Square-cut and solid-looking, Ford's Transit Connect is anything but pretty. With no pretensions to elegance, it's there to do a job of work; and in our experience it's likely to succeed.
Connect has been through a few changes since its arrival five years ago, not the least of them being the addition of a 110hp 1.8TDCi common rail engine to a diesel line-up that also includes 75hp and 90hp TDCi lumps.
There's no longer a petrol option though. Few van owners want straight gasoline power and not all that many seem enthusiastic about specifying a petrol unit just so that it can be converted to run on liquefied petroleum gas.
So what's the most powerful Connect like to drive? We took to the highways and by-ways of southern England in a long-wheelbase high roof — short-wheelbase low roof Connects are available too — T230 LX to find out.
Fitted with a variable nozzle turbocharger with an intercooler, the 1.8-litre four-cylinder eight-valve 110hp Duratorq power plant generates its maximum output at 3,500rpm. Peak torque of 250Nm makes its presence felt between 1,500rpm to 3,200rpm, with what Ford describes as transient torque over-boost making 280Nm briefly available if you really floor the throttle.
A five-speed manual gearbox comes as standard, as does power steering offering an 11.9m kerb-to-kerb turning circle, and independent front suspension with MacPherson struts aided by an anti-roll bar. At the back you'll find leaf springs, with an anti-roll bar added to long-wheelbase derivatives.
Our demonstrator rode on 15in seven-spoke alloy wheels for an extra £400 (all prices quoted here exclude VAT). They were shod with Continental Vanco Contact 2 195/65 R15 tyres.
ABS is standard along with Electronic Brakeforce Distribution, but it seems a pity that Electronic Stability Programme isn't fitted to all high-roof models. Ordinarily the brakes employ a discs front/drums rear set-up, but Traction Assist was fitted to our test Connect for £100 and with that you get discs all-round.
Grossing at 2,340kg, our Connect could handle a 938kg gross payload and tow a trailer grossing at 800kg.
Access to Connect's 3.7m3 cargo bay is by means of twin rear doors — glazed in our case for £50, but without a wash/wipe system — that could be swung through 250° once the door stays were released and latched against the van's sides. It's a facility that costs an extra £250. The stays are easy to release on all Connects. All you do is push a button.
A sliding nearside door comes as standard, but our demonstrator was equipped with an offside slider too for a further £150.
Four tie-down points can be used to secure cargo and we were additionally protected from loads flying forwards into the cab by a £100 full-height, glazed, steel bulkhead that intrudes slightly into the cargo bay. A tailored mat protects the floor and half-height panels defend the doors — a mesh pocket adorns the rear offside one — but you'll need to ply-line all the most vulnerable surfaces. The rear 12v power point provided will set you back £150.
Load width is 1,490mm, narrowing to 1,226mm between the wheel-boxes, with a load height of 1,364mm. Rear loading height is 601mm unladen. Load length is 1,986mm.
Rear door aperture width is 1,293mm, with a height of 1,316mm. Dimensions for the side door aperture are 809mm and 1,181mm respectively.
One of the most agreeable aspects of Connect's cab is how roomy it feels. It seems to boast acres of head and shoulder room compared with many of its rivals, and you're not continually bumping elbows with your co-driver.
You also get to enjoy a comfortable, supportive height-adjustable driver's seat that allows you to alter the angle of the cushion too, and gives you a good field of vision through the deep, heated, windscreen — you get heated washer jets as well — and door windows. The only restriction is imposed by rather thick A-pillars.
Drivers are protected by an airbag, but you have to stump up £150 for one for the passenger.
Storage features include a bin in each door, a lidded but not lockable glovebox, a shelf beneath a steering column that's adjustable for reach and rake, a shelf at the bottom of the facia and trays on top of the facia.
Look up and you'll spot a full-width shelf above the windscreen. Look down and you'll spot a little holder for coins and tokens just in front of the gearstick.
Look under the passenger seat and you'll find a storage tray. Look to the rear of the handbrake lever and you'll see cup-holders.
Connect LX boasts electric windows and electrically adjusted and heated exterior mirrors, but you pay an extra £550 for air conditioning.
Entertainment comes courtesy of a radio/CD player with chunky, user-friendly switchgear supplemented by remote controls mounted on the steering column. Our van had an upgraded unit with a six-disc in-dash CD auto-changer for £250.
A 12v power point is provided, but there was no cigarette lighter or ashtray in our demonstrator; a sign of the times. Both are included in an extra-cost smoker's pack.
There can be no two opinions about it; the 110hp Connect is a superb vehicle to drive. Power is delivered steadily across the rev range with no lumpiness or jerkiness that we could discern.
Drop down a gear because you need to overtake or climb a steep hill, floor the throttle and the engine's maximum torque kicks in with a vengeance. You can feel it pushing you hard between the shoulder blades as you hurtle forwards, and it seems to dismiss as inconsequential any weight you might have in the back.
Connect copes well with rough road surfaces and the handling is exemplary. Offering more than enough feedback from the steering, it corners as though on rails and should stay firmly glued to the road unless you do something really silly.
Engine and wind noise are a bit too high, but neither can be counted as excessive.
As for fuel economy, we averaged 40.0mpg. We had the passing thought that we might have done a bit better with a six-speed 'box.
Remote central locking allows you to lock and unlock the cab and load area separately and you'll need the ignition key to open the bonnet. The lock is concealed behind the Ford badge which has to be twisted to one side.
For £275 rear reversing sensors should help protect your £250 metallic paint finish from minor bumps and bangs while rubbing strips and wheelarch mouldings help protect you from side scrapes.
Service intervals are set at 15,000 miles and Connect is protected by a three year/100,000 mile warranty plus an anti-perforation corrosion warranty that lasts for 10 years.
Ford's Transit Connect has been around for a few years now and it's maturing well. Performance from its 110hp TDCi common rail diesel is top-notch, the engine is well-matched to the gearbox and the van's ride and handling are among the best in the business. For your money you get a roomy cab and rock-solid build quality; good news for residual values. Drawbacks are few. Engine and wind noise are a bit on the high side, the thick A-pillars create annoying blind spots and even Connect's best friend wouldn't describe it as pretty. Overall, however, it's a hugely impressive package and is worth a punt without a shadow of a doubt.