Call me a nutcase, an automotive freak-show or flat-out insane, but I was actually more excited to evaluate the Ford Transit Connect Wagon than I was the Audi RS7 I drove recently. How’s that possible? Did this versatile van’s map pockets come pre-stuffed with $100 bills? Bribery seems like the only explanation for this incongruity, but that’s far from the reason why. I told you I was crazy!
|Engine: 2.5L four-cylinder engine makes 169 hp and 171 lb-ft of torque. 1.6L EcoBoost four-cylinder makes 178 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque.
Transmission: A six-speed automatic transmission only.
Fuel Economy: Long wheelbase Transit Connect Wagons stickers at 20 MPG city, 28 MPG highway, or 23 MPG overall.
Pricing: Starts at $25,520. $33,315 as tested including $995 in delivery fees.
Like the top of a baby’s head I have a big soft spot. Quirky, practical, affordable vehicles push all the right buttons for me, though hopefully not too hard. These three adjectives succinctly describe the Transit Connect commercial van. Of course in enthusiast terms this preference is tantamount to burning your driver’s license and vowing to rely exclusively on horse and buggy, but bear with me for a moment.
Practically any car company can build an awe-inspiring vehicle if the budget’s big enough. The Rennsport Audi was breathtaking in every way, but of course it was six-figure expensive. It’s much harder to produce a vehicle that’s excellent AND affordable.
Ford is celebrating the new Transit Connect by giving the vehicle its own Twitter hashtag, #Unminivan, which was plastered in large block letters on the sides and rear of the test model I drove. In spite of their rebranding efforts a vehicle with two sliding doors and seating for seven is still pretty much a minivan, no matter how you spin it. Perhaps Windstar would have been a better name.
But calling a spade a spade is not necessarily a bad thing, because the tall and boxy Transit Connect offers huge interior space and clever seating.
Customers have two different wheelbases to choose from. The truncated offering spans 104.8 inches between hubs while the larger option stretches a whopping 120.6 inches. Interior space with either variant is impressive. Maximum cargo volume behind the front seats measures 77.1 and 104.2 cubic feet, respectively. The long-wheelbase model actually has a good bit more interior storage volume than a Chevy Tahoe, likely thanks to its cathedral ceiling.
The Transit Connect is offered in two flavors. There’s a cargo variant with steel instead of side glass as well as seating for two and then there’s the passenger-friendly wagon that can accommodate either five or seven people, depending on wheelbase. Additionally there are two rear-door configurations. You can opt for either symmetrical openings or a single roof-hinged hatch
With ample choice, this vehicle can serve trade workers like plumbers and electricians just as easily as it can work as an airport shuttle or church bus.
North American customers have two engine choices in the Transit Connect. There’s a naturally aspirated 2.5-liter four-cylinder unit I sampled and a 1.6-liter EcoBoost option. The former puts out 169 hp with 171 lb-ft of torque, the latter slightly more in each category. The turbo’s numbers total 178 ponies and 184 units of twist.
Curiously long-wheelbase versions are exclusively offered with the 2.5-liter engine. Where applicable the EcoBoost unit is a $795 option.
When it’s time to pick a transmission you can have it your way as long as it’s Ford’s way. Just one gearbox is offered in North America: a six-speed automatic.
Not surprisingly, European customers have vastly more choice in how their Transit Connects are powered. The company offers an array of small diesel engines, the abovementioned 1.6-liter four banger and even a thrifty three-cylinder EcoBoost option is available. Drivers can also get a manual transmission if they want to row their own gears.
Personally I’d love to see the Focus ST’s drivetrain available as an option. With TONS of midrange torque and a smooth-shifting, six-speed stick this would be an extremely entertaining and functional setup.
But for whatever the reason, that isn’t available. The Transit Connect’s engine bay is surprisingly cramped, with little more than a mail slot-sized opening when the hood is lifted. Servicing anything under there could be a major hassle.
This vehicle’s interior borrows heavily from Ford’s other C-architecture models, chiefly the Focus and Escape. The dashboard has the same unusual layout with unexpected swoops and angles, which give it a busy look. Unlike its siblings everything is rendered in shiny, hard plastic instead of softer materials.
One standout aspect of the Transit Connect’s cabin is the amount of headroom it offers; it’s absolutely gargantuan! Seated up front there’s nearly enough space for a Grenadier Guard to perch on your shoulders, bearskin hat and all.
The second-row seats are surprisingly spacious as well, with good support and decent legroom. Even the aft-most perches aren’t too bad. The bottom cushion is pretty low but there’s still a serviceable amount of space for six-foot-tall passengers if the trip isn’t terribly long.
Both rows fold down for maximum cargo capacity. Further enhancing utility, they go completely flat and feature special foldout covers that block any gaps between the rows. This part features embedded magnets so it locks into place when deployed or retracted.
Regrettably, this vehicle isn’t spacious in all dimensions. Like many other Ford models the front foot-wells are intrusively narrow. Wide doorsills, restrictive sides and a damnable under-seat beam all gobble up space and seriously impact comfort; there’s nowhere to put your feet! This is inexcusable, especially since other manufacturers do not have these issues.
Despite its focus on utility the Transit Connect drives surprisingly well. Acceleration provided by the 2.5-liter engine is adequate, though it’s very smooth and well isolated. The transmission is equally adequate. It changes gears quickly and seamlessly, plus you can manually control it via a rocker on the side of the shifter if you feel so inclined.
This van’s steering feel was remarkably good, and not just by work-vehicle standards. The tiller has tremendous on-center feel and near-perfect weighting with just the right amount of heft. It’s nice that Ford’s chassis magic has transferred over from the Focus and Escape.
Likewise, the brake pedal has a reassuring, brawny feel without being too sensitive. Ride quality is on the firm side, probably because it has a maximum payload of 1,270 pounds. In many ways the Transit Connect drives like a really competent small car and not a hard-working commercial vehicle.
Given its protruding front end, the Transit Connect can be a little challenging to park because its dashboard stretches out for miles and it’s nearly impossible to see where the bumper begins. Fortunately a front and rear sensing system is available (a $495 option) and it’s immensely useful. When you get close to parking curbs it beeps, alerting you to their fascia-damaging proximity.
PRICING AND EFFICIENCY
Base price for a short-wheelbase Transit Connect Van, the cheapest version, is a skosh less than $23,000 including $995 in delivery fees. A comparable passenger-carrying wagon model is about $2,500 more.
The top-of-the-line Titanium Transit Connect I sampled costs $33,315 including shipping and handling. It was gussied up with options including a panoramic glass roof ($1,295), an electrically defrosting windshield ($300), MyFord Touch ($840) and remote start ($345), which added a clunky supplemental fob. Couldn’t they integrate remote start right into the standard key like they’ve done with other models?
As for fuel consumption, long-wheelbase Wagons sticker at 20 MPG in the city and 28 on the highway. Combined they should average 23 MPG, a figure I beat by about one mile per gallon.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this review I was super excited to sample the new Ford Transit Connect. It’s functional, efficient and pretty affordable, plus it drives nicely. In a lot of ways it’s the competent minivan Ford never really figured out in the past. Aborted models like the Aerostar, Windstar and Mercury Villager never competed favorably with rivals from Chrysler, Honda and Toyota.
This versatile hauler is nowhere near as luxurious as an Odyssey or even a Town & Country but in its most basic form it’s several grand cheaper than those models. I found the Transit Connect Wagon pleasantly surprising in many ways and I suspect young families might as well.