This year marks the 55th anniversary of a truly landmark vehicle for Britain.
Way back when Jim Clark was in his prime and the mini skirt was outraging public decency, Ford’s Transit first hit the road.
Since that first panel van rolled off the line the Transit name has become a byword for the light commercial van segment. It’s been Europe’s best-selling van for 40 years and Ford has shifted more than eight million since its introduction.
It can rightly lay claim to its marketing tag of “the backbone of Britain”, becoming synonymous with tradesmen and delivery drivers the length and breadth of the country. It’s also given rise to a dynasty.
While the larger Transit is still the “backbone” of the range, it has spawned various smaller models, including the Transit Custom, Transit Courier and, between those two, our test vehicle - the Transit Connect.
Designed to offer a practical, spacious van without the now massive presence of the regular Transit, the Connect comes in standard and long wheelbase versions with a load capacity of up to 3.5 cubic metres and 890kg. It’s the sort of size to suit smaller delivery businesses, tradesmen and even the likes of mountain bikers looking for something big enough to carry their kit without feeling like an absolute barge.
Our test van was the long-wheelbase single-cab version, with twin sliding doors to the side and wide-opening rear doors. The 2.1 by 1.5m space is big enough for two standard Euro pallets, a tonne of Amazon parcels or any amount of outdoorsy lifestyle equipment you can chuck at it. The doors fold fully out of the way and the load space is broad, square and flat with minimal intrusions. Cabin space is decent and although the driving position is still pretty high and upright, the seats are pleasantly car-like in comfort and support.
On the road, Ford has also managed to imbue the Connect with a car-like feel. You won’t be fooled into thinking this is a Focus ST estate but you also won’t be reminded that you’re driving a relatively tall commercial vehicle. The Connect is more, well, connected to the road that you’d expect from a van. If the way most van drivers near my house behave is a guide that’s a feature to be welcomed but even if you don’t fancy yourself as Colin McRae, the positive driving and solid feel of the van is reassuring, whether it’s laden or unladen.
Ford Transit Connect LWB Sport
- Price: (£26,166 (£29,460 as tested) incl. VAT
- Engine: 1.5-litre, four-cylinder diesel
- Power: 118bhp
- Torque: 199l/ft
- Transmission: Six-speed manual
- Top speed: n/a
- 0-62mph: n/a
- Economy: 58.9mpg
- CO2 emissions: 125g/km
Engine-wise, the Connect is available with the latest version of Ford’s 1.5-litre EcoBlue diesel and, more surprisingly, with a 99bhp 1.0-litre EcoBoost petrol with cylinder deactivation. Our van had the range-topping 118bhp diesel with a six-speed manual transmission but there are 74bhp and 99bhp variants also available. Like the ride and handling, the engine is surprisingly refined. With an empty van it’s pleasingly punchy and there’s plenty of torque to keep it moving when loaded up.
The latest Connect brings a lot of passenger car tech to the sector, with intelligent speed limiter, pre-collision assist with pedestrian detection and park assist, as well as van-specific side wind stabilisation. Our top-spec Sport van also featured a six-inch Sync3 touchscreen with smartphone connectivity and nav, plus heated seats, dual-zone climate control and some comical go-faster stripes. For those with smaller budgets, the Connect starts at £15,715 before VAT.
The Transit name has been a byword for dependable, practical vans for more than half a century and the Connect carries on that mantle. It offers all the practicality commercial customers need with a layer of comfort, refinement and composure that may surprise.