The Ram ProMaster City Is the Vagabonding Car That Vagabonds Aren't Driving (But Should)

Much more than just a Fiat-based cargo van, the ProMaster City can get you over an existential hump.

Bohemian vagabond of the American highway, you’re doing all right. Snapped up a first-generation Toyota Tacoma on Ebay, fitted a used Tioga cap over the flatbed, hammered together a storage scheme from salvaged plywood. You even rigged up a drip coffee tower, ensuring that the nice enamel mug you found on Etsy will develop some proper stains. Vagabonding's a piece of work, and you’re doing a fine job of it.

There will come a time, however, when a wool poncho will feel as threadbare as your truck’s seat cushions. Heaven’s nighttime canopy, still burning with the starry dynamos of Howl myth, will radiate no warmth. Fight the cold you may, but a campfire is useless against this kind of chill.

You’re getting older.

Descend now from your place of revelation like a wizened Moses, grey of beard and flinty of eye, and get your house in order (the figurative one, not the one hemorrhaging motor oil behind a 7-Eleven). First, sell the Tacoma. Second, get a Ram ProMaster City. “A what?” you blurt, spittle catching in your whiskers. At ease, Bunyan. You’ll come around.

The Ram ProMaster City belongs to a new genus in American driveways, the light-duty van, which essentially replicates the cargo and payload capacity of a short-bed pickup on a tidier, car-based chassis. These vehicles have long been fixtures on other landmasses, particularly Europe, and have consequently benefited from R&D on someone else’s time and turf.

In Europe, you’d call the Ram ProMaster City the Fiat Doblò—owing to the familial bond shared between Chrysler, Ram’s parent, and Fiat Group. But since you’re buying one, feel free to call it whatever you like: Rambo, Rammykins, The ‘Master, Doblòganger… whatever eases this important transition.

It’s the right vehicle because it will, within reason, still humor a vagabond impulse. That drip coffee tower you steampunked together just west of Highway 395? It’s fully prototyped, you’re starting production in five days and a shipment of 20 will be ready for pickup the following week. A ProMaster City, with over 130 cubic feet of cargo capacity, will swallow the lot and send you on your overcaffeinated way. Thinking about a richly deserved surf sabbatical after launch? Load the sticks and ride out on the next swell. Versatility and comfort are stacked high in the ProMaster’s toolbox.

Of course you can do all this in a properly configured pickup. Your new accountant, however, will regard that 13 mpg line item as a liability, not a quantification of your rugged individuality.

The punchy little van does package some compromises. Absent a set of knobbier tires, the ProMaster won’t relish the light-duty climbs the Tacoma once managed. Its automatic transmission also suffers from an overabundance of forward gears. Which of its nine—nine—to choose? At any speed below 65 mph, it rarely seems to know.

As for audio, those Grateful Dead bootlegs you bartered for cold-brew pour-overs deserve a better stereo, like the Beats unit from Fiat’s own 500L wagon. And despite the more generous window area of the pictured City SLT—and despite Ram’s insistence that the SLT is a wagon—this is still a van; you’ll trust the side mirrors more than an over-the-shoulder glance. What’s left of your free spirit may also bristle at paying $50 for daytime running lights. At that price why wouldn’t Chrysler bundle them, like so many half-pound baggies of Kenyan Arabica?

If you’re still skeptical, think of the ProMaster City as a weigh station between the Tacoma and the real reason you abandoned your vagabond ways: to afford a Range Rover. See? Babylon isn’t such a bad place after all.

2015 RAM PROMASTER CITY SLT
PRICE (AS-TESTED): $29,275
POWERTAIN: 2.4-liter MultiAir 4-cylinder; 178 hp, 174 lb-ft torque; FWD; 9-speed automatic
WEIGHT: 3,521 lbs
0-60 MPH: N/A
TOP SPEED: 100 mph (limited)
MPG: 21 city / 29 highway
ON SALE: Now