Driven hard and heavily laden, many vans take a severe hammering every single day of the week. This constant drubbing soon reveals any defects in build quality. When they show themselves, those defects are likely to result in the vehicle being taken off the road and into the workshop to be fixed; and when a van is in the workshop, it’s not earning money.
That’s why sturdy construction has to be a priority so far as many light commercial customers are concerned; and sturdy construction is one of the most arresting characteristics of the latest version of Ford’s Transit Connect.
Revamped last year, and the classic Transit’s baby brother, Transit Connect is produced in both short-wheelbase low roof and long-wheelbase high roof guise. The former boasts a 2.8m3 cargo bay while the latter comes with 3.7m3 to play with.
A 1.8-litre four-cylinder eight-valve common rail intercooled Duratorq TDCi diesel is the sole engine on offer and can be ordered at 75hp, 90hp or 110hp. The two most powerful versions can be specified with particulate traps and the 110hp variant comes with a variable nozzle turbocharger rather than the fixed geometry turbo employed by its stablemates.
We elected to sample a long-wheelbase high roof T230 with 110hp on tap and in Trend trim. Trend is mid-way between entry level and top-of-the-range Limited specification.
Maximum power kicks in at 3,500rpm while peak torque of 250Nm bites across a 1,500rpm-to-3,200rpm plateau. It goes up to 280Nm in transient over-boost mode and the engine is married to a five-speed manual gearbox.
Independent suspension with MacPherson struts is fitted at the front while leaf springs help support T230’s rear. Anti-roll bars are installed front and back and our demonstrator’s 15in steel wheels were shod with Bridgestone B390 195/65 R15 tyres.
Power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering comes as standard offering an 11.9m turning circle between kerbs. These days Transit Connect comes with Electronic Stability Programme along with a whole host of other safety measures to ensure you stay upright on the highway. They include Active Yaw Control, Roll Over Mitigation and Roll Movement Intervention.
All that is in addition to ABS, Hydraulic Brake Assist, Traction Control and disc brakes all round. These days they’re solid at the back, but ventilated at the front. Hill Launch Assist is installed too to stop you rolling backwards if you try to move away on a steep incline.
Grossing at 2,340kg, T230 can handle a gross payload of 898kg and haul a braked trailer grossing at 800kg.
Access to the cargo bay with its six load tie-down points is by means of a single sliding nearside door plus twin rear doors. All the doors are windowless. The ones at the back can be swung through 180° if you release the stays — an easy task — that hold them at 90°. The offside rear door sports a net pocket.
Our demonstrator boasted a full-height mesh bulkhead with a clever, though not original, feature that allows the load bed to be safely extended. If you want to carry something that’s over-length, then all you need to do is fold the passenger seat completely flat once you’ve figured out how to achieve this goal. It’s not immediately obvious.
Once you’ve done that, you swing the section of bulkhead behind the passenger area through 90° and latch it into place. By doing so you create a partition between the driver and whatever may be resting on the passenger seat-back and prevent it from sliding into the driver’s lap. The only drawback is that a swivelling mesh bulkhead lacks the sound-deadening qualities of one that’s fixed and solid.
Connect comes with a tailored load bed cover plus sound-deadening panels on the sides and doors. They provide only partial protection against minor scratches and scrapes and owners will probably have to get the area timbered out.
Maximum load area length is 1,986mm, extending to 2,714mm with the passenger seat folded. Maximum width is 1,490mm narrowing to 1,226mm between the wheel boxes while maximum height is 1,364mm. Rear loading height is 601mm. Side door aperture width is 809mm with a height of 1,181mm. The dimensions for the rear aperture are 1,293mm and 1,316mm respectively.
Ford points out that it’s possible to load 2.4m x 1.2m boards diagonally and stow a 3m pipe diagonally with the passenger seat folded. Nor is there any need for anybody to start wielding a drill if racking is to be installed thanks to the provision of pre-threaded reinforced fixing points.
One of the big plus points so far as Connect’s cab is concerned is the amount of head and shoulder room enjoyed by both the passenger and the driver. The latter’s seat is height-adjustable. The angle of the cushion can be altered too as can the height of the steering wheel.
There’s no lack of storage space. For your money you get a shelf above the windscreen that runs the full width of the cab, bins in each of the doors, a lidded but not lockable glovebox and a pocket on top of the facia that can accommodate an A4 clipboard. In addition you’ll find two bins of different sizes between the seats plus a couple of cup-holders.
Electric windows are standard, as are electrically operated and heated exterior mirrors; the windscreen is heated too. A driver’s airbag is included in the price, but you’ll pay an extra £150 for one for the passenger; all prices quoted here exclude VAT.
Good to see that the Trend-spec Connect is Bluetooth-enabled. Good too to see nice, chunky controls for the heating and ventilation system. On our test vehicle it incorporated manual air-conditioning for an extra £550. The radio/CD player features remote controls on the steering column and we had the benefit of satellite navigation for £700.
If you’ve owned or driven a Connect before then you may spot that the instrument panel has been redesigned; not a major change, but a welcome one nevertheless.
Feeling solidly-planted on the highway, Transit Connect rides and handles well, offering ample feedback through its responsive steering.
Floor the accelerator pedal and the engine digs in nicely, pulling strongly right the way through the rev band. Even when Connect is heavily laden, it’s well on top of the job with ample performance on tap. What’s more, the slick, quick gearchange allows you to make the most of the power and torque that’s on offer.
As indicated earlier, the absence of a solid full-height bulkhead results in too much in-cab noise and we mourned the lack of a sixth gear. On motorways and dual carriageways you’re constantly trying to change up to what turns out to be a non-existent slot.
As far as fuel economy is concerned we averaged 44mpg; a sixth gear would have made our journeys even more frugal. Average CO2 emissions are quoted as 159g/km.
Connect comes with remote central locking and you need the ignition key to unlock the bonnet; a security feature we really like. Shielded door locks with reinforced mountings are fitted and Ford’s lock-in-latch system eliminates cables and rods between the lock and the latch. That makes Connect less easy to break into.
Externally the van is equipped with side rubbing strips plus protection for the wheelarches to ensure it doesn’t suffer too much from minor scrapes. Front fog lights help the driver see and be seen.
Connect is covered by a three-year/100,000-mile warranty with a roadside rescue and recovery service provided for the duration. An eight-year anti-perforation corrosion warranty is provided too. Service intervals are set at 15,000 miles.
While more adventurously styled than Volkswagen’s Caddy — which wouldn’t be difficult — Transit Connect still looks a bit dull despite its recent exterior and interior reworking. Maybe Ford’s designers could dare to be a bit more adventurous next time round? Just take a look at the new Fiat Doblò.
Sturdily built and with plenty of performance on tap, Ford’s 110hp Transit Connect T230 is a pleasure to drive. It rides and handles well, the gearchange is slick and we’ve got few if any complaints about the roomy, well-designed cab. The load area is sensibly-thought-out too and we like the way the fold-down passenger seat and swivelling bulkhead allow the cargo bed to be extended. On the downside Connect is a touch too noisy and we can’t say we’re wild about its external styling. And why not equip the 110hp model with a six-speed gearbox as standard? On balance though, it’s a winner; a tough workhorse that’s unlikely to disappoint.