The Transit Connect is Ford’s originated-in-Europe compact van. It’s smaller than full-size cargo and passenger vans, including the so-called minivans, such as the Odyssey, Sienna and Town & Country, but larger than the Mazda5 and with more cabin space than most small to mid-size crossovers. Its primary mission is moving cargo and people, not towing family boats or using all-wheel drive as a substitute to common sense.
Transit Connect is the only vehicle in this class to offer two different lengths and in passenger trim a choice of five or seven seats. You can’t mix and match every variable, but there are more permutation than others.
It also offers an engine choice no one else does. The standard 2.5-liter four-cylinder is similar to Ram ProMaster City’s 2.4, more powerful than the Nissan NV200 or Chevrolet City Express 2-liters. Transit Connect Van and one short-wheelbase passenger model offer a 1.6-liter EcoBoost that makes more power and torque, at lower revs, than the 2.5 and gets higher EPA ratings. Both come with a six-speed automatic transmission and front-wheel drive.
The Van is merely for hauling one or two people and cargo, up to 1620 pounds of it, or 104 cubic feet in the short wheelbase and 129 in the long. At six feet wide and 190 inches or less long it’s easier to maneuver than most pickups or anything else that carries that much.
The Wagon derivative offers a 5-seat XLT short-wheelbase model with passenger space for five on par with family sedans and 47 cubic feet of cargo space; 77 with the rear seat folded. Long-wheelbase seven-seat wagons offer 15.7-20 cubic feet behind the sliding third row, 59 behind the middle row and 104 behind the front seats. Those numbers shame many seven-seat crossovers (the larger, heavier Explorer offers 21/44/81 cubic feet, respectively), and the low floor height and sliding side doors offer superior access. There are plenty of places to stow things inside, many you’d not normally think of, and while the seat-folding isn’t state-of-the-art simple, it’s a very practical apparatus.
From the driver’s seat Transit Connect feels like you’re in a slightly higher Focus seat facing the same hexagonally oriented dash design, inside a big motorhome because of huge windows and lots of open space. Feature content is closer to Focus or Escape than an optioned-up Fusion or Explorer, but so is the price, and you can get navigation, leather upholstery and many conveniences.
Transit Connect drives like a car, with controlled body motions, predictable road manners and an excellent view for skipping through traffic. The Wagon’s ride is comfortable and quiet enough for road-tripping, and it rides best with a few people on board, while the Van is better with something in back so it’s not a big empty echo chamber.
The 2.5-liter engine is adequate for traipsing around town or interstate cruising. Heavy load acceleration, mountain grades and passing will require lots of revs but it never felt stressed or that it couldn’t do that all day long. The transmission does its job well and the shifter’s an easy reach. Disc brakes all around are a step up from the competition and proved happier bounding down steep hills.
An optional turbocharged 1.6-liter delivers more power in a relaxed manner, and unless you’re exploiting that power frequently, nominally better fuel economy than the 2.5; alas, it is not available in seven-seat Wagons. EPA estimates range from 20-22 city to 28-30 highway depending on configuration, with Wagon usually 1 mpg lower because of additional glass and insulation weight.
Transit Connect competes directly with Ram ProMaster City (cargo and 5-seater) and Nissan NV200 and Chevy City Express cargo vans; the two different wheelbase Wagons frame the six-seat, three-row Mazda5. If you don’t need all-wheel drive or moderate towing capacity, it’s often a less-expensive, more practical alternative to three-row crossovers. If you don’t need as much room, especially in the third row, a Mazda5 does it for thousands less.
A forward wedge to disguise a basic box with an elongated nose is used by every van maker, and the Transit Connect is no different. When function trumps form options are limited.
Even absent the blue oval this grille is easy to identify as a Ford, not unlike a Focus or Escape. Aesthetics depend on model, as painted bumpers and fog lights are more interesting than the plain versions purposely designed to fend off fence posts, loading docks and other vans that commercial vehicles seem to encounter regularly.
All Wagons are all glass that’s high relative the seats, an excellent reason to strongly consider the optional privacy glass heavier window tint: Better glare-control year round and a better-looking dark blade down the side. Vans can be ordered with glass in passenger or both side doors, which could be handy for interior visibility, camping or if you plan to carry hounds. The signal repeater on the fender gives broader coverage than on the end of the mirror.
Side mirrors have integral wide-angle elements and can be folded on all; where not standard mirror-heat is optional. Titanium models get power-folding mirrors to automatically retract when you lock it, not a bad idea with flat-sided vehicles.
The rear overhang is short, the rear window deep and the bumper close to flat, so it’s easy to back up; with a camera or park sensors you can handily leave a gap of no more than an inch or two. Every version except Titanium offers the choice of a liftgate our six-foot-plus correspondent easily stood beneath or 180-degree-swing cargo doors. Liftgates come with a rear wiper, cargo doors offer the option.
Save the Titanium, steel wheels are standard and aluminum optional on all but XL. Regardless of wheel material or diameter every Transit Connect includes a full-size, not necessarily cosmetically-matching, full-size spare tire. And the wheels and tires are lighter than most crossover sizes, making it easier to store a set of winter tires.
The Transit Connect is appropriately appointed inside whether you’re hauling appliances and parts, people and luggage or friends and relatives on heated leather. It will feel familiar to almost any Ford owner, and the control and instrument layout is similar to Focus, Fusion and Escape. You wouldn’t be out of line thinking it a larger, taller Focus wagon.
A huge windshield far forward of the driver reminds of a Class A motorhome or Volkswagen’s 21st-century Beetle; you may not be able to touch any part of it from the driver’s seat, and in wintry climes the electric windshield defroster can save time and fuel. Big visors swing to cover the side windows as well, but doing so could leave the other front seat occupant in it and there is no heavy-tint band along the top.
Front seats are comfortable, moreso the more adjustments they have. We can’t speak to a delivery driver jumping in and out all day, though we did plenty of it without seeing any obvious hindrance. With the tilt/telescoping wheel’s decent travel, most should find a good driving position.
Middle-row seat cushions are contoured in even thirds, the outer backrests a bit softer than the middle hiding an armrest. Head and legroom here rivals full-size SUVs and there are few vehicles easier to install or load child seats in, especially if there’s another vehicle 18 inches away. Simple slots hold belts out of the way when needed, and the release moves the seat down and forward for third-row access or full cargo space.
Third-row seats have big flip-up headrests and head and legroom on par with most family sedans; you can put two adults back here and they’ll only feel slighted in mind, not body. Unlike the second-row, these recline partially, and they slide fore and aft to best balance cargo area and people-room required.
Folding the third-row requires first flipping the cushion, then dropping the backrest. Panels on the backrest then flip over to effect a flat floor to the folded middle row. The seats-down cargo floor doesn’t extend all the way to the liftgate, the gap around half-a-foot, but does yield a level, flat floor more than six-feet long at console-top height.
The Van holds 104 (short wheelbase) or 129 (lwb) cubic feet of cargo behind the seats, more with the passenger seat folded. The short-wheelbase five-seat wagon holds 46.9 behind the second row and 77 behind the first row, while the lwb Wagon is 15.7-19.8 behind the third row, 58.9 as a five-seater and 104.2 behind front seats. Those numbers compare favorably with larger, heavier, thirstier three-row crossovers like Ford’s Explorer (21/43.8/80.7) or Dodge’s Durango (17.2/47.7/84.5). The low floor height and sliding side doors offer easier loading, especially for youngsters, and that space can be filled with real cargo, not just balloons or flowers, with payloads ranging from about 1200 to 1620 pounds.
Standard analog instruments in hexagonal housings are augmented by a small display between them, all easily viewed through the four-spoke wheel. Climate controls and ancillary switches are quick to master, and while the logic was straightforward, the small touchscreen and buttons, reach to it and none-too-quick response couldn’t match ProMaster City’s UConnect system. Both the proper handbrake and shifter are easy to reach.
An overhead storage tray holds a lot of papers or items larger than a gum pack, but remember you can see only through holes in the bottom and contents may shift during your drive. There are also map-lights, glasses holder, wide-angle mirror to monitor rear passengers and assist handles up there.
There is also good storage in the door pockets, glovebox, center console, sub-floor bin and optional overhead bins just aft and above the front seats. Only the rubber coin-holder between the two primary cupholders that always came up with our water bottle, can or coffee seemed an afterthought.
Connect is easy to drive and despite its room drives like a car with a great view.
The 2.5-liter bring 169 hp and 171 lb-ft of torque to a 4000-pound party, fine for buzzing around town or highway cruising but heavier loads and hills will require some rpm to make the needed power. Expect adequate acceleration, but not the same as a 2.5-liter Mazda5 or V6 powered alternative.
A turbocharged 1.6-liter EcoBoost four is available, except for seven-seat wagons where the additional power (178 hp/184 lb-ft) and quieter demeanor would be most welcome. This delivers the best performance, and if you’re not flogging it from traffic light to light, a small bump in fuel economy over the 2.5. Where it’s available we’d recommend the $795 option.
Either engine is coupled to a six-speed automatic transmission. Gear changes are smooth and on-demand, the sport mode getting the most of the 2.5 without adding significant noise. It can be shifted manually but only in sport mode, and gas-pedal response in reverse was enthusiastic in our Wagon, bobbing some passenger heads.
EPA ratings are 21/29 for the Van 2.5, 20/28 for Wagon 2.5 and 22/30 for the 1.6 regardless of application. We managed almost 30 in a driver-only seven-seat wagon on a highway leg, and about 20 in town; we’d anticipate low-20 averages for most urban and suburban use.
Unlike its competition the Transit Connect uses disc brakes all around. Stops are safe and stable, and they proved more consistent bounding down winding hillsides than any other Ford people-mover we’ve driven recently.
Electric-assist steering delivers quick response and effortless maneuvering, road feel is better than some electric-assist systems but not as good as a ProMaster City or the Mazda5.
Since it’s derived from the same basis as the Focus and Escape, and weighs 500 pounds less than most three-row crossovers and minivans, the Transit Connect feels relatively light and agile. A low center of gravity helps and roll is well controlled for a six-foot-high box, so you can push to the limits of tire adhesion in predictable fashion.
Ride quality is similar to or better than many vehicles that carry this much weight, and it does ride better with more people than one. Only some freeway expansion joints introduced a pitter-patter that could get annoying, but that’s not unique to the Transit Connect and varies a lot by wheelbase. The Van can handle 400 pounds more than the Wagon, but the Wagon has the better ride quality. The wagon also has additional insulation and is notably quieter than the Van; few-hour rides never fatigued us, though wind noise does begin to seep in around 65 so West Texas speeds will be louder.
Connect is rated to tow 2000 pounds with the tow package (either engine) with frontal area limit of 20 square feet and trailer brakes recommended. That’s sufficient for a small utility trailer, motorcycle or personal watercraft, but check all the weight limits before you fill it with people and add a trailer.
The Transit Connect is viable cargo van or alternative people-mover, built more for those who value function more than form but still want some amenities or leather upholstery. For most crossover buyers the Wagon is a more practical solution; indeed it is a genuine minivan even though Ford says it isn’t.