On the Goldilocks scale for toy haulers, Chevrolet's HHR Panel wagon is much too small and the Dodge Sprinter is way too large. What hits the sweet spot is the new Ford Transit Connect, the just-right way to transport dirt bikes, ATVs, kayaks, and hot-air balloons.
This is the scout dog for Ford's platoon of globally engineered new products. On the heels of the Transit Connect, which has been on sale since last summer, you can expect the Fiesta subcompact, the all-new Focus, and the Grand C-Max people mover. Ford's Turkish-made mini-truck that is leading the way is small enough to slip into a standard home garage but large enough to swallow the bulky stuff that minivans, SUVs, and wagons reject. Ford conceived it as a tool for the trades, but the Transit Connect is also the answer to every outdoor adventurer's prayers.
The Transit Connect's forward module houses a tidy two-place cabin and a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine driving the front wheels through a four-speed automatic transaxle. The rear container is accessible through two sliding and two hinged doors. Its load floor is less than two feet above the pavement - a foot lower than the typical pickup bed - thanks to the Transit Connect's rudimentary beam axle and leaf-spring rear suspension.
The rear doors can swing open up to 255 degrees to uncork a 50-inch-wide by 50-inch-high enclosed loading dock capable of carrying 1600 pounds of freight. The 48-inch-wide (between wheelhouses) floor is 73 inches long, but another half a foot of space can be cleared by sliding the bucket seats forward. There's a pair of substantial tie-downs in the rear corners and access beneath the load deck to add your own forward anchors. A shelf above the top of the windshield is ideal for stashing a backpack or three. Fold-forward second-row seats are an available option.
The Transit Connect is hardly steeped in driving joy, but it does carry out its chores without whining. The run to 60 mph takes eleven seconds, and only the very patient will ever experience the 90-mph top speed. ABS is included as standard with the disc/drum brake system. An optional stability control system is well worth the extra $545. Our test vehicle was equipped with a $1395 navigation and computer system that we don't recommend because the touch-sensitive monitor proved cranky. Bring your Garmin and a notebook.
With every market niche filling up with kid-hauling crossovers, it's nice to see Ford think inside the box with the Transit Connect. Now you've got one less excuse to postpone your great adventure.
ON SALE: Now
PRICE: $22,535/$26,215 (base/as tested)
ENGINE: 2.0L I-4, 136 hp, 128 lb-ft
WEIGHT: 3420 lb
0-60 mph: 11.1 sec
Top Speed: 90 mph
70-0 mph braking: 164 ft
EPA mileage: 22/25 mpg