gave it the spurs, but it wasn't any coarser than rivals' powerplants.

2015 Ram ProMaster City

Around town, the 9AT was mostly invisible in operation. We didn't notice it changing gears with inappropriate frequency, or being otherwise intrusive to the driving experience.

And, of course, it's those nine ratios that help the ProMaster net an impressive 29 miles per gallon (still and estimated figure) on the highway, per the EPA cycle. That number dwarfs the 26 mpg highway of the smaller-engined Nissan and ties the rating of the Ford. But, get off of the highway – they do call this van "City" after all – and the extra power of the Ram stats to take its toll. The ProMaster musters just 21 mpg city, and 25 mpg combined – identical to the Transit Connect – compared to 24 and 25, respectively, for the NV200. Clearly, your own driving cycle will play a huge role in how important those figures are, day to day.

With a lot more power and slightly better space and handling, the ProMaster City makes a compelling case for itself. It does not offer that ability without charge, however.

2015 Ram ProMaster City

The Nissan NV200 is still the MSRP leader in this growing segment, asking $21,605 when you add in destination. Chevy will ask $22,950 for its formulation of the NV200 DNA, while Ford wants $23,325, plus another grand for the LWB that makes it cargo competitive. Ram is at the top of the pricing chart, with an base sticker of $24,125 including destination. Typically a delta of just $2,500 between the top and bottom of a price class wouldn't merit significant notice, but for small business owners watching every penny, or those perhaps looking at buying a group of vehicles all at once, those dollars add up quickly.

For us, the added drivability and flexibility of the ProMaster City make it worth the extra cost. At the very least, for our money it enters a dead heat with the Transit Connect. Reliability and resale rankings will play huge here over time, too, of course.

Really, the best news is that, with another super strong competitor in the US mix, light commercial van buyers have got better options to choose from than ever before. The ProMaster City may not exactly redefine the small work van, but it's not to be missed when your test-driving begins.

RAM ProMaster City Information

RAM ProMaster City

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