What’s with this business of getting sensible? Doesn’t everybody know that the only way to haul stuff is in a monster pickup truck, or at least in a cavernous van?
It’s the American way. But it’s being challenged by none other than the quintessential native son, the Ford Motor Co., purveyor of ponderous pickups.
The instrument is the Ford Transit Connect cargo van, designed in Europe and built in Turkey. It’s the answer to a question a lot of people likely have asked, with nobody answering until now.
The question: Why are we Yankees limited to big, fuel hungry vehicles to haul tchotchkes and tools, and to deliver packages and plumbing materials?
Travel to Europe and any number of foreign countries, and you will be lucky to see anything resembling the full-size American pickup truck or cargo van. Tradesmen and businesses are most likely to be trundling around in small Citroen or Renault vans similar to the modestly-sized US panel trucks of yore.
There are a few such vehicles in the U.S., notably the panel truck version of the Chevrolet HHR. But it’s essentially a conversion of the HHR station wagon and is going away in 2011.
The Ford Transit Connect, on the other hand, is a purpose-built vehicle that can be ordered as a dedicated hauler with no cargo-area side or rear windows—as was the test truck reviewed here—or with rear only or rear and side windows.
As a cargo van, it can be outfitted any number of ways, either professionally or by the do-it-yourself tradesman. It offers 135 cubic feet of space, accessible through twin side-hinged doors in the back and sliding minivan-style doors on the sides. (For an extra $190, the rear doors can be equipped with articulated hinges so they can swing entirely out of the way).
That means the Transit Connect can easily be set up to support an electrician, carpenter, painter, plumber or handyman, or as a delivery vehicle for flowers, bakery, wine, milk or whatever.
Moreover, Ford did its homework and offers options to make the chores easier. For $1,395, you can order an in-dash computer, which works off a wireless keyboard that you stow in a pocket in the driver’s door. With it, you can communicate with the home office, check inventories, do invoices and surf the web while away from headquarters.
Another nifty option on the test vehicle was the $1,220 computerized tool link. It can keep track of as many as 50 tagged tools, so the worker manning the truck can find out instantly whether the tools needed for the job are actually in the van. It saves setup time.
The Transit Connect also can operate as Big Brother Watching You. With so-called crew chief telematics, the boss back at the office can follow the vehicle’s location and speed, and even track the amount of idle time.
Perhaps the most important aspect of the Transit Connect, however, is what it costs to buy and operate. The tested XLT cargo van had a base price of $22,995. With the aforementioned tool link and on-board computer, along with a few other options, it checked in with a bottom-line sticker price of $25,520. That’s about half of the cost of some full-size V8 pickup trucks.
It also delivers comparatively decent fuel economy of 21/26 miles to the gallon of gasoline on the EPA’s city/highway cycle. Obviously, that won’t hold if the Transit Connect is hauling its rated 1,600-pound payload, but it’s still better than a V8 or even a V6 large van or pickup truck. It would do way better, however, if Ford offered the diesel engine that is available on European models.
With a floor that is low to the ground, it is easy to load, as well as to enter and exit. The truck’s two cloth-covered bucket seats up front are supportive and comfortable, and the driver’s seat has a right-side armrest. There’s a handy overhead shelf to carry small items.
The Transit Connect gets its economy rating courtesy of a 3,405-pound curb weight and a 136-horsepower, 2-liter four-cylinder engine linked to a four-speed automatic transmission. It makes for leisurely acceleration, so you’re not going win many stoplight sprints. But you’re likely to be spending most of your time in snail traffic anyway.
As might be expected with a vehicle set up to carry heavy loads, the empty ride is harsh on all but the smoothest surfaces. The handling is adequate and the brakes have a solid feel, despite the fact that they are a disc/drum combination.
The Transit Connect also can be ordered as a five-passenger station wagon. In the top-of-the-line premium trim, it has a $23,895 sticker price, which gets you a well-equipped, economical and roomy family vehicle.
But this is a blue collar ride without many factory-installed frills. The wheels are steel with plastic wheel covers. If you want alloy wheels, you’ll have to shop for yourself, and you can’t get leather upholstery or a CD changer.
- Model: 2011 Ford Transit Connect cargo van.
- Engine: 2-liter four-cylinder, 136 horsepower.
- Transmission: Four-speed automatic with overdrive.
- Overall length: 15 feet 1 inch.
- EPA passenger/cargo volume: 65/135 cubic feet.
- Weight: 3,405 pounds.
- Payload: 1,600 pounds.
- EPA city/highway fuel consumption: 21/26 miles to the gallon.
- Base price, including destination charge: $22,955.
- Base dealer cost: $21,452.
- Price as tested: $26,635.