Few light vans are as fun to drive as the Connect while also getting the job done. James Dallas is sorry to see it go.
With the might of Ford’s ubiquitous UK sales and servicing network behind it, it is no surprise that the Transit Connect is the nation’s favourite light van.
Last year the brand shifted 15,477 Connects, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, ahead of its nearest challenger the Peugeot Partner on 14,605 registrations. It’s a competitive field that also includes the likes of the Citroen Berlingo, Vauxhall Combo, Volkswagen Caddy and Renault Kangoo, but the Connect deserves its position of prominence because it is the sector’s model that most successfully marries performance with practicality.
This is particularly true of the Sport variant that has, alas, now departed the What Van? fleet.
You could even say the Connect Sport has its own tribute act in the shape of MS-RT’s beefed-up Transit Connect. The South Wales-based converter, a member of Ford’s Qualified Vehicle Manufacturer programme, has given the Transit Connect a makeover, including restyled front and rear bumpers, new grilles, front and rear diffusers, side skirts and a spoiler.
It also gets a stainless steel sports exhaust system, 18in OZ Racing alloy wheels with an optional limited-edition bronze finish, a carbon inlay sports steering wheel, and a handmade nappa leather and suede interior.
MS-RT cannot touch the engine, however, for risk of invalidating the warranty, so the Connect’s impressive performance and handling remains the preserve of Ford Motor Company.
The original Ford interior is comfortable, stylish and functional too. Dual-zone electronic automatic temperature control improves the ambiance, and part-leather heated seats as well as a leather steering wheel add a touch of luxury. The DAB radio reception is pleasantly consistent, with no dead zones, something that’s still not always a given in new LCVs, and pairing one’s smartphone to enable hands-free calls is a simple procedure. My van also got a wireless charging pad as a £91 (ex-VAT) option.
The cabin is tidily designed and offers plenty of storage facilities for such a compact environment, including overhead stowage, dual cup holders, a lockable glovebox, and sufficient space for medium-sized water bottles in the door bins.
Other neat touches are Ford’s Easy Fuel capless refuelling system (OK, it’s not new but it’s still effective), which relieves you from touching a greasy fuel cap and stops you from misfuelling, the quick-clear heated windscreen that stops the glass from steaming up, and the fact the van comes with a proper spare wheel, although the double-cab-in-van just gets a tyre inflator kit.
VW’s Caddy probably still boasts the best build quality in the light van segment but the Connect runs it close. Everything is well put together and conveys a sense of solidity. Ford claims it slammed the doors and bonnet open and shut 250,000 times to ensure durability.
One gripe I do have with the Connect is that, even on the top-spec Limited and Sport models, Ford has placed too many of the driver-assistance features, such as active park assist, Sync 3 connectivity, pre-collision assist and side wind assist, on the paid-for options list, rather than including them as standard kit.
But overall the Connect range in general and the Sport in particular presents an attractive and accomplished package.
Handling = 5/5
This van sets the benchmark in the light van sector when it comes to driveability.
Load carrying = 3/5
Decent enough but not so generous as some of its light van rivals.
Cabin = 4/5
Stylish and well put together with handily-placed burrons and ample storage space.
Ford Transit Connect Sport SWB 1.5 TDCi
Official combined consumption 56.5mpg
Our average consumption 54.3mpg
Price (ex VAT) £20,045
Service intervals 1yr/20,000mls
Load length 1,558mm
Load width (min/max) 1,249/1,543mm
Load bay height 1,269mm
Load volume 2.9m3
Gross payload 718kg
Engine size/power 1,498cc/120hp
(See below for previous reports)