This week it’s time for something different. Unless you’ve spent time on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, anyway, in which case the Ford Transit Connect will likely be familiar. The Transit Connect is Ford’s entry in the European small van class, and the first such vehicle to make it to the U.S.
It’s being marketed as a small commercial vehicle, a solution to the needs of businesses or entrepreneurs for whom the current alternatives, a minivan, an SUV, or a small pickup with a shell, don’t quite work. Small package delivery, pet grooming, florist delivery or plant maintenance, cleaning service, mobile bicycle shop, taxi… if a (now not-so) minivan is too dedicated to passenger use, as almost all are, and ditto for SUVs and especially crossovers, and a pickup with a shell
is inconvenient, the Transit Connect is in a class of one. In the U.S., anyway.
Two slightly different versions of the Transit Connect are offered, van and wagon. The difference? The van has seating for two only, with a longer, flat, load floor behind. Its dual sliding doors are windowless, for better cargo security, with windows optional. The wagon has a two- or three-place rear seat, a consequently shorter load floor, and windows in the sliding doors. Both have the same low, less than two-foot, floor load height for easy loading, and the same high double rear doors, which open 180 degrees in standard form or optionally can fold back 255 degrees for easy access.
While the Transit Connect is primarily a commercial vehicle, it can also fit personal-use needs. I’m thinking of the “active lifestyle” people that marketing types target for SUVs or crossovers, but who are more likely to spend their money on their avocation than on a vehicle filled with frills and features. And who are likely to get the inside of the vehicle dirty on a regular basis, a problem with upscale leather and carpeting. A Transit Connect can hold a lot of camping or climbing or rafting or fishing gear. The wagon version that was my test vehicle was marginally short for bicycles (I tried) unless the front wheel is removed. The van’s six-foot load length wins out there, although that’s still too short for motorcycles, except maybe small-displacement vintage bikes.
Trim levels for both the van and wagon are XL and XLT, basic and less so. The major difference in equipment between the van and wagon is that the wagon has Ford’s AdvanceTrac® with RSC® electronic stability control system.
Drivetrain choice is easy — a 2.0-liter, 136-horsepower four-cylinder matched to a four-speed automatic, driving the front wheels. If that sounds anemic for a 3500-pound vehicle, it’s not. Acceleration is no problem, and the EPA mileage estimates — 22/25 — appear to be accurate.
The Transit Connect available here is the same one that is sold in the rest of the world, built in the same factory in Kocaeli, Turkey. The XLT wagon with which I’ve spent the past week was as comfortable as any typical compact or subcompact sedan, but with far more room. Performance and fuel economy were comparable to any small crossover, but none of those compare for interior space and access. Options available from Ford include a sonar backup sensor and in-dash computer, both fitted to my test vehicle, and tool-tracking software available in the van. With its excellent space utilization and good fuel efficiency and the multitude of possible interior configurations, the Ford Transit Connect is a vehicle of many uses. And more are to come, with battery-electric and natural gas powered variants planned for 2011.
APPEARANCE: Form follows function, and the Transit Connect is pure function. If it looks like a small version of the Mercedes-Benz/Freightliner/Dodge Sprinter, blame convergent evolution driven by space efficiency and aerodynamics. Short, narrow, and high is the way to interior space in crowded European and Asian cities. Clean aerodynamics not only contribute to fuel efficiency, but also to stability in strong winds. I encountered some of that during my driving, and was pleasantly surprised to find that the Transit Connect was less affected than many sedans.
COMFORT: This is an honest working-class utility vehicle
, so the interior is plain and functional. There is less (weight-adding, so performance- and mileage-decreasing) soundproofing than in even a low-budget subcompact, with most of the shell bare inside, but road, engine, and wind noise levels are comparable to a small sedan’s. All models get a six-way manually-adjustable driver’s and four-way front passenger seats, with firm European-spec padding for good comfort. Interior materials are plastic, with synthetic cloth upholstery. XLTs get power windows, mirrors, and locks with a remote fob. There are key locks for the hood and gas cap. In most vehicles, “overhead console” means a small storage space for sunglasses. Here it means a large tray above the windshield, with a net to keep objects in place. The instrument panel presents all necessary information well, including miles to empty, and the center console is basic, with two cupholders and some open storage. Headroom is absolutely not a concern. Nor is legroom, even in the rear, which in the XLT wagon is a 60/40 flip and fold bench. Access via the large sliding doors is easy. They should also help to position cargo loaded from the rear. With 78 cubic feet of cargo volume, the wagon is surpassed only by the van’s 135. Maximum payload is 1600 lbs.
SAFETY: The 2010 Ford Transit Connect has front and front-seat side airbags, four-wheel antilock brakes (disc/drum), and a tire-pressure monitoring system. XLT wagons have the AdvanceTrac® with RSC® (Roll stability Control) electronic stability control system.
RIDE AND HANDLING: It’s a commercial vehicle, but that doesn’t prevent the Transit Connect from having the driving qualities of a comparably-sized car. While the MacPherson strut front, leaf-sprung solid axle rear suspension is meant for cargo hauling, the ride quality is more “car” than “pickup truck”, with good compliance and no jarring. Moderately-weighted power steering and a tight 39-foot turning circle and short overall length mean that the Transit Connect is easy to maneuver in tight urban parking situations, and can go where larger vans can’t.
PERFORMANCE: One might expect that a 136 horsepower engine in a 3500-pound vehicle would be the formula for “slow”. One would be wrong. No, it’s not a Ford GT when called upon to merge into traffic, but the Transit Connect holds its own. It cruises happily at 65-70 on the highway, and doesn’t impede traffic getting there. The venerable “Duratec” alloy twincam four-cylinder engine makes its 136 horsepower at 6300 rpm, with 128 lb-ft of torque at 4750, but there is ample torque at lower revs. With five-speed transmissions common in cars, the four-speed automatic may seem lacking. On paper, maybe. It works just fine. A wide spread of gear ratios, with a low low and overdrive fourth, and a 4.20:1 final drive ratio mean competent acceleration and good highway mileage. In a week with more highway driving than usual, I averaged 24 mpg – and most of those highway miles were at 70 mph — life in the slow lane on I5… I’d love to see a small turbodiesel under the bonnet, er, hood.
CONCLUSIONS: Ford explores new market space with the Transit Connect.