Game On! The Blue Oval Brings One Capable Contender to the Fiery Commercial Van Rumble
Two body lengths. Three engines. Three roof heights. Two wheelbases. That’s the large part of Ford’s deceptively simple recipe for its continued stronghold of the important North American commercial vehicle market. With what contender, you ask? This, the all-new 2015 Ford Transit.
Let’s go back 49 years. Believe it or not, that’s when the Transit was born. We never got it here in the States, but 116 markets on six continents did. They loved it so much that in those nearly five decades, they bought 7 million of them. It’s been a glorious success for the Blue Oval.
Fast-forward a few years to when Alan Mulally initiated the One Ford movement. You know, the globalization of Ford’s products, brands, strategies, and personnel to streamline the company. The Transit is one product of the movement, which, in the transition into America, has combined with (or eliminated) the also very popular E Series van. E Series fans have every right to shed a tear or two, but then again, the Transit, as I found out on a drive in Kansas City, Missouri, fills its shoes, err, steel-toe Red Wings, quite well.
Two main engineering principles were established for the North American market. Ford’s previous vice president of engineering, Kumar Galhotra, now at the helm of Lincoln, insisted it was extremely durable, capable enough of fulfilling and surpassing the internal “Built Ford Tough” standard of 215 tests using 148 prototypes. It also needed to have a low cost of ownership throughout its lifetime (long service intervals, great fuel economy, excellent build quality, etc.). Ford revamped its Kansas City Assembly Plant specifically for Transit production, a move that created 2000 jobs.
With all that in mind, Ford developed a unibody chassis made of high-strength and boron steel to keep weight down and performance up. Buyers can choose from cargo van or wagon configurations, in designations of 150/250/350/350 Heavy Duty, with wheelbases of 129.9 or 147.6 inches, and having roof heights of 83.6, 100.8, and 110.1 inches (which allow for cargo heights of 56.9, 72, and 81.5 inches, respectively). A 6-foot-4 person can stand inside a van with the tallest roof height, no problem. Chassis cab and cutaway versions can be ordered by commercial buyers, too, with the same wheelbase and engines.
Wagoners can stuff eight, 10, 12, or 15 passengers inside, but if they ditch their passengers and jump into a long-wheelbase, extended-length, high-roof, dual-rear-wheels cargo van (aka LWB EL HR DRW), they’ll have a cavernous 487.3 cubic-feet to work with. Opting for the low-roof, regular-wheelbase van doesn’t penalize drivers too badly. There’s still 246.7 cubic-feet to gobble plenty of stuff.
Big news is the replacement of the E Series’ 4.6-/5.4-liter V-8s and 6.8-liter V-10 with a base 3.7-liter V-6 (275 hp/260 lb-ft) and a range-topping 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6 (310 hp/400 lb-ft) that’s been cherry-picked from the F-150. The EcoBoost offers a best-in-class torque rating and has more grunt than the 5.4-liter it replaces, while the 3.7-liter can run on CNG/LPG and E85 (when properly equipped).
There’s also a new 3.2-liter inline-five Power Stroke turbo diesel (185 hp/350 lb-ft) based on Ford’s third-generation Duratorq (Puma) architecture. It’s been heavily reworked to meet U.S. standards — the most stringent of which are found in California — and can run on B20 biodiesel, if desired. Ninety percent of its available torque can be tapped at just 1500 rpm. Each engine is married to a six-speed automatic and is rear-wheel drive.
Having smaller engines translates into bigger fuel economy efficiencies. Per the EPA, Transits having a 3.5- or 3.7-liter (low or medium roofs, standard wheelbase) will get 14/19/16 mpg in their city/highway/combined cycles. For the entry 3.7-liter engine, that’s a 19 percent improvement in fuel economy compared to the E Series’ 4.6-liter V-8. The benefit is even greater when comparing the 3.5 liter against the outgoing 6.8-liter 10-cylinder — the EcoBoost is 46 percent more fuel-efficient. As of this writing, the Duratorq hasn’t been rated, but given the advances made by the gasoline lineup, we’d expect some impressive final figures.
With gross vehicle weight ratings spanning 8600 to 10,360 pounds, payload capacities are substantial, and in some configurations are better than those of the E Series. The cargo van’s load ratings start at 2990 pounds (3.2-liter; LWB, medium roof) and max out at 4650 pounds (3.5-liter; LWB-E; high roof; dual rear wheels). Wagons can carry between 2330 pounds (3.2-liter; LWB; high roof) and 3710 pounds (3.5-liter; LWB-E; high roof; dual rear wheels).
Cutaway and chassis cab buyers can expect a maximum 5790-pound payload rating. As for towing, the 3.2-liter can pull up to 7500 pounds with optional Heavy-Duty Tow Package (hitch, wiring, 4-/7-pin connector, brake controller, relay system for lights) and available 3.73 rear axle. Roof packers can tie down loads weighing up to 420 pounds.
Long-wheelbase models’ 50/50 hinged rear doors open 270 degrees, while those on regular-wheelbase Transits swing 180 degrees. Their opening height is a best-in-class 74.3 inches. Sliding doors are 1.5 times bigger than those of the E Series, so getting to the nicely equipped interior when curbside is easy.
Inside the cargo van, you’ll find manual seats wrapped in heavy-duty cloth, power windows, large sun visors, overhead console storage (except on low roof models), and rear compartment lighting. Packaged options add leather, SYNC audio, power folding/heated mirrors, load area protection (polypropylene panes on walls and doors), cruise control, and power seats, to name a few. You can opt for more airbags, windows, better audio systems, and various wheel styles.
There are optional packages that prep the chassis for ambulance (heavy-duty electronics and wiring, AC), RV (deletion of content aft of B-pillar), refrigeration, or modified vehicle (heavy-duty alternator, fuses, batteries) duties.
Have a need for a small bus or a shuttle? You can outfit a Transit for those purposes via Ford’s online configurator. But the must-have for vans rolling atop dual rear wheels (DRW) has to be the White Painted DRW Package. It adds white painted steelies on each axle, which look, uh, way bitchin’.
Of course, the cargo area can accommodate a cornucopia of work-essential add-ons, both from the factory catalog or authorized aftermarket “upfit” companies. Shelving, racks, bins, lockers, LED lighting, cages — just about anything can be added to the van’s innards. But not all take up valuable acreage inside. Fleet users can have their dealer install the Crew Chief Telematics system that acts as a “black box.” It gives fleet managers real-time updates on things such as fuel consumption, vehicle speed, seat belt use, location, and maintenance.
The wagon gets an identical list of standard features with either the base XL or XLT designations. Right off the bat, XLT gets standard cruise control — an option for the XL. Both come with front and rear air conditioning. The cargo area is better lit in the XLT thanks to more overhead light fixtures. The XLT also gets the Exterior Upgrade Package at no cost (chrome grille surrounds, wheel covers, headlamp trim).
Options include SYNC, lane departure, rearview camera, MyKey, pewter or charcoal cloth power seats, remote start, and vinyl floor coverings. It can be prepped with a Builders Package, which eliminates rear seats and adds heavier duty electronics, or a Smokers Package, which provides a lighter and an ashtray. Owners of multiple vans have the option of equipping theirs with Crew Chief as well.
Sliding into the cargo van’s captain’s chairs, you first notice the helm, which is a near replica of that in the Focus. It’s sporty, and initially odd for such a vehicle. Nonetheless, it felt great in hand. Forward visibility was excellent given the expansive glass and elevated seating position. Storage can be found all around: high and low inside the door panels; atop the dash; inside the center console; above the driver’s head in the sculpted shelves. And talk about cupholders galore.
I sampled all three engines, each powering a cargo van of different heights. To get a better feel of dynamics, each held half of its maximum payload capacity. First on my docket was a Green Metallic 350 low-roof van, with the long wheelbase and the Big Daddy 3.5-liter EcoBoost aboard. The twin-turbos offered a smooth, consistent, quiet grunt that’s immediately evident from takeoff. It’s quick off the line thanks to the arrival of all 400 pound-feet of torque at just 2500 rpm.
The concept of comfort was clearly emphasized at early engineering meetings. Soft touch materials populated the dash and key areas. The 10-way power seat had a cushiness uncommon in the segment and, most important, was extremely supportive during the test day — essential for long real-world days of driving. Wind noise was kept to a minimum, even for such a substantial vehicle. Shifts from the SelectShift automatic were buttery smooth. At full throttle, the 3.5-liter’s cabin was without copious road noise.
In twisty bits, the 3.5-liter Transit was highly maneuverable and easily controllable. The front MacPherson struts with stabilizer bar, combined with the rear’s progressive leaf spring and gas-charged dampers, transmitted little in terms of highway acne into the hydraulic power steering. Its ride wasn’t plush; it simply lacked a harshness or loudness that’s characteristic of such vans. In essence, the 3.5-liter van is the top dog, doing it all well, with great fuel efficiency and immediate power.
Once away from the 3.5-liter, I jumped into the naturally aspirated Transit 250 with a medium roof and a Pueblo gold metallic paint job. This particular edition had dual-rear wheels, which gave it more heft and girth. Indeed, it felt heavier, yet no less manageable, with equal degrees of controllability. In terms of off-the-line pizzazz, it’s no slug. It does feel noticeably less lively, needing extra throttle enticement to really get going. Exterior noise also infiltrated the cabin more when compared to its EcoBoost sibling.
The sweetheart of the lineup happened to be the last I sampled. Its engine carries a $6040 premium over the 3.7-liter engine (that same gap is $9690 in the wagon … yikes). But, my, the low-end torque, smoothness, and overall well-sorted demeanor of this Transit 350.
It’s as quiet as diesels come — and as spritely — with a mushier throttle than those of the gasoline-fed varieties. While no fuel economy ratings have been set, the Duratorq could be choice for those wanting the best in efficiency, low-RPM grunt (350 lb-ft at 1500 rpm), and hauling/towing capacities.
The flavors are many, as are the toppings. But no matter which variety is earmarked for daily duty, buyers can count on a comfortable, efficient, highly capable, nicely priced (starting at $30,560) foundation. In other words, the fiery rumble between commercial vans in America just got hotter. Hey, ProMaster, NV, Sprinter, Express — you’d better watch out.
For more than 50 additional photos of the 2015 Ford Transit, head to the second page of this review.
|2015 Ford Transit|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, RWD, 2-15 pass, 2-door van|
|ENGINES||3.7L/275-hp/260-lb-ft DOHC 24-valve V-6; 3.5L/310-hp/400-lb-ft turbocharged DOHC 24-valve V-6; 3.2L/185-hp/350-lb-ft turbodiesel DOHC 20-valve I-5|
|CURB WEIGHT||5000-7000 lb (est)|
|LENGTH X WIDTH X HEIGHT||217.8-263.9 x 83.1 x 82.2-108.6 in|
|0-60 MPH||7.5-8.5 sec (MT est)|
|EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON||14/19 mpg|
|ENERGY CONSUMPTION, CITY/HWY||241/177 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS||1.22 lb/mile|
|ON SALE IN U.S.||Now|