The Transit Connect occupies the same territory as the old-as-nails Econoline van, but manages the same job in a smaller, lighter, friendlier way. That old Econoline is a hulking beast of a vehicle, stuffed mostly with tried-and-true F-series pickup truck parts. It's reliable and completely foolproof as it's been constantly developed since the early ‘60s, but it's a massively wasteful leviathan of a vehicle that's difficult to maneuver through our ever-tightening urban jungle.
Enter the 2010 Ford Transit Connect. It's light, readily steered and is comparatively frugal at 22 MPG city and 25 MPG highway. The maximum load height is a useful 52 inches with only a two-foot unloaded deck height. Cargo capacity is voracious, at twice that of the Chevy HHR panel van (135 cubic feet behind the front seats). The total length is 167 inches, shorter than a Ford Focus, but there's a crazy 1,600-pound load capacity. Still, the Transit Connect may be a bit small to supplant the traditional pickup truck in the working American's mind. At 72.6 inches long, the load bay is too short to accommodate full-length pieces of lumber, ladders and pipes, which poke comfortably out the back of a truck.
In and around Manhattan's crowded streets, the Transit Connect drives as easy as a comparable front-wheel drive hatch. Sure, in comparison to the European Focus on which this Transit is based, the ride is firmer and you can feel the height in a smidge of bodyroll, but it's still a more capable and easier-to-drive vehicle than the American psyche has been trained to expect from cheap compact cars. Rearward visibility is incredible, even in side-windowless panel trim; which is completely due to the huge side mirrors and large rear door glass.
The brakes are confident and responsive, even while hauling the maximum allowable load. Power output from the 2.0-liter Duratec is more than sufficient at 136 HP and 128 ft-lb of torque, helped by four well-chosen gear ratios and smart autobox programming. Ford doesn't quote a 0-60 MPH time, but we'd hazard a guess at something in the 10-second range. Sadly, a manual transmission won't be available in the US market. Front and rear sway bars control bodyroll during brisk handling - even through the wonkiest NYC traffic roundabouts. The turning circle is a minuscule 39 feet, so U-turns are a cinch.
In addition to the fundamental rightness of the basic Transit Connect platform, it comes with a host of optional electro-wizardry, including DeWalt's ToolLink system. Using RFID tags, the system keeps track of what tools are inside of the vehicle at all times, so you can know if you've left your spanner at the job site or your tool belt at the mistress's place. The same system is employed on the current F-series line of trucks.
Next up is the Crew Chief vehicle tracking suite. For a price, you can have a snitch box integrated with your fleet of Transits, which reports everything from throttle position, location and speed, to seat belt usage and excessive idling. The entire Crew Chief control panel is accessed through a web interface, which brings up the last major technological aid developed for the modern working man: Ford's wireless mobile in-dash computer. Using both 2G and 3G wireless data networks, drivers can surf the Internet, create documents and print them off on the optional Bluetooth printer on the spot. Back to using the Crew Chief web interface, the boss man can manage his fleet from any computer-equipped Transit whenever the vehicle is stopped.
We've joined most savvy auto enthusiasts in calling for Ford to bring its genuinely world-beating European range of vehicles to the States. Like the segment-busting Ford Fiesta, the Transit Connect proves us right. It mixes capability and quality in a wholly unprecedented level for the price: $21,475. Unlike the Fiesta, which we have to wait till next year to buy, the Transit Connect goes on sale this summer.