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.
While there are better options for typical buyers, the Transit Connect has unique hauling capability that’s only rivaled by pickup trucks and full-size cargo vans. I took full advantage of the tall-roof, haul-it-all bodystyle during my weekend with the Transit Connect, first loading a clothes dryer without moving or folding a single seat. Then, on a trip to Home Depot, I removed the two passenger-side headrests to load twelve 16-foot lengths of crown molding into the car. Using the incredibly convenient roof-mounted anchor, I suspended the last four feet with a tie-down to hang out the open right rear door for the short drive home. Those do-it-yourselfers who find themselves drawn to the Transit Connect can look forward to natural-feeling steering and an engine that’s surprisingly vigorous when revved. But that’s about where the driving merits end. If Ford were serious about making the Transit Connect a passenger vehicle (which is probably a poor idea, anyway), it would need a wholesale makeover addressing power, fuel economy, ride comfort, rear-seat legroom, and interior quality. The truth of the Transit Connect, though, is that the XLT Premium Wagon is a cheap and easy way to pick up a few more sales — from both commercial and family buyers. As long as the mainstream cars continue to be as competent as the new ones are, an occasional half-baked, hyper-niche vehicle like the Transit Connect is fine by me.
Eric Tingwall, Associate Editor
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.
Joe DeMatio, Deputy Editor
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.
David Zenlea, Assistant Editor
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.
According to Ford, the Wagon (the one with more windows and a second row of seats rather than an open cargo area) makes up only about 20 percent of all Transit Connect sales in the United States, which makes sense, particularly since fleet sales make up a very significant portion of the TC’s sales.
As funky and neat as it is, the Transit Connect Wagon is one of the worst family vehicles in Ford’s lineup, for two main reasons: the back seats don’t offer much legroom (even though there’s about an acre of cargo space behind the seats), and it takes a long time for the rear seating quarters to feel the benefits of the vehicle’s climate control system. That said, the huge amounts of headroom mean that loading kids into baby seats is not a literal pain in the neck, as in so many other cars. You’d definitely want to secure your luggage in open cargo area, though.
To me, the Transit Connect seems more like a perfect blank slate than an ideal family vehicle. Besides the countless plumbers, caterers, cable guys, and so forth who could happily make this their rolling office, I think it’d be fun to turn one into a mini-motorhome (which some companies already do), perhaps with lofted sleeping quarters and storage space underneath. A Transit Connect could also make for a cool rolling audio/visual entertainment area, since it’s large enough inside to house a pretty big flat-screen TV and is shaped like a giant speaker box anyway. Handicap-accessible versions are also becoming popular.
From behind the wheel, it’s easy to imagine that this could be the perfect car for someone of exceptional height, given the vast amounts of headroom. Strangely, though, there’s not very much legroom for the driver. Not that anyone with an NBA star’s budget is likely to choose this vehicle anyway.
Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor
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.
Still, I think this could appeal to a small niche of buyers, those looking for something that can lug the family around but who also occasionally need to make full use (and perhaps abuse) of the cargo area. The second-row bench does fold and flip forward, and also sports LATCH child seat anchors. Entry and egress to both rows of seating are excellent, the front seats are supportive and comfortable, and the driver is treated to a commanding view of the road ahead. Better yet, the Transit Connect still drives and maneuvers like a C-segment vehicle.
I can live without fancy door trim and the like, but I do hope Ford does something about the Transit Connect’s powertrain. North American models are stuck with a 132-horsepower, 2.0-liter I-4, which is mated to a four-speed automatic. Even when unladen, acceleration is adequate, at best. Tall gearing really hurts when trying to merge onto freeways; I frequently found my right foot planted on the floorboard. A torquier turbo-diesel and a five-speed manual are offered in Europe, but the chances of either making their way Stateside unfortunately are slim to none.
Evan McCausland, Associate Web Editor
2011 Ford Transit Connect XLT Premium Wagon
Base price (with destination): $23,895
Price as tested: $24,710
2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine
4-speed automatic transmission
Front disc/rear drum brakes with ABS
Tire pressure monitoring system
15-inch steel wheels
Front and side airbags
Tilt/telescoping steering column
AM/FM stereo with CD player and 4 speakers
Options on this vehicle:
Rear view camera — $470
Reverse sensing system — $280
Fleet key with 2 remote fobs — $65
Key options not on vehicle:
Ford work solutions system — $550
Auto-dimming rear view mirror — $345
Bluetooth connectivity — $220
Heated windshield — $200
Engine block heater — $35
21 / 26 / 23 mpg
Size: 2.0L DOHC I-4
Horsepower: 136 hp @ 6300 rpm
Torque: 128 lb-ft @ 4750 rpm
Curb weight: 3405 lb
Wheels/tires: 15-inch steel wheels
205/65R15 Continental ContiProContact all-season tires