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January 21, 2013

First Drive: The 2014 Ford Transit Connect Van and Wagon

People need to move—and carry things. Adding some all-new and updated game-changing, people-and-cargo-movers to its line-up, Ford has recently expanded its truck brand in the U.S., with new models that go on sale later this year. The Blue Oval is already the best-selling truck maker in North America and now adds two new vehicles for 2014-an updated Transit Connect Van and an all-new Transit Connect Wagon.

We recently took a look and climbed aboard the two new vehicles in Detroit, with Ford’s designers, engineers and marketers on hand to educate us about the new models. First, let’s take a closer look at the van, which came to the U.S. in 2010 as a creative solution for small business owners and others that had the need or desire to own a somewhat utilitarian, compact panel van. If you’re not familiar with the first-generation version that came stateside from its popular run in Europe for close to a decade, you might think of a bulky, rectangular box with four wheels and the “Airport Shuttle” image, or the name of your electrician painted on the side of a van. You might even think back to the velour swivel seats and dastardly fuel economy of vans in the 1970s and 1980s.

IMG_0360Rethink the van! Ford has painted a new image, with the all-new Transit Connect van—it’s stablemate, the Transit Connect wagon; they are vehicles that have much better fuel efficiency, greater creature comforts and, importantly, a smoother and more car-like ride than those ancient dinosaurs of the cargo- and people-carrier bloodline. The 2014 Transit Connect van is a new, second-generation model. Taking its cue from its European cousin, which has been used and praised for years in overseas markets where city streets tend to be narrow and parking space unforgiving, this model is sleek and svelte, with a narrow, snub-nosed hood and stout grille defining the front end. Twin sliding doors extend along the passenger sides, and the rear door can be ordered in either a single liftgate or twin hinged doors.

IMG_0359The Transit Connect van comes in two lengths- a short (104.8-inch) or long (120.6-inch) wheelbase with 16-inch standard steel wheels; 17-inchers are available. The narrow, wraparound headlamps are available with adaptive cornering foglamps, and heated exterior mirrors and rain-sensing wipers also can be ordered to jazz it up as a truly modern-day vehicle. Stepping in, you’ll find the van is remarkably cozy, bright and inviting, with blue-lit displays and a car-like center stack for vehicle controls and infotainment. The cabin seats either two or five, depending on whether it is ordered with the optional second row of seats – making up to 130 cubic feet-plus of cargo room for the long wheelbase model, and 100 cubic feet or more on the short wheelbase. There are a host of technology features that include a 4.2-inch multifunction display located high in the center stack for easy viewing; Ford’s MyFord Touch and SYNC voice-operated communications and entertainment systems are available, as is a programmable ignition key that can limit speed and audio volume levels.

Fleet managers also might opt for the Crew Chief system, which delivers vehicle telematics and diagnostics to dispatch drivers, manage mileage and maintenance, and keep tabs on equipment. Ford’s new van comes with a 2.5-liter four-cylinder or a turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder, both matched to a six-speed automatic transmission. The 2.5-liter also can be ordered to be prepped for conversion to a CNG (compressed natural gas) fuel system. Neither torque nor horsepower ratings are yet available for either version, but Ford does say that it expects the EcoBoost turbo model to deliver 30 mpg or more on the highway. Payload is rated up to 1,600 pounds, and towing capacity is as high as 2,000 pounds with the right towing package. Independent front suspension, twist beam rear suspension and power-assist rack-and-steering are designed to provide great maneuverability on urban streets, combined with the strength needed to haul heavy loads. Brakes are front disc/rear drum with ABS, and safety features include first-row frontal and side airbags, first-row side curtain airbags and a tire pressure monitoring system. The Transit Connect van is available in either XL or XLT trim levels.

IMG_0354If Ford’s new version of the van is a revolution in city hauling, the Transit Connect wagon could start a riot in the minivan segment. It seats up to seven passengers in comfort and style, while Ford claims it has better fuel economy ratings and towing power than its nearest competitors including the stalwart Toyota Sienna minivan and the granddaddy of the people mover category, the Dodge Grand Caravan. Available in either five- or seven-seat configurations, with either long or short wheelbase and in three trim levels (XL, XLT and Titanium), the wagon shares the same shape, dimensions and overall size as its van stablemate. The difference, you’ll notice from outside is that windows replace the solid side panels that bedeck the van. Like it, the wagon has twin sliding side doors and either a split rear door or rear liftgate. The Transit Connect wagon also gets adaptive cornering fog lamps, power heated exterior mirrors and rain-sensing wipers, depending on the trim level. Standard wheels are 16 inches, with 17-inch wheels available.

Ordered with the short wheelbase (104.8 inches), the vehicle has seating for five; the long (120.6-inch) wheelbase makes room for a third row and ups the carrying capacity to seven. Higher end models get a panoramic roof, which makes the wagon feel light and airy – a nice feeling when you’re on a road trip or hauling a big group to the airport. The cabin feels open and spacious, with comfortable seats that come in either cloth or vinyl (great for commercial people-moving); leather upholstery is available on higher end versions. Drivers and front passengers get easy access to a center-stack mounted 4.2-inch infotainment screen; technologies including the voice-activated MyFord Touch and navigation system are available. The Transit Connect wagon was designed for versatile people/cargo hauling options: second- and third-row seats fold flat, and the third row can be moved forward and back to accommodate luggage and other goods and gear. Additional features include a child observation mirror, eight cupholders and a 12-volt outlet in the rear cargo area.

IMG_0358 The Blue Oval’s new wagon (which is, let’s face it, a minivan) comes with the same choice of engines available in the Transit Connect van: either a 2.5-liter or 1.6-liter four cylinder, the latter of which is turbo boosted and, says Ford, will deliver upwards of 30 mpg on the highway. The transmission is a six-speed automatic; configuration is two-wheel, front-wheel drive. Neither horsepower, torque, nor exact EPA ratings are available yet. The wagon also shares the suspension and handling components of the van version: independent front suspension with MacPherson struts and twist-beam with stabilizer bar in the rear, along with power assist rack-and pinion steering. Safety equipment includes first-row frontal, pelvis and side airbags, with first-, second- and third-row side curtain airbags in long-wheelbase models. Short-wheelbase versions get first- and second-row side curtain airbags.

Sue Mead


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