|THE SHORT STORY|
|Pros: Amazing versatility; admirable fuel economy; utilitarian European good looks|
|Cons: Front seats not so comfortable; could use more power|
|Overall: Possibly the perfect size for many businesses.|
EXTERIOR: European good looks (for a cargo van)
This little commercial vehicle looks distinctly European, and compared to a standard panel van it looks pretty cool. It actually turned quite a few heads; probably since it's still so new to the U.S. market (and the Ford branding graphics on the side). It's definitely function over form, but its form is still pretty slick for what it is. I kept thinking about all of the different kinds of graphics that could be put on the vehicle to promote one's business.
INTERIOR: Cargo is king
It's amazing how much room is actually in one of these vans and cargo capacity is a whopping 1,600 lbs, too! Part of this ability comes from the fact the vehicle is tall. The floor is flat, and easy to slide stuff in and out of. If you're more into hauling people than carrying cargo, buyers can get seating for up to five people. My test vehicle, however, had two front seats; the rest was for payload. (My test model was retrofitted with some shelving and racks.)
Speaking of payload, there's plenty of ways to access your cargo, too. The van features two sliding side doors, and rear doors that open up 180 degrees or up to 255 degrees (this is an option), like my review vehicle. Simply press a yellow button to release the doors from their 180-degree position, and they'll swing open 75 more degrees so you can have full access to the cargo area. Plus, there are magnets on the van's doors and sides to hold the wide-swinging doors open—a great feature.
On the passenger end of things, the interior trim feels and looks like a commercial vehicle's. However, there's lots of useful storage, including a neat area above the seats. Those seats, however, are a bit flat for my tastes.
TECHNOLOGY: Impressive available features
The test vehicle came with a tinny-sounding bare-bones two-speaker stereo with controls on a stalk-like device on the steering column. However, this stereo is connected to a touch-screen in-dash computer by Magneti Marelli, and powered by Microsoft. This computer includes Garmin navigation, Bluetooth controls stereo, and USB jack, a Bluetooth keyboard, and Internet capability. It's got a lot of other functions, too that allow businesses to get down to business while on the go. A literal rolling workstation.
There is a lot of available tech here (key word being “available”). My test car had most of the options which included daytime running lights, Nokia Bluetooth, Garmin navigation, in-car computer, reverse sensing system, and Tool Link by Dewalt (radio tags for up to 50 of your tools and items). None of these are standard, however, and the additional cost is around $3,500 for all of the goodies. Standard amenities do include AdvanceTrac with Roll Stability Controll (RSC), keyless entry, ABS brakes, front and side airbags, and power windows/locks/and A/C. However, this is still under the level of most commercial vehicles and provides a lot of equipment for the money.
ENGINE/DRIVETRAIN: Could use more power, but it gets the job done
There's one engine and transmission choice: 2.0-liter Duratec 16-valve DOHC four cylinder mated to a four-speed automatic transmission. It's somewhat noisy, albeit it works just fine—again this is a commercial vehicle, and this engine gets the job done. However, I would've liked to have seen Ford's 2.3-liter Duratec engine available. And my fringe lunatic self would've loved to see a manual transmission offered.
DRIVING: A bit slow, but impressive handling
In the city, the Transit Connect works very well. It's got enough power to easily scoot around the city and has good acceleration up to about 45 mph. On the highway, however, there isn't a whole lot of passing power, and you'll need to keep your foot to the floor on steep hills. Once on the highway, however, there's no problem keeping up with traffic, and the van cruises easily at 70 and above. I got 21 MPG combined in the Transit Connect; EPA rating is 22/25.
Handling is surprisingly nimble, though, especially considering how tall the van is. It's actually a lot of fun to drive. Even tight clover leafs don't upset the chassis, which has front independent coil springs, and rear solid axle with leaf springs. It's quite impressive! On top of that, the Transit Connect rides well, too.
VERSATILITY IN SPADES
Compared to a larger Sprinter (above) you can get an idea of the Transit Connect's size, and this could be the perfect in-between vehicle for many businesses. It won't break the bank, holds lots of stuff, and gets admirable fuel economy. It drives well and looks unique, too—and there's plenty of room for your logo on the side. These are the reasons people are buying the Transit Connect; I understand it's been a surprise hit for Ford.
The more I drove this Euro-like tall van, the more business ideas I thought about: Mobile tire service, mobile oil change, pet grooming, delivery, mobile barista—really, the sky's the limit.