The small van category is a growing one, at least here in the States. Ford took a gamble, and introduced the Ford Transit Connect during the 2010 model year, and it was a rousing success. Here was a product, introduced at the right time to an eager buying public, and sales haven’t cooled since. In fact, the Transit Connect was just redesigned, built at a different location, and spawned a couple of new competitors in the form of the Nissan NV-200, and the soon to be introduced Ram Promaster City. However, there has been a competitor to the small Transit almost from the beginning, and it is a very capable bargain if you can get past its looks, and I just spent some time behind the wheel of one. Introducing the Ram C/V… Let me start by saying I wasn’t expecting anything spectacular from what is essentially a converted Grand Caravan, but I was more than a little surprised by the overall package. I was at the introduction of the current C/V back in March of 2011 at the NTEA Work Truck Show, and in all reality, I was under impressed as I was expecting something ground breaking. Well, I guess it is time to eat some humble pie because this was a well executed answer to the smaller vans that are currently in vogue. Lets’s start with the engine, which is a 3.6L V-6 producing 283 HP, which is a lot more than some of the Obscure Muscle Cars that I have been writing about lately. The engine isn’t as smooth as the V-6 powerplants found in Toyota or Honda vans, but this is a work truck, and it’s the power that you both want and need in this application. It has a throaty exhaust note which is not unpleasant, and actually feels at home in this environment. Backing up this engine is a very smooth shifting 6-Speed Automatic that is controlled by a gated shifter on the dashboard. You can control the up and down shifts from the selector, but it works best if you just leave the transmission in drive. With this engine and transmission combination, the combined EPA fuel economy rating is 21 miles to the gallon of regular unleaded. The van has a standard 20 gallon fuel tank, so there is an approximate range of over 400 miles, which isn’t really bad at all. There are a couple of other positives with this package, including a standard 1,800 pound payload capacity, and a 3,600 towing capacity, both best-in-class. There is one drawback though, as the suspension has been beefed up for this role, the ride suffers a bit compared to a regular Grand Caravan. Just because you are driving a commercial style vehicle doesn’t mean that you have to endure a penalty box interior. Standard features include cruise control, power front windows, keyless entry, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel with auxiliary controls, dual-zone air-conditioning, and a two-speaker sound system with a CD player and auxiliary audio jack. It is actually a comfortable cabin for the type of vehicle it is, and with the Caravan side trim in place (as opposed to sheet metal walls) it is fairly quiet inside the cabin area. The options you can choose from include a choice of solid or windowed walls and rear liftgate, an engine block heater, a rear window defogger as well as a rear window washer/wiper, power rear windows, a cargo divider, upgraded sound systems including navigation, satellite radio, the Uconnect voice command system (with Blue Tooth, WiFi router, USB Port, combined with steering wheel mounted controls), and an eight-way power drivers seat. All of the above is really not needed in a work van in my opinion, but it is nice to see you have a choice to pick and choose your options. Driving this Refrigerator White Box-on-Wheels is almost like driving a regular Dodge Grand Caravan, with light steering, proper brakes, and a comfortable cabin. If you decide to get one without any windows in the back what-so-ever, it does take some getting used to when navigating traffic. You have to be very careful when backing up if you don’t spring for the back-up camera option (which is part of an upgraded audio package). The ride is a bit stiffer that a normal Minivan, but that is to be expected when hauling nothing but air as I did for most of the time I was in the van. Performance is quite surprising, especially when merging with traffic. The 3.6L V-6 produces 283 HP, with 260 Lb-Ft of torque, and combined with the very responsive 6-Speed Automatic, the van literally takes off. Published track times for the similar Grand Caravan reveal that 0-60 times are achieved in as little as 8.3 seconds. This will out-gun both the Transit Connect (169 HP) as well as the Nissan NV-200 (131 HP), while still returning respectable fuel economy numbers. Inside the business end of the van, our tester came equipped with the flat aluminum floor, no windows, and a wire cargo divider. The floor comes equipped with non-skid strips, but I could see this floor getting scratched up pretty easily. There is a single overhead light as well as a power connection (which is kind of handy, when you think about it), and two tie-down “D” rings where the third seat would have been if this was a standard minivan. Chrysler even kept the overhead grab handles, and coat hooks in the ceiling, because you never know if or when you need them. Pricing is very important in this segment, and the as tested MSRP of the test unit is $22,900, which included the optional full-width cargo divider ($450), the optional security alarm ($195), and the deletion or the side-curtain airbags (which is curious, and you only save $100). The price includes a $995 Destination Charge, and these are produced at the Chrysler Minivan Plant in Windsor Ontario. The base price of $21,360 (without destination) undercuts the new Transit Connect ($22,000), but is a bit more expensive than the Nissan NV-200 ($20,290). Currently, there is a $1,500 rebate offered by Chrysler, which would make this the low price leader compared with both the NV-200 or the Transit Connect. These vans go away at the end of the year to be replaced by the Promaster City (which is really a badge engineered Fiat Doblo), and end of the year rebates should be strong, so if you own a business that could use a vehicle like the Ram C/V (a Florist, a Light Delivery Outfit, or a Dry-Cleaner are three examples) then consider this your last call. It is a capable, comfortable, and cost effective delivery van, assembled in North America, using well proven components that should stand up for the long haul.