The 2010 Ford Transit Connect is a new small truck designed for small-business owners. It offers low operating costs with a fuel-efficient 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine and is easy to maneuver and can be parked in tight quarters. Yet it delivers as much enclosed cargo space as what's found in a full-size Ford Expedition SUV.
Visitors to Japan sometimes marvel at the huge number of small, narrow, van-like commercial/passenger craft. Tall and thin to navigate crowded roads, they are designed for mileage and efficiency.
Although not so small as what we see in Japan, the Transit Connect is more akin to this kind of vehicle than anything so far available in North America. It's intended to be the ideal transportation tool for florists, caterers, decorators, phone jack installers, plumbers, and other small businesses.
The Transit Connect combines unibody construction with rear leaf springs. Think of it as a low-slung mini-truck with a highly organized, walk-in utility body.
Although evocative of the Japanese transportation model, the Transit Connect is actually produced in Europe, where it was developed specifically as a transportation solution for small-business owners. It has been on sale in 55 countries on three continents since 2003. More than 600,000 units have been sold worldwide.
The Transit Connect offers advantages over pickup trucks, SUVs or vans. It has twice the cargo capacity of a Chevy HHR and delivers the fuel economy of a Toyota Camry. It can carry a lot. With a leaf-spring rear suspension, the TC has a payload better than some full-size pickups: up to 1600 pounds. When configured as a van with second row seating, it can carry up to five people and still offer a capacious rear cargo area.
The cargo area is easily accessible through sliding side doors. The floor is low, to make it easier to load. When configured as a panel van, it's a popular choice as a mobile marketing tool, wrapped with logos and brand images.
Low operating cost and reasonable initial purchase price are part of the appeal. Transit Connect is powered by a fuel-efficient four-cylinder gasoline engine, and has a 7500-mile service interval. Ford plans to introduce a battery electric version of the Transit in 2010 with a range of 100 miles. The battery electric Transit would be for use on predictable, short-range routes. Charge time will be 6-8 hours, with a maximum speed 70 mph, using liquid-cooled Lithium-Ion batteries.
A wide variety of custom interiors is available through Ford dealers, making use of bulkheads, racks, bins, drawers and shelves to customize the cargo area to any specific purpose. This can be manna for carpentry or other small businesses.
Advanced telematic systems are available for fleet owners and full-time delivery operators. Ford Work Solutions is a suite of efficiency tools operated using an in-dash computer, which allows the driver to connect with his desktop computer, download documents, print estimates on site, and more.
For those who require a delivery van that looks modern, smart and prosperous, the Ford Transit Connect fits right in. While its flat surfaces and low stance are designed primarily for efficiency, the little van presents a tidy visual image in keeping with a well-managed business. When painted or wrapped, it becomes a rolling business card.
Sliding side cargo doors, and rear doors that open 180 degrees (or 255 degrees with options) make it easy to get at cargo no matter where the TC is parked. The liftover height (the distance between the ground and the floor) is less than two feet, so it takes less effort to load and unload compared to a pickup truck.
Portions of the body are double-skinned for additional strength, so dents on the inside don't show on the outside, a good feature for hard-working trucks.
Buyers will have a choice of panel van with no windows, or an optional set of side and rear door windows. The panel van offers more security and it costs less. Windows are better when second-row seating is used. The Transit Connect id designed to hold up to the elements in big city with locking exterior hood, Lock-in-Latch shielded door locks, and a locking fuel door.
The Ford Transit Connect is about cargo, more than anything else. It's especially well designed for tall, bulky cargo that would be hard to get in or out of the average van or SUV. The Transit Connect carries the kind of big-box loads that might also fit in the bed of a pickup truck, but keeps them cool, dry and secure. And it's more convenient than a pickup with a cap.
The cargo area is 59.1 inches tall, floor to ceiling. There is more than six feet of cargo floor space, with 48 inches of flat space between the wheelwells. Even when configured to seat five with the rear bench, there is 78.1 cubic feet of cargo volume behind the second row.
Bulkheads, racks, bins and other storage equipment can be mixed, matched and configured to suit specific commercial applications and needs. There is an entire catalog of custom-designed, port-installed equipment that can be specified through Ford, so a fleet owner who wants practically any kind of cargo control equipment can have it built into the vehicle prior to delivery.
The Transit is better at carrying cargo than people, but it can be configured to transport a mix of both. A Wagon version is available with a folding second-row bench seat, in either two- or three-passenger configurations. The second-row seat splits 60/40, with the smaller seat being foldable to create more cargo space. The seat does not fold flat to the floor, but it does move well out of the way. When configured as a wagon, the second row of seats are not designed to be removable.
We spent a day driving and riding in the back seat of a five-passenger Wagon. We found the second-row seats have a huge amount of head room, but not a lot of legroom.
The front seating area is better appointed than we expected. The seats are soft and cushy; if not especially supportive, certainly not punishing in any way. The driver's seat adjusts six ways, manually; the passenger seat adjusts four ways. Center armrests are in the right place, and the seat backs adjust well enough to make a day of driving in city traffic tolerable. There is copious front legroom.
The steering wheel is a tad thicker and larger than you might expect for a small vehicle, but tilts and telescopes like that in a car. Air conditioning is via an in-dash system. We found it was powerful enough to cool the entire cabin, even on a 96-degree day in the city.
Forward visibility is very good, thanks to a huge front window, low nose and upright driving position. The sideview mirrors are large and adjust just like a car. Rearview mirror visibility will depend on the circumstances: better when the Transit is configured with side and rear door glass; practically eliminated when ordered as a panel van.
An optional Ford Work Solutions in-dash computer with Garmin navigation allows small-business owners to run enter enterprises from inside the Transit Connect. (It's Windows-based; a Mac interface is under development.) The in-dash computer can access the internet, but not run flash-driven programs, so it is not designed for browsing entertainment sites like YouTube. Instead, the Ford Work Solutions suite of applications permits business oriented communications, from remote access to an office work station to comprehensive fleet management. Used by a fleet manager, the Crew Chief system logs vehicle location, speed, idle time, fuel usage and 30 other diagnostic measures. An available Garmin navigation function enables optimized delivery efficiency. Hands-free Bluetooth functionality is an available option. There is also a system that keeps track of tools.
To test big-city maneuverability, we spent a day driving the Transit Connect in Los Angeles and Beverly Hills, along side streets made narrow by parked cars, through stop-and-go traffic, and across giant intersections with major boulevards.
The operating experience is more like driving a front-wheel-drive compact wagon than a commercial vehicle, but with a stiffer leaf spring rear suspension. Steering is based on a rack-and-pinion system; the turning circle is just 39 feet, curb-to-curb. We participated in a series of maneuvering exercises, with cones marking a tight, curved path, and can vouch for the fact that the Transit is a very maneuverable, carlike cargo van.
Driving dynamics are unremarkable. Throttle response is fine around town, noise levels acceptable, and steering and braking require no special effort.
Ride quality is acceptable. However, rear-seat passengers will find bumps are harsher than in a passenger car, as the back seats are directly over the truck-like leaf-spring suspension. This would be as expected in a vehicle that can carry 1600 pounds, a payload equivalent to some full-size pickup trucks. We suspect there would be less suspension jounce with some weighty cargo in the back, but that won't make it ride like a Cadillac.
The 15.4 gallon fuel tank provides a theoretical highway range of about 350 miles. We haven't done any long-distance test drives, so we're not sure how it would feel to drive all day on an interstate highway, but there is an overdrive gear in the transmission that should enable fairly quiet, easy cruising at legal speeds.
The Transit Connect is clearly designed more to enable business efficiency than for personal use. However, it can easily double as a work-and-home vehicle. It's appealing as an ultra-simple, bare-bones economy wagon. The Transit Connect could be practical for outdoor sports such as surfing or kayaking because it can provide storage for long, bulky gear, with no concern about wetsuits or damp cargo, and still seat five.
The Ford Transit Connect is unlike anything currently on the U.S. market, but could be the perfect solution for some business owners. It's designed for low cost and high efficiency, requiring no special driving skills to operate. It can be tailored to many very specific purposes, and it should be inexpensive to maintain. Anyone who needs to deliver or work on the move will like the Transit Connect a lot.
John Stewart filed this NewCarTestDrive.com report after his test drive of the TC in Los Angeles.