Review: A different kind of minivan

By Bill Heald - ReminderNews
Feature Article - posted Thu., Mar. 24, 2011
- Contributed Photo

Minivans, due to their function-over-form nature, aren’t the type of vehicles most folks get excited about. This is a shame, because they handle a broad variety of tasks quite well and offer excellent space efficiency and versatility for their size.

Ford abandoned their minivan platform in 2007, but this hole in their lineup has now been plugged by a very special vehicle; a European-designed unit that sets new standards for room and fuel economy and can be configured to suit everyone from tradesmen to growing families to taxi/fleet drivers. When you include an affordable price and low operating costs, you have the potential for a real game-changer in the U.S. market, and it’s called the Ford Transit Connect.

Based on the Ford Focus platform, the Transit Connect rides on a 114.6-inch wheelbase and fills the space with a very tall body, with a sliding door on each side and split rear cargo doors in back. There are all kinds of ways to configure this machine, and the unit we tested was an XLT Premium Wagon model primarily designed to be a people-hauler (although there was no third row seat, even though there’s plenty of room for one).

The lone powertrain on this front-drive minivan consists of a 2-liter Duratec Inline Four with 136 horsepower and a four-speed automatic transmission. While this engine and transmission aren’t suited to climbing 10,000-foot mountain passes when fully loaded, they does the job fine around town (although it’s no sprint car) and delivered just under 25 MPG in a week of mixed driving.

The Transit’s smallish external dimensions made it very maneuverable, and a 39-foot turning radius also helps out in tight quarters. Despite the very tall profile, routine handling is stable and it rarely feels top-heavy. Payload capacity for the Wagon is 1,484 pounds. The van version (no rear seat) can haul 1,600 pounds (more than a lot of full-size pickups).

The Transit Wagon has headroom for all occupants that even Coneheads would find generous (if you recall the “Saturday Night Live” family from the ’70s). The front buckets are firm with stout cloth material, and the controls and instruments are comprehensive and easy to locate. The big sliding side doors make access to the 60/40 bench seat a breeze. With the seats occupied, you have 78 cubic feet of cargo space behind them that swells to 118.7 cubic feet with the seatbacks folded, and 135.3 with the rear seat removed. The load floor is less than 2 feet in height, and our Premium Wagon was also equipped with an optional back-up camera in the rear view mirror that is a great safety and parking aide.

Room, versatility, good fuel economy and a template to create whatever type of vehicle you need make Ford’s new entry a really intriguing way to solve a variety of transportation needs. The 2012 Ford Transit Connect XLT Premium Wagon is EPA-rated 21 MPG city/26 highway and has a base price of $23,200. With options, our sticker came to $24,710.

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