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