When it debuted in the U.S. as a 2010 model, Ford’s European-derived cargo van and passenger wagon promised practical virtues and versatility, aiming mainly at businesses. For family use, the modest-size wagon could substitute for a full-size minivan.
Redesigned for 2014, the Ford Transit Connect added a touch of beauty, compared to the original version’s more boxy profile. Modifications for the 2018 model year are limited to minor feature upgrades. Sync 3 infotainment with a 6.5-inch LCD touchscreen and rearview camera now are available for the XLT Van and Wagon. Automatic headlights are newly standard on XLT and Titanium Wagons; optional on XLT Cargo Van.
Cargo Vans come in two trim levels: XL and XLT. Five- and seven-passenger Transit Connect Wagons are offered in three trims, topped by a Titanium version. Five-passenger Wagons ride a shorter wheelbase.
In each Transit Connect, a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine makes 169 horsepower, mating with a 6-speed automatic transmission and front wheel drive.
Designed for the European market, where compact vans are popular, the Transit Connect may be the most polished compact van on sale in the U.S. Cargo and passenger versions score well for carlike styling, driving ease, capabilities, and features.
Quiet and comfortable, each Transit Connect drives like a passenger car. Compared to a minivan, they’re almost fun to operate.
Ford offers a broad range of configurations and features. Owners benefit from the taller stance, while comparative fuel-efficiency makes these Fords excellent alternatives to bigger, heavier full-size vans. Interior space is undeniably tighter than a full-size minivan would provide.
No Transit Connect has been crash-tested by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gives the 2018 Wagon five stars overall, with five stars for side-impact collision but only four stars each for frontal-impact and rollover protection (the latter a calculated figure).
Even the two-seat commercial versions contain six airbags. Passenger models have two-row side airbags for the five-seat version and three-row side curtains for the seven-seater. Carlike options abound, but modern active-safety features are absent.
Various rear-body styles and configurations are available for the Cargo Van. With an optional Tow Package, the Wagon can tow up to a ton, though maximum payload is a moderate 1,270 pounds.
Transit Connect XL Cargo Van ($23,120) comes with vinyl two-passenger seating, vinyl front floor covering, power front windows, remote keyless entry, 16-inch wheels, cruise control, swing-out cargo doors, and sliding side doors. (Prices are MSRP and do not include $995 destination charge.)
Transit Connect XLT Cargo Van ($24,645) adds heated power mirrors, MyKey personalized vehicle settings, cloth seat upholstery, front carpeting, CD player, driver’s lumbar support, and foglamps. A rearview camera and Sync 3 voice-activated infotainment with 6.5-inch touchscreen are optional.
Transit Connect XL seven-passenger Wagon ($25,805) has XL Van equipment, but with three-row seating, a rear liftgate, reverse sensing, and power second-row windows.
Transit Connect XLT seven-passenger Wagon ($25,810) gets XLT Van equipment plus automatic headlights, rain-sensing wipers, roof rails, a power driver’s seat, and rearview camera. A five-passenger, short-wheelbase XL Wagon is available.
Transit Connect Titanium six-passenger Wagon ($28,435) comes with second-row bucket seats and includes dual-zone automatic climate control, cornering foglamps, Sync 3, 16-inch alloy wheels, and leather seat upholstery. A five-passenger, short-wheelbase Wagon is available.
In its second-generation form, the Transit Connect exhibits gracefulness and refinement that were absent from the original version. As a result, it stands above such competitors as the Chevrolet City Express, Nissan NV200, and Ram ProMaster City.
Ford designers managed to achieve a proper balance between functionality and visual flair. Body lines are significantly more stylish than those of rivals.
All vehicles in this category essentially amount to a large box, attached to a carlike front end. Compared to the slab-sided first-generation, which placed practicality above form, the current version exudes considerably greater appeal.
Excelling in versatility, the 2018 Transit Connect boasts a carlike cabin to complement its attractive exterior. Up front, at least, it feels almost like a compact sedan.
Tight and quiet, the interior is remarkably comfortable for what still amounts to a business-oriented model. The flexibility of the seven-passenger Wagon is especially impressive.
Plenty of buttons dot the dashboard, but overall it’s modern and admirably functional. At the same time, controls and displays are appropriate for tougher commercial conditions. Quality of materials is equivalent to a compact car, though some hard plastic components and tough-looking fittings betray its function-focused background. Standard cloth upholstery promises welcome comfort and is breathable,
Because seats are mounted at normal car height, a high step-up isn’t needed when entering. However, passengers sit higher than usual. Front seats are comfortable and supportive, while providing more than a foot of head clearance.
Passenger comfort also excels in the rear. Two adults fit easily on the second-row bench, but three will feel more crowded than in a minivan. The backrest of the 60/40-split bench can flip forward, allowing the entire seat to drop into the floor. Two seats in the third row slide and fold flat.
Loading is easier than in any other vehicle of this size, helped by a huge tailgate opening and wide sliding doors on each side. Liftover is comparatively low, too. Twin side-hinged rear doors are available as a substitute for the tailgate, but the doors’ central pillars obstruct rearward vision.
Carlike qualities aren’t limited to appearance. Despite its basic identity as a small commercial van, the Transit Connect drives easily and handles like a passenger car.
Though considerably taller than the compact Focus on which it’s based, the Transit Connect reflects the responsive handling and well-weighted steering found on that sedan and hatchback. The Wagon, in particular, might well qualify as the more nimble and sporty three-row vehicle on the U.S. market.
Performance isn’t as spirited. A Transit Connect can keep up with traffic easily enough, but acceleration falters when it’s filled with passengers or hauling heavy cargo.
Fuel economy beats that of full-size vans, but varies depending on wheelbase, configuration, and features. The commercial Cargo Van is EPA-rated at 20/27 mpg City/Highway, or 23 mpg Combined. The Wagon is EPA-rated at 19/27 mpg City/Highway, or 22 mpg Combined. That latter rating applies to both standard and long-wheelbase Wagons.
Transit Connects can accept E85 ethanol/gasoline fuel. Commercial users can order versions modified to accept natural-gas and LPG fuel.
Small businesses still account for most Transit Connect sales. Even so, families searching for a sensible, flexible people-carrier that’s smaller than a minivan might consider the Wagon. The lighter five-passenger version, in particular, presents a unique blend of practicality and rather enjoyable driving. Beware, though: the complete lack of active-safety options doesn’t bode well for families.
Driving impressions by John Voelcker, The Car Connection. James M. Flammang contributed to this report.