Quick Summary: The previous Ford Transit Connect was a small commercial van, but the all-new version has been completely redesigned to serve multiple purposes. There are two key additions: a new long-wheelbase model and a more passenger-friendly wagon discussed here that makes the 2014 Ford Transit Connect a viable minivan alternative for shoppers who want something less expensive, smaller and/or a little different from traditional minivans.
What Is It?
The 2014 Ford Transit Connect is a different sort of minivan to the point that Ford calls the passenger version a "wagon" and created the hashtag "#unminivan" for its marketing efforts. The Transit Connect wagon is smaller in most dimensions compared to most minivans except for its height, which stands 4 inches taller than a Honda Odyssey. The result is a Transit Connect that feels roomy inside, yet is easier to maneuver while driving.
There are two available wheelbases: a five-passenger regular Transit Connect that feels more like a taxi than a family vehicle and the long-wheelbase seven-passenger model (LWB) more akin to a minivan. We'll focus on the latter, as it's more likely to resonate with car shoppers.
How Much Room Is There Inside?
Despite being smaller than the average minivan, the 2014 Ford Transit Connect has room for adults in each of its three rows. In fact, the third row that both slides and reclines for additional comfort and cargo room is a much better place for adults than the back bench of a Dodge Grand Caravan. The tall, squared-off roof line, huge rear side windows and available panoramic glass roof also create a sense of openness that no other minivan can match. Claustrophobics, your people carrier has arrived.
The second-row bench offers sufficient legroom, but there are no sliding and reclining adjustments, and the seat itself doesn't offer the comfort provided by the captain's chairs found in most minivans. It's more akin to the backseat of a family sedan, albeit with enough headroom for Abe Lincoln to keep his hat on.
Both rear rows fold flat to provide 104.3 cubic feet of maximum cargo space. This falls about 40 cubic feet short of most minivans, but is on par with the Nissan Quest and GM's Chevrolet Traverse, which along with its GMC and Buick siblings, are the largest crossovers on sale. However, the tall, boxy roof of the Transit Connect makes all that space vastly more useful than those vehicles.
How Else Does It Differ From Traditional Minivans?
While the Transit Connect may seat seven, our top-rated Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna manage eight. So can the Chevrolet Traverse and Toyota Highlander crossovers. The versatility of the Ford's seats is the bigger differentiating point, however.
The sliding third-row seats (basically two captain's chairs) may be a novel feature, but the fixed second row is certainly less accommodating. The transformation from people carrier to cargo hauler is also more complicated than most minivans.
Lowering and raising those third-row seats requires you to walk from the tailgate to the sliding doors to flip the seat bottoms over and the seatbacks down. Doing the same in other minivans is much simpler. Lowering the second row also requires some thought and muscle, but it's easier to do than with Chrysler's Stow 'n Go seats. One must completely remove the second-row seats in an Odyssey or Sienna.
What's the Rest of the Interior Like?
Apart from its Popemobile windshield and acre of dashboard, the Transit Connect could just as easily be a Ford Escape or C-Max from the driver or front passenger seat. The interesting, quasi-futuristic design is virtually identical, with climate controls below clearly separated from the infotainment controls above.
The optional MyFord Touch system has received its fair share of complaints for its usability and electronic glitches, but these have mostly been corrected with software updates, and MyFord Touch is now easier to use than several other interfaces. The same can't be said, however, about the standard stereo interface that consists of a small central screen controlled by many buttons.
The 2014 Ford Transit Connect does differ from its fellow Fords in the materials used. The dash may look similar, but it's hard and slightly glossy rather than a soft, rubbery surface.
This type of plastic carries throughout the cabin, but it's certainly not objectionable — just not up to Ford's current top-notch standards. The most important thing is that the Transit Connect doesn't feel like a cargo van with some seats added.
What Safety Features and Crash Protection Does It Offer?
The Transit Connect comes standard with stability and traction control, antilock brakes (front disc, rear drum), integrated blind spot mirrors, side airbags mounted in the front seats and side curtain airbags that cover the windows in all three rows. This is typical for minivans, but Ford stands out with the standard MyKey feature that can limit top speed (for teenage drivers or valets) or radio volume. A rearview camera and parking sensors are optional.
The government has awarded the Transit Connect a five-star overall crash rating, with four stars for frontal protection and five for side protection.
What Engines and Transmissions Are Available?
Every Transit Connect comes standard with a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine good for 169 horsepower and 171 pound-feet of torque. Fuel economy stands at 23 mpg combined (20 city/28 highway), which sounds decent, but is in fact barely better than the V6-powered Honda Odyssey (22 mpg combined). At the same time, though, the smaller Mazda 5 van manages only 24 mpg.
Part of the reason is that the engine has to work hard to move the Transit Connect's estimated base curb weight of 3,979 pounds. Despite a standard six-speed automatic transmission that's eager to downshift, acceleration is on the slow side as well. Ford didn't provide 0-60 estimates but something in the ballpark of 10 seconds seems about right.
There is a 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder EcoBoost engine available that produces 178 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque while returning 25 mpg combined (22 city/29 highway), but you can only get that in the short-wheelbase Transit Connect. When asked why the bigger, heavier long-wheelbase model didn't get the more powerful engine, Ford's reps could not provide a definitive reason.
What's It Like to Drive?
Even if the Transit Connect lacks the get-up-and-go of V6-powered traditional minivans, it's still much better to drive, with sharper handling and an overall feel that makes you forget about the apartment's worth of space over your shoulder. If you live in the city or frequently travel on tight rural roads, the Transit Connect will feel like an athlete compared to an Odyssey or Sienna.
The steering in particular is worthy of praise, offering the same sort of just-right effort and impressive road feel found in other Ford vehicles. That's not exactly surprising, though, as the Transit Connect is based on the same platform as the Ford Focus, Escape and C-Max models.
On the other hand, its ride is much firmer and indicative of a smaller, sportier vehicle. That'll be just fine for those transitioning from something like a Focus, but current minivan drivers may find the suspension does not provide the sort of suppleness and isolation they've come to expect.
How Much Does It Cost?
"We know what we are and what we aren't," said Minyang Jiang, Ford's brand manager for the Transit Connect. "We're not a $40,000 people mover."
She was referring to the cost of traditional minivans, which increasingly are difficult to keep under the $40,000 pricing threshold. Indeed, there are versions of the Toyota Sienna and Honda Odyssey that push the big Five-Oh when loaded up with things like adaptive cruise control, rear-seat entertainment systems and even a vacuum cleaner. You can't get such luxuries on the Transit Connect, but there's still an ample amount of equipment available at a price that significantly undercuts the big boys.
The 2014 Ford Transit Connect LWB starts at $25,000 for the base XL model, but the $26,525 XLT brings with it a few more creature comforts and access to options. These include dual-zone climate control with rear controls and vents in each row, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a power driver seat and the Sync voice control system for phones and media players.
All of those options come included on the top-of-the-line Titanium model that starts at $29,000. Add leather seats, the panoramic glass roof, the MyFord Touch interface and navigation and the Titanium tops out at around $32,000. Regular minivans at that price are usually sparsely equipped, while similarly equipped ones are indeed about $40,000.
What Are Its Closest Competitors? Dodge Grand Caravan: Although the Grand Caravan isn't one of our top recommended vans, its cheaper trims line up closely in price to the Transit Connect. It does offer more power and higher-end features than the Ford, but it's considerably less efficient and has a less comfortable third row.
Ford Flex: This, too, costs more than the Transit Connect, but if you're looking for a family hauler with more personality than the average mom-mobile, the Flex has always been one of our favorites.
Honda Odyssey: It may be more expensive, but the Honda Odyssey remains one of our top recommended minivans thanks to its versatile interior, refined ride and relatively engaging driving dynamics.
Mazda 5: This is another alternative to minivans. It's considerably smaller, with only six seats and significantly less cargo space. On the other hand, its size also makes it the sports car of minivans and its price undercuts even the Transit Connect by about $4,000.
Why Should You Think Twice About this Car?
Much like stepping down from a midsize car and into a compact one, the Transit Connect's cheaper price comes with less space, speed and general refinement (especially in terms of ride quality).
The standard engine is rather weak and barely more efficient than stronger, V6-powered competitors, while the upgrade engine is curiously only available on the smaller, five-passenger model. The fixed second-row seat may also be a turn-off, as is the third row's complex folding procedure.
Why Should You Consider This Car?
The same compact car metaphor rings true as a potential pro. If you're willing to sacrifice a little bit of capability, versatility and seating capacity in exchange for a lower price and sharper driving dynamics, the 2014 Ford Transit Connect is a worthy alternative. Families on a tighter budget or those loath to drive a cumbersome minivan should definitely consider it.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.
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