The European-style Transit Connect van was introduced by Ford last year as an affordable, economical choice for small business owners and fleets. The media launch for the vehicle highlighted an array of configurations for the cargo van, with shelving for different trades like catering, plumbing and so forth. The timing seemed just about right, as the van seemed right for a new austerity in the business world
Sure enough, we’re now seeing the wedge-nosed compact vans all over the place, usually in stark white or with some kind of graphic wrap applied to it. The somewhat funky shape lets the van draw attention to itself, and theoretically, the business making use of it. From the standpoint of being a commercial van, the Transit Connect seems to be a success.
Now that the business world has discovered Ford’s small van, it may also become accepted as a family van, especially if it can also be used as a work vehicle in a pinch. Recently I got to sample the “wagon” version of the Transit Connect, not in plain white, but in a bright shade of red. The wagon also gets a three-passenger rear seat, and side windows in the sliding doors where the work van usually has sheet metal for security.
And you know what? The Transit Connect Wagon in XLT trim would make a neat little family vehicle, and for under $25,000. It also offers most of the carrying capacity of the cargo version, with its tall roof and swing-open dual rear doors. The rear seats can be folded forward in a snap for hauling large items, and the seats are split 60/40 for flexible combinations of seating and cargo carrying.
The XLT is the nicer of two Wagon models, and includes many of the features we expect from a modern family car like cruise control, keyless entry, power windows and air conditioning. My test vehicle also had an advanced navigation system that doubles as in in-dash business computer with the ability to ingest Excel spread sheets and the like through SD and USB slots. There’s even a wireless keyboard for utilizing Internet connectivity. (Thankfully, these features can only be accessed when the van is parked.)
If your kids are used to the pampering of a modern minivan or SUV, the Transit Connect Wagon will seem a little stark. There are no video players, DVD screens or wireless headphones, nor a third-row seat. Heck, there’s only one small cup holder at the rear of the front console. Kids riding in the back of this van may have to just…read a book or something.
This obviously wouldn’t compete with conventional minivans, but it could be fine for hauling the kids on weekends while used as a work vehicle during the week. The rear cargo area is bare metal on the inside, and the carpet only goes as far back as the floor beneath the back seat. Essentially, this is the way all vans used to be.
The engine and transmission are bare-bones as well, with the sole choice being a 2.0 liter four cylinder mated to a 4-speed automatic transmission. Horsepower is adequate at 136, and as I told me next door neighbor when he asked about the van, there’s enough power, but there’s no extra power. It actually feels snappier than its numbers would suggest, though if the van were loaded up to its full 1600 pound capacity it could end up feeling sluggish. The appeal to businesses is low operating cost, and in that regard the powertrain is perfect.
The Transit Connect rides and handles just fine, feeling like a tall car. It’s easy to park (my test van had the optional rear parking sensors which really help), and though I never did make use of the cargo space, the dual rear doors can be swung open extra-wide thanks to a clever hinge system. The turning radius isn’t as tight as I expected, but compared to a full-size van this compact one is plenty maneuverable.
As for looks, it really is a stand-out design. The Transit Connect I drove (in a color called Torch Red) got more than a few double-takes from other drivers and pedestrians. The only thing it lacks in the looks department are some nice wheels, as the only choice for this van are standard 15” steel units with low-grade grey plastic wheel covers. A quick trip to a custom wheel shop would really help this otherwise fashionable van look a lot better.
Base price for a Transit Connect XLT Wagon is $22,350. The one I tested was equipped with all the available features and checked in at $24,975. If you want to skip the Ford Work Solutions computer, you could knock $1395 off that price. Try finding a family vehicle (SUV or minivan) for that kind of money. The fact that the Transit Connect also makes a great work van adds even more value.
I’ll see you down the road.
Dave Kunz is the automotive reporter at KABC-TV Channel 7. He’s also a car enthusiast and owns several classics. Dave can be reached at TVCarz@pacbell.net.