Taller, narrower European-style vans arriving in US

This undated photo provided by Chrysler shows the 2015 Ram Promaster City vehicle. (Chrysler via AP)
This undated photo provided by Chrysler shows the 2015 Ram Promaster City vehicle. (Chrysler via AP)

A touch of the Old World has come to American cities in the form of European-style vans that look like skinny, tall breadboxes.

All offer thrifty, four-cylinder engines and all are based on small vans already in use overseas, where streets are narrower and fuel is more expensive.

The latest urban van to venture to our shores, the 2015 Ram ProMaster City, is a version of Fiat’s stalwart little Doblo and comes out of a factory in Turkey.

The ProMaster City looks a bit odd because it’s taller than it is wide. But it’s a go-getter, generating 178 horsepower — the most among its competitors on regular gasoline — and the most torque in a standard engine, 174 foot-pounds.

Despite its power, the compact ProMaster City earned fuel economy ratings of 21 mpg in city driving and 29 mpg on highways from the federal government.

It’s the only one in the Class I van segment with a nine-speed automatic transmission, and the 15.6-foot-long ProMaster City cargo van has the roomiest cargo space, measuring a full 131.7 cubic feet.

Between the rear wheel wells in the cargo area, there’s a full 48.4 inches of space in the ProMaster City, so pallets and plywood — even an air mattress — can load flat and without fuss. And with a payload of 1,883 pounds, the ProMaster City can carry the heaviest load in the class.

No wonder Ram is offering a variety of accessories and services for business buyers of this new van — everything from Mopar Web, which enables Internet access, to custom side graphics so owners can advertise their businesses.

Best of all, the ProMaster City has a starting manufacturer’s suggested retail price, including destination charge, of just $24,125 as a cargo van.

The lowest starting retail price, with destination charge, for a 2015 Ford Transit Connect is $23,325, but this is the base, 169-horsepower model.

A front-wheel drive, 2015 Transit Connect with up-level four-cylinder that produces 178 horsepower on premium gasoline has a starting MSRP, including destination charge, of $24,120, or just $5 less than the ProMaster City.

Meanwhile, the 2015 Nissan NV2000 compact van with 131-horsepower four-cylinder has a starting retail price that’s the same as the ProMaster City’s.

The ProMaster City joins the Ram stable slotted below the bigger ProMaster van that starts at more than $28,000.

But compared with big, V-6 and V-8-powered vans, the ProMaster City is “right sized.” The test vehicle easily maneuvered into compact parking spaces and slipped past traffic obstacles on city streets.

The ProMaster City feels tipsy when pressed hard into corners. Driver and passenger in the two-seat ProMaster City tester wondered at times whether the tall van’s 16-inch standard tires would hold to the pavement. They did.

The 2.5-liter double-overhead cam, MultiAir four-cylinder engine is naturally aspirated and provided good scoot. Indeed, the ProMaster City tester pulled away from stop signs with unexpected gusto.

The tester was a cargo van, so engine sounds and road noise reverberated and the interior wasn’t quiet.

The government fuel economy ratings seemed realistic. The tester averaged 21 mpg in city-only travel and advanced toward the 24 mpg government rating for combined city and highway driving without the driver trying to maximize mileage.

At that rate, the ProMaster City can go 384 miles on a single tank of regular gasoline. A fill-up at today’s average price is just $44.

Note Ford’s Transit Connect is rated at 178 horsepower when it has the up-level, turbo engine that uses premium.

The interior of the ProMaster City can feel Spartan, with swaths of plastic.

But options like UConnect, which adds a 5-inch touchscreen display, steering wheel audio controls and voice commands, and SiriusXM satellite radio make it passenger-friendly.

Seven air bags are standard; the much-needed backup camera is a $495 option.

The cargo floor of the ProMaster City is surprisingly low to the ground — just 21.5 inches above the pavement.

Seats are positioned so that most drivers and passengers just turn and set themselves onto the cushions. There’s no scramble up to get inside.

Side door windows are large, and the powertrain warranty is a noteworthy five years or 100,000 miles, whichever comes first.

Last September, 18,245 ProMaster City vehicles from the 2013-2015 model years were recalled because curtain air bags and/or side seat air bags might deploy when the vans hit a road hazard such as a pothole.

Dealers were updating the air bag software.

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