What...is that thing?
The question came up more than once in our week with the panel van / truck / urban box known as the Ford Transit Connect. In fact, we're not sure we know how to answer it ourselves. Unlike most vehicles on the market today, it simply doesn't fall into any typical category.
Ford says the vehicle is "specific for everyone," but after a week we think the TC might not be exactly designed for our needs. Nevertheless, we consider it one of the most interesting vehicles we've been in and it's packed with features that we can't help but tell people about.
For people or stuff?
There are two main types of TC: Van and Wagon. The difference between the two is that the Wagon version comes with rear glass and seats, whereas the Van version is more of a panel van. Two wheelbase lengths -- XL and XLT -- offer size variations, but that's about it.
Adding to the simplicity theme, there's only one powerplant: a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder gas engine, meaning fuel economy is decent for a vehicle of this type. Remember that the only alternatives to this sort of thing are larger, full-size vans such as the Ford E-series, Chevy Express, Dodge 2500 van, and the currently-unavailable Dodge Sprinter.
Fuel numbers for the TC could improve if the company upgrades the transmission (the only one available right now is a four-speed with overdrive) and offers a direct injection version of their four-cylinder. Ford insiders tell us these could come down the road, but the Transit Connect needs to be cheap in order for it to make sense for buyers here and loading it up with engine technology would not be the way to do that (the current price starts at $20,780 -- less than $2,000 more than the Chevy HHR panel, a vehicle with less than half the cargo space and not nearly the same usability).
With that baseline spare of options, the Transit Connect turns into something of a chameleon for its owners. And that's what we really like about it.VIDEO: Click below to watch our video on the Ford Transit Connect.
While the Transit Connect might seem about as exciting as a root canal, after a week we found ourselves wishing it would stick around our fleet. Of the things we loved about it, here are our favorites:
- Work Solutions computer: The brains of Ford's "workplace solutions" system is actually a computer they've stuck in the center console. While it looks like the average navigation system (and yes, it's got one of those), it's actually much more powerful. Once the system loads (it does take a few minutes), you have access to the sorts of things you'd find on your laptop: there's word processing, email, a web browser and a host of other functions. Ford includes a wireless keyboard with trackpad, too. You can even hook up a printer so you can give a customer an invoice or a quote on the go.
- Tool Link: In conjunction with the tool company Dewalt, Ford developed a way for you to keep track of all the tools in your vehicle. Using an RFID system (radio-frequency identification), your tools get "tagged" and the system checks to see if they're all are within the vehicle. If any of your tools are missing, they show up when you do your inventory, preventing the hassle of leaving without one. Although primarily for tools, anything can be wrapped -- think fishing poles, sports equipment, etc.
- Fold-out doors: The Transit Connect has a massive opening in the rear in which to put about 135 cubic feet of your stuff. What's great is that the doors won't get in the way of all the loading and unloading you'll do, since the TC's rear doors swing open and stay held to the side of the vehicle by a simple -- but ingenious -- use of door magnets.
The reality is that while these innovations were designed mostly for commercial usage, they're fantastic beyond that workaday usage. In fact, we'd go as far as to say we've seen more innovation here than we find in most luxury cars. Why? Because this stuff is actually useful, as opposed to the sometimes ridiculously unnecessary "luxury" found in higher end sedans and SUVs.
Is the Transit Connect for everyone? No, but we hope that everyone working at a car company today gets a ride in one to see how they can innovate their products for their consumers.