Blog: Road Tripping In A Transit Van

By Brandon Turkus

January 18, 2012

I’ve been working for Winding Road for almost two years, but I’ve been driving press cars for almost six. During that time I’ve gotten my behind into some pretty audacious vehicles, ranging from my first supercar experience (a pre-production Audi R8 4.2), to the most powerful car I’ve ever driven (Shelby GT350 Convertible), to one of the seminal moments in my life so far (Ferrari 458 Italia). Along the way, I’ve tried to expose my friends, gearheads and civilians alike, to the rather insane world that I’m lucky enough to live in. Nine times out of ten, I end up taking them for a quick spin.
So of course, when it comes to road trips, I’m usually asked “What can you get to drive us to [insert-random-vacation-destination]?” More often than not, it’s usually something comfortable, with plenty of space, and a decent amount of optional extras. At the same time, I try to make it a fun vehicle, something that I won’t get bored with while my friends sleep the drive away. So when I pulled up to my house in a bright red Ford Transit Connect XLT Wagon for our annual skiing trip, the reactions ranged from hysterical laughing to utter disbelief.
For the most part, everyone liked the looks. This is an attractive, if oddly proportioned vehicle (one friend remarked that the bright red paint and tall roof gave it the appearance of a “sun-burnt camel”). Everyone also complemented the huge load space, which we packed full of enough gear to equip a moderately sized ski shop. The low load height and wide-open barn doors also made things easy.
Driving a Transit Connect is an interesting experience. For a start, you need to get used to the amount of visibility. I almost felt like I was driving a convertible at some points, as the super-tall windshield and windows grant an extremely airy feeling to the large cabin. Sightlines are excellent, with the only downside being the bar that bisects the rear window. You really can’t see too much out of the back end.
On the road, the Transit Connect is far more at home in the low-speed, urban environment than it is on the freeway. So it was a good thing (interesting?) that our trip took place over the course of three hours at highway speeds. At low speeds it feels small, almost tossable, with a quick steering rack, a peppy, but underpowered, engine, and a slick-shifting and clever four-speed automatic. Take off from a standstill and you’ll be greeted by, well, something resembling speed. It’s not fast, but it’s certainly acceptable.
We struggled to get past 55, as we merged onto the freeway for the first time. The transmission held third gear as the engine wailed its way up to the 70-mile-per-hour speed limit. Once at 70, dipping into the throttle would elicit a downshift that then prompted more noise from the four-pot. It wasn’t a pleasant way to drive. We’d travel along in fourth gear, just over 70 miles per hour, then we’d come to an incline, and the engine would drop a gear. This wasn’t a big deal in the lower portion of the state, but it started to become an issue in the hilly parts of the northern Lower Peninsula.
The Transit Connect should net 21 miles per gallon in the city, and 26 mpg on the highway. During our 224-mile trip north, we averaged 20.5 mpg, while the trip down (where we loaded even more stuff in the back) averaged 19.5. Now to be fair, we had four adults, plus a lot of gear loaded in the back end, so a drop in mileage should be expected. The question I have is, did we just have a particularly thirsty Transit, or is this the real-world economy of a loaded-out Transit Connect? Considering that most of these vehicles will be used for carrying lots of stuff, it’d be pretty important to know just what kind of mileage to expect.
Things weren’t much better in the cabin. By the time we were north of Saginaw, we had to take a rest break, as my passengers were complaining of numb backsides, courtesy of the TC’s seats. Being designed as a work vehicle first, the Connect’s seats are designed more for durability and ingress/egress than long haul comfort. This is especially true in the second row, with seats that are purely functional, and far from plush. The overall nature of the TC’s interior is Spartan. Climbing in to the Transit is like entering a parallel universe where Ford’s interiors were still all black, hard, unpleasant, and cheap-looking plastic. There are only two speakers, and the only person that gets an armrest is the driver.
The ride also took its toll on our intrepid crew. The short wheelbase and unforgiving suspension made bumps and imperfections clearly noticeable in the cabin, and compounded the sore bottoms of everyone in the car. Once again though, there was better behavior at low speeds, as the suspension seemed more willing to cope with the pockmarked roads Up North.
The whole point of conducting this test and turning my friends into automotive guinea pigs was to determine if the Ford Transit Connect was a good people hauler and road trip vehicle. Well, it isn’t. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t excel at its intended task as a work vehicle though. Loaded with gear and at city speeds, the TC revealed itself to be a pretty decent steer. I wouldn’t recommend one for a road trip, but if you need to haul a bunch of stuff around town on a regular basis, the Transit Connect is a fine choice.