Farewell Transit Connect; Hello Transit Custom Sport
It is with great regret that after more than a year together, we must now hand back the keys to our Ford Transit Connect long term test van.
I first started driving the Connect when it was just the second new vehicle in what was rumoured to be an entirely new Ford range. Since then, as promised, two further vehicles have been launched and the range overhaul completed.
In the beginning people often asked me what my van was, such was the striking new look of the Transit Connect. The bigger Transit Custom was yet to get traction like it has now in the market and was still a fairly rare sight, so the smaller Transit Connect was an even greater revelation to anyone with an interest in vans - not that you needed to have an interest. More than once I was asked how many seats my ‘car’ had, as in the winter months the gentle sloping waistline of the Connect’s rear gave the large panels an almost window-like appearance – particularly with the magnetic grey paint.
Initially driving the Connect was a bit of a culture shock, but as time passed I got more and more comfortable with driving the Connect. As interest waned in the van’s appearance, I had to resort to telling people it was actually a Ford Focus in disguise – by no means a white lie, as the Connect is heavily based on the Ford car – and inform them of just how un-van-like the little Transit was. Its road holding was simple superb, and whether laden or unladen the Connect was dynamic and entertaining.
We notched up nearly 14,000 miles together, many of which were spent in the slow crawl of London traffic, but it accompanied me and amused me every mile of the way. When Ford launched the Courier van half way into my loan spell with the Connect I was offered an escape route and the chance to take the new smaller van, but such was the fondness of the Connect I stuck with it. It wasn’t a fancy specification either, it was a base model and pretty much standard apart from the air conditioning, and had none of the parking sensors, sat-nav and video cameras I’d have preferred for inner city life, yet it didn’t need any of those. The Connect’s proportions, visibility and manoeuvrability were exceptional.
Over the course of a year, there would usually be a few things that would stick out as problems, but the Transit Connect’s faults were few and far between.
Yes, the passenger seat was too small when the centre seat was folded down to provide storage and a work area, and when in the upright position a third person would need to be around one metre tall to be able to fit in the centre seat, but as a solo driver that didn’t bother me. The A-pillar was perhaps a touch too wide, and visibility in the 1 to 2 o’clock area was hampered, but you learned to live with it and peer out that little bit further at junctions and roundabouts.
A colleague borrowed the Connect for some extended driving of their own, and their verdict was equally as glowing. The centre seat sizing had caused them a few difficulties, and they found the dashboard dial cluster to be a little too dark for their liking, but their overall impression was glowing – not least because the 1.6-litre engine managed to eek out a rather impressive 45mpg fully loaded, with three adults and at motorway speeds. Fuel economy is something the Transit Connect certainly grew into during its stay with Van Advisor, the common rail engine becoming slightly quieter and about 15% more economical as the miles ticked over.
But it’s on to bigger and better things. No, not the small Fiesta in the picture, although the car’s Race Red colour does feature on the new Van Advisor test vehicle. We’re going back to the beginning of the revamped Transit range and jumping into a Transit Custom again.
However, this isn’t any old Custom, this is a Transit Custom Sport van, the highest powered and top of the range model. Like the standard vehicle it’s got a DAB radio and Bluetooth, but there’s also a colour sat-nav and comprehensive trip computer. The Sport van has some smart alloy wheels too and even gets heated, partial leather seats.
Power comes from a 2.2-litre turbodiesel engine, producing 152hp and 385Nm of torque from just 1,600rpm. That’s no more powerful than the top-spec engine available in the standard van, but the cosmetic tweaks on the outside, which include a more aggressive front, slightly flared wheel arches and those go-faster stripes, make the Custom Sport look far more potent than it is.
It’s not cheap though, at nearly £33,000 our test vehicle is nearly twice the price of the Transit Connect. I’m told Ford only sell around 300 of them per year, but already I’ve seen three in South West London, one of which is the same bright red with black bonnet stripes as our van. The price, surprisingly, can therefore not be too much of a deterrent.
It’s early days yet, and the engine has just 700 miles on the clock so I hope the current 28.5mpg average will improve. A few longer journeys should break the engine in nicely and with a bit of luck the claimed 40.4mpg should become more realistic.
We’ll keep you updated on its progress, but we have some big plans for the Transit Custom Sport van, so keep an eye out for it appearing in the Van Advisor digital magazine.