The wagon will come with two four-cylinder engines, a 2.5-liter or a turbocharged 1.6-liter, both paired with a six-speed automatic. The latter engine should achieve better than 30 mpg on the highway, beating vehicles like the Honda Odyssey. Ford thinks the Transit Connect's efficiency, along with a base price promised to be cheaper than any other seven-seater, will attract buyers turned off by ever larger and more powerful minivans.
"Toyota, Honda, and other minivan manufacturers have left customers behind with inefficient people movers that are too large and too expensive," says Hau Thai-Tang, Ford's vice-president in charge of global product development.
Ford's logic flies in the face of conventional wisdom, which says buyers of three-row vehicles need -- or at least think they need -- a bigger engine. Toyota, for instance, tried offering the Sienna with a 2.7-liter four-cylinder but discontinued it this year due to lack of demand. And the new, three-row Hyundai Santa Fe comes with only a V-6 even though most of that brand's other offerings have shifted to four-cylinders. "Typically when customers think about towing or hauling, they think about a V-engine," said Mike O'Brien, Hyundai's vice-president in charge of product planning.
Ford says there's a difference between offering a big vehicle with a small engine and a vehicle that is truly smaller and lighter. "With larger vehicles comes the need for more power," says Tim Stoehr, the brand's commercial truck marketing manager. At the same time, Ford stresses that the wagon offers real utility, including as much as 2000 pounds of towing capacity.
The Transit Connect has grown bigger, even if it's still small by seven-seater standards. The long-wheelbase, three-row version of the Transit Connect is nearly a foot longer, overall, than the current-generation Transit Connect but is still almost a foot shorter than the Sienna. Thankfully, it is not quite as tall as the current model, which at six feet, six inches, couldn't get into many parking garages. Ford will also offer a short-wheelbase, five-seat configuration that's actually a bit shorter than the current model.
The wagon also grows more refined. Whereas passenger-carrying versions of the current Transit Connect feel very much like converted cargo vans, the new model features a fully finished interior that looks very similar to the one in the Focus, albeit with seemingly cheaper materials. The wagon has the interior versatility of a minivan, namely dual sliding doors and fold-flat seats. It will also offer Ford's suite of in-car technology -- Sync and MyFord Touch. Most important, the new van rides on the latest version of Ford's C1 compact car platform, which uses a torsion beam rear suspension rather than the current van's leaf springs. That should tame the Transit Connect's sometimes busy ride. The family resemblance to the Focus is made clear in the new Transit Connect's more stylish, carlike front fascia.
The Transit Connect will still be built overseas. Production moves from Turkey to Spain. Ford will formerly unveil the Transit Connect wagon, along with the redesigned cargo van variant, at the Los Angeles auto show. It goes on sale at the end of next year.
Based on our experiences with the current Transit Connect and the Focus, we expect the new wagon to be good to drive and a frugal alternative to the typical seven-seater. We're less confident that it will get a lot of attention from American families, who have long ignored small, European-style people movers like the Mazda 5 and Volkswagen Jetta wagon. Credit goes to Ford, though, for trying.