The What Van? Road Test: Ford Transit Connect

Date: Tuesday, June 03, 2014   |   Author: Steve Banner

With a seemingly endless stream of new model launches, Ford’s long-standing position as the UK’s light commercial market leader looks even more unassailable than it was previously.

Among the crop of up-to-date models is the new Transit Connect.

Distinguished by a smoother and more-flowing styling than its boxy, square-cut predecessor, it comes with a 1.6-litre Duratorq TDCi diesel and a choice of three different power outputs: 75hp, 95hp or 115hp. It is also being marketed with the award-winning 100hp 1.0-litre Ecoboost petrol engine – a nod perhaps to critics of diesel who believe it is making an excessive contribution to urban pollution, and those city-based operators suffering from DPF problems with diesels.

Customers can pick from either a short-wheelbase model with a 2.9m3 cargo bay or a long- wheelbase that delivers 3.6m3 of cargo space. The roof height is the same in both cases. Gross payload capacities extend from 625kg to a tad over 1000kg depending on which model you choose, and there are three different trim levels: Base, Trend and top-of-the-range Limited.

Econetic models are available with the accent on extra-low fuel consumption and CO2 emissions. Double Cab-in-Van and Kombi models with rear passenger accommodation are available too.

We took to the highways in a 95hp long-wheelbase van built to Trend specifications.

Cab

As you settle down behind the wheel the first impression you get is one of acres of space. The vast windscreen is some distance away beyond a dashboard that seems almost impossibly deep, and there will be no reason for most drivers to complain about a lack of head or shoulder room.

That, however, presupposes that the driver is either on their own or only carrying a single passenger.
If there are two passengers on board, which means that some hapless soul has been obliged to occupy the microscopic middle seat found in Connect, then things start to get uncomfortably cosy for all concerned. Memo to all manufacturers who attempt to squash three people abreast in a van the size of a Transit Connect: it cannot be done unless one of the individuals concerned is willing to accept a lot of discomfort. In the Connect’s case there is no legroom for poor piggy-in-the-middle and no shoulder room either. It is though, much better than walking.

The centre seat does have one advantage, however: you can flip down the back and turn it into a handy desk complete with a couple of cup-holders and an elasticated band to keep your paperwork in place – just what you need if your cab regularly doubles as your office. Raising the seat’s cushion reveals a concealed compartment with an aux-in MP3 socket and enough space for your smartphone.

So far as storage space is concerned you will find a full-width shelf positioned just above the windscreen, big bins in each of the doors, a shelf on the passenger side of the fascia that requires users to stretch some distance before they can get at it, and a capacious, lockable glove box. Flipping up a lid just above the instrument panel reveals an oddments tray plus a 12V power point. There’s another 12V power point next to the driver’s seat plus a single cup holder.

The driver’s seat comes with lumbar adjustment and is height- adjustable, as is the steering wheel.

Load area

Access to the cargo box is by means of a single sliding nearside door plus opaque twin rear doors, which can be swung through 90° and latched into position. You release the stays by pressing a yellow button in each of the doors, which allows them to be swung through 180°.

The Connect comes with six floor-mounted load tie-down points plus an unglazed, full- height, steel bulkhead that bulges backwards into the cargo area. While that creates more room for the cab seats it also steals cargo space, although 8ft×4ft sheets can still be accommodated thanks to the way the top of the bulkhead is profiled.
A tailored rubber mat protects the floor while the load bay’s sides and doors are partially, though not entirely, defended against scratches and scrapes by a mixture of plastic mouldings and hardboard.

The cargo box’s best feature is its load-through facility. Fold down the cab’s outboard passenger seat and open a hatch in the bulkhead – a magnetic catch ensures it remains open while in use – and you immediately extend the cargo bed. The arrangement allows the transportation of over-length items such as planks and pipes without having to poke them out through the back doors or strap them to a roof rack (assuming that you do not have to transport a passenger with you).

Maximum load length is 2153mm. Maximum width is 1538mm narrowing to 1226mm between the wheel boxes, while maximum height is 1269mm. Rear loading height is 599mm.

The nearside door aperture is 660mm wide – the positioning of the bulkhead limits aperture width – and 1228mm high, while the rear door aperture’s dimensions are 1248mm and 1136mm respectively. The distinctive-looking LED load area light will set you back an extra £40 (all prices quoted here exclude VAT), but the 12V power point is standard.

Grossing at 2125kg and with a gross payload capacity of 715kg our Connect could tow a braked trailer grossing at 1200kg.

Powertrain

A four-cylinder eight-valve unit, the Connect’s 95hp 1.6-litre turbo diesel comes with common-rail fuel injection plus an intercooler. An alloy cylinder head is fitted along with a diesel particulate filter plus electronic exhaust gas recirculation to help ensure that the engine meets the Euro5 emission rules.

Top torque output is 230Nm at 1500rpm, maximum power makes its presence felt at 3600rpm, and the engine is married to a five-speed manual gearbox.

Chassis and steering

The Connect’s independent front suspension features MacPherson struts plus a stabiliser bar, while at the rear there is a semi-independent twist beam. Complete with smart plastic trims, our demonstrator’s 16- inch steel wheels were shod with Continental ContPremiumContact 2 205/60 R16 tyres.
Electric power steering is fitted offering a 12.5m wall-to-wall turning circle shrinking to 12.2m kerb-to-kerb.

Performance

With plenty of torque on offer low down the rev range, the Connect digs in nicely if you attempt an incline when heavily laden and should make short work of it. It has all the low- down grunt you are likely to need. Top-end performance isn’t an issue either, but we sorely missed a sixth gear on motorway work. At least the gear change is commendably slick, and nipping from one gear to the next is as easy as flicking a switch.

While the handling is acceptable, it is not quite as precise as what is on offer from the short-wheelbase version.
That is perhaps not surprising, although that the long- wheelbase model’s ride suffers by comparison is a surprise.

In-cab noise levels are not as well controlled as they ought to be, with a touch too much engine and tyre noise. Our vehicle failed to emit any squeaks or rattles, which is what should be expected from all new models but isn’t always the case.

Equipment

Opt for Trend specifications and you get to enjoy electrically adjustable and heated exterior mirrors – they’re big and come with a separate wide-angle lens – and a heated windscreen. That is in addition to the electric windows found on Base models. Also installed is a DAB radio/CD system with a 3.5-inch multifunctional display and MP3 capability. Ford Sync allows most Bluetooth- enabled phones to be operated with verbal commands and includes Emergency Assistance, which will help summon the emergency services if the Connect is involved in a severe collision.

Radio remote controls are found on the steering wheel, while our test van boasted manual air-conditioning for an extra £600.

Buying and running

The Transit Connect we tested was equipped with auto stop/start plus an active shutter grille for an additional £300. That brings its CO2 figure down from 128g/km to 119g/km and improves its official combined fuel economy figure from 57.6mpg to 61.4mpg, although we averaged closer to 55mpg.

Three cheers for the easy-to- use cap-less refuelling system and another three cheers for the deep side rubbing strips, which in our case helped to protect the optional metallic paint. A rocker moulding is set lower down to stop stones clattering off the wheels and peppering the paintwork.

Connect models need servicing every 12 months or 20,000 miles, whichever comes sooner, and are protected by a three- year/100,000-mile warranty with roadside assistance for the first year plus a 10-year anti- perforation corrosion warranty.

Safety

With disc brakes all round, the Connect is fitted with ABS, Electronic Stability Control, Load Adaptive Control, Emergency Brake Assist, Hill Start Assist and Electronic Brakeforce Distribution, and Trend models come with front fog lamps. There is also a driver’s airbag.

Our test van had two more safety features, both of which are extra-cost options: Active City Stop, which costs £250, and a rear-view camera, which will add a further £300 to the final bill. Active City Stop helps drivers avoid low-speed collisions with stationary or slow- moving traffic ahead by applying the brakes if a bump is imminent. Including a reverse parking aid, which beeps if you get too close to obstructions, the rear-view camera package enables drivers to see exactly what is behind them. When reverse is engaged the image is relayed to the otherwise-useless rear view mirror.

From the security viewpoint you no longer have to use the ignition key to open the bonnet, a change that we cannot help but view as a retrograde step. Instead, you tug a lever in the cab.

Remote central locking enables the cargo area doors to be locked and unlocked separately.

 

Verdict

A sensible-enough van with plenty of praiseworthy features but without the immediate appeal of Transit Custom (the best van Ford has ever built and possibly the best van anybody anywhere has ever built) and not quite as comfortable in its skin as the short-wheelbase

 

 

History

Debuting in 2002, the original Transit Connect was designed to replace Escort Van and the Courier, which was based on a Fiesta but with a purpose- built cargo box. Its sturdy no-nonsense construction meant, however, that the Connect was more likely to appeal to builders who had favoured the Escort Van rather than florists and bakers who might have preferred a Courier. A 2010 facelift, which What Van? liked, helped to keep the van looking fresh. To boost volumes and widen its appeal Ford decided to market the Connect in the US – a sensible step because there was precious little else to match it there – and to produce an electric Connect in conjunction with Azure Dynamics. Unfortunately, its high price when compared with that of the rival Renault Kangoo Van Z.E killed the battery Connect.

 

 

 

A sensible enough van with plenty of praiseworthy features, but without the immediate appeal
of Transit Custom (the best van Ford has ever produced and possibly the best light commercial vehicle ever built) and not quite as comfortable in its skin as the short-wheelbase Connect.

 

 

 

A sensible enough van with plenty of praiseworthy features, but without the immediate appeal
of Transit Custom (the best van Ford has ever produced and possibly the best light commercial vehicle ever built) and not quite as comfortable in its skin as the short-wheelbase Connect.

 

 

 



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