Auto Focus

Chrysler First Looks and First Drives

An event at Chrysler’s Chelsea Proving Grounds offered a walk-around of the new Ram ProMaster City, a Ram ProMaster test drive, a test of diesel fuel economy and, finally, a worthy trial for a Power Wagon.

Chrysler’s Chelsea Proving Grounds in Chelsea, Mich., is the place to “prove it,” to put those vehicle specs on paper into action. The Bobit fleet team (and 200 other journalists) got that opportunity last week. Chrysler had its full roster on display, and most Chrysler, Ram, Dodge and Jeep models were available for test drives.  

Of course, my thoughts here entail only a fraction of available vehicles.

The big product news was the reveal of the ProMaster City, Chrysler’s entry into the burgeoning European-derived small van market. Based on the Fiat Doblo and going head-to-head with Ford Transit Connect, Nissan NV 200 and its GM clone, City Express, the ProMaster City will be available in in volume in the first quarter of 2015.

The 2015 ProMaster City compact van.
The 2015 ProMaster City compact van.


Quick specs: 1,883 lbs. of payload, 131.7 cubic feet of cargo space, 48.4 inches between wheel wells and more than 7 feet in load length. During the event, Chrysler said the ProMaster City will be, essentially, “best in class everything.” We’re told the ProMaster City does 0 to 60 in fewer than 10 seconds and zero to 30 in 3.7 seconds — very respectable, but we’ll have to wait until the fourth quarter for a test drive. I’ll look forward to what a 178 horsepower 2.4L Tigershark inline four-cylinder with a nine-speed transmission can do.

The ProMaster City has sliding doors on both sides.
The ProMaster City has sliding doors on both sides.


The real question: Can you take your spouse for a night on the town with the ProMaster City? I wouldn’t go that far. But its styling wins the class hands down. With its muscular front wheel wells and downright cute face, the City seems to borrow fashion cues from compact hatchbacks such as Nissan Juke or Scion xB.

ProMaster City will be available in cargo and passenger van configurations.
ProMaster City will be available in cargo and passenger van configurations.


That styling will work in the favor of the tradesman turned weekend warrior, or the likes of a DJ hauling equipment to gigs. Chrysler says the large cargo space behind the second row of the passenger version is suitable for taxi service.

The interior of the ProMaster City.
The interior of the ProMaster City.


Chrysler estimates the Class 1 van market to be 70,000 units this year, expected to grow to 100,000 units. This estimate is substantially more than other OEMs’ estimates. Meanwhile, no sunset date has been announced for the Ram C/V, so buyers will have that option for a while.

The Promaster full-size van, Promaster City's big brother, has been on the market since late last year, though I hadn’t yet gotten a good turn behind the wheel.

I jumped in both the diesel (Fiat-designed 3.0L inline four, 174 hp, 295 lbs.-ft. torque) and gas (Chrysler’s ubiquitous 3.6L Pentastar V6) cargo versions. When it comes to “oomph,” your first inclination of a European van might be “lack of.” This isn’t the case with ProMaster. Both the gas and diesel powerplants went from dead stop to full bore with no engine strain. I pinned the accelerator pedal and could only get the RPMs into the mid sevens — and both vans were loaded with 1,300 lbs. of rubber mats.

The ProMaster has an available two-position rear clamshell door that swings open up to 260-degrees.
The ProMaster has an available two-position rear clamshell door that swings open up to 260-degrees.



The diesel has a six-speed “automated manual” transmission, allowing the driver to shift manually or let the van do the work. When in automatic, the shift points are unusually pronounced and took some getting used to. Shifting manually alleviated some of the throttle lag.

Tall people like the ProMaster.
Tall people like the ProMaster.


The ProMaster is front wheel drive, which provides a few benefits: No drivetrain front to rear means less weight and allows for a lower load floor height, 21 inches (compared to a competitor’s 27 inches) — not to mention better traction in inclement weather. Spinning a few donuts revealed a go-kart-like tight turning radius.

The ProMaster's step-in height is a mere 21 inches.
The ProMaster's step-in height is a mere 21 inches.

The ProMaster’s headlamps are placed high, letting the bumpers take the brunt of the usual dings and scrapes. Those bumpers were designed as a three-part modular system, an easy, inexpensive fix negating the need to replace the entire front fascia. Inside, a second passenger seat looks like it would come in handy on short trips.

Go ahead, bang these bumpers.
Go ahead, bang these bumpers.

With the 2014 Ram 1500 EcoDiesel, Chrysler has (for now) cornered the light-duty pickup market for diesel powertrains. Where have you been all our lives? Aside from the obvious work benefits of diesels, the truck is posting some amazing fuel economy numbers. I rode around the track in the EcoDiesel with Wayne Gerdes, the guy who coined the term “hypermiling.” We averaged 33.8 mpg. Yes, it was a very short test on a track, but he wasn’t feathering the throttle.

The 2014 Ram 1500 Eco Diesel.
The 2014 Ram 1500 Eco Diesel.


I later took a Ram 3500 turbodiesel around the track with 800 lbs. of hay in the bed and averaged 17.4 mpg. When it comes to fuel economy, diesels love loads.

Chrysler had on display a preproduction model of the new Jeep Renegade.  The Renegade, coming in smaller than the erstwhile Jeep Compass, is quite possibly the smallest Jeep ever made. “Compact” is a better word, so as not to equate “small” with incapable. The Renegade is built on a car platform but offers a Trailhawk version.

Set for a 2015 first quarter launch, the Renegade will go up against the likes of a Nissan Juke or Kia Soul. But the Renegade is only disguised in a hipster package — ready to become the only true off-road ready pint-sized SUV. Chrysler engineers were quick to point out that Renegade offers a proper 4x4, not an all-wheel drive best suited for asphalt, as well as a fully disconnecting rear axle. And it is rated for 2,000 lbs. towing with an available factory tow hitch to boot.

The Renegade is positioned to be an off-road demon in a hipster package.
The Renegade is positioned to be an off-road demon in a hipster package.


The Renegade doesn’t lend itself to fleet, but small business always seems to find a way to put to work vehicles you wouldn’t expect. Red Bull street team, perhaps?

For an unexpected driving experience in the Ram Power Wagon, click here.

For small commercial fleets, Ram has built up its BusinessLink network to about 900 dealerships.  BusinessLink dealers can sell and service all Ram products, while Ram Commercial dealers can sell Ram 1500, 2500 and 3500 trucks as well as the ProMaster City.

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Author Bio

Chris Brown

Executive Editor

Chris is the executive editor of Business Fleet Magazine and Auto Rental News. He covers all aspects of the fleet world.

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