There is something to be said for turning the minivan formula on its ear, which is precisely what Ford has done with the 2014 Transit Connect Wagon. Ford is so intent on changing the concept that it is calling its new small van the "unminivan." That name fits. Not only is the Transit Connect different from all of the other small vans out there, it is very different from the previous generation TC, which first came to North America as an already-outdated 2010 model.
Two sizes, two engines
For 2014, the cool-looking Transit Connect Wagon rides on a short (5-passenger) or long (7-passenger) wheelbase. The 5-passenger model is powered by a 2.5-liter, 169-horsepower I4 or a 1.6-liter, 178-horsepower turbocharged I4 EcoBoost, while the 7-passenger model uses only the former. The 2.5-liter doesn't have as much oomph off the line as the EcoBoost and also suffers a bit in fuel economy than the turbo, posting 20 mpg city/28 highway versus 22 city/29 highway. When you combine the short-wheelbase platform, which is almost 16 inches shorter, with the EcoBoost, the result is acceleration that's downright fun. This engine uses the same 6-speed automatic transmission as the 2.5-liter, but it seems to shift quicker behind the turbo engine. But this model, while more fuel efficient, lacks the segment leading cargo space and seven-passenger seating of the long wheelbase model. Unfortunately you have to choose between class-leading fuel economy and cargo/passenger space, you can't get both.
Not only does the Transit Connect Wagon feel quick (for a van), but its handling makes it seem downright agile. Based on a version of the same platform that underpins the Escape and Focus, it's no surprise that the vehicle feels like a big, boxy Focus. It may be the most planted, confident van out there and the most fun one to drive on canyon roads. These aren't the attributes typical minivan buyers are necessarily looking for, but it is nice to know that when the van isn't carrying seven people, it can be an entertaining drive. The Transit Connect's ride isn't as soft and cushy as you'd expect in a minivan; it's firmer, but certainly comfortable.
Versatility was hugely important for the designers at Ford, and it shows. There is generous legroom in all three rows of the long wheelbase version, comparable to minivans like the Sienna and Town & Country. The headroom is phenomenal, making the 2015 Ford Transit Connect feel spacious and airy, whatever row you're in. If you want to carry cargo and passengers, or just cargo, you can fold the second and third rows flat to haul up to 104.2 cubic feet of gear behind the front row. There are straps and a push-down-and-pull motion to stow the 60/40-split second row. It isn't as simple as pushing a button, but is easy to learn. When the third row is folded, panels on the seatbacks come forward to create a completely flat load floor all the way to the front seatbacks. While the third row reclines, the second one does not -- but passengers can opt to sit in back with the second row folded, recline their seatbacks, and stretch out. And while the center console is small, there's additional handy storage overhead in the front row.
The quality of the materials in the cabin has improved dramatically over the previous model, and the van is quieter than before. However, you can't get all of the options on the Transit Connect that you can on minivans, things like rear-seat entertainment or power-fold seats, which means not every minivan buyer would be happy with this van.
Advanced Safety, Plus Towing
There are plenty of safety features here, too, such as AdvanceTrac with roll stability control, and front, pelvis and side airbags and side-curtain airbags for all rows.
Unlike the previous Transit Connect, you can now get a towing package for the 2014 model, and can tow up to 2000 pounds. Considering its maximum payload is 1270 pounds, and the Wagon is available with a liftgate or side-hinged cargo doors, this is a van that can serve equally well hauling people or cargo.
The Bottom Line
When to comes to the Transit Connect, the biggest shocker may be the price: it starts at $25,520 for a 5-passenger XLT, $27,520 for a 7-passenger. Even if you went hog wild and checked every options box -- including things like a panoramic fixed-glass roof, Sync, rear-view camera and navigation system -- a 7-passenger Titanium tops out at $34,955. Considering some minivans these days can cost as much as $50,000, the Transit Connect makes a compelling case for people who want something different.
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