New & Used Ford Transit Connect: In Depth
2014 Ford Transit Connect Wagon - First Drive, May 2014Enlarge Photo
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The Ford Transit Connect, which is offered in the U.S. as both a small commercial delivery van and a family-friendly tall wagon, could also be considered a minivan. Ford hasn't sold a true minivan in more than a decade, but the latest Transit Connect comes close to that tried-and-true formula.
The Transit Connect has been sold in the U.S. since the 2010 model year, but it was entirely redesigned for 2014. The 2010-2013 model was based on a vehicle more than 10 years old by the time it was retired, and the new model was launched globally with North America included for the first time. As Ford's more compact commercial-vehicle line, the Transit Connect competes with the Nissan NV200 and Ram ProMaster City. All three vehicles are targeting fuel-conscious small-business owners who deliver lighter-weight goods.
At the same time, Ford hopes to do an end run into a small piece of the mainstream market—one abandoned by flexible utility vehicles like the old Honda Element--by using the same Transit Connect platform to provide a tall, square, glassy wagon with seven seats in a compact footprint. Now dressed up for family hauling duties in a way the earlier generation could never pull off, the version of the Transit Connect with windows is much more responsive, yet also more refined and fuel-efficient.
This passenger version offers three rows of seating, with a sliding third row and folding second and third rows--plus a choice of a tailgate or hinged cargo doors and up to 2,000 pounds of towing capability. Like the delivery-van version, it sits on a new front-wheel-drive platform and is powered by new engines (either a 2.5-liter four-cylinder or a 1.6-liter EcoBoost turbo four) driving the front wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission,
The outgoing version of the Transit Connect, sold through 2013, was also made in Turkey and sold across Europe since 2003. For a time, it had some unique competition in the Honda Element and the Chevrolet HHR panel wagon--both of which were cancelled for the 2012 model year.
This previous Transit Connect arrived to the U.S. with a single powertrain; it's powered by a 136-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine teamed with a four-speed automatic transmission. As you might expect, acceleration is leisurely with the combination, but fuel economy is an estimated 21/27 mpg. The front-drive van isn't a tedious handler, though--its steering is reasonably quick and the ride quality occupies a good middle ground of firmness.
Those pre-2014 Transit Connect models lacked all the design verve you'll find in the current model, with fusty, hard-plastic interior pieces that'll have you relive 1994 all over again. Still, with its vertical expanses and the side-hinged doors at the back, these Transit Connects are useful, flexible options for small businesses and private uses. It's remarkably wide inside, and the windshield is very tall. There's even a shelf above front passengers' foreheads, where no doubt you'll lose pens, bank deposit slips, and other errata--it's that expansive.
As for the 2014 and 2015 Ford Transit Connect models, they borrow much of the front end and the front-seat cabin appointments from the Ford Escape, so they're very pleasant places, with soft-touch materials and a sophisticated, stylish dash layout. Driving dynamics are astonishingly good, while the turbocharged engine provides better performance when you need to dart through a gap in traffic, it's a tossup as to which engine is better; 2.5-liter models offer 2,000 of towing capacity when properly equipped.
Commercial versions come with just front seats, by the way. To avoid a 25-percent tax on each one imported into the U.S., Ford builds all Transit Connects headed here as five-seat wagons--then removes, shreds and recycles the rear seats in 80 percent of them at a port facility on the East Coast. It's a clever dodge around an antiquated rule, but a waste of materials and time all the same. The tax is the same one that prevents foreign-assembled pickup trucks from being inexpensively imported into the U.S.
Ford has previously offered an all-electric Transit Connect with a driving range of 70 to 100 miles, and a recharging time of 6 to 8 hours, but bankruptcy of the conversion company in 2012 sealed this model's place as a small blip in electric-vehicle history.