Transit Connect Econetic 1.6 TDCi LWB.
Ford will be hoping that the Connect matches the success of the Custom sales & as encouragement, it has mirrored the Customs success in 2013 as International Van of the Year, by winning the award for 2014.This result means that Ford have become the first manufacturer to win the award for two years in a row.
The Connect is available in single, double cab and combi bodystyles with short-wheelbase (L1) and long-wheelbase (L2) versions. It’s spacious & offers load volumes of 2.9m3 and 3.6m3 with a full bulkhead, or 3.7m3 and 4.4m3 including the front loadspace area. Payloads go from 625kg up to 1,000kg, which Ford claims match the best in class figures of the Connects competitor. It’s also available in three trim levels which are , Base, Trend and Limited with prices for the panel van range starting at £13,921 and rising to £18,021, excluding VAT.
My test model was the Connect L2 Trend fitted with the 1.6 TDCi engine with manual gearbox, which offered up 95 bhp. Compared to the outgoing model it’s a far more attractive proposition with nicely rounded edges both at the front & the rear. Inside the Connects interior, all is reassuringly familiar from other Fords such as the Custom. The buttons & knobs are nicely finished & the dash layout is easy to navigate with a pleasing blue finish to the dials. The seats are comfortable & the drivers seat is multi adjustable 4 ways & all models get a reach & rake adjustable steering wheel. If you push the passenger seat all the way back, in my case to accommodate a passenger & a dog in the footwell, the passenger seat squeaks when hard up against the bulkhead, so be wary as it’s very annoying. Praise though for the footwells, which are completely covered in protective plastic, the perfect place for a wet dog or muddy work boots.
Equipment levels are impressive as well, with daytime running lights, electric door mirrors with blind spot eliminator, DAB, USB, Bluetooth, a trip computer, a load box light, six DIN cargo tie downs, a full steel bulkhead, Ford Auto Stop/Start, Ford Smart Regenerative Charging, a choice of speed limiters & an ECO mode. The Econetic speed limiter is set at 62 mph but is easily disabled if you need to make haste on the motorway. Options fitted to my test model included a rear view camera which is viewed in the mirror & this option also includes a reverse parking aid, a quick clear windscreen & power mirrors at £400 & manual air con at £600.
Cabin storage includes a full width overhead shelf, a lockable glove box, twin cup holders & deep door pockets. Unlike the rest of the range, the Econetic doesn’t contain the load-through hatch in the bulkhead which was a shame, because this enables in the larger L2, a load length up to 3.4m to be carried. The rear load space is up to 3.6m3 with the full bulkhead, increasing to 4.4m3 including the front load space & a payload of 1000kg.
Emissions are an impressive 108g/km with a claimed combined mpg of 68.9 in my Econetic diesel model. I spent most of my working week on the motorway or stuck in city traffic alone & without a load & managed to achieve just under 49 mpg, which is somewhat lower than Fords claimed figures, but still a vast improvement over vans of old. Ford have also launched a 1 litre petrol Ecoboost engined version of the Connect, which offers 50.43 mpg on the combined cycle with a CO2 figure of 129g/km, both significantly higher than the diesel. Why you might ask ? Simply put, diesel particulates. Some European cities already have a diesel ban in place at certain times of the day & Ford believe that if London for example, were to follow suit, then at least the Blue Oval will be in a position to offer an alternative.
What’s it like to drive ? Pleasantly car-like. What Ford have managed to achieve with the Custom & now the Connect is a cabin which matches in some cases the interior of a small car. Steering is light & precise, it handles both winding country roads & the motorway trawl with aplomb & I would definitely take the 95 bhp version or the larger 115 bhp if you want to make decent progress. I’m sure the 75 bhp model will do a job for you, but it will struggle with a full compliment of load & two passengers, especially on the motorway. I had no such problems though. At motorway speeds, the full bulkhead keeps road noise down, enough to listen clearly to your favourite radio station or answer your phone using the simple steering wheel & dash board Bluetooth controls. I would have liked cruise control , not just for ease on the motorway but I also find it incredibly useful when there is for example, a 50 mph speed limit in place. Adjust the cruise to 50 mph & away yo go with no fear of exceeding the limit & an unwanted 3 points.
Like the Custom, the new Connect is a very good van indeed. Attractive, comfortable, easy to use as well as practical, with build quality right up there with the best. Ford have another success on their hands. 4/5.