The Antique Automobile Club of America’s annual fall gathering in is a must-attend event for anyone with rust pumping through their veins.
Engine: 3.2-liter five-cylinder diesel
Output: 185 horsepower, 350 lb-ft of torque
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Fuel Economy: Not rated; around 22 miles per gallon in real-world testing
As-Tested Pricing: $46,645, including $1,195 in delivery fees ($61,982 CDN)
Indeed, chocolate isn’t the only brown substance Hershey, Pennsylvania, is famous for; ferrous oxide has also put this Keystone-State hamlet on the map. Every year, it’s home to what has got to be the largest automotive swap meet in the world, with thousands of vendors selling every kind of part and widget imaginable, and plenty you’ve never even thought of.
Need stainless steel trim for a ‘69 Chevelle? Take a stroll through the red field. Looking for someone to redo the nickel finish on your Pierce Arrow’s parking-brake lever? There’s a guy there that specializes in just that. Want a wooden steering wheel, used spark plugs, new-old-stock Chrysler K-Car headlight switches or a bag of horse hair? You’ll have no trouble finding any of this, either.
The AACA’s Hershey meet is a bucket-list event for anyone that appreciates old cars. The multi-day spectacle is an absolute sight to behold, which is why I decided to spend part of my vacation down there.
Boxy is Foxy
But I needed a vehicle to make the journey in, and not just any sort of family sedan would do. The trip required something with maximum interior space, a weather-tight cargo area and reasonable fuel efficiency, all with enough comfort for me to endure a 550-mile drive with minimal fatigue. After ample contemplation, I concluded the only viable option was a commercial van, the sort of vehicle normally associated with journeyman carpenters, church pastors and airport shuttle companies.
In general, work-grade vans are loosely analogous to hospital food, useful but depressingly free of frills. Don’t expect a sprig of parsley with that cup of low-sodium vegetable broth, or to find Y-rated tires on a Chevy Express.
After a week of testing and more than 1,000 miles in the saddle, it’s safe to say Ford’s newest commercial offering is probably the best product in its admittedly limited segment. I was thoroughly impressed by how well it handled every task I threw at it.
Replacing Dearborn’s antediluvian E-Series, parts of which were likely developed when Ford used to run things, President Ford that is, the Transit is a new offering in North America, though it’s long been a mainstay of the Blue Oval’s European portfolio.
Appealing to a broad swath of commercial customers, this heavy-hauler is offered in three different lengths and heights, with two distinct wheelbases. Additionally, there are passenger and cargo variants, plus the company offers chassis cab and cutaway varieties for more choice than a buffet at supper time.
Providing even more build combinations, three engines are available beneath the Transit’s comically short hood, all of which are matched to a six-speed automatic transmission that sends torque to the rear wheels through a live axle supported by a duet of leaf springs. Up front, there’s a MacPherson-strut arrangement and rack-and-pinion steering.
The base engine is a 3.7-liter gasoline V6 that’s good for 275 horsepower. From there you can opt for a 3.5-liter EcoBoost twin-turbo that delivers 310 ponies and 400 lb-ft of torque. But the most interesting option is a 3.2-liter five-cylinder diesel. This offering is rated at a measly 185 horses but it produces a prodigious 350 lb-ft of twisty goodness, which peaks just off idle.
Slicing through all that complexity, the model I took to Chocolate World was something of a Goldilocks, neither too large nor too small. It was a non-passenger variant with medium roof and wheelbase dimensions as well as the diesel.
This arrangement provided vast quantities of cargo space, with a hold able to accommodate items more than 10 feet long, all with stand-up headroom. The passel of rusty, depression-era Ford parts I loaded it with in hopes of getting rid of barely took up any room. However, camping gear I drug along did a fair job gobbling up the remaining floor space.
Since I’m cheap, Dad and I opted to camp at Hershey, sleeping in the Transit, something it was ideal for. Two six-foot-tall adults fit with no issue at all. Dual sliding doors made ingress and egress a snap for chilly nighttime trips to the porta-potty.
Unquestionably, the Transit is a masterpiece of sensible engineering, with loads of interior space, but it’s also surprisingly pleasant to drive, even on long hauls.
Our cargo variant only had two seats, but they were supportive and ergonomically agreeable. Thanks to the van’s elevated height, they offered commanding views of surrounding traffic.
Large side windows in the dual sliding doors provided good outward visibility, which was aided by generously portioned exterior mirrors and supplemental convex reflectors. Blind-spot monitoring would have been nice, but it doesn’t appear to be available at any price in this vehicle.
Expectedly, the Transit’s interior is mostly utilitarian, constructed of ordinary-looking hard plastic. Fortunately, it’s ergonomically sound with plenty of storage cubbies and a trio of cup holders. Sync 3 was an asset as well. Ford’s next-generation infotainment system is both impressively speedy and dead simple to navigate, though a larger screen would have been nice. The Transit’s display is small and quite a reach from the captain’s chair.
In spite of its sloping, Neanderthal forehead and bulldozer aerodynamics, the Transit remains remarkably serene inside, even at an interstate clip. You’d think with such a large, open cargo area there’d be a ton of reverberation but this isn’t the case. Ditto for the ride, which is remarkably smooth for a vehicle that can handle up to 3,460 pounds. Other variants can haul just shy of 5,000 pounds.
That diesel engine is also passenger-car smooth and pulls like a tractor trailer. Low-RPM torque is abundant, though it does run out of steam at highway speed. The Transit’s six-speed transmission performed flawlessly, never once missing a shift of doing anything uncouth. Even more impressive is that this combination returned just shy of 22 miles per gallon in real-world driving, amazing for something with a GVRW of 9,000 pounds and no official fuel-economy rating.
In addition to its comfortable seats, quite interior, refined drivetrain and smooth ride, the Transit surprised me once more. Its steering is tight and quick, feeling eerily like what you get in a Ford Focus, which is a sporty compact car! How engineers achieved this feat is beyond me.
Aside from a shovel-full of sand in its crankcase, strong crosswinds are the Transit’s worst enemy, which I experienced plenty of on the back roads of Ohio. They pushed this Ford around like a sandwich wrapper in a hurricane, making it challenging to remain centered in the lane. This should come as no surprise since the vehicle is as tall and broad as a noise-abatement barrier and nearly as heavy.
The Verdict: 2016 Ford Transit 250 Medium-Roof Van Review
Lightyears ahead of the antiquated E-Series, Ford’s Transit likely leads the pack of modern commercial vans. Thanks to its capaciousness, fuel efficiency and even refinement, this offering could be superior to products like the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter, Ram ProMaster or Nissan NV range.
It’s just a shame excellence isn’t terribly affordable. The medium-roof Transit 250 I took to Pennsylvania and back cost $46,645, including $1,195 in delivery fees, a luxury-car sum to be certain.
Breaking things down, the diesel engine accounted for $5,645 of that total. Sync 3 with navigation added $2,035 to the base price, a 3.31 rear-axle ratio cost $325 and the available reverse-sensing system was $295. Throwing in a slew of other nickel-and-dime extras gets you to that 47-grand figure. Still, working professionals know it costs money to make it and a vehicle like the Transit is a long-term investment. For people that need a hard-working commercial van, this Ford is sweeter than a Hershey bar.
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