Ford’s new Transit Connect is, its maker claims, off to a flying start in the UK, with the manufacturer “absolutely smashing” its target of 1000 orders before the first vehicle is delivered. Having gone on sale in February with more than 4000 orders in place, the company is well on target for its 14,000 goal for 2014.
New to the second-generation Connect line-up is a petrol model, with Ford’s acclaimed Ecoboost 1.0-litre turbocharged engine joining the 75hp, 95hp and 115hp power levels of the 1.6-litre diesel. Having tried the 95hp diesel on the original launch event last October, we this time gravitated towards the Ecoboost, even though Ford reckons only about one-in-twenty buyers will plump for petrol power.
That’s partially because the Ecoboost is only available in one trim level and one wheelbase, though the perceived lack of demand will have prevented Ford from widening the offering. But that means only the shorter L1 wheelbase and mid-spec Trend trim level that comes with body-coloured front bumper, dual passenger seat with storage underneath and the clever load-through hatch for carrying extended loads, Ford’s SYNC voice-control system and plastic-lined floor area. It’s the desirable trim level, offering the levels of usable kit most operators would desire, while not stepping up to the more expensive Limited available with the 115hp diesel that offers car-like levels of kit including dual-zone climate control, alloy wheels and rear parking sensors.
Despite the extra kit, the majority of Connects – 70% – will be the entry Base spec, and there’s a 60:40 split in favour of the shorter of the two wheelbases.
The new Connect doesn’t quite follow the lead of the outstanding new Transit Custom in terms of leading the market for interior quality. Though nicely designed, there are some cheaper plastics dotted around, most notably with the flimsy overhead storage shelf, though other more central elements are of a higher quality. There’s also a surprisingly small amount of storage space for smaller oddments, unless the central passenger seat in folded down.
The rest of the package is a better story. In short-wheelbase form particularly, the Connect is a classy-looking vehicle, though the longer wheelbase is a little ungainly compared to its more compact sibling.
It also drives well, with great refinement and excellent ride quality – even unladen like our test vehicle was, as Ford desired to highlight the feature by not doing the norm and dropping a part-load in to the back. The steering offers regular Ford levels of good feedback, the Ecoboost unit quickly highlights why it has won so many engine awards.
The pricing is interesting, because the 100hp Ecoboost power choice is the same price as the 75hp diesel, with a £500 price gap to the 95hp diesel that could be seen as the logical comparison vehicle. Though the diesel offers an official 64.2mpg against the Ecoboost’s 50.4, that £500 saving on pre-VAT purchase price would buy a lot of fuel, especially as unleaded is maintaining a gap of around 7p per litre on diesel. It’s also predictably more refined than the diesel in terms of noise and vibration.
The petrol van’s payload is 16kg down on the 95hp diesel but 3kg above the same-priced 75hp 1.6 TDCi.
Overall, the Connect continues Ford’s history of entering at or very near the top of the class, and being the only manufacturer in the market with a competitive modern petrol engine will appeal to some, especially urban operators.
Great Ecoboost engine deserves to sell in bigger numbers than predicted.