Review: 2015 RAM ProMaster City (with Video)

Alex L. Dykes
by Alex L. Dykes

Please welcome back Alex Dykes as our Road Test editor. Alex will be contributing reviews and video reviews at our re-launched YouTube channel. Click here to subscribe.

Everyone has been talking about the Dodge Caravan being sent out to pasture soon, but there is a third badge-engineered Chrysler minivan heading into the sunset as well: the 2015 RAM C/V. Behold the replacement: the 2015 RAM ProMaster City. With industry boffins calculating that the class 1 cargo-hauler segment will explode by over 300% in the coming few years, Chrysler is getting in on the commercial action with another Euro model. While the larger ProMaster van is based on the Fiat Ducato, the smaller ProMaster City is an Americanization of the Fiat Doblo. Does the recently formed Fiat Chrysler conglomerate have with it takes to compete with the all-new and all-sexy Transit Connect?

Exterior

Outside it is hard to tell the Doblo and the ProMaster City apart. Both have dual sliding doors and rear 60/40 barn doors that open to near 180 degrees but most of the sheetmetal is shared. New DOT compliant tail lamps and headlights were fitted and the RAM logo and cross-hair grille were grafted to the long nose. Let’s be frank, the ProMaster City isn’t as attractive as the new Transit Connect which wears strong lines and Ford’s new corporate grille. The ProMaster on the other hand goes for rounded corners and a function-over-form front end. RAM boasts that the unpainted black bumpers can be easily replaced without a quote from the paint shop. Shoppers should note that top end models ditch this repair savings for body-colored parts. Style is usually a low priority for most commercial shoppers and the PMC’s funky looks are unlikely to be a turn off. The wagon version may be a different matter.

Interior

Speaking of wagons, the ProMaster City Wagon exists mainly as a “why not?” statement. You see, every PMC starts life as a passenger wagon built by TOFAS (a sort-of contract manufacturer) in Turkey. The completed vans are then shipped to Maryland for “conversion” where the “cargo” vans lose their rear seats and gain a load floor. This is essentially the same process Ford uses to bring the Transit Connect to our shores and avoid paying the dreaded “Chicken Tax.” Because the vans are imported with 5-seats, why not sell a few on the side? That’s the version I had for a week.

It is best to think of the wagon as a utilitarian people and cargo hauler for the avid mountain biking family than a replacement for the American minivan. The difference between the PMC and the Sedona, Sienna, Caravan and Odyssey is stark. You won’t find a third row, fold-int0-the-floor seats, squishy plastics, rear entertainment systems, snazzy audio systems or leather rear captains chars with ottomans. Instead we have a commercial grade Euro-funky interior cast in shades of black and grey. The hard plastic dash and doors will withstand years of abuse and are easy to clean, but not as nice to touch as what you find in Ford’s redesigned Transit Connect.

Most of the PMC’s dashboard is lifted directly from the Doblo except for a new steering wheel with audio controls on the back, a new shifter and a touchscreen infotainment system. The gauge cluster is easy to read but the trip computer is unintuitive. Similarly the door release handles also function as the door locks and the electric door lock controls. That took some getting used to. Storage pockets abound but the cupholder count of two is decidedly European.

The Ford is more comfortable as a people hauler because it has a dual mission. You see, the PMC doesn’t need to compete with the Sedona or Sienna, because that’s what Chrysler has the Caravan and Town & Country for. Want a minivan? Go to the Chrysler dealer. Want to haul your portable poodle washing system? Visit the RAM dealer. Ford on the other hand is using the Transit Connect to compete in both worlds, for better or worse.

Cargo Hauling

For commercial haulers and the “active families” manufacturers are courting, cargo capacity is king. This is area where the baby RAM starts to shine. With 131.7 cubic feet of widget-moving space in the rear this easily beats the Nissan NV200 and Chevy City Express and barely eeks out a win over the long wheelbase Transit Connect. The RAM also manages to haul longer items thanks to a slightly longer box swallowing 11-foot items from the windshield to the rear doors, 9-foot items from the dash to the doors (after removing the front passenger seat) and 7-foot items from the front seat backs to the rear doors. You’ll notice something missing, there’s no 8-foot measure, and that is the area where every vehicle in this segment let me down, you can’t put a 4×8 sheet of anything in these vans. If you want to haul plywood, you’ll need a Caravan for that once the RAM C/V dies next year.

Loading a widget that’s 4-feet by 4-feet by 5-feet long with a forklift is a cinch thanks to the bi-folding doors, something that the larger C/V has lacked for a while. Sadly you’ll find the payload, although class leading at 1,883 pounds, is not any higher in real terms than the Caravan. This leaves a huge payload gap between the ProMaster City and the 3,922 pound payload of the base model ProMaster. In an interesting twist, the PMC uses an independent rear suspension and coil springs while delivering a higher load capacity than the NV200’s more truck-like rear end.

Infotainment

Although uConnect 5.0 sounds like it would be a smaller version of uConnect 8.4 (the systems found in most Dodge and RAM models) it is actually an entirely different system. Based on a Microsoft O/S and not the UNIX-like QNX that runs the larger system, this software was almost entirely designed by Fiat. It started its life back in 2006 as Fiat’s Blue & Me system found in Europe but Fiat re-designed it to look like the larger uConnect system in 2013 and we’re starting to see it offered as Chrysler’s base infotainment unit. With available TomTom navigation, Bluetooth speaker phone integration and USB media / iDevice support, uConnect 5.0 is a perfectly serviceable head unit. It lacks the smartphone and voice command functionality you find in the larger uConnect and upcoming revision of MyFord Touch, but it is snappy and easy to use.

Base PMC models skip the touchscreen infotainment system for a basic AM/FM unit with a USB port and four-speakers. Jumping up to the SLT trim adds the touchscreen as standard equipment and makes a 6-speaker package available. That limitation goes for the wagon model as well, in base form you get the speaker grilles but no speakers in the cargo area.

Powertrain

Thankfully RAM chose not to raid Dodge’s compact sedan for the powertrain as Nissan did with the NV200, instead opting for the same 2.4L “Tigershark” engine found in the Chrysler 200. The four-cylinder mill produces 178 horsepower and 172 lb-ft of twist which easily outclasses the NV200 and compares well with the Ford 2.5L naturally aspirated and 1.6L turbo engines. Unfortunately this does not compare terribly well with the average American minivan like Chrysler’s own Town & Country at 283 horsepower. Admittedly the Town & Country is heavier, but the power to weight ratio is still better at the Chrysler dealer.

Helping make up for some of the power defect is a ZF-designed, Chrysler built, 9-speed automatic. (If you want to know more about the 9HP and why it behaves the way it does, check out ZF’s 9HP Transmission Puts Dog Clutches On the Leash.) The 9-speed auto gives the PMC the lowest starting ratio in the segment and the highest final drive making the bulbous RAM the fastest to 30 MPH and the most efficient at 75 MPH. The result is an EPA rating of 21/29/24 MPG (City / Highway / Combined). Should you live in state with higher speed limits the tall 9th gear is a serious advantage. I averaged an impressive 31 MPG on a 70-mile one-way trip with the A/C blowing, cruise control set to 76 MPH and 800 lbs of cement blocks in the rear. If however you commute is in the city, expect that number to drop to the teens.

Drive

When you compare the ProMaster City and the Grand Caravan, you’ll notice that the baby-RAM trades 850lbs of curb weight and 105 horsepower for 50% more gears in the transmission. The trade means higher fuel economy as I said, but notably slower acceleration with the RAM taking 9.55 seconds to buzz its way to 60 MPH. That’s Prius territory. Add a thousand pounds and any of these “class 1” cargo vehicles will feel slow, but the turbocharger on Ford’s 1.6L engine helps it scoot to 60 nearly a second faster. The RAM still bests the 2.5L Ford engine and the Nissan and Chevy.

If you’re after exciting dynamics, you’re looking inside the wrong white box. The RAM has a better feel behind the wheel than the Ford, but raw grip is better over at the Blue Oval. The NV200’s leaf springs and wheezy 2.0L engine are the least exciting of the bunch, but the trade is truly the best city fuel economy. The better dynamics in the Transit Connect are not surprising since it is competing both in the cargo hauler and minivan segments. Is the RAM exciting? No. Is there steering feel? No. Can it out handle the Caravan in the left lane? No. But it can out handle a Prius on your mountain bagel delivery route.

And now we must address the glaring problem that hit me when I looked at the price tag. At $23,130 the Tradesman trim of the City is $1,735 more than the 2015 Grand Caravan AVP, aka the cheapest minivan in America. The Caravan isn’t the freshest minivan on the market, but the interior is still several steps above the ProMaster City. Dodge gives you a 283 horse V6 standard, it can swallow a 4×8 sheet of plywood, the factory payload is just 154lbs lower and it will tow 1,600lbs more. FCA does plan on fixing this, but the fix is killing off the AVP instead of lowering the ProMaster City’s price. This value problem is not unique to the RAM however as the Transit is also more expensive than the AVP. Admittedly suggesting the passenger version of the Caravan over the ProMaster City is “missing the point” a little, but the wagon variant we tested widens the gap to nearly $3,000. If your cash is on the line, my best advice is to skip both the ProMaster City and the Transit Connect and get a Caravan AVP while you can. As long as you don’t need the barn doors in the back or don’t mind a DIY conversion, the discount Dodge is the most compelling option.

Chrysler provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review

Specifications as tested

0-30: 3.8 Seconds

0-60: 9.55 Seconds

Average economy: 24.3 MPG over 486 miles













Alex L. Dykes
Alex L. Dykes

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  • Wstarvingteacher Wstarvingteacher on Feb 24, 2015

    Welcome back Alex. Enjoy your work. I have been known to be confused at times but IIRC you were involved in making a DIY jeep pickup just before you left. What happened with that? Inquiring minds want to know. Doubt I am in the market for one of these vans. As we grew older a case of Hep C demanded we keep the wife close to a doctor familiar with her case. Always read about the vans though. At one time we thought that when we retired we would put Willie Nelson on an endless loop: "on the road again". A small van always had my vote as the best way to go. The ford Transit and this van seem to be ideal for that.

  • Marcelo de Vasconcellos Marcelo de Vasconcellos on Feb 27, 2015

    Hey Alex, welcome back. The back portions can't come with windows? Major no no for a family car. FWIW we get the Doblò here (though based off a different car) and I like it a lot. I have driven them extensively and it is one vehicle I'd like to own do to their quirkiness. In Brazil, in that cargo hold, two seats can be put against the sides, making top of the line Doblòs capable of carrying 7. Of course, no luggage then, and don't ask me about safety because I don't know. To me the Fiat versions look a bit better.

  • 3-On-The-Tree Lou_BCsame here I grew up on 2-stroke dirt bikes had a 1985 Yamaha IT200 2-strokes then a 1977 Suzuki GT750 2-stroke 750 streetike fast forward to 2002 as a young flight school Lieutenant I bought a 2002 suzuki Hayabusa 1300 up in Huntsville Alabama. Still have that bike.
  • Milton Rented one for about a month. Very solid EV. Not as fun as my Polestar, but for a go to family car, solid. Practical EV ownership is only made possible with a home charger.
  • J Love mine, but the steering wheel blocks dashboard a bit, can't see turn signals nor headlights icons. They could use the upper corners of the screen for the turn signals. Mileage is much lower than shown too, disappointing
  • Aja8888 NO!
  • OrpheusSail I once did. My first four cars were American made, and through an odd set of circumstances surrounding a divorce, I wound up with a '95 Nissan Maxima which was fourteen years old and had about 150,000 miles on it.It was drove better, had an amazing engine, and was more reliable than any of my American cars. This included a new '95 GMC pickup that went through five alternators in under two years while the dealership insisted that there was no underlying electrical problem while they tried to run the clock on the warranty.That was the end of 'buy American'. I've bought from Honda and VW since, and I'll consider just about anything except American now.
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