2014 Ford Transit Connect Wagon in review

Family transport is the new black.

Family transport is the new black

Pros:

  • All the minivan, well at least 80% of it
  • No minivan mileage
  • Head turning, people gawking, conversation starting European style

Cons:

  • Limited towing (2,000 lbs)
  • No passenger seat adjustability (except with top seating package)
  • “Torpedo tube” styling around dials limits some driver’s visibility

Summary

Firstoff, let’s get one thing out of the way.  The name says “Wagon” but that’s a very European thing to say.  It is not, in any measurable sense, a wagon.  Dash the comparisons out of your head right now.  Look at that photo, does that look like a wagon to you?  Good, now onto the crux of the matter.  Hello, my name is Dan and I would like to introduce you to the 2014 Ford Transit Connect Wagon.  I am, it seems, one of the first few to give this new take on an old idea a real family run through.  Transit Connect Wagons are still fresh in the Canadian market and very hard to come by at your local dealership.  Ford markets this as the “unminivan” and it very much is.  Based on the Escape/Focus platform this vehicle is skinnier than most minivans.  It also performs and feels a lot like driving a small car as well.  It does so, however, still feeling like you’re piloting a vehicle of some substantial nature.  It’s a bit of an odd feeling really.

Interior headroom is ginormous, passenger cabin space is, well, spacious.  There is lots of space for luggage with and without the third row up.  Ford’s peppy little 1.6L turbo EcoBoost engine powers the Transit Connect Wagon and does a really, really good job.  Mated to a six speed transmission which provides smooth shifts in city driving and aggressive shifting during passing.  Again, you’ll feel like you’re driving a small car; this is a high revving engine.  Still, our test averaged 8.8L/100km despite city driving – my minivan can’t even touch that.  What it does have, though, is minivan pricing.  Ranging in price from $28,000 up to $38,000 full spec, ours is the XLT model at a mid range $33,000.

Exterior

Ford has brought the 2014 Transit Connect from our friends in Europe.  It comes in both the standard commercial version and the Wagon passenger version.  Both feature the same unique styling.  Our tester looked great all around.  The nose is very unique in the market.  Design and build quality were excellent.  Doors closed very easily and there is no deviations in the fit and finish.  Dual barn doors on the rear are a much better option than a solid gate, particularly on a vehicle this high.  Power folding mirrors are large and include blind spot visibility.  There’s a lot of interesting crossover from the commercial version into the passenger version here.  Large wipers cover a lot of ground on a very large windshield.  There are some cool Canadian winter friendly options on the Transit Connect, one being the quick defrost/defogger on the front windshield.  Though ours didn’t feature this option, at $240 it’s a must buy.  Invisible netting sandwiched between the two panes of glass quickly melts frost and removes fog at the push of a button.  No more scraping or waiting for the car to heat up!  It also heats the windshield washer spray nozzles.  In this country, you can’t NOT have this option.

Ford Transit Connect interiorInterior

A very high roof-line is a unique feature of this van, one of many thanks to its commercial cousin.  In fact, the utilitarian DNA of the Transit Connect is obvious in the Wagon version.  Minivans like this are often used for a plethora of tasks, transporting families not withstanding, and this foundation makes the Transit Connect very good at its job.  Because of the roof’s height the interior feels much larger than it should.  Despite its small width, we still fit three kid’s seats side by side in the middle row, only just.  This does render the third row inaccessible, however, but we didn’t really find a need to use that row.  Putting the rear seats flat is a fairly quick process (with some instruction) and leaves you with a very large amount of space.  Its square, tall nature makes the Transit Connect Wagon ideal for stacking luggage and other travel items.  Third row seats do slide forward and back meaning you’re not restricted in your rear trunk space when they’re up.  In fact, as a test I put the rear seats up behind the kids.  The result, with the seats full forward, was a surprising amount of space thanks to the shape of the Transit Connect.

Dashboard and console design is very car-ish yet you don’t feel tight in the driver or passenger compartment at all.  Seats in front and second row are very comfortable for short and long trips.  Large dash buttons make the small SYNC screen feel even smaller, but they would be very friendly to cold, gloved hands.  Torpedo tube style dial tunnels made for a very specific field of visibility.  Some of the drivers complained of difficulty reading the speedometer from their positions – though my personal visibility of the dashboard was great.  Thankfully the LCD center screen gives drivers some basic information including current speed.  I enjoyed the little “economy driving” game, but I digress.  Climate controls were simple with vents intelligently placed in the front and rear cabin.  There wasn’t any way to control the rear climate from the front, however, and you had to reach behind the center console to control them yourself.  Not an issue if you have older kids or adult passengers.  On the whole, however, the Transit Connect has a very practical and functional interior.  Interior plastics are hard but of good quality and excellent finish.  They feel like they would last the beating a family minivan will no doubt endure.

Engine and Performance

European styling meets Canadian beaches.  They're both pretty cool.

European styling meets Canadian beaches. They’re both pretty cool.

Here is where the Transit Connect differs very much from the minivans it’s trying to challenge.  Ford offers two options to buyers, a 2.5L and 1.6L turbo four cylinder.  I’ll admit one of my biggest concerns going into the test was the lack of a V6 option.  I’ve experienced small L4 engines in vehicles like this and the performance has always been underwhelming.  The Transit Connect Wagon is larger and takes more people/stuff than most similar vehicles as well.  Under load I was expecting a tired and overworked little engine that burned fuel quickly.  What I found instead was a very responsive, smooth and – admittedly – fun to drive engine.  Ford’s 1.6L EcoBoost engine produces 178hp thanks to its turbo.  It’s mated to a good six speed transmission which keeps the engine within its power curve.  We averaged a respectable 8.8L/100km during our test, including a lot of around town driving.  On the highway it cruises very well and easily flirts with 6.8L/100km mileage – with 5 passengers and a day trip to the beach worth of luggage.  Minivans can’t touch that.

Ride is definitely not as smooth as compared to a larger minivan.  It very much feels like you’re driving a small car.  That said, it’s not uncomfortable or rough by any means.  Even on our torn up roads around town it was a pleasant drive.  Many people prefer the “car like” feel of minivans, the Transit Connect Wagon has that in spades.  Turning and driving at speed the Transit was nimble and responsive.  All around the driving experience was very nice, very sporty.  I liked it – and that’s huge coming from a “truck guy”.

The Unminivan

Ford coined this term, not me.  In fact it’s their marketing catch phrase for the Transit Connect Wagon.  It couldn’t be more accurate.  Ford’s Transit Connect Wagon gives you a lot of the minivan functionality while breaking a lot of the stereotypes that surround them.  You have the passenger capacity, most of the cargo and luggage capacity.  You have the versatility and the family friendliness, cup holders too.  But what you don’t get is typical minivan styling or mileage.  Ford’s EcoBoost engine also gives you way more sporty feel and big kid fun than you get in a typical minivan.  While not everything a minivan is, it’s 80% of it easily.  With the sum of all the parts, that’s MORE than enough.

Conclusion

If you tow an RV with your minivan, the Transit Connect isn’t for you.  Beyond that, if your young family needs a new minivan or you’re looking to move into the dreaded minivan market, the Transit Connect Wagon should be at the top of your check-out list.  It’ll do all your road trips and sporting events in style and with great fuel economy.  As far as family haulers go, this is the rare few occasions where you can have your cake AND eat it too.  Be a trend setter, think outside the box and get yourself unminivaned.

A special thanks to the good folks at Leslie Motors for giving us the tester for the weekend.  This tester and others are for sale on their website.  Be sure to visit them on Facebook and Twitter.

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