The Class 1 van has been a staple in Europe for decades, but until the 2010 arrival of the Ford Transit Connect it's been absent from the U.S. commercial market, which has been largely ruled by traditional full-size American vans since the mid-1960s. Tall, voluminous, front-drive, handy around town-Class 1 vans came into widespread use in European metropolitan areas not long after World War II, but their inherent practicality somehow failed to transfer to the U.S. 

Until now. Transit Connect was followed by the Nissan NV200, the commercial version of the company's New York taxi, and the City Express, an NV200 wearing a Chevy badge. And for 2015, Chrysler's Ram Truck division is fielding a fourth Class 1 player, the ProMaster City. The City shares the proportions of its full-size ProMaster brother, as well as those of the competing vans: high aspect ratio, lots of vertical stowage, easy access from the side and rear. 

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And like the big ProMaster, known as the Ducato in Italy, the ProMaster City is an Americanized version of the Fiat Doblo, now in its third generation in Europe. Adapting the Doblo for U.S. duty entailed selective unibody reinforcement, beefier suspension components, and raising the static ride height to make the van a little more rugged for some U.S. roads (remember, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles is headquartered in Michigan).

Multiple Personalities

Like the Transit Connect, the ProMaster City is offered in cargo (Tradesman) and five-passenger Wagon configurations. There are two trim levels, base and SLT. Tradesman models offer a choice of a completely closed cargo area (driver and front passenger windows only), windows in the 60/40 vertical rear doors, or rear and side windows. The cargo area is 87.2 inches long, 51.8 inches high, 60.4 inches wide, with 48.4 inches between the wheel wells. Six tie-down anchors in floor are each rated for 1000 pounds. The cargo hold is 131.7 cubic feet, max payload is rated at 1883 pounds, and towing capacity is 2000 pounds, the same as the Transit Connect.

While the van is from Europe, assembled at a plant in Tofas, Turkey, the powertrain comes from the U.S. A Chrysler 2.4-liter Tigershark four-cylinder is paired with the company's nine-speed automatic transmission, same powertrain used in the new Chrysler 200. In this application it's rated for 178 horsepower and 174 pound-feet of torque, and EPA projects mileage of 21 mpg city, 29 highway, 24 combined.

The 9-speed transmission makes the most of this output, getting the van out of the starting blocks in a respectable hurry-3.7 seconds to 30 mph, according to Ram spokesmen, certainly adequate in city traffic. Handling also qualifies as respectable, given the constraints imposed by the basic design. A vehicle whose height (74 inches) exceeds the dimensions of its track (60.1/60.9 inches, front/rear) isn't going to star on an autocross course. Like all of the new generation of tall vans, great and small, the ProMaster City changes directions deliberately, and body roll is abundant. On the other hand, ride quality is supple, the turning circle (32 feet) is exceptionally tidy, forward sightlines are very good, and interior noise levels are modest, particularly in the passenger version.

A van for everyone

Although the ProMaster City is clearly conceived for urban operations, the Ram division marketing mavens intend to make it available to all 2300 Ram Truck dealers, something that's not true of the big ProMaster. The MSRP opens at $24,125, for the basic Tradesman cargo trim, $25,125 for the basic Wagon. Uplevel SLT trims start at $25,650 and $26,550, respectively. 

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Chrysler's Uconnect system makes navigation, Bluetooth, and internet connectivity available, and like competing vans Ram plans to offer a number of upfit systems to adapt the ProMaster City to a variety of commercial uses.

ProMaster City won't be the least expensive of U.S. Class 1 vans. That distinction belongs to the Nissan NV 200. But its list of best-in-class claims-cargo volume, payload, biggest cargo load floor, widest load floor between wheel wells-plus strong performance, a solid comfort quotient, and the 9-speed transmission make this a very attractive newcomer to a growing market segment. Dealers also offer the Ram Cargo Van, a commercial adaptation of the discontinued Dodge Grand Caravan minivan, but it will eventually be phased out. 


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