By Mark Maynard
For a little utility van built in Turkey, the new Ford Transit Connect has surprising refinement and drivability.
With a few more creature comforts for passengers, such as rear windows that open and rear air conditioning, the Transit Connect could become the single dad’s school bus. This would be the guy who will not drive a minivan or a Toyota Highlander but still has kids, the school car pool and a surfboard, bicycle or other gear to transport.
And not to be entirely sexist, but women ignored this truck like a shoebox of rocks at a yard sale. And males of all ages definitely seemed to go out of the way to get a look inside — whether or not they had a van or wanted one. Most who stopped to check it out would respond with: “Whoa, look at the headroom.” And next they’d say, “You sure can carry a lot of stuff. Cool.”
What kind of stuff? Any kind. Men, the primal gatherers, seem to have an impulsive interest in vehicles that can transport the stuff they hunt down.
Pricing ranges from $21,880 for the base truck with no side or rear windows to $23,350 for the XLT with painted bumpers and side and rear (tinted) glass. The van is front-wheel drive, and four-wheel drive is not available yet.
“Aren’t those just the greatest little things,” said a mature male in the Home Depot parking lot who, carrying a bunch of stuff in his arms, was getting into a Ford Explorer. “I’m so glad Ford starting bringing them over (from Europe).”
Ford sells this van in Europe and elsewhere as a commercial work truck. And as such, it has the necessary equipment: cargo space, rear doors that open and fold back along the sides, power (and folding) mirrors, locking hood and fuel door. And there’s plenty of durable plastic for wash out and wipe down. Function is limited only by imagination.
As a passenger vehicle, it could use more basic comfort features. It can be equipped with two, four or five seats in a three-row bench. If this were a hotel transporter or a family vehicle, it would be nice to have rear-seat cup holders or even a fold-down center armrest. Most drivers would want to remove the rear center head restraint, which adds complexity to the rear view out the barn doors. The second-row floor has a low exhaust tunnel, so foot room is good. A rear AC unit would be helpful for kids or dogs. There is no vanity mirror on the driver visor, only the passenger’s, but the visors are large for blocking glare.
The XLT Premium Group, which adds second-row slider windows and third row fixed windows, are recently available. Rear air conditioning will be available then, too.
Sometimes the integration of a European vehicle into the North American market can be choppy, but there’s nothing else like Transit Connect. Its few rough edges, such as the squeaks and creaks of plastic, are forgiven and even add some cachet.
For the tall driver, this truck is nirvana for headroom. And the driver position, with a tilt and telescopic steering wheel, will accommodate users from 5 feet 2 inches to at least 6 feet 7 inches.
Sightlines aren’t bad, but I’d want a rearview camera if one was available. The driver’s seat has height adjustment and a fold-down, right-side armrest. The seating is comfortable, though big guys might wish for more seat padding. It’s comfortable for the driver to rest an elbow out the window or just along the top rail of the door-panel trim.
A deep shelf above the windshield adds another tier of storage, which corrals items with a cargo net.
Don’t laugh when I say that this 3,500-pound, front-wheel-drive steel box is powered by a four-cylinder engine. But the 136-horsepower, 2.0-liter and four-speed automatic is a powertrain with hustle. It had plenty of pull off the line and it would cruise easily at 70 and 80 mph. And it wasn’t like riding in a big tin can. The performance may not be as spunky when loaded with plumbing supplies, but the power will be acceptable for many applications. And it’s admirable, with 25 mpg on the highway on 87 octane. A five- or six-speed transmission would make for more and smoother shifts and stretch the fuel economy by a couple mpg.
An electric version of the van, with an 80-mile average driving range, will be available for fleet use by the end of the year.
But as simple and clean as this van is now, it could achieve the cult status of the early Volkswagen bus. In 10 years, teenagers will be shopping for a good condition, first-generation Transit Connect as their first surf van and ride to school.
I used to say that everybody should have a little pickup in a corner of the garage to use for trips to the nursery, the big discount store, a dump run, even yard sales. But a little pickup, such as the Ford Ranger, can cost almost as much as a Transit Connect, has a lower payload rating and only the manual-transmission model gets better fuel economy. With the enclosed box, the cargo is locked up and the driver can make multiple stops.
Like for yard sales. There could be good stuff to bring home.
2010 Ford Transit Connect XLT
Body style: front-wheel-drive, five-passenger utility vehicle
Engine: aluminum, 136-horsepower, 2.0-liter four cylinder
Transmission: four-speed automatic
EPA fuel economy estimates: 22 mpg city, 25 highway; 87 octane recommended
Fuel capacity: 15.4 gallons
Length/width/wheelbase: 180.6/70.7/114.6 inches
Curb weight: 3,470 pounds
Payload: 1,600 pounds
Standard equipment includes: remote locking, air conditioning, two-speaker CD audio system, six-way adjustable driver seat, 15-inch wheels with full wheel covers, full-size spare, locking hood and fuel door, power windows (that fold), dual sliding side doors, three 12-volt power points, tilt-telescopic steering wheel, tinted side glass
Safety features include: front and seat-mounted side air bags, four-wheel ABS
SLT MSRP: $23,045, including $695 freight charge; price as tested, $24,280
Options on test vehicle: rear cargo-door check system, $190; reverse sensing system, $280; floor mats, $65; in-dash computer, $1,395
Where assembled: Kocaeli, Turkey
Mark Maynard is driving in cyberspace at Mark.Maynard@uniontrib.com.
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