A new breed of vehicle is appearing on American roads, and, well, it’s surprisingly straightforward: it’s a minivan that’s an actual mini van. Not the Honda Odyssey or the Toyota Sienna or any of those other bloated family-haulers that may technically be “vans” but are hardly mini, but rather old-fashioned boxes on wheels—low on amenities, high on utility. And as we’ve come to find out, they’re not that bad to drive either.
That’s certainly the case with the 2015 Ram Promaster City, which joins the Ford Transit Connect and the Nissan NV200/Chevrolet City Express twins in the Tiny Van Tousle of 2015. Essentially a slightly warmed over Fiat Doblo utility van that’s sold overseas, the Promaster City arrives in Ram dealerships now, both in cargo and five-passenger form, and we recently got our first chance to drive it on a media program in Austin, Texas.
Texas is a curious place to launch a “city” van, since practically nowhere in this great Union of ours do trucks and vans have as much room to grow to full size, like goldfish in an Olympic-size carp pool. The congested avenues and narrow alleys of New York City might have been a more obvious place to launch the Promaster City, but the appeal of small utility vans is not just about being the right size for their environment; it’s about possessing the right qualities. And the Promaster City has a lot of right qualities.
It starts with being eminently easy to drive. From behind the wheel, the Promaster City’s car-like driving position and surprisingly stylish, ergonomically sound dashboard are more like those of a tall station wagon than a cargo van. Particular helpful if the van is to be piloted by many different drivers is its uncomplicated Uconnect infotainment system with available touchscreen and wifi, which requires little or no learning curve to master, unlike the fussy Sync system in the Transit Connect. Large glass back windows on models so equipped (including all five-passenger versions, which also come with windows in the sliding door) dwarf the tiny airplane-size back windows in the NV200/City Express, blessing the Promaster City with a great view out back when it’s not loaded with stuff. And highly recommended on models with paneled windows is are bumper-saving rear backup camera and parking sensors.
The Promaster City’s front seats seem comfortable enough for long-distance drives and are covered in fabric that could handle a plumber’s wrath after Taco Tuesday. The 60/40 split fold-and-tumble rear seats in passenger models, however, are about as cushy as a park bench and have no armrests to speak of (those are highly underappreciated, as it turns out) and hence should be used infrequently and for short trips only.
As a compact van weighing about 3,600 lbs., the Promaster City is also is fully competent with just four cylinders underhood, even on Austin’s hilly roads. The 2.4-liter “Tigershark” inline-four’s 178 hp and 174 lb-ft of torque make it the most powerful mill in the segment, while a nine-speed automatic with manual shift control manages the shifting. Thus endowed, the Promaster City is no speed demon at full tilt, but nor should drivers be allowed to blame any late deliveries on their van being too slow. And just as important to the boss is the Promaster City’s impressive 21/29 mpg city/highway fuel economy, which exactly matches the long-wheelbase Transit Connect.
The Promaster City is also spectacularly maneuverable, boasting a turning circle that, at just 32 feet, is three feet tighter than a Mini Cooper’s. The steering wheel turns 2.9 times lock-to-lock, which may not seem too remarkable compared to regular cars, but if you’ve piloted a full-size van before, it’s a revelation. Even better, there’s no perceptible on-center dead spot at speed, just crisp, linear response. Ride quality, meanwhile, is downright heroic thanks to a fully independent rear suspension (the NV200/City Express have bumpy rear leaf springs and the Transit Connect has a twist beam rear axle), so if you’re in the business of transporting delicate items like wedding cakes or antiques, this should top your shopping list.
However small it drives, the Promaster City can carry a lot. Size wise, it’s very close to the NV200/City Express and the long-wheelbase Transit Connect, yet it manages to squeak more cubic feet into the cargo area: 131.7 cubes on cargo models versus 128.6 for the Ford and 122.7 for the Nissan/Chevy twins. The roof height is a tall 51.8 inches, and as with its competitors, the Promaster City’s rear doors open on double hinges for nearly 180 degrees of total swing, which makes loading wide and bulky items a cinch.
The Promaster City cargo model comes with a fully lined floor that is flat and expansive, measuring 87.2 feet from the seatbacks to the rear doors, 60.4 inches between the walls and 48.4 inches between the wheelwells, allowing a forklift to drop in a conventional pallet full of cargo. Up to 1883 pounds of payload can be loaded inside, then secured with its six standard D-rings (four on passenger models). So you don’t have to look it up, that’s 173 pounds more than the Transit Connect and 383 pounds more than the NV200/City Express. Max towing is 2,000 pounds, exactly matching the Ford.
Of course, most Promaster City buyers won’t leave their vans just as they came, so Mopar and other upfitters are at the ready to supply partitions, shelving units, and roof racks. The Promaster City also has a huge shelf above the front seats as well as a large open shelf in the passenger-side dash.
Prices for the Promaster City cargo model start at $24,125 and $25,125 for the passenger version. The SLT trim adds power mirrors, body-color bumpers, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, touchscreen infotainment, and cruise control to both, for an additional $1,525.
For many van customers, having a reasonable amount of well-organized space is more appealing than sheer immensity, and the Promaster City will fit that bill, especially if they plan to put their van in a garage or have limited operating budgets. The fact that it drives so well is icing on the cake.