by Roger Biermann
The Chevrolet City Express is a small cargo van fundamentally badge-engineered from the Nissan NV200. It's a compact commercial vehicle that prioritizes work-time practicality above all else and is aimed at tradespeople and fleet operators that predominantly operate locally, with a payload capacity requirement of under 1,500 lbs. The front wheels of the City Express are powered by outputs of 131 horsepower and 139 lb-ft of torque, developed via a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine and directed by a continuously variable automatic transmission. With an MSRP of $22,885 for the base LS trim and $23,715 for the better-equipped LT trim, the City Express is competitively priced; however, with rivals such as the Ford Transit Connect offering a greater selection of trim configurations, and the Ram ProMaster City offering more power and payload capacity, the City Express' fleeting appeal may be quickly dwindling.
The City Express receives only a few minor alterations as it enters its fourth and final model year in 2018. With the discontinuation of the City Express planned for after this year, Chevrolet has invested minimally in the final iteration of the small cargo van. Bluetooth hands-free smartphone connectivity and a rearview camera have been made standard in both the LS and the LT trims, and that's about it; it's otherwise business as usual for the swan-song model.
The City Express is quite a boxy cargo van, somewhat resembling a typical squared aluminum breadbin, and looks almost identical to the Nissan NV200. It is differentiated only by its Chevy badging and signature grille. It rides on 15-inch steel wheels as standard and is fitted with halogen headlights and daytime running lights. Available only in one wheelbase and one body configuration, it's also limited in terms of practicality.
The City Express is relatively compact for the class; compared to the Ram Promaster City it measures 1.2 inches shorter in overall length at 186.3 inches, 0.3 inches shorter in height at 73.7 inches, and four inches narrower with a width of 68.1 inches. The City Express' wheelbase of 115.2 inches is 7.2 inches shorter than the Promaster City's, and its curb weight of 3,260 lbs is around 250 lbs lighter. The City Express rides with a ground clearance of 6.5 inches - which is favorable for when there's a heavy cargo load on board. The Promaster City rides only 5.1 inches from the asphalt.
There are six exterior color options available for the City Express including Black Pipe, Designer White, Blue Ink, Sunglow Yellow, Furnace Red, and Galvanized Silver. None make the van any more exciting than it already is - which is not at all - but the Designer White would likely be the most sensible option for a business owner that would want to brand the van with company details.
Though the City Express drives suitably within the city confines, its 2.0-liter inline-four engine can exhibit substantial strain when heavy payloads are on board. The 131 hp and 139 lb-ft produced are weak for the class, but enough to accelerate the van from 0-60 mph in a leisurely ten or so seconds; this is about the average time for the class. It is also availed with a maximum payload capacity of 1,500 lbs which is about the same as the Ford Transit Connect's, but far less than the Promaster City's, which is capped at 1,883 lbs. That's by virtue of the Promaster City's larger and more powerful 2.4-liter inline-four engine which produces peak outputs of 178 hp and 174 lb-ft. The Transit Connect and the Promaster City also offer maximum tow capacities of 2,000 lbs while the City Express isn't rated for towing at all. As with most rivals in the segment, the City Express is manufactured solely as a front-wheel-drive vehicle with no option to an all-wheel-drive system.
The 2.0-liter inline-four engine produces 131 hp and 139 lb-ft. The substantial strain that the City Express's 2.0-liter inline-four engine incurs with its max payload capacity reached is only worsened by the continuously variable automatic transmission's inclination to ride the revs into the high upper range without really providing much power, notably exaggerating the engine's strain. Throttle responses are otherwise what's expected from a work-van - sedate and unhurried. Pulling off from a standstill is a gradual affair, and accelerating up to highway speeds takes a good while. Overtaking on the highway will require some toilsome dedication and planning. Unfortunately, this is the only engine option available for the City Express; most rivals offer more capable powertrain options, which accord them not only with greater payload capacities but also allows them to cope with those capacities far better.
With casual driving styles, the City Express rides sedately and predictably, but because of its high center of gravity and tall ride height, it experiences a considerable amount of body roll through corners. Its boxy shape also renders it highly susceptible to crosswind interference; fortunately, while its steering effort is light at low speeds for easy maneuverability, it tightens up at higher speeds to aid control, making the corrections required easy. It has a pretty quick initial turn-in too, and a turning radius of 36.7 feet is admirable for the class. The brakes provide suitable stopping power in normal daily driving conditions, however, in some panic stop simulations the City Express's stopping distance proved poor - not a favorable outcome considering the van's purpose as a payload hauler which would make the braking performance even weaker. In terms of ride quality, the City Express is adequate for a work van. But with a full payload in the back, that ride quality deteriorates even further. When empty, the cavernous cargo bed can also be quite boomy during driving. Typical road undulations and minor road imperfections are otherwise reasonably well absorbed by the standard suspension.
The City Express' above-average gas mileage is probably the only thing going for it in terms of its competitiveness; a menial benefit, though, since the van is endowed with a relatively underpowered engine. Driven appropriately, the City Express will return EPA estimates of 24/26/25 mpg on the EPA drive cycles. It takes regular gasoline only, and with its 14.5-gallon gas tank filled to the brim, has a total range of around 362 miles before requiring a stop at the nearest fueling station. The Ford Transit Connect is equipped with a larger 2.5-liter inline-four engine and six-speed automatic gearbox, with which it returns marginally poorer EPA estimates of 20/27/23 mpg.
The City Express's minimalistic and low-grade interior is a clear indication of its prioritized practicality over luxury. There are only standard cloth seats available in the work van, and most in-cabin trim and key touchpoints are made up of hard plastics. The driver-controls and infotainment functions are laid out ergonomically and are easy to understand, mostly made up of bog-standard buttons and turn-knobs. The seats themselves are supportive but not very comfortable as the sloping door panel design places the door-side armrest oddly. When devoid of any cargo, the rear of the cabin can be rather squeaky and rattly, though nothing exceeding that of the typical work van. Overall build quality is otherwise decent - although some outside trim does bend with the opening of any of the doors.
There is seating for only two occupants in the City Express. In place of any rear cabin seats, it holds a cavernous cargo area instead. The available seats are spacious enough but don't feature much adjustability at all, which - along with the manually tilt-only steering wheel - make finding an optimal driving position difficult. Forward visibility is good; however, with no back windows, rearward visibility is limited to the large side-view mirrors and tiny rearview camera display. The front cabin space is commodious and passenger head- and legroom are ample; the cargo area is pretty decent for the class too, measuring 4.7 feet wide, 3.9 feet tall, and 6.7 feet deep - opening up a total of 122.7 cubic feet, which is quite impressive for this class. Getting into the cabin is effortless thanks to the wide-opening doors and level seating position.
The City Express is available with only its default in-cabin theme; the majority of cabin trim is featured in Medium Pewter Grey hard-touch plastics while the seats are upholstered in low-grade Grey cloth. The flooring is lined in black vinyl. The cabin quality does not improve with the higher-level LT trim, and no cabin material enhancements are offered optionally either. Most rivals offer higher-quality and more contemporary in-cabin design and materials.
There's a commodious 122.7 cubic feet of cargo room available in the City Express and a maximum payload capacity of 1,500 lbs, which is quite decent for the class. That's enough room to store cargo objects as long as 6.8 feet and as wide as 3.9 feet. There is a sliding cargo door on either side of the van as well as 60/40 split rear cargo doors that open 180 degrees. The cargo area is fitted with numerous cargo tie-down points too, and the passenger seat features a flat hard-plastic back and folds down completely flat to act as a work surface to place a laptop on or to write on.
In the center console are two medium-depth storage trays large enough to fit files and paperwork, the passenger-side glove box is big enough to fit a laptop, and there are two large cupholders between the two front seats. The door side pockets are narrow and do not feature bottle holders.
The standard features consignment for the City Express lineup is minimal, but is appropriate for the work van's intentions. The base LS City Express comes outfitted with SmartKey keyless entry, power front windows and door locks, a tilt-only steering column, a height-adjustable driver's seat with manual lumbar adjustment, a fold-flat passenger seat, and manual air conditioning. Not much more is given to the LT other than heated side mirrors, cruise control, and reverse parking sensors, which are all available for the LS as standalone options. An integrated rearview camera is featured as standard across the board.
An AM/FM two-speaker stereo system with a single-CD player, auxiliary input jack, and a 12-volt power outlet is standard in both City Express trims along with Bluetooth smartphone connectivity. The LT gets an additional 12-volt power outlet located in the cargo area. A 5.8-inch touchscreen display installed with Nissan's infotainment system software, navigation, satellite radio, and a USB audio port is optionally available for both trims. That's about it for the City Express, however, so things may get a little boring on those long delivery runs.
There have been no recalls put out for the 2018 year model of the Chevrolet City Express, with the 2017 year model being the last subject to a major recall. There are no driver-complaints to be found online either. Chevrolet covers a new City Express with a standard three-year/36,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty, an impressive five-year/60,000-mile powertrain warranty, and two-years/24,000-miles worth of free maintenance. With Chevrolet planning on discontinuing the City Express for 2019, it's a good idea to get your hands on one sooner, rather than later, if you want to take advantage of Chevrolet's competitive warranty scheme.
With the Chevrolet City Express's considerably low sales volumes, neither the NHTSA nor the IIHS has been warranted to evaluate it for its crashworthiness.
There isn't much offered in the way of safety and advanced driver-assist features in the City Express. The standard airbag consignment consists of three standard airbags; a driver and passenger front airbag and a front head airbag. The LS comes standard with a back-up camera, a tire pressure monitoring system, stability control, and traction control. The LT gets a reverse parking system and cruise control, which are optional for the LS as standalone additions.
The City Express is an average vehicle; a lot more is offered by many of its rivals in almost every regard. It does offer better fuel economy estimates than most rivals, but only to a marginal extent. Still, the power to fuel efficiency ratio from those rivals is far more suitable for work vans. There is also plenty of cargo room offered by the City Express with its versatile loading options, but again, many of its rivals offer not only more room but also more model configurations that offer various loading options from 180 degree rear doors to wagon-style liftgates. Those rivals also offer greater practicality having been rated for towing capabilities along with their better payload capacities. The City Express is truly bare-bones as well, featuring the minimum in comfort, conveniences, and safety too. There are many better options available on the market, and - although they may be slightly more expensive - they offer more of everything, and in more sensible trim line packages. It's no wonder that the City Express is a dying breed.
The Chevrolet City Express is one of the more affordable work vans available on the market; the base LS trim is set with a budget-friendly MSRP of $22,885 and the LT trim, not even $1,000 more, with an MSRP of $23,715. That is excluding tax, registration and licensing fees and Chevrolets destination charge of $995. The Ram Promaster City has a lineup starting MSRP of $23,995, yet offers greater capability and a far better selection of standard vehicle features comparatively.
There are just two trim options that comprise the 2018 City Express lineup; the LS and LT. There are not many differences at all between the two trims, and why there are even two trim options is a mystery to us.
Standard features on the base LS trim include keyless entry, power windows and door locks, a height-adjustable driver's seat with lumbar support, a fold-flat front passenger seat, tilt-only steering axle, manual air-conditioning, and a rearview camera. The infotainment system comprises an AM/FM two-speaker stereo with a single CD-player, auxiliary audio jack, and Bluetooth smartphone connectivity.
For $830 more the LT receives cruise control, rear parking sensors, an additional rear 12-volt power outlet, and heated side-view mirrors - which are all optional for the LS trim as standalone extras.
For $355 the LS trim can be outfitted with the 1LS Preferred Equipment Group, which includes body-color front and rear bumpers, body-color door handles, wheel covers, and a chrome grille with black accents, as well as body-color manual-folding outside mirrors.
For the LT trim only, a Technology Package is available, which adds a 5.8-inch touchscreen display with navigation, satellite radio, and a USB audio jack.
There is also a Glass Package available for both trims that installs privacy glass to the rear and passenger-side windows, as well as adding a rearview mirror and a rear defroster.
We recommend opting for the LT trim; although not much more feature-filled than the base LS trim, its the trim you'll have to go for if you want to tick the Technology Package box which includes the larger infotainment touchscreen and navigation system, as well as a USB port which could prove handy for charging devices. We also suggest including the Glass Package, which will help mitigate the City Express' severely limited rearward visibility by installing rear windows and a rearview mirror.
Prospective buyers can get their hands on a 2018 Ram Promaster City for only around $280 more than the City Express LT. It comes equipped with a more powerful 2.4-liter inline-four engine with peak outputs of 178 horsepower and 174 lb-ft of torque, moving the Promaster City around much more competently than the 2.0-liter on the City Express. Not only does the Promaster City provide a greater payload capacity of 1,883 lbs in a larger 131.7 cubic foot cargo area, but it also manages a max tow capability of 2,000 lbs, while the City Express isn't rated for towing at all. The higher-level trims of the Promaster City also come standard with some appreciable features such as a leather-wrapped steering wheel, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, and upgraded cloth upholstery, all of which are not available to the City Express. The Promaster City is the better all-round work van and better value for money buy.
A base model Transit Connect will cost around $330 more than the base City Express LS. It comes equipped with a 2.5-liter inline-four engine that powers the front wheels with outputs of 169 hp and 171 lb-ft which lug the Transit Connect around a little easier than the City Express' 2.0-liter. It's only marginally less efficient with estimates of 20/27/23 mpg, but with the Transit Connect's larger fuel tank capacity of 15.8-gallons, it actually holds a slightly greater range on a full tank. It has a bit less cargo capacity, however, with only a 103.9 cubic feet available in the back. It's 1,470 lbs max payload capacity is also marginally poorer. The Transit Connect has, however, been rated with a max tow capability of 2,000 lbs and is offered in either cargo or passenger-van configurations with short-wheelbase or long-wheelbase versions and either a liftgate or 60/40 split rear doors. The Ford also comes standard with an appealing selection of features and driver-aids such as wireless phone charging and forward collision warning. The City Express may be more practical for its specific purpose, but the Transit Connect offers greater versatility and better bang for your buck.