- Fuel-efficient powertrains, even diesel
- Modern interior look
- Latest Sync 3 infotainment
- Swept-back front-end styling
- Will running costs be as low as Econoline?
- No longer body-on-frame
The 2016 Ford Transit connect is worlds different than the E-Series (Econoline) vans that it replaced last year. It hauls more than ever, while delivering comfort and features that should make it easier on (and safer for) the driver.
The commercial van market is strong again: all of the Detroit Three offer full- and compact-sized vans in their fleet and are aiming squarely for smart money from fleet buyers and startup businesses alike.
The Ford Transit enters its second year mostly unchanged; in 2015 it arrived as a completely new replacement for the long-running Ford E-Series (or Econoline) full-size vans—the best-selling full-size vans in the U.S. for 35 years.
It's fair to say that the Transit is quite a different vehicle—offering vastly better fuel efficiency, better cargo flexibility, and much-improved ride and handling attributes, plus a modern interior.
The Transit segues right into the commercial market, where the Econoline has long been a staple of business owners, delivery fleets, hotel shuttles, and even RV conversions.
As with its predecessor, the Transit comes several different sizes. With three lengths, two wheelbases, and three roof heights, it can serve serious cargo-delivery needs, or manage to fit into a smaller garage. With the highest-roof model, those up to 6-feet-4-inches tall can stand upright inside the vehicle when loading and unloading, and rear cargo doors swing out 270 degrees for fuss-free access.
Among these sizes, you can choose from XL and XLT trims, with van (commercial or cargo), wagon (passenger-oriented), and cutaway (conversion-oriented) body styles. For 2016, there are 58 vehicle configurations in all, according to Ford; that's up from 47 in 2015.
Unlike its body-on-frame predecessor, the Transit has a uni-body construction. While the front MacPherson strut setup might be a lot closer to modern passenger vehicles than the old E-Series, the leaf springs and live axle in back aren't. Payload capacity for the Transit lineup ranges up to 4,650 pounds, while payloads have increased at least 600 pounds compared to the Econoline predecessors. Towing capability is up to 7,500 pounds, and the six-speed automatic transmission includes a separate towing/hauling mode.
Transit models for the U.S. are built in Kansas City, and Ford is offering various "upfit" conversion options for setups like cargo dividers and roof racks, all available through the dealership.
The 2016 Transit lineup includes three different engines in the U.S. There's a base 3.7-liter V-6, making 275 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. Then the step-up engine is a version of Ford's EcoBoost 3.5-liter V-6, making 310 hp and 400 lb-ft (at just 2,500 rpm). Separately, as a very efficient and towing-friendly option, there's a 3.2-liter Power Stroke turbodiesel inline-5, making 185 hp and 350 lb-ft (at just 1,500 rpm).
On the outside, the Transit's look is governed by its purpose; yet it does take on the more aerodynamic look of Ford's other global passenger-vehicle models, extending it upward into a van shape. Although it's boxy where it needs to be, the Transit has a bold new look in front, clearly influenced more by Ford's crossovers—and the smaller Transit Connect, which is unrelated—than by the brand's hulking F-Series pickups.
Inside, the same holds, and while you might expect this van to be entirely utilitarian, there's a visually interesting, almost sporty look to the interior. In many ways, the Transit breaks from the boredom of previous van interiors. Seats are large and supportive, with armrests included in most, and low side windows afford a good view out.
With more than 487 cubic feet of maximum cargo capability in its largest versions, with a best-in-class rear door opening height of 74.3 inches, the Transit has more cargo space than any other gasoline-engine mode. Extended-length versions will offer seating for up to 15, including another 100.5 cubic feet behind the last row.
The IIHS has not yet rated the Ford Transit, but the NHTSA has offered some guidance on safety. The feds rated the van with four stars in a frontal crash, five stars for side impact protection. The abbreviated ratings mean NHTSA hasn't given the van an overall safety rating for 2016.
Compared to the Econolines, as well as the Transit's contemporary rivals, Ford puts a lot of features into these vans, and they offer a far more passenger-oriented set of in-cabin features than the Econolines ever had. For 2016, Ford has made a rearview camera standard on all van and wagon models, as well as a front dome lamp, map lights, and theater dimming.
Ford's much-improved Sync 3 infotainment system is now offered on the Transit lineup, and to keep tabs on your drivers you could get either sophisticated Crew Chief fleet telematics or a simplified MyKey system.
With the low or medium roof, the Transit will return 15 mpg city, 19 highway, 16 mpg combined with either of the gasoline V-6 engines, according to the EPA. Ford hasn't listed equivalent numbers for the diesel model.