By Keith Buglewicz
The van market in the U.S. is changing, and it's due to a new generation of vans like the 2016 Ram ProMaster City. This European-style compact van is bred for city life, with a smaller footprint and compact-car maneuverability, but still capable of hauling big loads thanks to the huge cargo space under its tall roof. Offered in both 2-seat cargo and 5-passenger wagon editions, the little Ram ProMaster is based on the Fiat Doblo, and comes with a 178-horsepower 2.4-liter 4-cylinder, and the best cargo capacity and payload rating in its class. The smooth ride, tight turning circle and 9-speed automatic transmission all distinguish the ProMaster City from competitors like the Ford Transit Connect and the Nissan NV200/ Chevrolet City Express twins.
Plumbers, locksmiths, delivery companies and anybody else needing a utility van in an urban setting would do themselves a favor by checking out a new Ram ProMaster City. It offers the best cargo capacity and payload in its class, is comfortable and maneuverable, and even offers respectable performance.
While clever and useful, the 2016 Ram ProMaster City isn't a price leader. Fleet buyers will note that the Nissan NV200 takes the bottom spot on the price spectrum among small vans like this.
Ram added minor changes to the 2016 ProMaster City. All radios now get Bluetooth, and the carpet is a little thicker both for comfort and improved noise suppression. Ram has also upgraded the tires, improving performance and rolling resistance to help aid fuel economy without sacrificing the ProMaster's handling.
Small and nimble is why commercial buyers are interested in small vans like the ProMaster City, and even Ram spokespeople describe it as "urban nimble." Of course, we're not talking...
... sports-car moves here. The tall body leans in rapid maneuvers, but that's expected for something this tall and narrow. However, the 2016 ProMaster City offers up a commendably smooth ride thanks to the design of the independent rear-suspension system. The turning circle is a tidy 32 feet, and the driver's outward view is very good, both of which make city life easier to navigate. Helping move things along is the 9-speed automatic transmission, which is a bit jerky at low speeds, but better once you're underway. All the while it helps the 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine deliver decent acceleration. The downside is a poorly placed steering wheel that makes it very difficult to find a comfortable driving position.
LOW LOAD FLOOR
As a cargo van, things tend to skew toward the practical, and one thing that we love about the 2016 ProMaster City is its low cargo floor. At 21.5 inches, it's less than two feet off the ground, making it easy to load big, bulky or heavy items.
INTEGRATED DOOR LATCH AND LOCK
The ProMaster City borrows some of the Fiat 500's cleverness. For example, like the 500, the door latch and lock are built into a single unit. Push down on the handle and the door locks; pull up it unlocks, and pull all the way to open the door.
No utility van is going to be luxurious inside, but the 2016 ProMaster City compares well against the Ford Transit Connect, and feels notably upscale compared to the Nissan NV200. There's first-rate upholstery, and the comfortable seats are easy to get into and out of, important for delivery services. Like the Transit Connect, the ProMaster City has an overhead shelf above the windshield for stowing loose papers and small objects, and we like the combination lock/latch in the front-door armrests. SL trims are well equipped, although don't expect lots of rear-seat legroom in Wagon models.
The 2016 ProMaster City's design follows the practical-but-weird design aesthetic of this class of vehicle. It's tall (74 inches), has a droopy snout for good forward visibility, and the wagon and cargo models get slightly different front-end styling. Cargo-oriented Tradesman models can choose between the same, rear windows only, or no rear or side windows at all. On all ProMaster City models, the rear doors are split 60/40 and open 180 degrees to reveal a remarkably low step-in and load floor. The van rolls on 16-inch wheels, backed by disc brakes at the front, drums at the rear.
Bluetooth and thicker carpet are added to the standard-equipment list this year, both of which help the ProMaster City feel a little less Spartan. Also standard are air conditioning, tilt/telescope steering wheel, power door locks, keyless remote entry, cargo area tie-down loops, and a limited version of Chrysler's Uconnect (3.0) infotainment system with 4-speaker AM/FM audio, USB port and auxiliary input. All the vans come with front airbags, a driver's inflatable knee bolster, front side-curtain airbags, front and rear curtain airbags (Wagon), and stability control.
The 2016 ProMaster City is far from hedonistic, but there are a few options to make work life easier. Primary among these is Uconnect 5.0, which adds a 5-inch color touch-screen media hub, TomTom navigation, USB port and auxiliary input. It also allows buyers to add Internet connectivity and satellite radio, the former being helpful in keeping in touch with the home office. A Popular Equipment group adds heated front seats and six speakers to Wagon models, and we strongly recommend the rearview camera group for models without rear windows, and the rear wiper/washer/defroster for those that do.
Like many Chrysler products, the 2016 ProMaster City benefits from the company's 2.4-liter "Tigershark" 4-cylinder engine and 9-speed automatic transmission. It's essentially the same combo as the
sedan, albeit with a little less horsepower. The combination – especially the 9-speed automatic – helps the ProMaster City achieve best-in-class fuel economy and horsepower. Interestingly, the engines are assembled at Chrysler's factory in Michigan, and then shipped to the factory in Tofas, Turkey, where they're bolted into the van's unibody. Sad news, diesel fans: The 2.0-liter turbodiesel available in Europe isn't coming here.
178 horsepower @ 6,400 rpm
174 lb-ft of torque @ 3,800 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 21/29 mpg
Work-oriented 2016 ProMaster City Tradesman models start with a Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) a little over $24,000; add another $1,500 of the more upscale SLT version that includes more equipment and body-color bumpers. Wagon versions add $1,000 to each of those totals. Load up on options, and you'll find yourself in the $30,000 range with an SLT Tradesman edition after you add the popular equipment group, including TomTom navigation, lights and aluminum alloy wheels, rear windows and side windows, rearview camera, and a trailer towing package. Those prices roughly parallel the Ford Transit Connect and Transit Wagon, but it's about $2,000 higher than the cargo-only Nissan NV200. To see what others are paying for the Ram ProMaster City in your area, check out KBB.com's Fair Purchase Price. Since it's new to North America, the van's resale value remains to be seen.