First Drive: 2010 Ford Transit Connect

Transit1

The last time a peculiar, box-shaped car from overseas was sprung on the U.S. market, it was a surprise hit. Don't let the boxy styling and relatively minuscule four-cylinder fool you, though — this is no Scion xB. The 2010 Ford Transit Connect won't be seen at the high school parking lot with blacked-out headlights, a neon underglow and a coffee-can muffler — unless the vending machines are being restocked by a small-business owner with too much time on his hands. Normally Cars.com wouldn't bother with a model intended for commercial use, but there's a newfound interest in everything the domestic automakers do, and the Transit Connect also happens to be one of the first models Ford will offer as a pure battery-electric next year, so I gladly took one for a spin.

Transitcargo
My box on wheels wasn't electric, though. The front wheels were powered by a 2.0-liter gas engine and four-speed automatic that were incorporated specifically for global small-business domination. (The more than a half-million Transit Connects sold overseas since 2003 have exclusively employed diesels and manual transmissions.) As you might imagine, the four-cylinder that's merely adequate as the base engine in Ford's compact Focus isn't going to set any land-speed records in a small van with the aerodynamics of a brick (and, given its intended use, the weight of a brick as well). My Transit Connect was outfitted (or "upfitted") for generic handyman use, but was practically empty aside from its two seats, wire partition and built-in racks bearing a number of props.

Acceleration is indeed modest, and I think drivers will react negatively to the transmission — not because it doesn't do the job, but because a four-speed always invokes more drama than a five- or six-speed when it downshifts to pass: high revving, noise and what people perceive as "straining." It's not straining. It's working. The Transit Connect's acceleration is fine. That said, once you add a full load and some hills, even I'm not sure I'd be too pleased with it. Beliefs to the contrary are nothing high gas prices couldn't cure. The EPA rating is 22/25 mpg — quite good for anyone who's accustomed to a minivan and outstanding for anyone who's used to a full-size van or a rear-drive minivan of a bygone era — ones with names like Aerostar, Astro and Safari. Dodge’s current Grand Caravan, which can be had in a cargo version, gets 17/24 mpg with a V-6 engine.

Considering the platform's relation to the Focus — in the front where it matters most — a 2.5-liter engine option shouldn't be out of the question, but Ford is making no promises.

Transit2

If you've only seen photos, the Transit Connect's shape makes you expect something larger. It is quite compact, and most of its space comes in the vertical dimension. The load floor is notably low and the roof is high, but only about 6 feet of cargo floor extends from the front seatbacks to the cargo doors. The seats have enough headroom for a Buckingham Palace guard in full headgear, but you won't be standing in there. Fortunately, the sliding side doors and rear doors let you reach almost every part of the cargo area without putting more than a knee down.

Even with a mostly empty truck, it was reasonably quiet as I drove and conversed with a Ford representative. Though my Transit Connect had no rear window or interior rearview mirror, the vehicle isn't very long, so visibility wasn't a problem. You sit relatively high and look out an expansive windshield. The side window sills are low to begin with, and they dip down near the front like in the F-Series pickup, granting the best view of the driver's side curb I think I've ever seen. All in all, the size, configuration and rear doors that open almost flush with the van's sides showed how a model like this could excel as a delivery truck in our own congested, downtown-Chicago locale.

Transitint

As for consumer use, well, there's a "wagon" version that I didn't drive, which has five seats, but I can't imagine anyone buying it over some better-appointed small crossover or wagon. It's definitely a commercial vehicle. The Transit Connect is already arriving at dealerships that request it, and it should be available en masse by August, at a starting price of $21,475, including destination. I think it will do well enough. All Ford needs for it to truly excel are some terrible gas prices, and those seem inevitable -- some would say necessary.

Comments 

Hey, a real informative blog. I liked reading this. Thanks

Max

The truck is primarily designed as a small delivery van, as well as a tradesman's truck when load weigh is not important.

For such vehicles, performance is not important. Reliability, load carrying, and cost are more important. The down side for Ford is that it will compete with the E150 which has a record of exceptional reliability and longevity.

John V

Thanks for the review. I'm moderately interested in this van, but would be much more interested in the European style (diesel & manual transmission). How come America can't have the frugal version?

You mention the Dodge Grand Caravan, that is the vehicle I'm currently using in my business. There would be little improvement in gas mileage for me in moving to this Ford (using a gas engine). I think I'll stick with my paid off ten year old minivan.

The possible future electric version is interesting, but I'm afraid to see what the cost and range will be. A battery only version is problematic in my business... what if I've been using it all day, and get an emergency call for service another 30 miles away. Do I plug in at the customers? Drive it home, charge it up, and then go out?

Walt

I have been looking for a professional looking HVAC service van to accompany the now F150 Ford service truck with a liftgate for lifting systems into the bed. Most of my calls (95%) are service calls and the gas eating larger truck isn't as economic and I also need the weatherproof cargo area the Transit has.
I will certainly buy one as soon as Ford decides to update the motor to at least a 2.5L engine to handle the 1,200lbs of tools and parts and my body. Using the 2.0 would certainly over work the engine and shorten it's life. Come on Ford- this is the downfall- fix it!

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