The blue oval’s light van has impressed during its time on our fleet and, according to James Dallas, it will be a tough act for others to follow.
During the last six months our long-term Transit Connect has demonstrated the qualities over a sustained period of time that led us to crown the model our What Van? Light Van of the Year for 2015.
In 2013 the Transit Connect became the second model to arrive in Ford’s overhaul of its light commercial vehicle line-up, following the introduction of the groundbreaking Transit Custom medium van at the end of the previous year.
The blue oval has set the bar high for the Connect in volume terms – expecting it to gain a 20% share of the light van market within five years as it continues to gain traction in a sector the brand has not traditionally dominated to the extent it has with medium and heavy vans.
It is making good progress: last year sales leapt 120% to 12,437, according to the SMMT, as the Connect finished behind the Peugeot Partner and Citroen Berlingo.
It should be noted, however, that the model Ford benchmarked the Connect against, the VW Caddy, was on run out with a new generation van set to launch later this year.
The new Transit Connect is a far prettier van than its boxy, utilitarian predecessor, which screamed functionality but had little to add to the lexicon of light commercial vehicle style.
Its successor is far more pleasing to the eye with its curvaceous lines, powerful shoulder line and sleek, angular light casings. The Connect showcases its looks to best effect in short-wheelbase versions and this is the bodystyle we chose for our crew van.
In terms of its style and sophistication the Connect has raised the bar in the light van sector. The controls in the classy interior, which is mirrored throughout the Transit line-up from the Courier city van up to the two-tonne van, are easy to understand and simple to use. Ample storage space includes a full-width shelf above the windscreen, big bins in each of the doors, a shelf on the passenger side of the fascia and a big, lockable glove box. The driver’s seat comes with lumbar adjustment and is height- adjustable, the steering wheel is rake and reach adjustable and the cabin materials are a match in quality for anything on the market. Our van came with glazed rear windows as a £100 option and, despite the fact that it is a short-wheelbase model, there were no complaints from back seat passengers about a lack of legroom.
A SWB double-cab-in van is unusual - the majority of crew vans and combis are offered only in long, or extra-long, wheelbase formats. An exception to this rule is the Vauxhal Combo, which in its smallest derivation offers a payload of 740kg and a maximum loadspace of 1.9m3.
Our L1 Transit Connect DCIV can handle a 725kg payload and swallow 1.2m3 behind its bulkhead with the rear seats in use. With the bulkhead moved forward on its roof rails, however, and the back seats folded up to create more space, this can increase to almost 2.2m3. We found the Connect to be a versatile and practical load lugger, aided by a 1237mm load height, swallowing everything from a Christmas tree, to children’s bicycles to piles of books and household goods destined for charity shops and recycling centres.
The L1 Connect DCIV Trend has a price tag of £15,950, which compares with £15,703 for the single trim (Combo) Vauxhall Combo Crew Van and the £16,295 Mercedes asks for its 90hp 1.5 Dualiner, a five-seater that is only marketed in extra-long guise. In Base trim, the Connect crew version costs £15,150. All prices listed exclude VAT.
Equipment coming as standard with Trend specification includes 16-inch steel wheels with full wheel covers, body-coloured front bumper and rear bumper end caps, electric, heated door mirrors and a heated windscreen to ensure a clear view in cold weather.
Daytime running lights, a spare wheel and Ford’s Easy-Fuel capless refuelling system are fitted to all Connect vans.
For driveability the Connect has set the standard subsequent light vans coming to market must strive to match. A slick gear change and precise steering combine to deliver peerlessly sharp handling but we did pine for a sixth gear for motorway cruising. Our 95hp diesel, as well as the 75hp version, have to make do with five gears while the 115hp diesel and 1.0-litre Ecoboost petrol unit are mated to a six-speed manual ‘box.
On the other hand we did appreciate the efficient Auto Start/Stop when driving in the city. This came with the £300 Fuel Economy Pack but is standard on Econetic models. Out on the open road the £150 cruise control, which includes a speed limiter, made for a more relaxing drive. All prices listed exclude VAT. We were less impressed with the rear view camera, which is installed as part of Ford’s pricey (£1000 ) DAB Navigation System. It often failed to wake up until well after reverse gear was engaged and the parking maneouvre underway. Irritatingly, once it had come to life the reverse image then had a tendency to remain when forward motion had resumed. While the satnav is excellent, it could make more sense to pay £200 reversing sensors and to sort out your own route finder.
Overall, we found our Connect’s build quality to be excellent – up there with the VW Caddy it is benchmarked against – nothing squeaked, rattled or fell off. However, over time and frequent use, the offside rear door developed a habit of not shutting properly unless slammed. Luckily, an alert on the dash warns the driver of the problem.
But these are minor gripes, as an all-round package the new Connect represents a huge advance on its predecessor and is the clear leader of its sector.