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2016 Ram ProMaster City - A "Moving" Review By Thom Cannell +VIDEO

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By Thom Cannell
Senior Editor
Michigan Bureau
The Auto Channel

Bullet Points: No attempt at completeness, simply comments on one week’s driving experience—balanced against decades of experience and hundreds of comparisons. Not long ago; Story 1, ...Story 2 I was helping friends move, now it is my turn.

Making the job easier has been a series of small and medium cargo vans currently sold in the US. Last week I drove Ram’s 2016 ProMaster City van, the Tradesman edition. The name is apt as I think it’s a delivery vehicle best suited for in-city use or for a local tradesman—plumbers, electricians, carpenters—and here’s why I think so.

This is a rather remarkable box-on-wheels, powered by a 2.4-liter Tigershark engine from FCA and employing its multi-air technology for better fuel economy, better emissions regulation, and more power. Connected to a 9-speed automatic—that’s not a typo, and an exclusive in its class—it delivers plenty of performance (178 horsepower and 174 lb-ft torque) while delivering, for me, over 21 mpg in hard use; it’s rated for 29 on the freeway by EPA.

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The 2016 ProMaster City is intended as a fleet vehicle. If you wanted further bling or creature comforts you’ll want the Wagon SLT which begins pricing at $26,070 versus my City’s $23,445 entry price. This is where my knowledge of vehicles runs thin. In this fleet-dominated segment, TCO or total cost of ownership rules supreme. That means fuel economy, reliability, and durability are more important than anything else. Never being humble about these things, there’s something that this overlooks, and that is noise abatement. On the freeway my Tradesman was, on truly nasty, horrid pavement, as noisy as a Kiss concert. To be fair, on good pavement it’s not so bad, though still nothing like a Ram Laramie. This is a fact about commercial vehicles. It’s equally a fact that the 50-200 pounds of noise abatement material necessary to quiet this box would affect fuel economy, thus the bottom line in an industry where 0.5 mpg can translate into tens, even hundreds of thousands of dollars per year for a fleet owner.

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I spoke about this to some Ram folks at the Chicago Auto Show and was educated about TCO. So let’s explore more of the good things about the City, like it’s station wagon-like low liftover height, a reasonable amount of D-rings for cargo tie-down in what is a blank canvas for upfitters, and there are doors seemingly everywhere. Those doors permit loading through either side or the rear, with sliding side doors a’ la minivan. That made loading simple and swift and from my experience they are rock solid, adding no rattles and structurally a brick. Oh, the vehicle’s capacity is a tad over a hundred pounds short of a full ton and the box holds 131.7 cubic feet of cargo. That we tried out, oh yes we did.

A friend needed to move her queen mattress and box springs. That was a day I wished I’d had the full sized ProMaster as squishing the mattress inside, then fitting the (fortunately) separable box springs was less fun, but successful. Nonetheless, capacity for a queen-sized mattress was surprising. And while I didn’t load any plywood, standard sheets of paneling or sheetrock fit between the wheel wells and lie flat, as can pallets of goods loaded by a fork lift. What I did load was construction debris bound for the recycling center, over a cubic yard and the full opening doors were a blessing both loading and unloading.

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Part of the chassis strength is due to The 2016 Promaster City’s use of an aluminum ladder frame between the front wheel drive engine’s block and its steel oil pan for more rigid structure. That engine uses a balance shafts, acoustically dampened intake and fuel rail for less noise, a “smart” alternator that only uses and creates energy as needed, even the A/C compressor operates with variable duty cycles to further manage energy and improve fuel economy.

What you might not know is that despite the 2016 Promaster City’s European origins as a Fiat Doblò, its suspension was re-engineered in North America for our heavier (meaning bad roads) duty cycle. It uses familiar MacPherson front struts and independent coil-spring bi-link rear suspension for improved ride and handling compared to a solid axle and leaf spring rear end.

Overall I liked the vehicle and found it immensely useful as a small goods delivery van—larger goods are better left to its ProMaster sibling.

The 2016 RAM ProMaster City’s handling was more like a CUV than a truck, its acceleration in keeping with a four-cylinder CUV, which, in essence, it is. While I think that having a larger, perhaps 6-8” navigation and audio touch screen would be good, more noise abatement materials even better, I suspect that fleet purchasing agents would think me naive. Them I ask, why are you having trouble finding drivers? I also ask FCA and Ram why no AWD. Heck, with a quieting package and AWD I’d consider a 2016 ProMaster City for my next wagon - after bolting a couch into the back.

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