In the “hip to be square” segment of the car market, we’ve seen some real oddballs. Vehicles that kind of break the rules yet are strangely compelling and very useable.
Think of – oh – The Honda Element, Scion xB, Nissan Cube, or Kia Soul and you get the picture. Not the sharpest looking vehicles out there, these homely rigs still have a kind of coolness about them and are, for the most part, brisk sellers and coveted by aging boomers and young hipsters alike. The Soul, for example, is a huge best seller in Canada and Kia can’t make them fast enough.
It’s hard to say if the same will be true for the Ram ProMaster. Built on the Fiat Doblo platform, this box on wheels is undeniably as practical as walking shoes, but may be a little over the top when it comes to visuals. Pretty it ain’t. That said, the Doblo has won praise throughout Europe and, as an urban cargo van and city schlepper, is one of the most popular models on the market.
And practical it is. Take interior volume, for example. The City version , with the seats folded, will reveal some 2880 litres of room back there, while the bare-bones tradesman’s version, with the seats out, has 3729 litres….comparable to some mini-vans. Which the ProMaster will probably replace in the fullness of time. The mini-van market is fading and younger buyers want something that isn’t as readily identified as a stodgy family hauler. Mini-vans are so eighties, man.
Elsewhere, the ProMaster is powered by Chrysler/Fiat’s 2.4 litre “MultiAir” four cylinder, which, in this application, delivers 178 horsepower. It’s mated to a nine-speed automatic transmission only, and though reasonably lively, has a kind of skittish power delivery. I found myself constantly searching for bottom-end power when accelerating away from stop-lights and so on…..almost as though the transmission was frantically trying to sort its way through the gears to find the appropriate one. Over time, this got pretty annoying, and, were I in the market for this vehicle, it would definitely give me pause. On the other hand, road noise is surprisingly minimal and, unlike a conventional tradesman’s van, for example, the ProMaster offers a relatively civilized driving experience.
Nervous transmission aside, I liked the ProMaster City and looked forward to driving it. Driving position is excellent, with surprisingly comfy seats, easy to comprehend instruments and switchgear, and, thank you, Fiat, an armrest. This feature gets huge points from me and I wish more manufacturers would include it in their models. If I have to pick nits, a few more cupholders and storage nooks and crannies wouldn’t go amiss.
As far as ingress/egress goes, the ProMaster is exemplary. Sliding in behind the wheel is straightforward and simple, and access into the back seat area is a snap. The sliding side doors aren’t as large as those found on Chrylser’s mini-vans, for example, and easier to manhandle and open/close. Ditto with the back doors, although, because of their design, visibility via the rearview mirror is poor….the centre pillar gets in the way, and you just can’t see what’s going on directly behind the vehicle.
My tester was the Wagon SLT version and it came with a full complement of modcons, including air conditioning, tilt/telescoping steering, one-touch power windows, heated seats, power door locks, 60/40 folding rear seat, 16-inch wheels and tires, and seating for five. Options included a rearview camera and Sirius satellite radio.
Base price for the SLT Wagon is $26,495, and with a few extras, that creeps up to $30,465, before taxes and various levies. That is not a bargain, considering the utilitarian nature of the beast, but if you want something that’s practical, funky, and immensely driveable, with plenty of room to carry your odds and ends, look no further.
AT A GLANCE
Engine: 2.4 litre four cylinder
Transmission: Nine-speed automatic
Drive: Front-wheel drive
Horsepower: 178 hp @ 6400 rpm
Torque: 174 ft. lb. @ 3900 rpm
Base Price: $26,495; as tested $30,465
Fuel Economy: 8.1 litres per 100 kilometres (combined). Regular fuel.
Alternatives: Nissan Cube, Kia Soul, Ford Transit, Mercedes Sprinter, Dodge Grand Caravan, Chevrolet City Express.