THE PROS & CONS
- What’s Best? Roomy cargo (and in this case, camping) utility, excellent road manners in a model with power and configuration choices.
- What’s Worst? Nitpicking, needs a cargo light on/off switch. And can’t compete with Mercedes in 4X4 segment.
- What’s Interesting? It may be a late bloomer but the Transit seems to have taken over its segment.
A wedding out west was raising some interesting possibilities.
Last year, we crossed the country by motorcycle.
“But we won’t have time for that this year,” my wife Mary said.
So flights got booked. But we could still combine a road test with the trip, say, something out of Vancouver . . .
“What are you thinking of?” someone asked, probably picturing scenic coastal roads and pristine mountain passes. “A Porsche? BMW?”
“Would you believe a Ford Transit cargo van?” I answered, shooting any kind of glamorous driving imagery down in flames.
An unexpected choice maybe, but there was method to my madness.
This “camping wedding” on Vancouver Island, would come complete with a beach ceremony, tent reception, and with most of the families staying on-site for the week in RVs, trailers and tents.
We stuffed sleeping bags and an air mattress into our luggage. The Transit would serve as a rudimentary camper, our “tent on wheels”.
We weren’t the first to come up with the idea.
There’s a “stealth camping” nomad niche known to use the bland disguise of commercial vans to camp for free. But our van could also stand in as supply transport during this DIY wedding week.
Euro-styled tall vans have become common in North America, with a succession of Dodge/Freightliner/Mercedes Sprinters first out of the gate in 2001, followed more recently by Nissan’s NV lineup, Ram’s ProMaster and the Ford Transit that replaced E-Series vans in 2014.
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The Transit may be late to the party, but it’s making impressive inroads for many reasons.
As a contractor told a colleague, “it might make a humbler first impression on a customer than seeing the Mercedes star.”
The Transit is leading its segment and earning numbers higher than many Ford staples. In fact, a recent monthly sales rating showed Transit outselling the combined efforts of the entire Lincoln division.
Ford’s secret to sales success with its trucks is usually based on a broad variety of product choices.
We may not have access to the global Transit menu – automatic and manual trannies, multiple gas and diesel engines, front-wheel, rear-wheel and all-wheel drive versions, but, here in Canada our rear-wheel drive 6AT automatic transmission models still field a lot of options.
There are bare bones two-seater cargo vans and 10/15 passenger wagons with enough seats for team-sized families.
There are cutaways and chassis cabs, varying wheelbase choices, different body lengths, graduated weight ratings and low, medium or high roof heights – LR at 1,446 mm (57 in), MR at 1,830 mm (72 im) or HR at 2,069 mm (81.5 in).
And three engine choices – a base, naturally aspirated 3.7-litre Ti-VCT V6 (275 hp, 260 lb/ft) now standard across the lineup for 2017, a 3.5-litre turbo EcoBoost V6 (310 hp, 410 lb/ft) or a 3.2-litre Power Stroke five-cylinder turbodiesel unit (185 hp, 350 lb/ft).
Tested here, we have a Transit 350 van with the long (148-inch) wheelbase, topped with the medium height roof, and dipped in the inevitable Oxford White, the colour of choice for almost all Transits on the road today.
It’s handsome enough in its utilitarian style, although its sheer size makes its 16-inch wheels look small, for a sort of Moby Dick-on-a-skateboard profile.
But this is about usability rather than chic styling and the cargo hold provides ample room for our camping needs – a six-foot ceiling, our queen size air mattress snugged between the wheel wells and luggage room to spare. Mosquito nets draped over open passenger windows offer ventilation and cheap, optional rear windows ($75) add a little extra light.
I’d hoped to help transport enough stuff to at least get a picture for the story, but we were immediately pressed into full service, ferrying flowers and foodstuffs, carrying coolers full of ice and drinks, bearing a barbecue, beer and booze.
You name it, we hauled it.
The cargo space of any kind of regular consumer vehicle, even, say, a roomy Dodge Grand Caravan with Stow ’N Go seats folded, would have paled in comparison (3,973 litres compared to 10,111 litres as tested).
And even the fullest loads barely strained our optional ($5,995) 3.2-litre diesel, geared for low revs with available tow/haul and manual shifting.
Commercial vehicles don’t register fuel econ numbers but our mixed bag of driving over 500 km yielded an acceptable average – 11.3L/100km (comb).
And the driving was not too hard to take with well-mannered steering and handling and comfortable upright, pewter vinyl seating. There are cupholders galore, storage cubbies, 12V power points in front and back, USB, manual A/C, a standard rear view camera and a long list of available techs and amenities including Sync 3.
Additions for 2017 include a new side wind stabilization system added to complement AdvanceTrac and Roll Stability Control. New camera, wheel and mirror choices will be added for 2018 along with other upgrades.
There will probably be further tweaks in the near future as Ford fights to maintain Transit’s bestselling status and, fingers crossed, the Transit’s usual urban delivery duties would lend themselves perfectly to hybrid and PHEV technologies Ford is expanding on.
Also Read: Life Lessons From an RV Newbie
2017 Ford Transit 350 MR Van
BODY STYLE: Full-size commercial van.
DRIVE METHOD: Front engine, rear-wheel drive
ENGINE: Optional 3.2-litre Power Stroke five-cylinder turbodiesel (185 hp, 350 lb/ft).
CARGO CAPACITY: 10,111 litres.
FUEL ECONOMY: N/A; As tested 11.3L/100km (comb)
TOWING: As tested 2,087kg (4,600 lb) (w/3.31 limited slip axle)
PAYLOAD: As tested 2,077 kg (4,580 lb)
PRICE: Transit 350 MR $41,749; As tested $52,134 incl 3.2-litre diesel ($5,995), Reverse Park Aid ($510), AM/FM/CD w/Sync ($900) and more
WEB: Ford Vans