Review: A Weekend in the 2010 Ford Transit Connect
This Turkish-built wonder is the most foreign car I've driven in quite a while. The whole feel of it is just wacky. The giant windshield is topped by a parcel shelf, like in an old Land Rover Discovery, except lowered to Ford Focus level. There's sufficient headroom to accommodate Abe Lincoln wearing his stove-pipe hat in either row of seats, though the late, lanky president's legs would be pretzeled up pretty good in the back. The front window switches are down low in the center console, which was the second or third place I looked for them every time. Need to open the hood to jump-start the neighbor's car?
Don't bother fumbling around the driver footwell, you'll need to swivel the Ford oval in the grille, and release the primary and secondary latches with the ignition key. Fog lights are provided -- but only in back, meaning that most Americans will just think the driver is riding the brake all the time since their use will seldom coincide with, you know, actual fog.
The fancy-pants $1395 Magneti Marelli audio/nav/internet surfing gizmo makes a lousy radio, refusing to play any sound until the whole Windows-based system spools up. This makes it seem like the radio is waiting for tubes to warm up. When it comes on the sound quality is '80s econocar tinny. The Garmin nav works great, but in our truck, the Turkish headlight switch must not speak enough Italian to tell the audio/nav display to switch from day to night mode automatically.
One other quality lapse: The rubber-mounted iron puck to which the passenger-side cargo-door magnet latches when you spring for the $190 255-degree swing-open rear cargo doors was badly aligned, so that the magnet hit the rubber. Otherwise those doors are pretty cool, but I didn't get a chance to air-speed-test the magnetic door stays. Despite wearing the dressiest XLT trim and $65 worth of carpeted floor mats, our loaded little "wagon" seems about as civilianized as a vinyl-roofed Checker Marathon.
There are acres of hard, shiny plastic and painted surfaces, including the entire cargo area, which is untrimmed save for some raw Masonite panels that hide the rear cargo door mechanisms. Not that I'm complaining, mind you. I think the priorities are spot on with this refreshingly honest little vehicle.
The folks who sell and service our VBox test gear recently bought the identical twin to this vehicle and they love it. It easily swallows and hauls all their trade-show display equipment to a distant city, and then converts to serve as a demonstrator for four-person ride-alongs during the event, all the while achieving 22/25 mpg EPA city/highway fuel economy at a price under $26,000 with every option (ours cost $25,380). Try to find another vehicle that'll carry 1600 pounds enclosed for that price and at that fuel economy. It was nearly empty during most of my weekend and the ride quality from the unladen rear leaf springs was surprisingly supple. I so wish the thing offered a manual or automatic transmission with more than four speeds, because in town this power team tends to bog in one gear and then charge hard in the next gear down.
Through April only 6564 TCs have sold, though ADT Security Services has reportedly contracted to buy 3000 of the little buggers, and I certainly see a lot of them on the streets in greater Detroit. Fiat has already started making noises about importing their competitor (dubbed Fiorino in cargo guise and Qubo with rear seats) if the Transit catches on. Then I suppose Nissan will be tempted to bring the Renault Kangoo and GM will look at inviting Opel's Combo. Surely the market won't prove big enough for that many competitors, but a bit of competition might provoke a needed upgrade in the powertrain department. I wish Ford a lot of luck with this fresh new entry.