Ford made several important product announcements at a media event in Detroit this morning. Borrowing from its global portfolio, the Dearborn-based automaker is bringing an impressive array of commercial vehicles to the North American market, including a brand-new version of the Transit Connect.
Along with the full-size Transit, this compact van is getting a ground-up redesign for 2014. The hard-working little trucklette is a popular choice in markets around the globe, including the U.S. The company brought it to North America several years ago.
The vehicle got off to a bit of a slow start on this side of the Atlantic, but Jim Farley, Ford’s Executive Vice President of Global Marketing, Sales and Service and Lincoln said “we expect to sell 35,000 Transit Connects this year.” Regarding the small-van segment he also said “we think over the next five years that market will grow 70 percent.”
Strong products are key to grabbing as much of that vehicle segment as possible, especially as competitors get in on the action. Chrysler, for instance, has its eye on the market, and in the future will offer several of Fiat’s commercial vans in North America.
To fend off a resurgent Pentastar and other rivals like Nissan, Ford’s venerable Transit Connect is equipped for the job. In America it will be offered with two different body styles, two separate wheelbases and two unique engine choices.
Buyers can pick between a hard-working van and a passenger-friendly wagon. The later can seat up to seven people in three rows of seats. Amazingly my six-foot-tall frame had no issue fitting comfortably in the third-row. The bottom cushion was a little low to the floor but there were surprising amounts of head and legroom for such a small vehicle.
As for wheelbases, there’s a petite 105-inch model, and for those needing some extra interior volume a 121-inch option. Additionally, buyers can choose between a traditional liftgate and side-by-side rear doors, whichever tickles their vehicular fancy.
Under the hood resides either a 2.5-liter naturally aspirated four-cylinder or a highly efficient 1.6-liter EcoBoost engine. Ford has not shared any output numbers for these powerplants, nor has it made fuel-economy figures public. But in the Fusion sedan the 2.5 delivers 175 horsepower and an identical amount of torque. The EcoBoost four churns out 178 horsepower on premium fuel, slightly less on 87-octane regular. The Transit Connect will likely post very similar numbers and Ford is claiming more than 30 miles per gallon highway when equipped with the EcoBoost engine. In America a six-speed automatic transmission is the only gearbox offered.
When it comes to utility, Ford’s team thinks it has a winner on its hands. The new Transit Connect should offer best-in-class cargo area and cargo length, not to mention “Built Ford Tough” DNA. Adding to its work resume, Farley said “the tow rating has improved from zero to 2,000 pounds,” a welcome increase for people that need to drag trailers for a living.
Beyond that, the TC will ride on Ford’s C1 global compact vehicle architecture, meaning it gains a rigid structure and the latest safety features including large amounts of ultra-strong boron steel.
But it’s not all about work. A high-end Titanium model will also be available. It will be offered with a panoramic glass roof as well as aircraft-style overhead storage bins. Marc Rogowski, Marketing Manager of the E-series and Transit Connect Wagon said “this vehicle is really going to be a surprise and delight for our customers.” Another one of those unexpected features is an optional electric front-window defroster that can supposedly clear the glass in less than a minute.
Whether it was the Aerostar in the 1980s, the Windstar in the ‘90s or the abortive Freestar in the early 2000s, Ford has never fielded a strong competitor in the minivan segment. Chrysler, Toyota and Honda have dominated the Blue Oval in this sector of the market. But a seven-passenger version of the Transit Connect could be an interesting alternative. It will likely lack the luxury amenities of its high-brow competitors, it will probably also come up short on interior space since it’s a much smaller vehicle, but if the price is right the TC Wagon could become the people hauler of choice for budget-minded families.
The 2014 Ford Transit Connect will be assembled in Valencia, Spain and go on sale in North America late next year.