The 2010 Ford Transit Connect may look a bit odd to American eyes, but around the world, it's been roaming other cities and countrysides for more than eight years. The big box on wheels has been a big hit for businesses that need an urban delivery or on-site service vehicle, thanks to its small-car maneuverability, favorable fuel economy and wide range of utility.
As good as the Transit Connect is for commercial endeavors, it should not be considered as a replacement for the family minivan. Rear-seat comfort is far below the standards set by nearly any other family vehicle, and the harsh bare metal and hard plastic surfaces are comparable to that of a rented U-Haul van. However, the Transit has excellent potential for the mobility-challenged, with its high roof line, small footprint and easy driving nature.
As a light-duty commercial van, the 2010 Ford Transit Connect is pretty much in a class of its own. Full-size vans from Ford and GM have not undergone any significant changes in decades and are unwieldy, thirsty and expensive in comparison. The Mercedes-Benz Sprinter has the same Euro flavor, but it, too, is much larger and much more expensive.
Our 2010 Ford Transit Connect XLT test vehicle — and indeed all U.S. Transit Connects — is powered by a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 138 horsepower and 132 pound-feet of torque. A four-speed automatic is the only transmission available and sends power to the front wheels.
In testing, the Transit accelerated from zero to 60 mph in a rather protracted 12.5 seconds (12.2 with rollout). Braking from that speed required 135 feet, which is decent for such a utilitarian box. Also respectable were the 59.9-mph slalom run and 0.75g skid-pad numbers. In terms of fuel economy, we gleaned an average of 21 mpg from the Transit Connect, which jibes closely enough with the EPA's estimates of 22/25 mpg for city/highway and 23 mpg in combined driving.
In our time behind the wheel of the 2010 Ford Transit Connect, we were struck by how much this tall box feels like a small economy sedan. Steering is light, making parking lot maneuvers a cinch, while acceleration is about as laborious as we expected. Still, getting up to highway speeds never seemed like an interminable slog. This was due in no small part to the four-speed automatic transmission that made the most of the available power with well-matched ratios and quick, smooth shifts.
Getting through dense urban traffic also put a spotlight on the Transit's handling. Despite the tall profile and fairly narrow track, it never felt tippy or on edge. We experienced little in the way of body roll, and the big box felt adequately connected to the road.
Despite the "Wagon" moniker on our 2010 Ford Transit Connect — which indicates that it is the passenger (rather than cargo) version of the van — it seemed poorly suited to shuttling people to and fro. In reality, the Wagon versions only add a second row of seats to the cargo van. These seats were comparable to the kind you'd find on a city bus — stiff, upright and narrow. The front seats were much more acceptable. Finding a comfortable driving position proved easy, with enough space and adjustments to fit nearly any body type. The front seats also feature enough padding to allow hours of seat time.
At its core, the Transit Connect is a vehicle designed for utility, and therefore lacks the finishing niceties associated with other passenger vans. The bare metal cargo area resonates with a thud and boom when driving over the slightest of bumps. That thud is greatly reduced when the Transit is loaded with cargo, which also calms the jittery rear end — much like a pickup truck. Otherwise, the ride quality is similar to an entry-level sedan's. Likewise, wind and road noise are noticeable at highway speeds, but not to the point of being intrusive.
Interested shoppers who are considering the 2010 Ford Transit Connect should keep in mind that its primary intent is not to replace the family minivan, but rather a full-size cargo van. Otherwise, they run the risk of being disappointed — very disappointed. Drivers accustomed to rental or delivery vans, on the other hand, should feel right at home.
Outward visibility is quite good, especially since Wagon models feature side and rear windows and the Cargo model does not. Gauges are simple and easy to read and most controls are well placed, with the exception of the air-conditioning dials, which are too low on the center stack for our tastes. We were less impressed with the performance of the system, as the footwells were poorly served by the heater, which provided no more than a feeble warm breath on a cold morning.
The radio was an even bigger letdown. Two very weak speakers were charged with filling the voluminous interior, and compounding matters was the radio's poor reception and excessive electronic interference when using the auxiliary audio jack (for 2011, XLT Premium Wagon models come with a new four-speaker audio system). Operation of the radio proved difficult as well, since the optional in-dash Work Solutions computer controlled all radio, phone and navigation operations.
The Work Solutions system seemed reluctant in nearly any task, resulting in a pregnant pause between the push of a button and the execution of the command. On more than one occasion, the Magneti Marelli-sourced system froze up completely, requiring us to reboot it by holding down the power button for several seconds.
We're told a recent software update has cured many of the Work Solutions system's ills, speeding up response time and eliminating many of its glitches. And that's a good thing, since the computer and its capabilities should be a big plus for commercial users. Work Solutions runs on a Windows platform, allowing remote access of files through the mobile Internet connection (subscription is required). Furthermore, users may use a Bluetooth printer to produce hard copies on the spot and keep an instant inventory on their equipment with the optional DeWalt Tool Link system.
Storage is as abundant as one would expect from a vehicle of this size, shape and intended customer, but not always convenient. A wide shelf above the windshield is suitable for flatter objects, but rounded objects will roll rather loudly back and forth. We suggest a simple fix of a grippy kitchen shelf liner. A deep dash-top pocket adds a bit more storage space, but its narrow opening makes it hard to retrieve smaller objects. Door pockets and cupholders are also few and on the small side.
On the plus side, the Transit Connect's cargo space and its many possibilities are plentiful. The maximum cargo capacity comes out to a remarkable 135 cubic feet, while its boxy shape and flat floor further enhance the space. Payload tops out at 1,495 pounds for our XLT Wagon, while Cargo versions can handle up to 1,600 pounds. Loading cargo is easy, thanks to large rear double doors that swing open a full 255 degrees and are held open with strong magnets. The large doors on each side are also handy and slide open and close with ease.
Design/Fit and Finish
Utility is obviously the overriding concern with the 2010 Ford Transit Connect, and as such, style is not a priority. The Transit Connect looks odd with its narrow track, tall roof and flat slab panels, but these surfaces lend themselves nicely to vinyl-wrap graphics and signage.
The interior follows the exterior's utilitarian theme. Most surfaces forward of the second-row seats are covered in hard plastic, and the cargo area is made up of bare metal with sharp edges and exposed screws. The harsh materials and lack of sound deadening result in a cacophony of creaks and squeaks, even on the smoothest of pavement.
Who should consider this vehicle
Urban delivery, on-site services and the mobility-challenged will be best served by the 2010 Ford Transit Connect. In terms of maneuverability, fuel economy and work-related options, only the much larger and more expensive Mercedes Sprinter comes anywhere close to the Ford Transit.
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