Mini commercial vehicle makes the people/cargo connection
"It’s tough to find a direct competitor – it’s considerably shorter than today’s minivans and about the same size as today’s compact utilities."
The Ford Transit Connect may very well be the future of the minivan, simply because it’s more “mini” than the current crop.
Now folks will undoubtedly point out that it’s a commercial vehicle whose primary task is to help certain trades do their jobs more easily, and though that’s true to a large extent, it can be equipped to effectively move people (the main raison d’etre of today’s minivan), as is the case with my test XLT wagon (that’s the only trim in which it comes).
I maintain that a minivan is the way to go in shuttling bodies because once you get those bodies to the mall, for example, they easily tumble out aided by the sliding side doors. There’s nothing worse than trying to climb out of the rear seats (especially the third row ones) when the rear hinged-door gap is barely a foot due to the proximity of the car beside yours. The same could be said for trying to get out of a street spot when the door potentially opens into traffic. With sliding doors, the opening is almost as large as the door itself and almost as high as the roof, which in Transit Connect is about eight inches higher than today’s minivan.
It’s tough to find a direct competitor – it’s considerably shorter than today’s minivans and about the same size as today’s compact utility vehicles, though it surpasses just about everything in the market in terms of width. In terms of step in, it’s an inch or so higher than a minivan or crossover utility, and a couple inches on the small wagons (Kia Rondo and Mazda5) that are probably its closest competitors in terms of size.
Because it’s based on the concept of utility, the Transit Connect cargo room is about equal to that of the much-larger minivan (down about two cubic feet from the second row of seats to the back bumper), which comes in useful when loading up to move to a new place but not so much if you want to drive six people to a restaurant across town and don’t have seats that pop up out of the floor.
The seats themselves are on the European side of functionality, with seemingly durable fabric in a funky pattern. They’re well-padded and bolstered, although they seem flat and uncomfortable, and rear passengers ride a bit higher on evenly proportioned seats. That means you don’t have to “squeeze” in a centre occupant while the outboard riders get full body-width comfort. Rather, the seats are all the same width and contoured equally.
What you don’t get is all the conveniences accorded traditional minivan riders – cupholders, for example, are limited to front seat users, as are the ever increasing number of rear-seat controls in today’s passenger vehicles.
On the plus side, a full-width overhead storage bin will hold all the stuff that usually ends up scattered over the dash top. On the downside, smaller stuff that can’t find a place around the cockpit cubbies will end up sliding around in the “tray” and usually find a place in the hardest to reach corner, requiring the person seeking it to stand up to retrieve it.
When it comes time to decrease passenger room and increase cargo room, the seats fold and flip up against the front in a 67/33 split; with some tools, they can be removed outright.
And that seems to further the thought of utilitarian transportation. There isn’t a lot of quality interior trim finishings in Transit Connect. There isn’t a lot of finishing, period. It’s a vehicle that comes off the line ready to be renovated in the way the buyer wants it, and for some big-city cab companies that renovation involves making it a pretty useful passenger mover, in the way a minivan was never able to master.
2012 Ford Transit Connect
Price as tested: $29,559
Options on test vehicle: rearview camera ($510); reverse parking sensors ($250); electric heated windshield ($200); all-weather floor mats ($100).
Configuration: front engine/ front-wheel drive
Available engines: 2.0L 4-cyl./ 4-spd. automatic
Power/torque: 136 hp/ 128 lb.-ft.
Fuel (capacity): Regular (56L)
Fuel economy ratings: 9.6 L/100km city; 7.4 L/100km hwy
Observed fuel economy: 11.5 L/100km over 315.5 km, mostly city
Competitors: Dodge Grand Caravan; Honda Odyssey; Kia Sedona; Toyota Sienna
Strengths: compact size; cargo room; rear-seat comfort
Weaknesses: Spartan interior; lack of amenities