by Gabe Beita Kiser
The Ford Transit has become the benchmark van in both the passenger and cargo segments thanks to decades of proven reliability and capability, but over the last decade and a half, Ford has found a way to bridge the gap between the full Transit van and the popular minivan segment, with the Transit Connect providing a duality of purpose - capable commercial hauler and comfortable family commuter - in one package. Subsequently, it revamped the compact passenger van for the 2019 model year to not only keep it competitive but to render it a more than competent daily family cruiser as well. In that pursuit, a smaller 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine is put into play this year for improved fuel economy; it's tethered to an eight-speed automatic gearbox that drives the outputs of 150 horsepower and 144 lb-ft of torque to the standard front-wheel-drivetrain. The Transit Connect Passenger Wagon is commodious and highly practical yet at the same time still compact, but it can also be outfitted with all the features needed to deliver adequate levels of entertainment, comfort, convenience, and safety for an entire family. However, it's susceptible to crosswinds with its tall and boxy shape, has a firm ride quality, and a rather lackluster powertrain, which begs the question of whether the Transit Connect has successfully broached into minivan territory or whether it's just another passenger van.
Primary changes for the 2019 Transit Connect Passenger Wagon include the replacement of the prior year's 2.5-liter inline-four engine with a smaller 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder unit, which is coupled to an also new eight-speed automatic transmission. A consignment of features has also been made standard for the 2019 model year, including forward-collision warning with pedestrian detection and automated emergency braking, as well as 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot capability for up to ten devices. Newly available features include high-intensity-discharge headlamps, adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, and blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert. There have also been some mild front-end restyling and a revised interior with added front and second-row seat padding, a new instrument cluster, and a redesigned center stack. The U.S. market was originally going to get a diesel engine for the new model, but before it even arrived, Ford cut the oil-burner from the lineup, citing a lack of demand.
The Transit Connect isn't your average minivan, and fortunately, it doesn't look like one either. Every model is equipped with dual sliding side doors and a rear liftgate as standard, with 180-degree swing-out rear cargo doors optional. While the XL is fitted with halogen headlights with non-configurable daytime running lights, manual side-view mirrors, and a three-bar grille with black accents, the XLT is fitted with automatic headlights with configurable daytime running lights, front halogen fog lamps, power-adjustable and heated side-view mirrors, and a five-bar grille with chrome accents. The Titanium boasts HID headlamps, front LED fog lamps, and chrome front and rear fascia moldings. The XL and XLT are equipped with 16-inch steel wheels with Sparkle Silver-painted covers, while 16-inch dark stainless aluminum wheels fill the Titanium's wheel arches.
Originally offered in both long and short-wheelbase forms, when Ford announced the diesel wouldn't arrive, they also cut the short-wheelbase Transit Connect Passenger Wagon from the lineup, leaving only the LWB variant. At 190 inches in overall length, it's 15.8 inches longer than the discontinued short-wheelbase version, it carries a wheelbase of 120.6 inches - which is 15.2 inches longer than the SWB's. The LWB measures 71.6 inches in height making it 0.4 inches shorter than the SWB, but both variants measure 72.2 inches in width. The LWB variant weighs in with a curb weight of 4,167 pounds making it around 200 lbs heavier than the SWB variant that weighs in at 3,872 lbs.
2019 was all about new engines for the Transit Connect. A new turbocharged 2.0-liter four-pot unit that powers the front wheels of the Passenger Wagon cedes only 150 hp and 144 lb-ft of torque, which is directed via an efficiency-minded eight-speed automatic gearbox. But it's underwhelming, especially when compared to traditional minivans offering big V6 engines. There was also supposed to be a new diesel motor, but mid-way through the year, and before a single diesel had even arrived, Ford discontinued the option, leaving only the gasoline engine available. The gearbox is smooth and effective, but unless you're lightly loaded, the engine is simply underwhelming for the Transit Connect. It's sluggish from a stop, and once on the move, you'll need to preempt overtaking maneuvers to ensure you actually make them.
The LWB Passenger Wagon handles surprisingly well despite its heft and boxy shape, it actually even feels agile when sauntered around town thanks to its light and accurate steering responses and properly composed chassis. As long as it's in town, it drives a lot like a typical crossover rather than a hulking van. It's at higher speeds, however, where the Passenger Wagon exhibits its expected inadequacies: it struggles to track straight on the highway even without the presence of crosswinds, body roll intensifies significantly when taken around corners and sharp bends, and the engine audibly begins to sound like it's struggling - making for an uncomfortably noisy ride.
As for ride quality, comfort is reasonable - at least in town. The powertrain propels the Passenger Wagon around effortlessly and smoothly and small road imperfections and typical undulations are dealt with reasonably well. At higher speeds, the engine gets annoyingly loud and feels as though it's struggling to cut the Wagon through the air, and furthermore, hitting bumps become disturbingly audible throughout the cabin.
The 2019 Ford Passenger Wagon's new powertrain configuration was implemented purposefully to improve gas mileage figures to render the Passenger Wagon as a more sensible daily commuter for families and businesses alike. When driven appropriately, the EPA estimates gas mileage returns of 24/29/26 mpg city/highway/combined from the Transit Connect Passenger Wagon. That's a considerable improvement over the 2018 model year which returned 19/27/22 mpg on those same cycles with the old 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and six-speed automatic gearbox. The new model is still equipped with a 15.8-gallon gas tank, which, when full, affords the Wagon with a total driving range of around 410 miles before running empty. The diesel would've been even better, but that never materialized.
There is seating for up to seven passengers in the Transit Connect Passenger Wagon, with only five in the SWB configuration which was dropped mid-year; the cabin is commodious with ample head and legroom offered throughout and the seats are all pleasantly comfortable and supportive. The driver is positioned with a commanding view of the road, and is placed suitably behind the driver-controls. By virtue of the van's large windows, the driver is afforded panoramic visibility. Ingress and egress to and from any of the seats are easy thanks to a moderate seating height, high roofline, and large dual sliding doors. Even accessing the rearmost seats is a fairly easy affair, but don't expect the plushness and comfort of a traditional minivan - the Transit Connect is comfortable, but not at that level just yet.
With its extended-wheelbase structure, not only does the Passenger Wagon have a commodious cabin, but a cavernous trunk space too. There's 16.3 to 24.9 cubic feet of room behind the third-row seats, depending on their positioning - that's more than enough room to stand a bicycle or two. The third-row seats can be folded down flat to expand cargo room to 60.1 cubes; with the second-row seats also folded down, cargo room expands to 106 cu-ft. The SWB model was dropped from the configuration options mid-year, offering only 47.2 cu-ft. of room behind its second-row seats.
In terms of in-cabin storage, there's a usable overhead storage shelf, moderately sized door side pockets front and rear, seatback map pockets on both front seats, and two cupholders featured in all three rows.
The XL is somewhat bare-bones in the way of features. Although dual-zone automatic climate control is featured as standard throughout the lineup, the majority of the XL's features are rather second-rate. There's a vinyl steering wheel with a tilt and telescoping steering column, six-way manually-adjustable driver's seat, 60/40 split-folding second-row seats, and manual sliding and fold-flat third-row seats. Standard safety and driver-assist features, on the other hand, are favorable, with the standard consignment including pre-collision assist with automatic emergency braking, a reverse sensing system, cruise control, hill-start assist, side-wind stabilization, a rearview camera, curve control, torque vectoring control, and trailer sway control. The XLT is upgraded with an auto-dimming rearview mirror, an in-cluster message center, a six-way power-adjustable driver's seat, and MyKey parental controls. The Titanium boasts some added luxury elements including intelligent access with push-button start, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, and heated front seats. Available for most models is a forward and reverse sensing system, a blind-spot information system, and adaptive cruise control; enhanced park assist is optional for the Titanium only.
If you needed more reasons to avoid the XL model, its inferior infotainment system setup should do the trick: equipped with a tiny 4.5-inch LCD multi-function display tethered to a stock AM/FM radio with Bluetooth connectivity, there is only a measly four-speaker audio system with a single charge-only USB port fitted. Things don't get any better from there in terms of audio quality, which is unfortunate considering Ford's attempt at making the Passenger Wagon a more family-oriented vehicle; nevertheless, the XLT is upgraded with a large 6.5-inch LCD touchscreen installed with Ford's SYNC 3 infotainment software, which comprises Android Auto and Apple CarPlay functionality. It's tethered to a AM/FM stereo with SiriusXM and HD radio connectivity, Applink and 911 Assist capabilities and two smart-charging USB ports. A wireless charging slot is also featured as standard as of the XLT model. The Titanium takes things up a notch with onboard navigation.
There have been no recalls commissioned for the current model year of the Transit Connect Passenger Wagon; the last recall issued was for the 2018 year model and pertained to seatbacks that did not lock into the upright position. Every new Passenger Wagon comes with a three-year/36,000-mile bumper-to-bumper coverage and five-year/60,000-mile powertrain warranty coverage.
The 2019 Ford Transit Connect Passenger Wagon is yet to be evaluated by any authority. The NHTSA accorded the 2018 year model with an overall rating of five-stars out of a possible five, however. Every Passenger Wagon comes equipped with six standard airbags and Ford's Co-Pilot360 technology suite which comprises a reverse sensing system, pre-collision assist with automatic emergency braking, cruise control, hill-start assist, side-wind stabilization, a rearview camera, curve control, torque vectoring control, and trailer sway control. Optional for all models is a blind-spot monitoring system and forward and reverse sensing systems. Adaptive cruise control is available for the XLT and Titanium and enhanced active park assist is available only for the Titanium.
The Ford Transit is a dominant full-size van, and Ford had hoped it could imbue the Transit Connect with the same dominant traits. But while it's spacious, comfortable, practical, and nimble through tight city streets, the new engine is simply underpowered. The diesel engine that was supposed to arrive would've remedied the issues with an abundance of torque, but the fact that it never materialized means we're stuck with this subpar gas four-pot. But there are some things the Transit Connect still does exceptionally well - it's got more cargo space than its rivals without compromising on seating space, and the new suite of safety features makes it impressive compared to segment rivals. Intuitive infotainment and nimble handling are true highlights and despite the downsides, the Transit Connect is still one of the best small passenger vans out there. Just don't expect the mod-cons of a traditional minivan.
Ford has claimed the Transit Connect Passenger Wagon as the most affordable seven-seater vehicle available on the U.S. market, with a starting MSRP of $26,845 for the XL trim, the XLT follows closely with an MSRP of $27,100, and the Titanium closes the lineup off with a sticker price of $30,215. All prices exclude Ford's acquisition fee of $645 and a destination charge of $1,295 as well as any tax, registration, and licensing fees.
We wouldn't suggest the XL for its lack of, well, almost everything, and the Titanium really only improves on driver-focused elements. Therefore we recommend opting for the XLT: as the mid-spec model it comes standard with a few interior and exterior cosmetic improvements, and with more comfort and convenience features benefiting all passengers. We also suggest including the available XLT Premium Package which includes the addition of the Driver-Assist Package with all its advanced safety and driver-assist features along with wheel and lighting upgrades and leather-trimmed seats. Perhaps opting in the optional panoramic fixed-glass vista sunroof could help keep rear passengers a little more accommodated too. If any towing will be required then the available trailer tow package will have to be optioned in as well. Unlike the Titanium, the XLT can also be optioned with either a rear liftgate or with rear symmetrical doors.
The Ram ProMaster City is arguably the Ford's most comparable competitor, however, its maximum passenger occupancy is capped at only five, which means if it's the seven-seater occupancy you require, then the RAM is a no go. If not, then it'll help to know that the RAM is equipped with a slightly more powerful engine and a more refined transmission, which makes for quicker and smoother acceleration and driving. It is, however, a little less fuel-efficient than the Ford, with returns of 21/28/24 mpg. In terms of standard and available features, the Ford has got the superior consignment and options, it gets a larger touchscreen and greater smartphone integration too. The Ram offers a greater cargo capacity than the Ford and an equal max tow capability, but without the option to increase occupancy to seven, deciding between the models really comes down to personal requirements. The Ram is a little more than $2,000 cheaper than the Ford, but the Ford is the better passenger vehicle and better value for money buy.
The passenger version of the Metris may be nearly $7,000 more than the Ford Transit Connect Passenger Wagon, but it has a few points over the Ford in that with its longer wheelbase, it offers seating for up to eight passengers in a commodious cabin as well as a considerably larger cargo area. Being a Mercedes, the Metris is also a lot more luxurious than the Ford, with higher-quality materials and standard features boasted even at the base level; it also has a better consideration for its rear passengers with a nine-speaker audio system featured as standard. However, unlike the Ford, it doesn't have full smartphone integration at all. The Metris offers a significantly greater maximum tow capability too at 5,000 lbs, thanks to its more powerful turbo engine, but it is far less fuel-efficient than the Ford. The Metris is certainly the more premium of the two vehicles, especially in comfort and practicality, but with full smartphone integration, reasonable capability and practicality, its efficient powertrain, and considering its exceptionally affordable price, the Ford Passenger Wagon is simply better value for money.