In the South, dads drive pickup trucks. Imagine the horror in the more conservative corners of my family when I sold my honest, working-man’s pickup truck and started driving not just a car, but a freakin’ Nissan cube late in 2014.
Screw the haters. Now that I’ve spent just over a year driving that little cubic puddle-jumper, I’ve discovered how infrequently I used my pickup truck for trucky duties. But I’ll admit there have been times I would have liked more cargo capacity since selling the truck. That’s something the Ram ProMaster City could provide — making it perhaps the ultimate “Dad Van” for the modern man, i.e., me.
Compact European vans are finally becoming a thing in America, and not a moment too soon. After spending decades with ergonomic nightmares like the Chevrolet Astro/GMC Safari twins and several generations of Caravans and Windstars that prematurely puked their transmissions, we’re finally starting to see a few well-designed, smartly constructed vans. The Ram ProMaster City is the latest to enter the fray, battling competition from Nissan (the NV200), Chevrolet (the City Express, a rebadged NV200), and Ford (the Transit Connect).
Among those competitors, only Ford offers a passenger-hauling version to consumers like the ProMaster City Wagon SLT I tested. In fact, Ford one-ups the ProMaster City in two respects: It’s got a third row of seats for truly vanlike passenger haulage, and it’s got glass all the way around its beltline the way we ‘Mericans expect of our passenger vans.
I can understand why Ram opted to keep it to two rows. There’s room in the cargo hold to comfortably haul a 4×4 pallet behind the second-row seats if your heart so desired, as evidenced by the four D-ring tie-downs located approximately that far apart. A third row would leave very little practical cargo-hauling space back there — unless perhaps the generous legroom of the second-row seats were severely compromised.
Being that my babies’ seats fit great in that second row, I can do without that sort of compromise. Ford, I should point out, sells a lengthened version of the Transit Connect Wagon (because “van” is a dirty word in Fordese, I guess?) precisely to combat this. Of course, that results in a wider turning circle and more difficulty maneuvering in ever-shrinking parking spaces. Kudos to Ram for keeping it simple.
What I can’t understand are the steel skins covering what are obviously supposed to be windows on the rear quarter panels. Inside the ProMaster City, there are clearly rubberized trim pieces in the cargo area meant to make nice, clean openings for large pieces of glass. I was reminded of this every time I tried to check over my right shoulder before changing lanes. Seriously, Ram, put windows in those holes like your Italian parents do in the European-market version of this van:
With that complaint out of the way, let me just say I freakin’ loved the ProMaster City as a daily driver. A real adult human being could actually sit between the baby seats behind me, as my wife demonstrated during a shopping run when our youngest needed a bottle of milk on-the-run. That huge cargo area came in handy when we had to haul oversize Christmas presents home from the boys’ grandparents houses. It drove smaller than its interior size suggested. There’s a whole lot to like here.
Most of all, though, I liked how it offered the utility of a van with just enough crudeness to make it a total dadmobile. The polish of modern-day minivans is lost on utilitarian me. There are no leather seats, 27-speaker infotainment systems, or DVD/Bluray screens in this van. And sure, it’s a little bit loud inside — road noise is the price you pay when you’re driving a van arguably designed more for hauling cargo than passengers. Having spent seven years of my life commuting in a stripped Ford Ranger that would have looked at home parked next to the delivery trucks at your local Napa Auto Parts, I guess I might have a higher tolerance for these kinds of rough edges than your typical minivan shopper.
Thing is, all the fundamental elements felt sound. The 2.4-liter “Tigershark” four-cylinder gasoline engine was mated to Fiat-Chrysler’s ZF nine-speed automatic transaxle. The combination made for peppy acceleration when asked and returned good fuel economy just shy of 27 MPG in combined city and highway driving. The nine-speed autobox gets jeers from some reviewers in the Jeep Cherokee and Dodge Dart for being indecisive and slow to react, but it felt at home in the ProMaster City and never acted in an unexpected way.
Steering was nothing like a sportscar, but by van standards, very good. Doors had a chunky, strong feeling to them, including the locking mechanism that kept the sliding side doors from slamming into me when I was buckling the kids into their seats while parked on a slight incline.
In all, it felt just rugged, just chunky enough that I wouldn’t have felt guilty using it to do occasional trucky things like haul away dirty furniture that had sat outside for a couple of days in a downpour. By the way, the large piece was seven feet tall — just a little too long to lay down in the ProMaster City’s floor with the second row seats folded and tumbled forward, as it turned out.
The owner of the newspaper where I ply my trade during daytime hours said the ProMaster City was just about the ugliest car I had ever tested. He apparently forgot who he’s talking to. I dig funky designs, and the ProMaster City has just enough of that funky European design flair to make me look twice when I see one in traffic. The combination of unique design and super-practical features is like automotive nirvana to me. Most people find my daily-driven cube to be kind of ugly, let’s not forget — and it, too has proven a surprisingly cavernous, eminently practical vehicle.
I suspect for some dads out there, the Ram ProMaster City would push all the same buttons it pushed with me. At an as-tested price of $29,255 fully loaded with Uconnect touchscreen infotainment, Bluetooth connectivity, backing camera, park assist system, and aluminum wheels, it just might be a good enough deal to lure some of those dads away from the ever-larger, ever-pricier pickup truck market.
2015 Ram ProMaster City Wagon SLT
Base Price: $25,655
Price As-Tested: $29,255
Options: Trailer Tow Group by Mopar featuring Class III Receiver Hitch and 4/7-Pin Wiring Harness ($435), Rear Wiper/Washer/Defroster Group ($250), Rear Back-Up Camera Group featuring ParkSense Rear Park Assist System and ParkView Rear Back-Up Camera ($495), Lights and Wheels Group featuring Fog Lamps and 16×6.5-inch Aluminum Wheels ($495), Uconnect 5.0 AM/FM/BT with GPS Navigation ($860)
- Super-practical mix of exterior size, interior space, and fuel efficiency (27 MPG observed)
- More rugged than your average minivan
- Commercial van roots mean this thing is probably “overbuilt” for light-duty family use — so get used to having it in your driveway for many years.
- Lots of road noise — I partially blame Continental tires that have been noisy on my own vehicles in the past, but let’s face it, this is a cargo van playing dress-up as a family hauler
- Uconnect system had issues smoothly streaming music over Bluetooth from my LG Optimus Fuel smartphone
- I couldn’t haul that stupid piece of furniture home because the van was less than a foot too short