Consider this more a preview than a review because only part of a day was spent with the Ford Transit Connect. But if my first impressions are correct (and they usually are with automobiles) this little commercial truck that has been on sale in Europe since 2002 could be quite a hit in the United States.
As Ford demonstrated during a program in Manhattan at the end of May, this is going to be a good vehicle for small businesses. Ford chose Manhattan (as well as five other cities across the U.S.) to show how well the Transit Connect handled itself in an urban setting but I see this van being a big hit in the suburbs and smaller cities, too.
The primary reason is going to be its cargo capacity. This little truck can swallow up a lot of items. The Transit Connect has 135.3 cubic feet of cargo space and can hold a payload capacity up to 1,600 pounds – a larger payload than the full size Dodge Ram 1500 standard-cab short-box pickup truck, according to Ford. Plus, and this part absolutely intrigues me, the Transit Connect is rated at 22 city, 25 highway EPA miles per gallon. That’s unheard of for a delivery vehicle. (As a matter of fact, the city mileage is better than a 4-cylinder Toyota Camry, which is quite an accomplishment.)
The Transit Connect is built on a dedicated front-wheel drive commercial vehicle platform to meet and exceed the needs of small-business owners and entrepreneurs. To prepare Transit Connect for United States duty, the powertrain was upgraded to include a proven Duratec 2.0-liter dual-overhead cam (DOHC) I-4 engine and a four-speed automatic overdrive transaxle. Several design details, including the grille and interior touches, have been updated to lend the vehicle a fresh, new look for its American debut.
There are some other features that business owners will like. The split rear cargo doors open at a standard 180 degrees, or an optional 255 degrees and are held in place by powerful magnets so the doors don’t flap open in heavy traffic. Lift-over height is less than two feet, when the Transit Connect is unloaded The cargo area opens up to a maximum of 59.1 inches of floor to ceiling height. The load width is 48.1 inches, between the wheel arches. Load length is a 72.6 inches or more than six feet of cargo floor space and dual sliding rear side doors provide wide access to the generous cargo space.
While swallowing up all this cargo, the Transit Connect doesn’t leave a big footprint. It’s only 180.7 inches long with a wheelbase of 114.6 inches. The Ford Edge, by comparison, seems like a giant at 185.7 inches but the Transit Connect is a lot more versatile.
I had no complaints driving the Transit Connect through the west side of Manhattan. We stopped at a hardware store, grocery market, and florist to hear the business owners talk about how the Transit Connect could fit into their lives. The florist seemed the most remorseful because she drives a Jeep Grand Cherokee that doesn’t handle the diversity of a Transit Connect.
The hardware store owner is waiting for the Transit Collect electric version that is coming in 2010. Ford says it is part of an aggressive new electric vehicle plan to bring pure battery-powered vehicles, hybrids and plug-in hybrids to market. The Transit Connect battery electric vehicle will be the initial offering in Ford’s recently announced electrification initiatives. Ford says many commercial users travel predictable, short-range routes, with lots of stop and go in urban and suburban environments. A range of up to 100 miles makes the battery electric-powered Transit Connect a useful hauler, with significantly reduced operation and maintenance costs.
One thing Ford didn’t do in its demonstration was make us jockey for parking spaces in the city. We didn’t get the opportunity to parallel park the Transit Connects. Instead, it was more like a mall experience with us pulling straight in. Heck, they even stopped traffic for us. Sight lines were pretty good in my driving experience. This is a van after all. You can’t overlook that. You will have to get used to driving with your side mirrors.
Here’s the big secret that Ford isn’t really pushing – the Transit Connect is entering the United States as a personal vehicle (to avoid a 25 percent import duty). It will have seating for four people and will be a heck of a station wagon in my view. Ford should push this angle more because it will be a vehicle that small business owners can use commercially and privately. (I’ll leave it up to their accountants to figure out the whole mileage issue.)
Transit Connect keeps passengers and cargo safe and secure, too. Front and side air bags help keep driver and first-row passenger safe. Four-wheel anti-lock brakes and a tire pressure monitoring system are standard, as well. Roll stability control is standard on wagon versions and optional in van configurations. (Ford deserves credit for making the stability control a stand alone option and not tied into more expensive features.) A locking exterior hood release helps keep things secure up front. Lock-in-Latch shielded door locks help Transit Connect resist break-in.
Pricing for the Transit Connect begins at $21,475. It goes on sale later this summer.
(Questions and comments about this review and other automotive concerns can be e-mailed to [email protected] All queries are answered.)
Wheelbase: 114.6 inches
Length: 180.7 inches
Width: 70.7 inches
Height: 79.3 inches
Curb weight: 5005 lbs.
Horsepower: 136 @ 6300 rpm
Torque: 128 lb.-ft @ 4,750 RPM
EPA estimated mpg city/highway: 22/25
Base price: $21,475
Also consider: Chevy HHR, Honda Element, Scion xB