Saturday, October 15, 2016

Van Man Review - 2012 Ford Transit Connect XL

I am a delivery driver by trade, working for a dry cleaner in the eastern San Francisco Bay Area. My typical day involves pick-ups and deliveries to homes and businesses, and I drive one of the company's fleet of vans. Over the past three years I have been behind the wheel of almost every truck in the fleet. So I thought it might be interesting to my readers to know my thoughts on them.

This 2012 Ford Transit Connect XL is the van I first trained on. It's always been my baby. It had 12,000 miles on it when I started and as of this writing, it has about 68,000. It's been through a lot, as work vans do. Most of the cosmetic damage came as the result of being assigned to share the truck with other drivers, but I'm not going to name names. It also received a midlife graphic makeover that replaced the small quarter panel sticker with much fancier vinyls to match the rest of the fleet.

The Transit Connect is an odd duck among vans, built in Turkey and imported into the United States. It was subject to the federal "chicken tax" on imported light trucks so all cargo variants were originally built as passenger vehicles with a second-row seat and windows in the sliding doors. These parts were exchanged for blank steel panels and an empty cargo floor once the vans arrived stateside. The basic body dates from 2002, making the styling more in line with European Fords of that period than American Fords of 2012. Power comes from a 2.0 liter four paired with a four-speed automatic driving the front wheels, that I'm pretty sure is the exact same powertrain that is in my 2007 Focus. Even the gear shifter is the same part.

As soon as you climb into the van you know this is a purpose-built truck. There is no luxury in the XL. Crank windows, no CD player, manual seats, manual locks. It's wonderfully simple if you like that kind of thing. Many interior parts are lifted from other Ford cars. Visibility is excellent out the front and acceptable from the sides and rear. The van is small enough to parallel park easily and with a 39-foot turning circle it can make a U-turn on many residential streets. Handling is relatively good with a low center of gravity, like driving the box my Focus came in. Fuel economy is rated at up to 27 mpg highway.

The downsides of this van are numerous. For one, our service territory involves mostly city miles and hills. Lots of hills. Frequent stops and idling as well. I have never seen 20 mpg, let alone 27. This van averages about 15-16. Part of this is arguably because the old four-speed can't efficiently put the power down and it struggles badly on long grades or steep hills. You either get a running start, or give it the beans and let it scream when it downshifts. Plan in advance on freeway on-ramps especially if fully loaded.

Interior plastics are hard and mostly molded in a blue-grey color with pebbled texture. There are very few soft-touch or shiny pieces. My three biggest gripes about the interior are the seat recline lever, the plastic steering wheel and the sun visors. The first thing that breaks on these vans is the seat recline lever. The plastic handle snaps off and you are left with a metal thing that you have to slide over every time you climb in or out, that wears a hole in your pants leg and tears up the seat over time if you aren't careful. The sun visors are the second thing that breaks. As for the steering wheel, the rim just wears down from constant use. A minor complaint is that when listening to an AM radio station, my cell phone charger interferes with the signal.

Aside from all that, the van does its job well. You just have to keep it maintained. They go through brakes like crazy if you aren't careful. I would recommend a heavy-duty brake conversion and can't believe that Ford never offered one for the Transit Connect. Basically I get the impression that the vehicle was designed for a telephone or HVAC technician to load up, drive to a service call and park. Door-to-door delivery service is probably not what it was intended to do.
I like the Transit Connect. It's a cute little van and I'll be sad to see them go when they are eventually retired.


Oh yes, and if you're located in the Bay Area and need a dry cleaner, feel free to give us a call (area code 925).

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