2012 Ford Transit Connect Expert Review:Autoblog
You are no doubt familiar with the Transit Connect, the panel van that Ford began importing from Europe in mid-2009. You've probably noticed them in your neighborhood with things like custom cakes, cable companies, cat groomers and cleaning services advertised on their flat, windowless sides. You'll be seeing even more of them soon as the Transit Connect Taxi begins replacing the Crown Victoria in taxi fleets across the country.
Transit Connects are everywhere now. It turns out business owners were tired of only being offered a full-size truck or van for their commercial fleet needs, because in many cases a small, fuel efficient panel van can do the same job far better and more cheaply.
And sure, automakers have tried selling windowless commercial versions of their passenger vehicles before, but how many Chevrolet HHR Panel vans have you seen in your neighborhood? The Transit Connect has done a better job appealing to businesses because the precious cargo that it's purpose-built to carry are tools, supplies and maybe a six-tier buttercream-frosted red velvet wedding cake... not kids.
So what happens when Ford takes its popular new commercial van and creates a version for moving people? The result is called the Transit Connect XLT Premium Wagon, and it is not at all what we expected.
Continue reading Review: 2011 Ford Transit Connect XLT Premium Wagon...
Photos copyright ©2011 John Neff / AOL
What did we expect? Looking at pictures of the Transit Connect XLT gave us the impression of a mini-minivan like the Mazda5 or even Ford's upcoming Grand C-Max. It's certainly taller than those, but still looks more compact than a traditional minivan like the Toyota Sienna or Dodge Grand Caravan. The numbers don't lie: Compared to a Grand Caravan, the Transit Connect is almost 22 inches shorter and exactly eight inches narrower, though it is an astonishing 10.4 inches taller.
That's why finally seeing the Transit Connect XLT in person created a very different impression than what we got from pictures. It is tall, like Kareem Abdul-Jabar tall. Actually, it's only six-foot, six-inches (79.3 inches), so it's more like Kobe Bryant, but that still shadows a Cadillac Escalade by 3.4 inches, and it's one inch taller than a Ram 3500 4x4 Crew Cab and just one-tenth of an inch shorter than Ford's own full-size commercial van, the E-150 Econoline. And those vehicles are tall partly because they have more ground clearance. The Transit Connect XLT sits as close to the ground as a Focus.
Height is definitely the Transit Connect XLT's defining feature. On the one hand, the van – sorry, wagon (Ford calls the Transit Connect a "van" when it's used for commercial purposes and a "wagon" when ordered in XLT trim) – looks comically out of proportion, but on the other, it's impossible to forget where you parked at the mall. Just look for the red roof sticking up above every SUV and minivan. Works every time. The fact is, Ford figured out that to get the maximum amount of cargo room in the smallest footprint possible, the only way to go was up.
The Transit Connect XLT does look descent without its coveralls and steel-toed boots. Our tester wore an exceptionally rich coat of Torch Red paint and added such off-duty accessories as fog lights, plastic covers for its 15-inch steel wheels and four very large side windows, the latter because getting a clear view outside is only optional when manning a Seawolf class attack submarine. For passenger vehicles, it's a must no matter where you're sitting.
Though clean and simple, the Transit Connect's design does look somewhat dated thanks to its front end, which looks similar to Ford's first-generation Fusion mid-size sedan. It's a styling language that started in Europe, migrated to the U.S. and has already evolved into something else. Hopefully the Transit Connect's popularity in its home market of Europe will result in a refresh of its exterior relatively soon.
The inside, however, is where everything falls apart for this people-moving version of Ford's compact commercial van. If you were thinking the Transit Connect XLT's cavernous interior would be stuffed with a dozen cup holders, an available rear-seat entertainment system, stowable seats and any of the other modern conveniences that minivan owners take for granted, think again. The Transit Connect XLT has a grand total of three cup holders, entertainment tops out with an auxiliary port for iPods and the rear seats (there is no third row) mechanically folds forward against the front thrones to give you even more cargo room for anything but people.
Let's start up front, where the driver and front passenger sit low to the ground on thin seats with inadequate cushioning. The fact they're upholstered in a playfully monochromatic giraffe hide pattern doesn't help, even if it does elicit chuckles. The driver's armrest is a luxury that the front passenger will quickly covet, and both will probably be annoyed at the Euro-placement of the power window switches on the center tunnel instead of the doors. The material used for the dash and doors is hard, cheap-feeling textured plastic that sounds hollow when tapped with a finger, and wind noise enters the cabin like it owns the place. None of these things would bother a business owner buying a fleet of Transit Connects, but non-commercial customers will miss optional niceties like power adjustable seats, leather seating surfaces and those little touches of luxury that remind you you're not someone else's employee. Certain commercial options are still available on the XLT model, like Ford's Work Solutions in-dash computer, but they hardly make sense in a consumer application.
The TC XLT does surprise, however, with an optional Reverse Sensing system and rear view camera. Its small screen is mounted in the rear-view mirror, which is just as well because the vertically split rear doors make seeing what's behind you impossible. Those doors do, however, open an impressive 255 degrees. Combine that with the completely flat load floor and sub-two-foot loading height, and the ease with which the XLT can be stuffed with stuff becomes one of its most compelling features. We were also fond of the unusually deep parcel shelf that sits above the driver and front passenger, which is a great place to put purses and other small items you don't want rattling around the interior.
Manually open either of the two sliding doors (there's no option for power sliders) and you'll find the most perplexing thing about the Transit Connect XLT. Despite the incredible amount of interior volume, there is no third row of seating, just a second row that sits slightly elevated behind the driver and front passenger. A third row isn't even optional, so the Transit Connect XLT is a strict five-seater with a giant 78.4 cubic-foot cargo area. Oddly, despite all that empty space behind the second row of seats, leg room is incredibly tight and the seats don't slide. What the chairs can do is fold forward against the front seatbacks, creating a downright silly 118.7 cubic-feet of cargo area. With nearly 60 inches of interior height and a payload capacity of 1,600 pounds, these specs make it easy to understand why the Transit Connect is so popular with small business owners.
Another part of the Transit Connect's allure is how easy it is to drive thanks to its compact size. It's a simple steer compared to a full-size commercial van or truck, but we wouldn't describe the experience as charming. Unless you order your Transit Connect XLT from the factory prepped for compressed natural gas or liquid propane gas conversion, the only available engine is a good old fashioned 2.0-liter four-cylinder producing 136 horsepower at 6,300 RPM and 128 pound-feet of torque at 4,750 RPM – hardly stellar numbers that move the 3,470-pound wagon to the tune of 21 miles per gallon in the city and 26 mpg highway. That's great efficiency for a commercial vehicle considering your other options, but unremarkable among passenger vehicles where larger, more powerful options often top 30 mpg on the highway. And the Transit Connect's 2.0-liter is anything but smooth, with its raspy voice only rising in volume with each shift of the four-speed automatic transmission.
Like the engine, the suspension and steering also feel out of place when pressed into passenger vehicle duty. The front independent MacPherson strut suspension and rear multileaf spring setup, both with stabilizer bars, feel unsettled without hundreds of pounds of cargo on their backs. We imagine the suspension would be more buttoned-down when burdened with weight, but unladen it feels like its walking around on tip-toes. The light-to-the-touch and uncommunicative steering makes matters worse, requiring corrections that only accentuate the vehicle's height and proclivity to body roll. The brakes, as well, with discs up front and drums in the rear, feel as if they're expecting more weight to arrest than what's actually there. All that said, the Transit Connect XLT is genuinely easy to drive, especially in tighter spaces like parking garages and congested urban environments.
So it turns out that the Transit Connect XLT is as bad at being a passenger vehicle as most passenger vehicles are at being commercial vehicles. It was named the 2010 North American Truck of the Year, but would easily earn last place in a comparison test with any modern day people mover. So why then has Ford chosen to sell this consumer application of its commercial van? Because it can. Easily.
The explanation starts in Turkey where the Transit Connect is built. Because it's foreign-made, the TC is subject to what's known as the Chicken Tax, a tariff of 25 percent on light trucks imported into the U.S. established in 1963. Though meant to protect domestic automakers from foreign light truck competition, which it's done exceptionally well for coming up on 50 years, the tax sometimes has the unintended consequence of hampering our domestic automakers.
In the case of Ford, each Transit Connect shipped to the U.S. arrives with a full set of windows and a second row of seats, thereby earning it the classification of passenger vehicle and exemption from the Chicken Tax. Then, in a brick warehouse somewhere in Baltimore, these Transit Connects have their rear seats removed and their windows replaced with steel panels to earn their new classification as commercial light trucks. All of the seats, steel and glass that get removed go on to be recycled, and despite this rather inefficient process, Ford gets to sell a cheaper Transit Connect than it would if the Chicken Tax were applied. Starting at $23,050, our tester rang in at $24,755 including $805 in destination charges.
The Transit Connect XLT wagon, then, is just a Transit Connect that hasn't seen the inside of that brick warehouse in Baltimore.
Still, if not an alternative to the increasingly homogeneous minivan market, what's the purpose of the Transit Connect XLT? Our guess is that, unlike the commercial Transit Connect van that may be bought a dozen or even hundreds at a time by mid- to large-sized corporations, the Transit Connect XLT wagon is for the very small business owner whose daily driver might double as his delivery vehicle. It's still better at hauling cargo than kids, but unlike its commercial brother, the XLT model can be driven home and parked in the driveway, perhaps taken to Costco on the weekends and maybe used to help a friend move.
The Transit Connect XLT is a gas price-conscious generation's new small pickup, gifted courtesy of the Europeans who know a thing or two about getting work done amidst high gas prices and narrow roads. And while it will never be the favorite of moms everywhere like the Grand Caravan, Sienna and Odyssey, the Ford Transit Connect XLT should be near the top of any entrepreneur's shopping list.
Photos copyright ©2011 John Neff / AOL
New Car Test Drive
New truck offers smart solution for small business.
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.
The Transit Connect can be configured as a panel van with or without windows, or as a wagon with either two- or three-passenger second-row seating options. It's available in two trim levels, XL and XLT. All come with the 2.0-liter engine and four-speed automatic transmission.
The Transit Connect XL Cargo Van ($20,780) and Wagon ($21,135) are equipped like basic work trucks, but come standard with cloth upholstery, air conditioning, an AM/FM radio, storage.
The XLT Cargo Van ($21,840) and XLT Wagon ($22,350) upgrade with power windows, mirrors and door locks, a CD player, cruise control, remote keyless entry, a map light, color-keyed bumpers and mirrors.
The Ford Works Solutions in-dash computer ($1,395) includes Garmin navigation, Magneti Marelli computer with Microsoft operating system, touch screen, wireless keyboard and mouse, radio and internet functionality.
Options include Reverse Sensing System ($280); Nokia Bluetooth system ($220); rear cargo doors with 255-degree opening function; engine block heater ($35); remote start ($345).
Ford Works Crew Chief Telematics ($550) includes Microlis onboard device that tracks vehicle location, speed, idle time with optional vehicle diagnostics and maintenance reports. Ford Works Tool Link ($1,220) features 50 radio frequency ID tags for tagging tools.
Safety features that come on all models include frontal and side-impact airbags and anti-lock brakes.
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.
Ford Transit Connect Cargo Van XL panel van ($20,780); with glass doors ($21,035); Cargo Van XLT panel van ($21,840); with glass doors ($22,250); Wagon XL ($21,135); Wagon XLT ($22,350).
Options As Tested
Ford Works Solutions In-Dash Computer ($1395); Rear Cargo Doors, 255-degree opening ($190).
Ford Transit Connect Wagon XLT ($22,350).
*The data and content on this web site is subject to change without notice. Neither AOL nor any of its data or content providers shall be liable for errors in the content, or for any actions taken in reliance thereon.
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