The XLT Premium Wagon is a new addition to the Transit Connect lineup for 2011 that adds a few creature comforts in an effort to turn this compact cargo van into a legitimate people mover. But adding two windows over the rear wheels and trimming out the cargo hold in plastic is hardly enough to put the utilitarian Transit Connect on a plane with family-friendly compact crossovers, mid-size sedans, and minivans. This Transit Connect’s $24,710 price tag doesn’t leave much room for comparison with traditional minivans, which start at about $30,000 these days, but smaller options like the Mazda 5 and the forthcoming Ford C-Max offer reasonable utility in a more comfortable package. Those who are less concerned with moving gear might entertain a Hyundai Sonata, which will deliver a 66-hp boost, 9-mpg highway fuel economy gain, and a significantly more spacious rear seat. A small crossover like a Chevrolet Equinox blends both a spacious backseat and a fairly large cargo hold with a flexible sliding rear seat.
As usual with the Transit Connect, I'm struck by the good steering; the surprisingly robust powertrain; and most especially, the superb front visibility afforded by the low cowl, the huge windshield, and the big side glass. Add in good sideview mirrors and a rearview camera that projects onto the inside rearview mirror, plus the fact that this wagon version has a full greenhouse, and you have an unusually shaped vehicle that's actually quite easy to maneuver, even though it will not fit above the third floor of our parking garage because of its 79.3-inch height. I'm not sure who would use this as a personal-use vehicle, but it's interesting nonetheless and drives surprisingly well for a big tall box.
I’ve had a few stints in the Transit Connect and yet am always pleasantly surprised when I get behind the wheel. Who would have thought a crude little van could drive so well? Ford engineers, apparently. Much of the credit goes to the heavy steering. Most minivans and crossovers have very high levels of power assist, something that’s supposed to make them feel more manageable but which, to me, only increases the level of disconnect inherent in driving a big machine. The Transit Connect also manages to defy its dimensions with reassuring stability. I can almost picture the Transit Connect maneuvering madly through crowded, narrow streets in Turkey, its country of origin. At highway speeds, though, the physics of driving a vehicle shaped like a billboard take over, and you feel every crosswind. The vehicle’s height is also a limitation. As Joe noted, it won’t go to the top of our parking structure, a feat managed by the likes of our departed Four Seasons Dodge Ram 1500.
I commend Ford for bringing the Transit Connect to the United States, despite the fact that, while the vehicle is so obviously perfect for Europe, it is clearly a fish out of water here. Sales were decent in its first full year for sale in the States (27,405 units in 2010), and I'm sure those customers are quite pleased, since this is such a useful yet relatively economical utility vehicle, both in its initial cost and its appetite for gasoline.
I really wonder how many consumers are actually going to pit this against typical minivans. If the elevated roofline wasn’t a tip off to its commercial roots, the minimalist interior décor aft of the B-pillars and the stiff ride all but scream commercial van. XLT Plus models add rear quarter windows and some cargo area dress-up panels, but the atmosphere remains quite spartan.