Ford van?s performance, Interior and dealer network set the stage for dominance
KANSAS CITY, MO.?If you think the new-car market is hard-fought, you should see the work-vehicle side of the business.
It?s an incredibly diverse segment, and automakers have to balance value and performance with a dizzying number of sizes and configurations to handle customers? needs.
After 54 years, Ford is finally retiring its E-Series commercial van ? the famous Econoline ? in favour of the all-new Transit.
The Transit?s global history dates back almost as far, although it?s the first time we?ve seen it over here. Frankly, between its performance, interior, and wide dealer network, I think this newcomer is going to dominate the segment.
It comes as a cargo van, starting at $33,799, as a wagon with seating for 8, 10, 12 or 15 passengers, starting at $39,599, and as a cutaway chassis for custom bodies.
North American models are built in Kansas City, and although it is unibody construction, it is rear-wheel drive (a dual-wheel version is available). It comes in two wheelbase lengths, three body lengths, and three roof heights, including a low-roof version that?s unique to North American models, primarily to handle our low-entry parking garages.
Interior cargo height ranges from 1.4 metres on the low roof, to 2.0 for the high roof, which Ford says is class-leading. Payload runs to a maximum of 2,109 kg (4,650 lb.) on the van, and 1,683 kg (3,710 lb.) for the wagon.
The three engine choices are a naturally-aspirated 3.7-L V6, a turbocharged 3.5-L V6 EcoBoost, and a Ford-built 3.2-L inline five-cylinder diesel, all with six-speed automatic transmissions. The V6s are borrowed from the F-150 pickup, but tweaked for the Transit.
There isn?t a clunker in the bunch. I?m rather fond of the base 3.7-L V6, which offers smooth acceleration and quiet performance. It?s also available with a prep package for conversion to natural gas or propane.
The EcoBoost is intended for power only when it?s needed. Under moderate loads, it provides the fuel efficiency of a smaller-displacement engine, but when more power is needed, the turbocharger kicks in to provide V8 strength.
The diesel puts 350 lb.-ft. of torque to the wheels at just 1,500 r.p.m., and although five-cylinder engines can often run a little rougher, this one?s calm and collected.
The genius of these European-style vans is in how well they drive. The Transit isn?t quite like piloting a car, as one Ford rep suggested, but it does feel more like a pickup truck than a huge box.
On a closed course that included a lane change, tight curve and a small slalom, even the high-roof version handled confidently and without too much tippiness.
The seats are comfortable and the cabin is laid out well, with numerous large cubbies, an overhead shelf, and available options such as lane-keeping assist and touch-screen navigation.
For larger businesses, there?s an optional Crew Chief telematics system that keeps track of fleets, gathering such information as seatbelt use, maintenance requirements, vehicle location, excessive idling, and whether diesel versions have any water in the fuel.
The Transit also comes with reinforced, pre-drilled mounting points, so upfitters just have to remove the plugs to install such items as roof ladder racks or interior shelving. This eliminates drilling and breaking through the corrosion barrier.
There are only a few manufacturers in this segment, but the competition is fierce.
GM is the only one with a single roof height, in its Chevrolet Express and GMC Savana models, but its five engines offer a lot of choice, and it?s the only van available with all-wheel drive.
Chrysler has its new, Fiat-based Ram ProMaster cargo van, but I don?t find it as comfortable to drive as the Transit, and it doesn?t come as a passenger wagon.
Mercedes-Benz initially introduced us to European vans with its Sprinter back in 2003. It was badged as a Dodge at the time, but when the company sold Chrysler, the Sprinter became a Mercedes. It?s still an excellent vehicle, and will include all-wheel capability later this year, But, although the company is adding more Sprinter dealers, it?s still a limited network.
That?s also the case with Nissan, which only sells its NV van and wagon models at 15 dealerships across Ontario. It?s also a great workhorse, but is the only one that doesn?t offer a diesel engine.
Ford, on the other hand, has an extensive dealer network that?s been selling the E-Series for years and is ready to take on the Transit.
In the work world, features and price are important, but having someone nearby to service it when necessary is essential, since a van isn?t making any money when it?s off the road.
That ready availability, combined with the Transit?s excellent road manners and thoughtful design, should soon make it a common sight wherever there?s work to be done.
2015 Ford Transit
Base price: $33,799 to $44,499 (van), $39,599 to $51,749 (wagon)
Engine: 3.7-L V6; 3.5-L turbocharged V6; 3.2-L I5 diesel
Power/Torque: 275 hp/260 lb.-ft. (3.7), 310/400 (3.5), 185/350 (3.2)
Fuel consumption L/100 km: 16.6 city, 12.6 hwy. (3.7L); 16.6/12.5 (3.5L)
Competition: Chevrolet Express, GMC Savana, Mercedes-Benz Sprinter, Nissan NV, Ram ProMaster
What?s best: Numerous configuration choices, excellent road manners.
What?s worst: Pricier than some of its rivals.
What?s interesting: Ford has built 7 million Transits globally since 1965.
- 2015 Ford Transit - This low-roof version is unique to North America, primarily to handle parking garages - photo by Jil McIntosh - for Wheels