In common with its peers in Ford’s renewed and revitalised light commercial vehicle model line-up, the Transit Connect, this year’s winner of the What Van? Light Van of the Year Award, has raised the bar in its sector.
Scooping the prize represents something of a coup for the new Connect because it means it has overhauled the enduringly excellent Fiat Doblo Cargo, which had won the award for the previous four years in a row since its launch in 2014. For the last two of these it shard the podium with the Combo, the Vauxhall-badged version of the Fiat van.
Distinguished by a smoother and more aerodynamic styling than its boxy, square-cut predecessor, the Connect 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 smart move by Ford with air quality critics, including London mayor Boris Johnson, making threatening noises about raising charges for diesel-powered vehicles to enter inner-city zones.
It also provides a solution for urban-based operators who have suffered blocked DPFs with diesels.
But it is the 95hp Connect Econetic model that Ford claims offers best-in-class fuel efficiency, capable of 70.6mpg and with CO2 emissions of 105g/km when fitted with a fixed 62mph speed limiter – a 34% improvement over the old model. Ford Econetic technologies such as Auto-Start-Stop and Active Grille Shutter, help to minimise fuel consumption.
The petrol Ecoboost achieves a highly respectable 50.4mpg coupled with CO2 emissions of 129g/km.
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. Prices for the panel van range start at £13,921 and rise to £18,021, excluding VAT, which Ford says delivers savings of up to 7% compared to its more utilitarian predecessor.
All the engines in the range come wedded to slick and responsive manual gearboxes, which contribute to the Connect’s outstanding driveability. The 75hp and 95hp diesel engines get five-speed ‘boxes as opposed to the more powerful 115hp diesel and the 1.0-litre Ecoboost petrol units that come wedded to a six-speed manual gearbox.
When reviewing the L2 (LWB), 95hp Connect, What Van? said: “It handles extremely well, sure footed on winding roads and taking corners confidently, suggesting Ford has succeeded in its goal of endowing the light van with car-like driving characteristics.”
Clever features include a load-through hatch in the bulkhead and fold-flat passenger seat to enable long loads of up to 3.0m (L1) and 3.4m (L2) to be carried in the vehicle. In addition, a multi-fold dual passenger seat now allows van models to carry up to three people in the cab. The middle seat back folds down to create a desk top with two cup holders, which is useful for operators needing to catch up on paperwork or set up a laptop when parked up away from the office.
Raising the seat’s cushion reveals a useful concealed compartment with an aux-in MP3 socket and enough space for a smartphone.
Ample storage space includes a full-width shelf above the windscreen, big bins in each of the doors, a shelf on the passenger side of the fascia and a big, lockable glove box. The driver’s seat comes with lumbar adjustment and is height- adjustable, as is the steering wheel. The cabin materials are a match in quality for anything on the market and for interior sophistication, the Connect has raised the bar.
As for the cargo area, with a width between the wheel arches of 1,226mm, both wheelbases can accommodate two Euro pallets in the load area. The L2 can swallow one through its nearside sliding door as well as through the twin rear doors.
The Connect’s build quality is impressively solid and now matches the best in the segment, but in style terms, and as an overall package, the new Ford is the most accomplished van in its class.
Did you know?
When reviewing the L2 (LWB) 95hp model, we said: “Ford has succeeded in endowing the van with car-like driving characteristics.”
Having made a tentative start in the market Mercedes-Benz’ smallest ever van the Citan is now getting into its stride and is our Highly Commended model in the Light Van category for the second consecutive year.
Based on the popular Renault Kangoo, the Citan nevertheless stays faithful to Mercedes’ robust levels of build quality and high safety standards.
The manufacturer expanded the range with the introduction of an extra-long, seven- seat Traveliner in October. The model can alternate easily between carrying crew members and cargo and is also well suited for use as a taxi.