In a phrase dates back to vaudeville, they say if it will play in Peoria, it’s ready for the big time. The thought was that this northwest Illinois town had the demographics and attitudes that matched the nation as a whole. So we ask, would a cargo van designed by Fiat, built in Turkey, and with a German-engineered transmission built in the U.S. be a hit in Middle America? We didn’t go to Peoria to find out, but gave a 2015 Ram ProMaster City Tradesman SLT Cargo Van to our Illinois-raised Buzzard-in-Chief for a week of evaluation.
The Ram ProMaster City Tradesman is one of a small class of small utility vans sized local delivery or craftsmen without the need to carry large amounts of spare parts and materials when out on calls. The ProMaster City competes with the Ford Transit Connect, Nissan NV200, and theNV200’s Chevy clone, the Chevrolet City Express.
The ProMaster City significantly smaller than the Ram ProMaster we tested not long ago, down not just one size but perhaps two. The layout, however, is the same: Front engine with front drive, allowing a lower floor than a conventional rear drive van. The ProMaster City, however, has independent rear suspension, unlike its larger relative or same-sized rivals, all of which have beam axles.
Of the four smaller vans, the ProMaster City and the Transit Connect are available in passenger versions—called Wagon for the ProMaster City—as well as Tradesman cargo vans, although the NV200 comes as a people hauler too, though only for cabbies. The ProMaster City Tradesman should not be confused, by the way, with the Ram C/V (Cargo Van) Tradesman, a commercial version of the Dodge Grand Caravan.
We tested the 2015 ProMaster City Tradesman SLT, a spiffier version of the Tradesman without SLT, most identifiable by its body-color (rather than black) front bumper. As a cargo hauler, it has the edge on its rivals with a cargo area that’s biggest in cargo volume (131.7 cubic feet); widest floor between rear wheel wells (48.4 inches), and widest cargo-area above the wheel wells (60.4 inches). You’ll note that tallest and longest are not in that list, though the ProMaster City does have the best payload, at 1883 pounds, and can tow up to 2,000 lbs.
The ProMaster City comes standard as a hollow box, front to rear. However, Ram has an optional cargo partition package that neatly blocks off the cargo area from the driver/passenger seating area. From a practical standpoint, it makes for a quieter drive, blocking off the soundbox-on-wheels part of the vehicle.
The partition, however, is up against the backs of the front seats so the seats can’t recline, and there’s also precious little space inside the cab for incidentals, even between the seats. And although there’s a driver’s armrest, it block access to the center console, such that it is, and the cup holders and handbrake lever.
On the other hand, the partition lessens the load on the heater/air conditioner which only have to warm/cool the cabin and not the whole truck. Our test vehicle’s partition included a window, which allows a view straight through the windows in the rear doors. Reflections in that flat window, however, will startle the driver with the illusion of traffic coming up on the right hand side. Just rely on the side mirrors for blind spot view—and as a panel van, that’s huge spot. At least both outside mirrors have a flat mirror with a convex mirror underneath that provides a wide view. (Our test vehicle had a rearview camera with a particularly wide angle view, a welcome $495 addition).
The wider of the two rear doors—they’re about 60/40—had the $250 optional washer/wiper/defroster group, and although the doors, normally open 90 degrees, with a push of a button release in the hinges can be swung open to nearly 180 degrees. There were sliding doors on both sides of our test ProMaster City as well, remnants of the vehicle’s alternative configuration as a passenger vehicle. It is nominally set up for carrying people, by the way, and as a cargo van carries a $1,000 decrease in price for taking out the back seats and side curtain airbag, and glass out of the sliding side doors and hinged rear doors…but a $295 increase to put glass back in the rear door.
The cargo area in our test vehicle wasn’t upfitted, just a bare box with several cargo hooks in the floor, and although the truck came well equipped with Stuff, including satellite radio and TomTom navigation, it was austere from the standpoint of materials, a regular symphony of hard plastic surfaces, befitting its status as a commercial vehicle that will most likely see hard duty for most of its life. That said, it was cushy compared to the Ram ProMaster we tested.
However, the seats though durable proved uncomfortable, hard and with minimal side support, for a long day in the saddle. The Ram ProMaster City, at least seatwise, is more suited to short deliveries than long hauls.
The 2.4-liter Tigershark four-cylinder engine also used in the Chrysler 200 and Jeep Cherokee combined with a smooth-shifting nine-speed automatic transmission ditto-ditto gives the unladen ProMaster City more than adequate acceleration for urban freeway ramps—Ram says 0-30 mph in 3.7 seconds—and easy highway driving at speeds that will get that package there sooner than tomorrow.
On the highway, according to EPA standards, the Ram ProMaster gets 29 mpg, with a 21 mpg rating for city. With mixed but more highway oriented driving we recorded a consistent 23 mpg, whether highway or exurban.
Though tall and narrow, the ProMaster City is agile on winding roads, enough so that we’re also tempted to use sports car terminology in its ability to change directions and go around corners. Shocks, anti-roll bars and springs were selected by someone who knows handling. More important for most owners, however, is how it handles tight urban loading zones and suburban parking lots, and there the ProMaster City has a rather large 42-foot turning circle. That compares to the Transit Connect’s 39.2-foot turning circle, and the 36.7 foot curb-to-curb of the Nissan NV200. That’s, um, embarrassing.