A man in denial buys a wagon in denial.
Last updated 08/2017
I’m a designer who likes to document things. I figured I’d document my experience with my new car. I understand this is a review of a used vehicle, but it’s new enough to justify this piece. I’d also love to spread the Transit love to my other designer peeps in a similar stage of life. As one of my designer friends said, “This is an artist’s car!”.
- Ford Transit Connect Wagon
- XLT, Long Wheel Base
- Naturally aspirated 2.5L 4 cylinder
- 169hp @ 6000RPM
- 171 lb-ft @ 4500RPM
- Cargo Volume
- 19.7 to 46.8 ft³, 77 to 104.2 ft³ with seat area
- 7, mid-row bench, rear buckets
- FWD w/traction control, Power windows/locks, rear liftgate, dual sliding doors
- Safety Rating
- 5 Stars
- Design Language
- Kinetic design (hey, I'm a designer, this is important)
Why the Transit?
C’mon, I have to give you the backstory. My wife and I have two children, 6 and 3. Up until now, our family car was a 2007 Subaru Impreza Outback Sport. A fantastic car on all accounts, except for space. When family visited, we were forced to take two vehicles wherever we went. If we road tripped, there was barely enough room for humans, let alone our luggage. The bigger the kids got, the smaller the Impreza became. All these factors combined to face the reality a larger vehicle was in order.
My wife had one demand: 7 seats. The rest was up to me.
A Brief, Self-indulgent History
A brief insight on what makes me tick. On the outset, I consider myself a car guy. I love european cars from the 60’s - 80’s. I watch a good amount of endurance, mixed-class racing. I geek out on car shows (Project Binky anyone?), and listen to a fair amount of car-related podcasts. Midweek Motorsport is my church. I try and generally fail to fix and work on my own cars. So, it’s important to me that I end up with a mode of transportation that would provide a basic level of interest, looks, and quality.
So what to choose? I don’t subscribe to the “bigger is better” mentality. Expeditions and Suburbans are out. I also don’t like to look like everyone else. I think a vehicle is part of one’s identity, so another CRV just isn’t going to satisfy me. And speaking of CRV, I don’t like crossovers. Is it a car, an SUV?! A chassis with an identity crisis?! I despise minivans (Dodge Caravan, Toyota Sienna, anything Chevy, and you, Odyssey) for their looks and price tag. SUVs, while some are interesting, are not interesting enough to justify their price tag or fuel economy. Also most SUVs are ugly. Nissan, what did the once badass Pathfinder ever do to you to make it so dull and pedestrian? I do like the 4 Runner, though.
Finally, I’m a dad in denial. I’m still mentally stuck in my days when my ‘85 Toyota pickup 4x4 (or Hilux for the rest of the world) regular cab was my daily driver, and it was all the vehicle I ever needed. The short wheelbase made for the most uncomfortable ride since the Willys Jeep, but it was tough as nails.
Oh, and I’m a tightwad. I didn’t want to spend a lot of money. Okay, my wife didn’t want me to spend a lot of money. Even so, I can’t get my head around dropping 30k on a family car. I’d gladly spend 50k on an Alpha Romeo 4C, though.
That’s why I landed on the Ford Transit Connect…Wagon. The Transit Connect is versatile, available with 7 seats (long wheel base version), a rare sight on the roads, and doesn’t break the bank. Of course, this is my opinion, but it looks fantastic. Best of all, Ford does not call this a van. No, no, it’s a wagon. A WAGON! It’s essentially a Focus estate. And as everyone knows, the Ford Focus is among the hottest of all hot hatches. I did not have to compromise my morals and purchase a minivan, because I wasn’t purchasing a van, I was purchasing a wagon! Wagons are completely different from vans. There’s room for the concept of performance within, “wagon”. Better still, there’s room for all my denial in the word, “wagon”.
It then took another two years of me following, researching, etc. before I finally made the purchase. You know, I had to make sure I was doing the right thing, of course. I looked and test drove both new and used. I educated salesmen (in their defense, Transit Connects do not grace showroom floors as often as F-150s). I looked at all trim levels, and I ended up with a 17 month-old 2015 clocking in at 20k miles for $16k.
What I Like About the Transit Connect Wagon
The Connect is a european vehicle, made by Ford Europe, produced in Turkey, imported to Boston. Why is this important? Because they didn’t make it big just to be big. In fact, it’s incredible how much space it provides for being considerably smaller than the competition. It’s HOW the space is configured which makes it such a good vehicle.
It’s a Ford. I really respect Ford, Ford US didn’t take bail out money, and they came out of the financial crisis with incredibly well built and engineered vehicles. Ford also makes the GT. I have a deep, primal love of the GT40, especially with the spicy Le Mans history, and the new GTLM is one of the premier engineering feats to come out of America apart from the space program.
It looks damn good. As I wrote earlier, the Transit Connect is a stretched-out Focus. The front end is super sexy with the Aston Martin-esque grille, and those cleopatra eyes. Mmm mmm.
Good gas mileage for the type of vehicle: 2015 is rated at 20/30 from a naturally aspirated 4 cylinder with 169hp. While the ecoboost was available in 2015, I saw no real advantage to going that route for only four extra horsepowers.
Seats & Serious Cargo Space
The middle bench and rear bucket seats will fold down flat independently, or all together to create a vast, nearly infinite cargo space. The back space is nearly square. There are no unnecessary tapers toward the roof, or in the back. The result is a highly functional cargo area. Spaced across the back are two holds for dividers, and the floor has hooks onto which you can…hook…things.
In everyday use, with just the two kids, we can keep the back seats down and haul everything including a kitchen sink.
The Transit Connect comes with two rear door options: barn doors or lift gate. We opted for the liftgate option. THe liftgate gives you better visibility out the back. I wasn’t crazy over just how much visibility you lose with the barn door middle panel straight down the middle. The barn doors also only open 90 degrees, which is understandable. However, in daily use, say, in a parking lot, that causes the doors to stick out pretty far into the lot, causing you to walk around them, and if you’re managing children and needing to zip back and forth, this is less than ideal. The liftgate on the other hand opens and rests quite high, allowing room to move and maneuver underneath it easily. I’m 6’ and, when open, I still have plenty of clearence to walk beneath it. The only, understandable downside of a door this massive is you have to get well out of its way when opening it. See my wishlist below for my suggestion.
Feels So Good
It drives like a car. Okay, so maybe like a big-ish car, but a car nevertheless. It feels tight and nimble, which is surprising given how heavy it feels when opening the doors. It feels completely at home in the city, which is really what it’s made for. Granted I’m out west and we have space, but there are some narrow thoroughfares around here, and I feel right at home weaving around pedestrians, parked cars, and stoned tourists.
The steering wheel is full tilt and telescoping, which is nice for me. I’m tall, and it’s hard to find the right driving position in a lot of cars. The instruments, especially the analog speedometer, are difficult for me to see. This is solved easily, though, since the trip computer screen is right in the center of the panel, so I just swich over to the digital speedo.
While it’s a 6-speed automatic, you do have the option of “sport” mode. I use the air quotes on purpose, here. Once the shifter is down in sport, you can use the little joy-stick buttons on the side of the knob to shift through the gears. While you get some control, the Transit won’t let you drop the transmission or anything. You can spend a little longer up toward the red line before shifting, though, and that’s fun now and again.
It’s In Denial, Just Like Me
As I mentioned earlier, Ford does not call the Transit Connect a van, instead it’s a wagon. And I love wagons. One the best cars I owned was a 1994 Volvo 850 Turbo estate. Anyone into touring cars may remember the badass 850 estate tearing around the british circuits back in the 90’s.
That did mark the end of my turbo days, however. I now like my aspirations natural.
It has airbags. Lovely curtainie air bags. Considering the most modern car I have owned to this point is a 2007 Impreza, I realize technology and safety standards have improved. That said, I’m confident carting my little family around in this thing.
The Transit does have car seat anchors, but only for the second row bench seats. If you’re a parent, you’ll know what I’m talking about.
Beyond that, the Transit feels, well, substantial. This is probably just a mental thing, but it feels weighty. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still plastic. I made the mistake of leaning against the front fender and promptly left a butt print, but the doors and the general feel is a weighty, solid one. In fact, the front doors feel a bit too substancial, and sometimes I have to exert more force than I would think necessary to open them. I could also just need to up my creatine intake.
The Little Things
A place to hang a trash bag. What the what? That’s cool. There’s a nice place to put junk above the windshield, and you can get an optional overhead-compartment for the rear section, like in an aircraft. If we had of gone new, we would have opted for that as well.
I love that it has a 4 cylinder…but it’s not quite plucky enough. If you’re just tooling about, it’s fine, and once up to highway speeds, it’s perfect. The thing hums right along. But you often need to put your foot down, and when you do, the best you get is a louder noise, but not much else. I feel if they could have squeezed a mere 10 more horses out of the engine, it would feel just right.
I’ve since learned how to best use Sport Mode and Select Shift features, and I have to say, the Sport Mode does make up a bit for the lack of power. As one would expect, choosing Sport Mode means the Transit shifts at higher revs, and does a pretty decent job of predicting my throttle use. This has essentially taken care of my on-ramp woes, but I stand by my desire for a slightly more powerful engine.
The Select Shift feature is extremely handy in the mountains. If you find yourself traversing a steep descent, pop this bad boy in first, and let the drive train do the rest. In first, downhill, the vehicle will stay at a tame 15 - 18mph. Second gear lets you maintain around 25mph. I have used this feature descending both Pikes Peak and Mount Evans, and have rarely felt more secure that my transportation is keeping me safe, and my brakes happy.
Sun Visors * Shakes fist *
The sun visors. Oh the sun visors. Look, the windscreen is massive, and that’s a good thing. I can see to Canada. But, when the sun is setting, that means there is a lot of real estate for a visor to cover. Granted, the visors ARE massive, but they’re massive in all the wrong ways. Ideally they’d be wider, or have extenders. I’m yet to actually have the visor, um, vise?, the sun. The cheeky star is always in a place where the visors don’t cover.
My real complaint, however, is that they also do not stay in place. Right from the outset, when you put the visor up, it flops back down. Because there’s no clip, it just wobbles in space. My drivers side is so bad that it does not even stay up on its own anymore. I’m either going to replace the entire thing, or come up with some sort of magnetic latch system. I really think this is poor engineering.
This is not just because my Transit is 17 months old. I encountered the same issue in a brand new Transit I test drove. While it hadn’t reached the won’t-stay-in-place issue yet, it still wobbled and flopped, which was distracting. I’ll just leave that there.
The visor drama has continued with the passenger side clip sheering off completely, leaving the passenger visor drooping down in the same way the driver has. So, not only will they not stay in place, but there is no where to clip them in. I’ll be spending around $100 for new clips and visors. It’s a small expense in the grand scheme, but a very annoying expense.
One Seat for All
For my package/trim level, the seats do not have a back angle adjustment. You can move them back and forth, and only the drivers side has height and lumbar adjustment. If you’re the passenger, you’re out of luck. Back and forth, that’s it. Hey, I like utilitarian, but that’s a tad too utilitarian.
I found the back adjustment! My above commentary is not entirely accurate. I did actually find the back adjustment, and while I feel a little silly, I’m just happy they exist. So, the Transit has fully-functioning and customizable seating positions. Phew.
Rear Seat Workout
You have to manhandle the seats to fold down or set up again. Not a big deal, because we’re not doing that every day, but sometimes it takes some effort to get the seats to move the way we want. You typically will have to position yourself on one side of the seats to adjust the backs, then walk around, climb inside, and finish the conversion.
I couldn’t resist compiling a little wish list.
- All wheel drive. I think the Transit connect could give the Outback a run for its money if there was an all wheel drive version, and the Outback is just about the perfect car.
- Split window lift gate. My ‘95 Explorer had this and it was so useful. Other than having to remember, and always get wrong, which way to turn the handle (can I get a witness?), having the option to just open the rear glass, or the door entirely was very useful. It also kept my junk from falling out, like it seems to do in the Transit more often than I like.
- And, speaking of things falling out, a cargo gate at the very, very back to keep stuff from falling out when you open the liftgate.
- A few more horses. I’d even be okay with a turbo if Ford could squeeze 180hp - 190hp out of a 4cyl. That’s possible, right? Having those few extra horses would make mountain driving, or those times you have to punch it to not get run over, would be really handy.
While I do have a few complaints, I consider them minor stacked up against all I really do enjoy about the Transit Connect. It’s so darn versitile, comfortable, and good looking. I buy vehicles to keep, and I can see this being part of the family for years to come.