Transit Connect XLT: Strictly or Risky Business?
Ford's "honey I've shrunk the Freightliner" Transit Connect story should have the title From Turkey with Love. That's because there's enough intrigue behind how Ford adapted this pint-size van for the U.S. market to fill a Bond film. For example, Henry's firm skirted the "Chicken Tax" (25% duty on imported trucks) by shipping this made-in-Turkey buggy as a station wagon in disguise. After it arrives, Ford coverts it into a light-truck that fills a big workplace roundabout void. That means the XLT tester has a trampoline-effect rubber-covered cargo floor. This extends over what would be the rear seat's foot well.
Conceptually, this "trucklet" apes European front-drive delivery vehicles such as VW's Transporter (EuroVan). The Blue Oval's take begins with front clip cribbed from the old Ford Focus. Aft that, two low leaf-springs support a beam-type rear axle. Unlike most minivans or Chevrolet's HHR, the Connect's high-roof body emphasizes cargo room rather than car-like comfort. This recipe has been served more than 600,000 times since Ford introduced it in 2003. Recently, it was refreshed. Now the 2010 North American Truck of the Year Award winner meets U.S. safety regulations.
Back to the Future
Powered by Ford's 136-hp Duratec four and coupled to a four-speed automatic transmission, the Transit is EPA-rated 22 mpg city and 25 highway. This setup feels spunky but offers marginal performance. Even unloaded, you'll find yourself nearly floored when spurring it. And the engine isn't happy about putting out either. It throbs and drones while the transmission frantically tires to locate the correct gear.
Tame acceleration has its virtues; I netted 23 mpg--significantly better than my workplace Ford Econoline. Despite this review's carping, remember that the Transit offers about half of a full-size van's cargo space in a relatively thrifty capsule. It also has many useful features.
Transit's configurations vary. For instance, there's a station wagon version with rear seat or an unfinished cube behind the front seats. The latter has two rear sliding doors and rear doors that open a full 180 degrees. Nifty magnets hold each back door open-a real face saver! The XLT's rear exit, though, has only an emergency inside release for the back doors, an oversight.
If you're eyeing the Transit as a family hauler (a "mini-Winne" camper?), reconsider. It does those chores but a Toyota Sienna is a much more refined people mover. Confirm whether your garage door is high enough; the tester's top indicated an overhead door encounter. Also opt for mid-side windows; the rear-view mirrors are too small. A reverse-sensing system is available.
Due to the front-drive architecture, the Transit offers a more front foot room than conventional vans with their intrusive doghouses. Add the XLT's height-adjustable driver's seat with lumbar support and reach-and-rake adjustable steering wheel; the sum equals a friendlier driver's pod. The left throne, however, is offset. You ride sidesaddle. Your back rubs against the seat's right bolster and your left leg presses against the lower left corner. Look overhead; you'll find a plane, train or bus-like storage cubby.