First Drive: 2010 Ford Transit Connect

One powertrain, for now

There's also only one powertrain, a 2.0-liter, DOHC four-cylinder paired with a four-speed automatic transmission. Fuel economy blows the doors off a gas-guzzling full-size van, with EPA ratings of 22 mpg city and 25 highway. Particularly in our test vehicle--which was laden with built-in racks and bins--the engine's 136 hp and 128 pound-feet of torque did not make for snappy acceleration, but do you really want your delivery drivers racing around town?

Next year, Ford will offer an EV conversion, powered by a lithium-ion batter pack. It promises a 100-mile range, a top speed of 70 mph, and an only slightly diminished payload (1400 lbs), although presumably not all three at once. Recharging will take 6 to 8 hours.

Cutting-edge technology

If the Transit Connect's nimble size and relative fuel efficiency make it seem modern, its available technology is positively of-the-moment. In an era when employers read workers' e-mails, monitor their web surfing, and test samples of their bodily fluids, a feature like Ford's optional Crew Chief ($550) seems perfectly in keeping with the times. Crew Chief enables a budding Montgomery Burns to track the van's location, its time spent idling, its speed, and hard braking or accelerating.

Another option, called Tool Link ($1220), is slightly less Orwellian. Two antennae in the back of the truck scan for Radio Frequency ID (RFID) tags that you stick on your tools. That way, a driver can make sure he hasn't left any tools at the job site. He can also create a list of tools for a specific job and make sure he has everything with him before heading out.

The most versatile option is the in-dash computer ($1395). It's controlled via a 6-inch touch screen (and stylus) or a Bluetooth wireless keyboard. (The latter stores in the large overhead shelf when not in use.) Sprint mobile broadband ($50/month for unlimited data) allows for web surfing. Programs include Microsoft Office and a function that allows remote access to your desktop computer. The unit also incorporates a hands-free phone and a Garmin GPS navigation system. A Bluetooth wireless printer is optional.

The high-tech accoutrements are the very impressive icing on the cake. The Transit Connect fills a hole in the marketplace that has been vacant for a shockingly long time. Given the reaction this vehicle has elicited, it could find a much wider audience than the small business people Ford is targeting. The thing just seems so darned useful.

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