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Published: 06/12/2014 - by Bill Visnic, Senior Editor
Ford's E-Series (known to many as the Econoline) full-size van has been the country's best-selling full-size van for decades, but it's finally being replaced by the all-new 2015 Ford Transit. It promises better fuel economy, greater flexibility and a much improved overall driving experience. After our time behind the wheel, there's no doubt it delivers on those goals.
What Is It?
The 2015 Ford Transit is an all-new full-size van that will gradually replace Ford's current truck-based E-Series vans.
To accommodate the wide range of uses for full-size vans, the new Transit comes in two different wheelbases, three body lengths and three roof heights. Thanks to its more modern unibody construction, weight is down and payload and cargo volume are up compared to the Econoline. In fact, the longest Transit has a best-in-class 487 cubic feet of cargo area, or about 75 percent more than the longest version of the current E-Series.
There are three engine choices to suit a wide variety of users, including two familiar gasoline engines that are already in use elsewhere in Ford's U.S. lineup. The third option is a five-cylinder diesel engine that is new to the U.S.
Most versions of the 2015 Ford Transit will be configured for cargo use, with two seats up front and little else. The Transit Wagon is the name for the passenger models that can be fitted with seating for up to 15.
How Many Trim Levels and Configurations Are There?
The new Transit will have two available trim levels: XL and XLT. They broadly differentiate some of the available creature comforts (such as how large a center-dash information screen is fitted), but commercial vans typically are defined mostly by their various dimensions.
With the Transit that means two wheelbases (129.9 inches and 147.6 inches) and three different roof heights: a "low-roof" version that is about 83 inches high, a mid-roof variant at about 100 inches and a high-roof body style that is about 110 inches high. Like some of its competitors, the high-roof version allows a 6-foot adult to stand comfortably inside the Transit's cargo area.
Total length of the 2015 Ford Transit can range from about 220 inches up to 266.1 inches for the special extended-length body styles that are available only on the long-wheelbase chassis.
What Engines and Transmissions Are Available?
The 2015 Ford Transit line's base engine is a 3.7-liter V6 good for 275 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. For more power, you can opt for a 3.5-liter twin-turbocharged V6 that churns out 310 horses and 400 lb-ft of torque. Slotting between the two is an optional 3.2-liter, five-cylinder PowerStroke diesel rated at 185 hp and 350 lb-ft of torque.
All engines are backed by a six-speed automatic transmission that sends the power to the rear wheels.
Greatly improved fuel economy is going to be one of the 2015 Transit's big selling points. The 3.7-liter V6, when fitted in the low- and mid-roof/regular-wheelbase Transit is EPA rated at a combined 16 miles per gallon (14 city/19 highway). The same model powered by the 310-hp EcoBoost V6 is good for the same numbers — and, incredibly, represents a 40 percent-plus improvement over Ford's current E-Series van with its 305-hp, 6.8-liter V10 that gets just 10 mpg in the city and 13 mpg on the highway.
Because the diesel-engine versions of the 2015 Transit will weigh more than 8,500 pounds, the EPA doesn't generate fuel economy ratings for them. Diesels are generally more fuel-efficient than an equivalent gas engine, so it's safe to say that the 3.2-liter PowerStroke will likely deliver more than 20 mpg on the highway.
What Does It Cost?
Pricing for the 2015 Transit Van starts at $30,560. The Transit Wagon passenger model with the standard roof starts at $33,095 for the XL trim and $34,595 for the XLT trim. The XLT trim adds some basics such as nice covers for the standard 16-inch steel wheels, cruise control, cloth for the front seats and an AM/FM/CD radio with a 4-inch display and audio input jack.
From there, the sky's the limit in terms of how you can outfit a Transit. For the Transit Wagon models, for example, going to the mid-roof configuration adds $1,750, and the high roof costs a thunderous $7,150 extra. Specifying the long wheelbase adds $3,650 and the extended body is a $10,115 option. So choosing the high roof and the extended body together can add more than $17,000 to the Transit Wagon's base price.
The optional EcoBoost 3.5-liter V6 is $1,865 extra, while the 3.2-liter PowerStroke diesel is a $5,995 option.
The exhaustive list of individual options includes workhorse items such as a heavy-duty towing package, various upgrades to gross vehicle weight rating as well as creature and safety comforts like power seats and mirrors, a back-up camera, reverse sensing radar, lane-keeping alert, satellite radio, the Sync infotainment interface and a 6-inch touchscreen with MyFord Touch.
How Much Can It Carry and Haul?
Regularly haul stuff 14 feet long? It'll fit in the longest version of the 2015 Transit. Even the regular-wheelbase, low-roof Transit can fit a load as long as 145.2 inches. All but the special dual-rear-wheel Transit can handle sheet of plywood between the wheelwells.
Total cargo volume for the regular-wheelbase/low-roof version of the 2015 Transit is 246 cubic feet, while the mid-roof model can hold 315 cubes. Go to the long-wheelbase Transit and those numbers jump to 278 and 357 cubic inches, respectively. For maximum capability there's the high-roof model, which holds up to 487 cubic feet of cargo.
Payload and tow ratings for the various Transit configurations have yet to be fully detailed, but Ford says the Transit's maximum 4,650-pound payload is a 600-pound improvement and the van's new maximum tow rating is 7,500 pounds. Both are claimed to be class-leading numbers.
Does It Drive Like a Big Van?
First and foremost, the 2015 Ford Transit has very responsive rack-and-pinion power steering that feels more like a normal car than a full-size truck. Combine that with a strut-type front suspension and standard 16-inch wheels and you'll find almost eye-opening responsiveness to the steering wheel and almost none of the weight or unruliness you'd expect when piloting a large van. The standard-wheelbase Transit backs up this impression with a comparatively compact 39.2-foot turning circle; the best Ford's current E-Series van can manage is a 48.6-foot turning circle.
Throttle response also comes off as more carlike than trucklike. The Transit's 3.7-liter V6 is the only engine of the three that feels at all strained. The EcoBoost V6 was able to easily propel the well-loaded Transits we drove, once again proving Ford's EcoBoost engines are capable of out-muscling much larger engines. And the new 3.2-liter PowerStroke diesel is a treat, too: quiet, gutsy and, like the other two engines, working almost invisibly with the standard six-speed automatic transmission.
We found the brakes a little touchy when the pedal is first addressed and the gearshift lever drops too easily past what should be a discrete "Drive" detent into manual-shift mode. Ford engineers said a fix already is under way for the gearshift quirk.
Thanks to the agreeably smooth engines and what seems to be nicely managed aerodynamics, the Transit's cabin is noticeably quiet. It rained hard during our drive and the noise of heavy rain pelting the roof was the only sound that became distracting. Same for an occasional slapping whoosh noise of water splashing onto the rear wheelwells. Those who routinely drive vans like this probably find that kind of noise, uh, routine.
What Kind of Safety Equipment Does It Have?
Every Transit comes with stability control, frontal airbags for the two front seats, tire-pressure monitoring and antilock brakes as standard.
Passenger-carrying models have seats with integral three-point seatbelts and side curtain airbags. Back-up cameras are available for just about any Transit configuration.
No official crash testing has been performed on the Transit at this time.
What Are Its Closest Competitors?
The 2014 Ram Promaster Van is another of the emerging new generation of Europe-inspired commercial vans to hit U.S. roads and it's based on Fiat-developed underpinnings. As opposed to the Transit's more traditional rear-wheel-drive layout, the Promaster is front-drive, which might limit its appeal to some who believe rear-drive configurations are inherently more durable.
Nissan's 2014 NV Van also breaks from the traditional styling of truck-based commercial vans and like the Transit, it also is rear-drive. But while it offers the big V8 the Transit eschews, the NV comes only in a single wheelbase and with just two different roof heights, making it potentially less flexible for some.
Why Should You Consider This Van?
Although Ford said it will continue to sell the aging E-Series vans, the Transit is the wave of the future. It's more economical, more maneuverable and ostensibly has more utility and flexibility than the truck-based E van.
Those who drive and use vans every day might find some points to criticize, but it's hard to imagine anyone driving the Transit and today's truck-based vans back to back and thinking the Transit isn't infinitely better to drive.
Why Should You Think Twice About This Van?
Even Ford admits it may take traditionalists some time to adjust to the Transit's unique styling. And if you are convinced that big V8 and V10 engines are essential for this type of vehicle — or particularly for the way you use it — the Transit doesn't have anything for you.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which select members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.