Ford has restyled Transit Connect in a way that echoes the design of the latest models in the company’s passenger car line-up. The front bumper and grille have been reshaped and the Big Blue Oval’s latest offering gets new front and rear lights too. It gets a reworked cab interior as well, with a dashboard influenced by the one found in the S-MAX car.
Greater emphasis has been placed on driver safety. Electronic Stability Programme (ESP) is now fitted as standard complete with Roll Over Mitigation and Roll Movement Intervention. Such a comprehensive package should ensure that only the most violent of swerves will result in Connect — still offered in both short- and long-wheelbase guise — rolling over.
The onboard safety system also includes ABS, Hydraulic Brake Assist and Active Yaw Control. Good to see that the brake hardware has been upgraded too, with ventilated discs at the front and solid discs at the rear standard on all models.
Traction Control is provided and Hill Launch Assist is a further feature. As its name suggests, it stops you rolling backwards if you have to move away on a steep incline. It maintains pressure in the braking system for 2.5 seconds while the driver’s foot switches from the brake to the accelerator pedal.
Anybody who hasn’t already purchased a TomTom will be pleased to hear that Connect can now be ordered with a full satellite navigation system.
The entry-level Connect comes with a driver’s airbag and remote central double-locking plus electric windows. If you fancy something a little more upmarket, then opt for Trend trim. It adds front fog lights, electric mirrors, a heated screen, a trip computer, Bluetooth connectivity, rain-sensing wipers and headlamps that illuminate automatically in line with the prevailing light.
An optional blue dashboard is also available. While we appreciate that these things are a matter of personal taste, we think it looks vile. The top-of-the-range Limited adds air-conditioning, body-coloured door handles, a chrome front grille and rear parking sensors.
We took to the highways of southern Germany in a long-wheelbase example powered by the 110hp version of the 1.8-litre TDCi Duratorq diesel married to a five-speed gearbox. In Trend trim, it was fitted with an optional particulate trap along with redesigned 15in alloy wheels, air-conditioning and the aforementioned sat nav system.
We’ve always liked the solidly-built, no-nonsense Connect. With no major mechanical changes, the latest version is just as good as its predecessor. It handles remarkably well, with plenty of feedback from the sensibly-weighted steering. There’s no vagueness at all. Swing the wheel in the direction you want to head in and that’s exactly where the van goes.
The ride is good too; our demonstrator happily soaked up whatever Bavaria’s roads chose to throw at us. They are of course far less pot-holed than our own disgracefully-neglected highway network…
With 110 horses on tap, performance isn’t an issue. Even with a 500kg test load in the 4.4m3 load bay — the short-wheelbase offers 2.8m3 — our vehicle pulled strongly at all speeds, with plenty of lugging power at the bottom end of the rev band. Wind and engine noise were both well-suppressed, which meant we had no trouble hearing the almost sporty growl from the exhaust when Connect accelerated.
The reworked cab interior makes for an attractive working environment. Our Trend Connect featured a full-width shelf above the windscreen, a roomy lidded glovebox and bins in each of the doors. Between the seats there were a couple of cup-holders and an oddments tray. Unfortunately there’s nowhere convenient to put a big bottle of water or flask of tea or a large box of sandwiches.
Good to see three air-vents in the centre of the dashboard though. Good too to see that the comfortable, height-adjustable, driver’s seat — the steering column is height-adjustable too — offers plenty of head and shoulder room.
Our test van featured a swivelling steel mesh bulkhead. It’s a standard feature on Connect. Not a new idea, but none the worse for that, it allows you to fold down the passenger seat, thus extending the cargo bed. The section of bulkhead behind the passenger seat can then be unlatched, swung through 90° and latched into place again.
Doing so creates a partition between the driver and passenger seats and prevents whatever has been piled onto the horizontal passenger seat back from tumbling into the driver’s lap.
Also available with 75hp and 90hp versions of the 1.8-litre, and with a gross payload capacity of up to 900kg, the revamped Connect goes on sale in the autumn. At present it’s still assembled in Turkey alongside Transit — Transit is also produced in Southampton — but production is eventually likely to start in Romania.
That’s to help Ford cope with the expected demand from the USA. Connect is to be sold there from this summer onwards, albeit fitted with a 2.0-litre petrol engine and a four-speed automatic gearbox as opposed to a diesel and a manual shift. An electric Connect is also due to be launched in the USA — in 2010 — in conjunction with Tanfield Group-owned Smith Electric Vehicles.
Although it’s still under consideration, something that may not be appearing in the UK any time soon is a SportVan version of the latest Connect. Apparently, and somewhat surprisingly, the sporty version of the outgoing model has not been a particularly successful seller, unlike the SportVan version of Transit.
While the changes to Transit Connect cannot be described as radical, Ford has done enough to refresh it and ensure that it remains a strong contender in the marketplace. In our view it remains a winner; no question about it.
Kimber’s Market Comments
The main thing holding back light commercial sales is the continued inability of companies to borrow money says Ford vans boss, Steve Kimber. “It’s the biggest inhibiting factor,” he contends. Something else that is putting pressure on UK market leader Ford is the weakness of sterling. “Most of our costs are in euros, so the situation with the pound is giving us a real challenge,” he observes.
Kimber is not too downhearted, however. While the first quarter of the year saw total commercial vehicle registrations slump by a painful 44 per cent compared with the first quarter of 2008, Ford’s fell by a somewhat-less-disastrous 37 per cent. Its share of the market edged up marginally, with Transit and Ranger among its better performers. Ranger sales were aided by the availability of some remarkably generous deals.
Longer-term Ford’s fortunes should be aided by the introduction of new technologies that should ensure its light commercials become more fuel-frugal and environmentally-friendly. “There is no one silver bullet that will allow us to achieve all our goals though,” Kimber observes.