Function before form for Ford van
Transit Connect boasts large cargo capacity, small footprint
I can’t get into a van like Ford’s new Transit Connect without thinking road trip and looking for the best place to put a bed and Coleman stove.
This is nostalgic, recalling memorable road trips — including when I learned to replace axle bearings on a 1953 Chevrolet van in the weeds outside Gallup, N.M.
The Transit Connect is unlikely to have such problems since it has been proved over millions of miles worldwide for several years. American dealers first received the small, front-wheeldrive van in 2009 when Ford started shipping them here from a plant in Turkey.
This would appear to be just the right vehicle for leaner times, and the inevitability of higher gasoline prices makes it all the more appealing. Even with the slow economy, I already see plenty of Transit Connects in service as delivery vans and in use by plumbers and other tradespeople.
How long can it be until some Austin entrepreneur converts a Transit Connect into a mobile restaurant? And it’s a natural for our hard-rockin’, three-piece indie bands.
Transit Connects are sold in both cargo and passenger iterations. In fact, all are shipped to the States in passenger trim, and then most are stripped of the back seats, which were only installed to sidestep an arcane U.S. tariff on trucks.
Although outfitted with electronic passenger safety systems and a welcome array of creature comforts, it’s a purpose-built cargo hauler, with a low lift-over for ease in loading and more cargo capacity than Ford’s largest SUV, the Expedition EL. Yet the Transit Connect’s footprint is no bigger than a compact crossover’s, say, the Toyota RAV4 or Hyundai Santa Fe.
My optioned-up $25,000 Transit Connect test model, a passenger version painted jetliner silver, was equipped with a reverse sensing system — which beeps if the van is backed close to another object — and an unconventional indash computer and navigation system. The base cargo model is $21,500.
The Internet-ready computer, a $1,400 option, supports some productivity applications and can be connected to a printer. One available program tracks job-site tools encoded with radio frequency ID chips — and presumably ID chipped children, too.
I approached the Transit Connect with the same suspicion as the new Dodge Sprinter van in 2004. That vehicle, another unusual foreign design, looked too tall to remain upright in a West Texas wind and underpowered, too. The
Continued from D Sprinter proved me wrong, and I learned my skepticism about the Transit Connect was unfounded as well.
The Ford van has a two-liter, four-cylinder engine that makes 136 horsepower, not abundant for a truck with a 1,600-pound load capacity, at least on paper. Performance was surprising, however, and at normal traffic speeds, the Transit Connect had no difficulty keeping up with the Saabs and BMWs in North Dallas, where I drove it.
I wasn’t able to load the truck with the kind of weight it might see in commercial service, but the engine felt willing and unburdened by the van’s bulk. The Transit Connect’s four-speed automatic was programmed to work smoothly and conserve fuel. Still, with just four speeds, shifts were frequent in traffic.
EPA mileage for the Transit Connect is a reasonable 21 city, 26 highway, although I can predict mileage dipping well into the teens in city traffic with a load aboard and the air conditioner blasting.
For 2011, Ford plans electric and compressed natural gas powered versions of the Transit Connect, as well as units outfitted as taxicabs. I think this truck is going to be around for a long time.
Transit Connects with passenger van interiors offer bucket seats up front — decent ones — and a three-across rear split bench seat that tumbles forward to increase the already voluminous cargo floor.
Seat covers and carpets had a faintly indus- trial look, and some bulkheads in the passenger area were painted metal. No third-row seating is provided, and second-row passengers don’t have side air bags. Rear doors are huge, and the side doors easily slide open and closed.
Passenger units have enormous windows, which are filled in with metal panels on cargo versions. Visibility when backing is a serious issue with the Transit Connect, making my test model’s $280 rear sensing system a desirable option.
Even in Transit Connect passenger units, the rear floor is just hard coated metal. With no sound insulation, the cabin can be noisy and a bit “boomy” from tire roar and the thumping suspension. I expected worse, however.
Dashboard and instruments are quite attractive for a truck, with the bonus of a deep, wide storage shelf above the windshield, an easy reach from the driver’s seat.
I’d like to say the handling and driving dynamics of the Transit Connect were light and car-like, but responses were slower and more deliberate. Still, the ride quality was a pleasant surprise, and this smallish van is much easier to drive in traffic than any full-size van I’ve tried. It’s a solid highway cruiser, too.
Now down to business, outfitting the Transit Connect as a road-tripper: First, we need a thick carpet in the rear, and curtains for the side windows, and some kind of insulation in the walls, then …
The compact front-wheel drive Ford Transit Connect handles better than many full-size vans and has more cargo capacity than Ford’s largest SUV. It comes in both cargo and passenger models.