While pickup trucks get bigger with every redesign, this new crop of mid-sized vans offers impressive utility with decent fuel economy and easy parking. We drove the 2015 Ram ProMaster City to find out how far vans have really come since your last ride in an Aerostar.
Let’s start with the specs that really do matter; the ProMaster City is a small (187.5" bumper-to-bumper) van that can be configured as a windowless work horse or a five-passenger “wagon” (minivan) that costs about $25,000. Basically, it’s not the cheapest in the small van segment, but it’s among the largest and most capable.
Its rivals are the Nissan NV200 (also sold as the Chevy City Express) and Ford Transit Connect. The Mercedes-Benz Metris is almost comparable, but it’s a little larger (186 cubic feet of space) and a little more expensive (around $30,000.)
All ProMaster City vans run a 2.4 liter four-cylinder engine rated to 178 horsepower and 24 MPG in combined driving by the EPA. They’re also all front-wheel drive with the same nine-speed automatic transmission.
The Tradesman SLT Cargo Van I drove is rated to tow 2,000 pounds or carry up to 1,883 pounds of whatever in 131.7 cubic feet of stark, empty cargo space behind an optional partition.
Here’s how they all compare on specs, keep in mind that the Ford Transit Connect comes in two sizes and two engines, the smaller of which is actually more powerful:
|Ram ProMaster City||$23,130|
|Nissan NV200/Chevy City Express||$20,720|
|Ford Transit Connect||$22,675|
|Ford Transit Connect Long Wheelbase||$23,330|
|General Dimensions||Interior Cargo Volume||Max Payload (lbs)||Max Towing (lbs)||Vehicle Length (Inches)||Vehicle Width (Inches)||Vehicle Height (Inches)|
|Ram ProMaster City||131.7||1,883||2,000||187.5||72.1||74|
|Nissan NV200/Chevy City Express||122.7||1,480||2,000||186.3||68.1||73.7|
|Ford Transit Connect||105.9||1,470||2,000||173.9||84.1||72.5|
|Ford Transit Connect Long Wheelbase||130.6||1,620||2,000||189.7||84.1||72.8|
|Power||Engine Size (Liters)||Transmission||Horsepower||Torque (lb-ft)||EPA Combined MPG|
|Ram ProMaster City||2.4||9-Speed Auto||178||174||24|
|Nissan NV200/Chevy City Express||2.0||CVT||131||139||26|
|Ford Transit Connect (Regular and Long)||1.6 Turbo/2.4||6-Speed Auto||178/169||184/171||25/23|
|Passenger Compartment||Legroom (Inches)||Headroom (Inches)||Hiproom (Inches)||Shoulder room (Inches)|
|Ram ProMaster City||40.8||46||54.1||59.3|
|Nissan NV200/Chevy City Express||42.6||41.7||51.3||54.1|
|Ford Transit Connect (Regular and Long)||41.5||46.8||54.1||57.6|
My opinions of the little Nissan are particularly bleak because I had to spend ten consecutive hours in it, on two consecutive days, crossing Virginia from one place I didn’t want to be to another that was even worse.
But the short story is; the ProMaster City is significantly more comfortable over heavy mileage. You sit lower in the Ram which gave me a good feeling of stability, where as the Nissan feels more like you’re sitting on it as you teeter around.
Both vans felt equally capable of accelerating to and maintaining the speed limit, which is pretty much where the conversation about “performance” ends. Except I will add that the Ram felt a little flatter in turns, again, as a result of the lower seating situation.
I almost caught myself saying “cockpit-like,” which is a good indicator of how insane you go spending too much time in a compact cargo van.
Anyway, my littermate “Tavarish” drove the Ford Transit Connect and reported back with bombs like “it rides better than any SUV in this class, bar none” and “power delivery from its 169 horsepower, 2.5 liter 4-cylinder engine feels like more.”
In fairness he did drive the fancied passenger version of the Ford, but if you trust his opinion and are shopping for a van you better buy that one or find whatever superfly shit he was smoking when he wrote that.
The Ram ProMaster City really isn’t awful to drive, but I couldn’t keep a straight face telling you the ride is better than any similarly-sized SUV. Not when modern mid-sized sport utilities are easily as nice to ride in as mid-range sedans.
At any rate the more significant user-impressions are about work. Loading cargo and fitting into garages is what the ProMaster City sells for, and it excels at both.
Standing just over six feet tall you will fear no “LOW CLEARANCE” sign driving one of these babies. The rear doors unhinge easily to open super-wide and swallow whatever you can cram onto its 87.2" by 48.4" (between wheel wells) cargo floor.
I found the side doors to be a little on the small side; ingress and egress for me at six feet tall myself was fine with a crouch, but a little trickier with something big in my arms. For what it’s worth, the NV200's side-doors felt a smidgen wider.
Practically speaking; the ProMaster City sucked up a tall cabinet, a dresser, two other cabinets, and a few cases of Sam Adams with no dip in ride height. With what I estimate was about 500 pounds worth of furniture, or a little over a quarter of the vehicle’s carrying capacity, the handling dynamics didn’t change distinguishably at around-town speeds.
Anyone moving from a larger, “traditional” van will really appreciate how smoothly the ProMaster City goes around corners and through potholes. You know it’s not a sports car but it will make your old Astro van feel like that couch in your grandma’s basement.
Sure it was fine when you were a kid, but man, you’re tired of compacted cushion and painful springs.
Slam the gas on the ProMaster City and the big four-banger will begrudgingly plod ahead like a horse with an attitude. Oh, it’s going to get there, but not because you said so.
Not really a major issue though because if you throw this thing around like a hot hatchback you’ll just break everything in the cargo box. Under what I consider a responsible application of throttle, the ProMaster City gets up with traffic just fine.
The whole reason you buy a van in this “micro” segment is for easy squeaking around garages and parking lots. The turning circle isn’t quite as aggressive as the Nissan NV200s, but you’ll have no problem threading the needle between shopping carts in the Home Depot parking lot.
A backup camera and parking sensors are hugely helpful since there’s no rearview mirror, but once you get used to the van’s proportions you should find it’s pretty easy to figure out where to stop.
The ProMaster City comes in a spartan Tradesman spec and a slightly nicer SLT. The latter has a viable stereo but other than that, don’t expect SUV (or even modern pickup truck) levels of luxury. Obviously.
If you’re stalwart and don’t mind sitting upright while you drive, you should be able to put plenty of miles on this van without too much misery. That’s particularly true if you’re coming out of an older vehicle. The vehicle’s fuel economy helps ease your pain, too; 24 MPG combined might sound a little weak when you see how small this snake-faced van really is in person.
But if you were in a pickup truck with the same payload-lugging abilities, you’d be lucky to hit high-teens on average fuel burn.
You small business owners who need a little mover but also want to enjoy driving on your days off, you might need to keep another car as a supplement to your ProMaster. But at least that other car won’t need one of those Brookstone massager seat covers to help you recover from a week’s worth of work rig torture.
After just a few short months of living in Los Angeles I’ve lost all sense of irony when we’re talking about using a van as a house. There are no less than three regular residents on wheels on my street alone, from sixth-owner Winnebagos to one particularly sad window-curtained Geo Metro that likes to park below my deck.
What I’m saying is; LA has a heartbreaking housing problem and I take this part of the van evaluation seriously.
And the answer is of course yes, but this van is suboptimal as a habitat. If you plan to live in your van, be it by a river or otherwise, you’ve got to prioritize interior space over advanced driving dynamics. And ideally; get something with a little more ground clearance so you can drive into parks or away from eyes who will just give you shit about “zoning” and “the safety of our community.”
Potential van-lifers; sacrifice the ProMaster City’s pleasant driving dynamics for something with more room inside.
The ProMaster City has the most cargo space by volume of all the miniature work vans on the market right now, and a good balance of economy to performance in the segment. But like I said, it’s not the cheapest option either.
Reality is you’re going to have to look at each van to see how the doors and dimensions accommodate your specific job requirements, but if you can fit your gear in a ProMaster City at a competitive price the van is a solid option.
It’s just not a viable apartment substitute in Los Angeles. Not quite yet, anyway.
Images via the author/FCA
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