An eight-year-old design built in Turkey and Romania doesn't stand a chance of winning the Truck of the Year award here in the States. Or so you'd think. The 2010 Ford Transit Connect was awarded the 2010 North American Truck of the Year award despite a raft of competing nominees that hadn't even been sketched until well into the Transit Connect's run. It's a rare case of a senior citizen out-batting the rookies, and the accolades bode well for Ford's gambit.
Why take an old product from the rest of the world and bring it to the U.S. market, especially something as "weird" as a delivery van that's designed for Europe? Fuel prices, while considerably higher in other parts of the globe, are a significant reason. Ford has noted that many businesses don't need a truck-based cargo van like its E-Series or GMC's Savana and their attendant thirsty powertrains. There's still a cargo-bashing minivan, the $23,000 Dodge Caravan CV, though it's got a lower roof and a less-efficient engine.
There is a small cargo option in the Chevrolet HHR Panel, but the Transit Connect takes the Chevy to school when it comes to execution. The high-roofed Ford stands tall on its compact footprint and the bones underpinning it all date back to the original Focus, highly praised when it debuted way back in 2000. The Transit Connect is plenty more maneuverable than the biggies and can easily fit into places where the giants fear to tread.
More comfortable than my last Econoline experience, the Transit Connect is also better finished than that full-sizer was. There's carpet on the floor and the comfy fabric-covered seats even have lumbar for the driver and front-seat passenger. A shelf above the windshield header up front is a great use of otherwise lost space. The load floor is flat, the wide-opening rear doors make it easy to get items in and out, and the sliding side doors also make access to the forward reaches of the cargo area easy.
The 2.0-liter four cylinder and four-speed automatic transmission aren't big-motor powerful, but it's an efficient powertrain that doesn't have any trouble keeping up. Front-wheel-drive translates into trusty winter manners, as well.
The massive cargo space — 135 cubic feet — rivals what you get from vehicles big enough to have their own ZIP codes like the Ford Expedition, Toyota Sequoia, or Chevrolet Suburban. Two versions are offered: a Van and a Wagon. Vans have metal panels in the side doors and front seats only, while Wagons can seat five.
The Torch Red XLT Wagon that Ford lent us carried a bottom line of $25,000 and was equipped with Ford's Work Solutions onboard computer. Work Solutions has some very nifty tricks up its sleeve. It's a true computer for the dashboard that includes the normal stuff you'd expect like audio and navigation, and bolsters it with the ability to use your mobile phone's internet access, connect to your office PC, and print out documents on-the-spot via your Bluetooth-connected printer. A "Crew Chief" function allows the vehicle to be tracked on a map, and it'll even send maintenance alerts.
The Transit Connect is designed for full workdays and is comfortable and easy to drive. Forward visibility is very good — thanks to the big windows — and the upright driving position makes the miles melt away. The unladen ride can feel stiff at times, but the Transit Connect's mission is hauling cargo, so the suspension needs to be up to that task.
As work vehicles go, this is a luxury-liner, but the Transit Connect is much more basic than the modern crop of Caravans and Siennas. For family use, it's a little hardcore unless you want to relive the custom-van craze of the 1970s. There are LATCH anchors on the second-row bench, and the cargo area behind that bench is spacious. The driving experience is also reminiscent of the old Volkswagen Type II vans, though there aren't rear side windows and the cargo area is un-trimmed other than a nicely-tailored rubberized floormat.
Going for a "Hippie Family Robinson" thing, I packed the Transit Connect up with my two preschoolers, who were extremely positive about the Transit Connect's styling and Atomic Fireball paint hue. While there are five seatbelts, only four people will fit comfortably due to the narrow width of the 60/40 split rear bench.
With base MSRPs that start at $21,185 and don't top $23,000, the Transit Connect is well-suited for the many businesses that keep The Hub running — including taxi cab companies. On top of the nicer trappings you get versus full-size vans, the Transit Connect returns an estimated 23 mpg fuel economy rating and is far less intimidating. It's a friendly visitor from another market that fills an unserved niche.
Dan Roth writes for Autoblog.com and can be reached at email@example.com. A version of this article was published on page J1 of The Boston Sunday Globe on June 20, 2010.
The author is solely responsible for the content.
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