The new Transit Connect light van is the second model to arrive in Ford's overhaul of its light commercial vehicle line-up for Europe.
It follows the mid-sized Transit Custom, which went on sale at the end of 2012, and precedes the introduction of the Transit Courier small van and two-tonne Transit in early 2014.
The manufacturer will be hoping the Connect matches the favourable market response given to the Custom and it has made an encouraging start by winning the International Van of the Year 2014 award to follow the success of its larger stablemate, which scooped the prize in 2013.
The result means Ford has become the first single manufacturer to win the award for two years in a row.
The Connect is available in three trim levels; Base, Trend and Limited (from March 2014), with prices for the panel van range starting at £13,921 and rising to £18,021, excluding VAT.
Ford claimed it is offering savings of up to 7% on the new light vans compared to the outgoing models.
Available in single, double cab and Kombi bodystyles with short-wheelbase (L1) and long-wheelbase (L2) versions, the Connect offers load volumes of 2.9m3 and 3.6m3 with a full bulkhead, or 3.7m3 and 4.4m3 including the front loadspace area. Payloads go from 625kg up to 1,000kg, which Ford claimed matches the best in class figures.
A load-through hatch in the bulkhead and fold-flat passenger seat enable long loads of up to 3.0m (L1) and 3.4m (L2) to be carried in the vehicle. In addition, a multi-fold dual passenger seat now allows van models to, theoretically at least, carry up to three people in the cab. With a width between the wheel arches of 1,226mm, both wheelbases can accommodate two Euro pallets in the load area. The L2, according to Transit Connect programme manager John Schofield, can swallow one through its nearside sliding door.
Ford claims the new Connect delivers best-in-class fuel efficiency, with the Econetic model capable of 70.6mpg and CO2 emissions of 105g/km when fitted with a fixed 62mph speed limiter – a 34% improvement over the current model, according to the brand.
The Connect is the first LCV from the blue oval up for grabs with the 1.0-litre EcoBoost petrol engine, which has official fuel economy of 50.4mpg and CO2 emissions of 129g/km.
Ford Econetic technologies such as Auto-Start-Stop and Active Grille Shutter, help to minimise fuel consumption on selected models. The full engine line-up comprises the Dagenham-built 1.6-litre Duratorq TDCi diesel engine with a choice of 75, 95 and 115hp power outputs and the award-laden 1.0-litre 100hp EcoBoost petrol unit.
Barb Samardzich, Ford of Europe’s vice-president product development, says: “Ford has taken the toughness and dependability of the current Transit Connect, made considerable improvements to the fuel efficiency, added smart new loadspace features, and delivered a dynamic new style.”
So just how good is the new Connect?
The first model we tested, in left-hand drive mode on the international launch, was the 1.6-litre 95hp L2 (LWB) single cab panel van with the mid-specification Trend trim level. This van came with the Fuel Economy pack option, which costs £300, excluding VAT, and features devices such as Auto Start/Stop and Active Grille Shutter, which warms up the engine more quickly to reduce fuel consumption and Smart Regenerative Charging. Official consumption on the combined cycle is put at 61.4mpg with CO2 emissions of 119g/km. If you opt for the Connect Econetic, which also gets a 62mph fixed speed limiter and optimised gearing with a 4% longer final drive ratio, these figures are even more frugal – at 70.6mpg and 105g/km respectively. Curiously, however, the Econetic does not come with the load through hatch.
The 75hp and 95hp diesel engines get five-speed manual transmission only, as opposed to the more powerful 115hp diesel and the 1.0-litre Ecoboost petrol units that come wedded to a six-speed manual gearbox. Ford admits cost considerations dictated this decision and the 95hp van especially would probably benefit from the extra gear on motorway journeys. Having said that, we found the five speed system to be smooth and responsive both in town and out on the open road.
With a payload capacity of 1000kg, we drove the L2 with about 600kg in the back and the 95hp powertrain coped comfortably with the weight, offering plenty of pulling power across all speeds. It handles extremely well too, sure footed on winding roads and taking corners confidently, suggesting Ford has succeeded in its goal of endowing the light van with car-like driving characteristics.
The Connect’s build quality is impressively solid and now seems to be on a par with the best in the segment, such as the Volkswagen Caddy. But in style terms, the new Ford is considerably more sleek than its VW counterpart with lots of high quality dark plastic and attractive angular shapes in the cabin.
It is practical too, the dials and buttons are pleasingly tactile, chunky and easy to use – you don’t have to stare at the dashboard for ages before you can figure out how everything works. The Trend gets an eight-way adjustable driver’s seat to go with the rake and reach adjustable steering wheel that is standard across all models so finding your ideal driving position is far more likely than in most LCVs.
Storage space is adequate with an overhead shelf and a lockable glove box both welcome features.
DAB radio/CD with Bluetooth and Ford’s SYNC connectivity system are standard on the Trend and a USB connection plug is ingeniously concealed beneath the middle seat. The middle seat back also folds down to create a desk top but this makes conditions extremely snug for the passenger in the seat next to the door. We fail to see, in fact, how the middle seat could accommodate a second passenger at all – it offers no legroom whatsoever, obscures a cup holder and would leave whoever attempted to sit in it rapidly forced into an intimate relationship with the occupant of the other passenger berth.
The load-through hatch in the bulkhead that allows you to fit in long objects like pipes and rolls of flooring material is far more worthwhile. If not using that facility, the passenger seat can fold up to create enough space for a decent-sized tool box. A curved profile at the top of the bulkhead is designed to enable the L2 Connect to accommodate 8ft by 4ft sheets.
The cargo box contains six tie-down points to secure loads LED lighting.
The Trend model we tested was kitted out with a raft of options that are standard fits on the top of the range Limited version. These included air-conditioning (£600), alloy wheels (£400) and reverse parking sensors (£200).
Ford’s DAB Navigation system, which includes the media facilities already fitted and adds Emergency Assist and a rear view camera as well as sat-nav, is available for £750. All these prices exclude VAT.
A steel spare wheel is standard in panel vans but a £100 option on double cabs and Kombis. It is not available on the Econetic.
Commendably, Ford has made ESC a standard feature on all Connect models.
We also got behind the wheel of the wheel of the 1.0-litre petrol Ecoboost Connect. This engine achieves 50.4mpg on the combined cycle, according to the manufacturer, and emits 129g/km CO2. It is only available in L1, SWB guise with a payload of 625kg and load capacity of 2.9m3.
With its six-speed manual transmission we found he drive to be smooth, quiet and refined while the engine coped well with a half-load in the back.
It is debatable whether a tradesperson would choose a petrol van over a diesel with better fuel economy and more predictable resale value and Ford acknowledges the Ecoboost will be a niche player – probably accounting for less than 1% of sales.
Mark Easton, Ford’s LCV product manager in the UK, says the Ecoboost could find a market with urban operators who do not a van to rack up high mileages.
“It’s not for operators doing more than 10,000 miles,” he says and admits the engine may be a more natural fit in the small Courier van that arrives next year.
But Easton points out that if laws restricting the emission of diesel particulates are introduced in London (as, he claims, they have been in some cities in Italy) then the Ecoboost’s appeal will increase substantially.
“The congestion charge rules may change to discriminate against diesel particulates,” he claims.
Easton also points out that petrol-engined vans will happily function covering just short distances on a daily basis – unlike their diesel equivalents, which are likely to succumb to blocked diesel particulate filters if not flushed out with longer journeys.
Assessing the Connect line-up overall, Ford is confident it has raised the bar in the key areas of load carrying capacity, fuel economy and cost of ownership, durability and safety.
“On any key benchmark, the Connect is now the class leader,” Easton claims.
Ford has thrown down the gauntlet, how will the competition respond?
The new Connect is another stylish and capable van from Ford that once more raises the bar in its sector.