What is it about European plumbers that makes them so totally irresistible?
Is it how sultry the words "dielectric fitting" sound with a German accent? Is it their intimate knowledge of bidets? Or is it that, with their coveralls, they all look vaguely like extras from a Mentos commercial? Maybe.
But we all know what makes them so powerfully impressive is their rides. Most of these are cruelly kept out of the hands of American buyers/plumbers, like the fire-breathing Renault Kangoo Express and the always-saucy Volkswagen Caddy Maxi. But Ford is bringing the sexy in the form of the light-duty, small-business-owning, Euro chariot of choice: the 2010 Ford Transit Connect.
Fancy a go, then?
A Box With a Nose
Ford is playing a bit coy with the 2010 Transit Connect, which will arrive in dealer showrooms this summer. Typically, we would not write much on a commercial vehicle, especially one that isn't particularly useful for towing old cars or motorcycles or whatnot. And Ford wouldn't typically bother inviting us to test-drive a panel van in Washington, D.C., as it did this week.
But Ford has plans for the Transit Connect beyond its stated objective of filling what it sees as a void in the U.S. market for light-duty dedicated work vehicles. For one, Ford will use the Transit Connect as the basis for its first all-electric vehicle, the enticingly named Transit Connect BEV. (That box of batteries will arrive in limited numbers next year.) But there's another reason the company seems so interested in engaging the media on this vehicle. It's the first example of Ford's plan to reconcile its product offerings in the U.S. and Europe — the so-called One Ford initiative. Eventually, we'll get the Fiesta subcompact, the European-model Focus compact and the Mondeo midsize sedan.
Beyond that, many at Ford are hoping this honest, efficient mover of people and things will appeal to families as civilian transport. The company tried to introduce the idea to the public with the kid-focused Transit Connect Family One concept vehicle that it showed at this year's New York auto show. Think of it as a modern-day Volkswagen EuroVan/Microbus or a quasi-minivan with just enough utilitarian chic to outweigh the ol' minivan stigma.
The Transit Connect relies on the same hip-to-be-square/foreign-cool mindset that made the first Scion xB attractive. Incidentally, Jim Farley, now Ford Group vice president of marketing, previously presided over the introduction of the Scion brand.
Box 'Round Town
We were able only to trundle around old-town Alexandria, Virginia, during our four-hour test-drive of a be-stickered Transit Connect — lots of stop-and-go, straight city streets and moderate speed. These are the conditions for which this vehicle was created.
The Transit Connect's tall and narrow dimensions make it easy as can be to maneuver through narrow, urban streets around double-parked doofuses and iPod-entranced pedestrians. At 39 feet, the Connect's turning circle is shockingly short for something that can lug around 135.3 cubic feet of whatnots. That's only a couple cubic feet less space than a Chevy Suburban in a vehicle with a turning circle only a bit more than a foot greater than a Honda Accord.
Visibility was a bit of an issue in the van we drove, since, unlike the wagon version, the van does not come standard with rear side windows or even a rear window. We're quite sure something transparent would help in this regard.
Unlike the European-market version, the American-market Transit Connect will offer but one engine — the 2.0-liter Duratec inline-4. This Focus motor makes 136 horsepower at 6,300 rpm and 128 pound-feet of torque at 4,750 rpm. That's less horsepower and torque than this engine makes in the Focus. Plus the Connect's Duratec is available only with the Focus-specification four-speed automatic transmission. To help compensate for the shortage of juice and the abundance of weight (3,500 pounds), the Transit Connect comes with a relatively short 4.2:1 final-drive ratio. This keeps the little dork-mobile squirting around in traffic, no problem.
However, this short-legged final drive, the relatively low power output and a less than ideal aerodynamic visage should combine to make expressway travel something less than pleasant. We'll have to get back to you on the exact parameters of that unpleasantness when we get to drive a Transit Connect on roads of our choosing. Ford says it conducted surveys that showed there was little interest in a diesel engine option or a manual transmission. We were not part of these surveys, however. We think a small-displacement turbodiesel would be ideal for this little bugger's workaday lot in life. And a turbocharged, direct-injection, EcoBoost gas motor would help make this pokey little number a lot more appealing to the family buyer.
Fleet managers and even civilian buyers will love that the Transit Connect sips regular fuel at a rate of a gallon for every 22 miles in the city and 25 miles on the highway.
Of Lesser Importance
Steering? Yeah, the Transit Connect has got that. The steering wheel turns clockwise and counterclockwise depending on your desired heading. That's not the dig it might appear to be. It's just that most flower delivery guys won't be waxing poetic about steering feel. Suspension is by struts up front and the simplest-looking leaf-spring-having solid axle in the rear. It, too, felt fine.
There's an honest appeal to the way the Connect operates. This is a simple bit of gear. The base-level XLs don't even come with power windows or locks. Hell, even in the wagon version with two rows of seats, the dearth of trim in the rear gives the Transit Connect as much of a Quonset-hut vibe as that of a modern passenger vehicle.
The Price of Ironic Fashion
The window-free, manual-lock XL van version starts at $21,475. The slightly (and we do mean slightly) more upscale XLT wagon, which would be the one families could potentially be interested in, comes in at $23,045. So the vehicle is not quite as basic in price as it is in ambience.
For a small business, or maybe a large business with a need for small transporters, the Transit Connect is an enticing offering. Certainly it can serve as a rolling billboard and be outfitted with any number of different shelving/storage solutions by various independent conversion outfits. Also of some interest to businesses is the suite of Ford Works Solutions gadgets. They include an in-dash computer ($1,395) with Internet access, a navigation system and a Bluetooth keyboard and printer, for printing invoices and such. Separately offered is Tool Link ($1,220), which uses a radio frequency ID system to scan the contents of the vehicle and report what tools/supplies are inside the vehicle at any given time. Last, Ford offers Crew Chief ($550), a system that tracks the location of the vehicle and provides vehicle performance data.
Oddly, driving the 2010 Ford Transit Connect did not make any of the assembled journalists any more appealing than usual. So maybe the secret to the Euro-plumber appeal is the coveralls, after all.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.
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