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Minivans excel at hauling a family’s worth of people and cargo, and when it comes time to move a child into a dorm room, they’re a decent stand-in for something more dedicated, like a cargo van. But what if you want something that swaps the roles and emphasizes the van in minivan? That’s where the Ford Transit Connect comes in.
Refreshed for the 2019 model year, the Ford Transit Connect offers a compelling package on paper, but the execution falls short. Having recently driven both the cargo and passenger variants, I found it’s easy to tell where this vehicle’s priorities lie.
Cargo: Easy-peasy haulin’
Before sliding into the more family-friendly variant of Transit Connect, I find myself schlepping the cargo van variant from Michigan to Wisconsin and back, taking part in the great American pastime of interstate furniture hauling.
Moving things in the Transit Connect is a breeze. Without any sort of panels inside, there are all sorts of cutouts and crevices that make great attachment points for bungee cords, in addition to the floor’s integrated tie-downs. The clamshell doors open wide enough to stay out of the way, and the resulting space is cavernous enough to easily load in a dresser or two. It’s not perfect, though, as it has trouble accommodating a taller vintage headboard; if you plan on moving larger pieces, the full-size Transit still reigns supreme.
With the van loaded to the brim, it’s time to head back to Michigan. Unless it’s a fleet special, every Transit Connect comes equipped with the same 2.0-liter I4 gas engine producing 162 horsepower and 144 pound-feet of torque. It has no problem shoving the empty cargo van up to speed in a decent amount of time, but passing and merging requires a bit more thought when the back is loaded up. The EPA rates this front-wheel-drive van at 24 miles per gallon city and 27 mpg highway. The first number is easy to meet, and the second is easy to beat — until it’s fully loaded, natch.
My tester’s $295 fixed rear glass makes it easier to change lanes, but with the cargo hold packed to the brim, the lack of side glass (although available) leaves me using only the side mirrors, which are adequately sized for such a task. Thankfully, there’s plenty of tech to help out. This van is equipped with a $350 driver assist package that adds lane-keep assist and automatic high beams, as well as a $295 rear parking sensor package and standard automatic braking. Blind-spot monitoring offers additional peace of mind for $575, but it’s not equipped here. Since it’s a small van, it’s quite easy to maneuver in tight confines, making it great for urban tradesmen and the like.
While I would define its on-road demeanor as good, it’s worth pointing out that it’s good only when compared with other small cargo vans. There are no panels behind the front two seats, so the cabin is loud at most speeds, and when it’s unladen, the Transit Connect is jumpy over big bumps and highway expansion joints. Once it’s filled up, though, the ride smooths out, feeling just a bit better bolted together than, say, a.
Most cargo vans offer very little in the way of in-car experiences for the driver, which makes sense, since they’re work vehicles. But my tester comes equipped with a $995 option that adds Ford’s Sync 3 infotainment system on a 6.5-inch touchscreen. It’s not terribly large, but it’s as functional as ever, offering up a sensible layout with ample responsiveness. With Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and satellite radio on board, there are plenty of ways to stay entertained on a long journey. The only real surprise is the side mirrors, which you can’t manually adjust from inside the van — I had to lean outside and nudge them to the right position.
The 2019 Transit Connect cargo van offers better looks and driving dynamics than its prime competitor from Ram, but it’s not priced through the roof. The base XL trim with a long wheelbase rings in at $25,100 before the $1,195 destination charge. With a number of creature-comfort and quality-of-life upgrades, my tester lands at a decent $29,660 out the door.
Wagon: The veneer begins to peel
It doesn’t take much time with the 2019 Ford Transit Connect to suss out its serious potential as a compact cargo van. In passenger-oriented Transit Connect Wagon form, though, it’s a little less compelling.
It’s easy to tell the two apart. The Transit Connect Wagon has three full rows of seats visible from outside, and the whole shebang looks a little less utilitarian in general. It’s still very van-ish, foregoing the sleeker lines of car-based minivans like the Honda Odyssey and Chrysler Pacifica. The tailgate is also different, eschewing the side-hinged cargo doors in favor of a single-piece trunk you have to lift up. It’s easy to hoist up, but it will undoubtedly present issues in shorter garages or in tight parallel parking spaces.
The two rows of rear seats, while not removable without some wrenching, do offer a clever storage solution if passengers aren’t present. The second row collapses and slides forward, and folding down the third row to match creates a slightly raised but flat load floor. It’s not as capacious as the cargo van, but it’s surprisingly close. That said, my tester’s finished interior means tie-down locations are harder to find, but it’ll still work as a dual-purpose van to some degree.
Driving the Transit Connect Wagon isn’t all that different from driving the cargo variant. It lacks the on-road demeanor of the Pacifica or Odyssey, maintaining an above-average combination of wind and road noise. The 215/55R16 Continental all-season tires that wrap around my Titanium-trim tester’s alloy wheels are pretty thick, soaking up heavier bumps and dips in the pavement, but the body is still quite lively on roads that weren’t paved yesterday. It’s a big-enough van on small-enough wheels, after all.
The rest of the Transit Connect Wagon’s driving experience isn’t very enthralling, either. Despite packing the same powertrain as the cargo van, my tester doesn’t feel like it has its act together completely. The standard eight-speed automatic transmission clunks through both upshifts and downshifts, unsettling the ride. The automatic stop-start is almost always herky-jerky, too, leading to a generally unpleasant driving experience. Acceleration takes some time, with downshifts arriving after a short delay, requiring plenty of thought on my part before committing to a lane change. I don’t know if it’s the extra weight of the parts from the passenger conversion, but this van feels markedly pokier than the cargo variant. Its fuel economy is solid, though, having no problem returning 1 or 2 mpg more than its EPA-estimated 29 mpg highway rating.
There are some other ergonomic quirks in here, too. In addition to the tricky trunk, the rearview mirror is mounted so high that it’s difficult to adjust without leaving my seat, turning fine-tuning into a bit of a guessing game. The sun visors are huge and difficult to push into their highest position, also. These issues are unique to the Transit Connect Wagon, given its cargo-friendly shape.
But, whereas the Transit Connect Wagon’s driving experience leaves a lot to be desired, the cargo van’s tech is just as good in this human-oriented form. On the top Titanium trim, Sync 3 with embedded navigation is standard, offering competitive tech that can stand next to any modern minivan. Automatic braking, keyless entry and automatic climate control are all standard, but the two front USB ports are sadly the only ones on offer. I am a huge fan of the centrally mounted wireless device charging cubby, which is large enough to accommodate. My tester also includes remote start, a $495 option, but it’s weirdly connected to a separate keychain dongle instead of living as a button on the remote.
Automatic braking remains the only standard safety system, but several are available. My tester is further kitted out with adaptive cruise control ($795), active parking assist ($895) and a premium package ($1,475) that adds blind-spot monitoring, lane-keep assist, parking sensors and a panoramic fixed glass roof. The combination of systems works well, holding the lane well and having no problem adjusting its speed to the flow of traffic.
Down to brass tacks
While the lesser-equipped Transit Connect Wagon starts at $26,845 before the $1,195 destination charge, the Titanium rings in higher at $31,595. With my tester’s wide swath of options, the price moves even higher to a surprising $37,010. That puts the Wagon at about the same price as midtier trims of minivans like theand , while offering a bit more standard equipment and superior city fuel economy.
Unless you really need a cargo van on occasion, though, I’d recommend skipping over the Transit Connect Wagon. The tradeoffs in ergonomics, driving dynamics and second-and-third-row tech make it hard to recommend for anyone who will use it almost exclusively as the family truckster. But it’s mighty capable at hauling, and as a plain ol’ cargo van, the Transit Connect won’t let you down.
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