AUSTIN, Texas -
During the press presentation, Dave Sowers, head of Ram commercial marketing, kept stressing that the new 2015 Ram ProMaster City was nimble.
Here I am, sitting in the presentation room, looking at this box on wheels, and the last word that comes to mind is "nimble."
Heavy. Sluggish. Rough.
Those would be the top three words that pop in my head. Though rudimentary, top-heavy and jerky would probably soon follow.
Boy, was I wrong.
I took the first loop on Austin-area city streets as a passenger, and sitting in the jump seat was relatively comfortable. I kind of forgot that I was sitting in a cargo van. The test vehicle we were in had the up-level radio with navigation and back-up camera, and with an iPhone that has a 3-hour battery life, I immediately zoomed in on the USB port that would juice my phone.
Sure there were hard plastic surfaces. And the seats were a rough black cloth. But this is a work van. And, if you wanted them, you could get heated cloth seats. (Only on the Tradesman Cargo SLT, though, when you add the Popular Equipment Group for $465.)
The ProMaster City wasn't tuned for NVH (Noise Vibration Harshness), but it was still mostly quiet. However, under hard acceleration, engine noise does whine into the cabin.
When we did the driver swap, I was impressed that I could adjust the seat and feel like I had a decent driving position. The first model we drove has a base Tradesman Cargo with rear windows. This means it was relatively bare bones in terms of seat adjustment - the forward track and the seatback. That was it.
But it was enough. The seat already sits high, so I didn't feel like I was the old lady in the "Where's the Beef
" commercials. I could have used some lumbar support, but otherwise, the view out the front wasn't bad.
When we got to Trouble Maker Studios, where an autocross had been set up, I was able to hop behind the wheel of a Tradesman SLT Cargo and discovered that it had both lumbar adjustment and height adjustment, which made a good driving position even better.
During my stint behind the wheel I had some minor city driving, but I was primarily on the highway or streets that had a 45 mph speed limit. So I would slow down, speed up and do pretend passing maneuvers. I thought the PromasterCity handled pretty well.
On the highway, I had the chance to test the ProMaster City's nimbleness for real. I could the smell burning rubber before I saw it. But then I noticed the mobile home in front of me was smoking from the rear right side.
I took my foot off the gas and created some distance, but I was still surprised by the "pop" and explosion of rubber that flew into the air. I quickly dodged into the left lane and gave the struggling vehicle a wide berth.
The ProMaster City didn't miss a beat.
It wasn't until we got to the autocross, however, that I saw the true meaning of nimble. I had gone through the course myself, and I couldn't be happier with the turning radius - which according to Ram is equivalent to a Honda Civic - and agility around corners, curves and obstacles on the road.
Even with a 600-pound payload, the ProMaster City did an excellent job at speeds up to about 30 mph.
Then I hear this tire squealage and see a ProMaster City flying through the course and taking the curves at a much faster clip than I would have dared. Nick Cappa, Ram Brand Communications, was gleefully putting the cargo van through its paces.
I couldn't believe my eyes. You would have thought he was driving a Dodge Challenger or something. So I made him take me for a ride. And I took video
. While the ProMaster City wasn't a car star in "The Italian Job," it felt like it could have been.
The ProMaster City is based on the European 2015 Fiat Doblò
, which was revealed earlier in December. The Doblò, however, is powered by a diesel engine mated to a 5-speed manual tranmsission, whereas the ProMaster City is equipped with a 2.4-liter Tigershark I-4 engine and mated to a 9-speed automatic. This engine delivers 178 horsepower and 174 pound-feet of torque.
The Tigershark has a lot going for it, including an excellent higway fuel economy of 29 mpg and a peppy 0-to-30 mph time of 3.7 seconds. But low-end torque is not one of those things. During my speed-up-slow-down tests, I found that while driving more than 35 mph I really had to mash the gas pedal to accelerate and pass.
The good news, however, is that this will likely primarily be an urban delivery truck, so the 0-to-30-mph times are more critical than the 30-to-60-mph ones.
The front-wheel drive ProMaster City is a Class 1 cargo van that delviers 131.7 cubic-feet of cargo volume, a payload of 1,883 pounds and six tie downs in the cargo bed rated at 1,000 pounds.
Other key specs:
Cargo width length: 60.4 inches and 87.2 inches
Distance between wheel wells: 48.4 inches
Wheelbase: 122.4 inches.
MPG (city/hwy): 21/29
As Sowers pointed out during the press briefing, when they were desiging this new cargo van for an American market, there were four key areas they focused on: capability, efficiency, durability and functionality.
This is punctuated by a slew of "best-in-class" labels: Payload, cargo width, fuel economy, turning radius, horsepower, torque and cargo capacity.
"So, this van does a lot," Sowers said.
Pricing for the 2015 Ram ProMaster City cargo vans:
Tradesman Cargo Van: $23,130 (plus $995 destination)
Tradesman SLT Cargo Van: $24,655 (plus $995 destination)
Ram also offers a "wagon" version of the ProMaster City, which is geared more toward a family with an active lifestyle rather than a business. It has the same engine and transmission, but it seats five instead of two. From the outside, it looks exactly like the cargo van. Base price for that is $24,130 (plus $995 destination).
ProMaster City started shipping to dealers last week, and it can be built to spec on the Ram website. This cargo van offering will be available via all 2,300 Ram dealerships. It will replace the current C/V Tradesman model.
Overall, I think the ProMaster City is an excellent choice for a local business. Between the factory-installed upgrade features and Mopar upfitters in Baltimore, MD, there's a lot of room for customization. Whether you're a caterer, florist or a locksmith, this cargo van can be fully equipped to suit your needs.
It's been a while since I've driven the Ford Transit Connect, but the ride of the ProMaster City is definitely smoother, the finishes are better, and, yes, it's more nimble.
For urban business owners looking for a new workhorse, this is a must test.Read more from Jill Ciminillo:
BMW i8: My 2 minutes behind the wheel
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