New Ford Van Ticket to Innovation for Corporations
June 9, 2014
By: Nick Saporito
KANSAS CITY, MO – The full-size van may not be one of the sexiest vehicle segments on the market but it is undoubtedly a staple in North America. Used by everyone from telecom technicians to plumbers, these vehicles are workhorses that prop up the mobility of a large swath of the American economy. Despite their importance, segment innovation has been stifled, with stalwarts such as the Chevrolet Express and Ford’s own E-Series soldiering on with outdated engine offerings and a general lack of new configurations.
Ford hopes to disrupt the complacency of the commercial van market by launching the all-new Transit in North America. To the American tongue, the Transit name is new, however the moniker is anything but for Ford on a global basis. The transit has been on sale for 49 years in countries around the globe, such as Europe, where commercial vans are considerably more popular.
The move advances a Ford corporate strategy mantra that is familiar to anyone in automotive: One Ford. It is the company’s internal mission to standardize the organization around the globe to achieve greater economies of scale and boost efficiency. As such, the 2015 Transit has been designed for the entire globe, including North America, where it will eventually replace the iconic E-Series.
While Ford will see obvious financial benefits to standardizing the Transit for global use, Americans in the market for commercial vehicles are going to get a ton of new options thanks to the move, because the 2015 Transit is like a Swiss Army knife of commercial vans and makes the old truck-based full-sizers appear to be what they really are…outdated.
Ford recently invited media to sample the new Transit in its hometown: Kansas City. Ford has invested around $1 billion in its Kansas City Assembly Plant to allow it to be one of only two global plants that manufacture the vans. In addition, the plant also manufactures the F-150, making it a very important one in the Ford portfolio.
According to Ford, the Transit has 44 different configurations; a staggering amount for clients to select and an even more staggering hurdle for the assembly process (hence part of the mega-investment into KC). Transit buyers will be able to select from three lengths, three roof heights and three engines. The trifecta of body types does not even include a host of other options, such as van or wagon configurations and all of the features that can be added to these vans. Oh, buyers can also add dual rear wheels to some configurations to increase the payload.
Even though there are a bazillion different Transits to talk about, they all have very similar handling characteristics. Whereas the E-Series van often makes the driver feel like they are piloting a mobile home with overly active power steering, the Transit actually feels like a modern automobile.
Even in its largest layout, the Transit never drives like a huge commercial vehicle. In fact, it consistently drives very small. Turning radius is incredibly sharp for such a large vehicle, making maneuverability in tight city streets a fairly easy feat. The hydraulic steering rack offers considerably improved steering feel over the sloppy E-Series, with increased effort and precision.
Body sway on the Transit, something one would rightfully expect given the vehicle’s sheer size, is surprisingly muted. During slalom tests, the Transit maintained composure on the course, though during these tests the vehicles had half of their rated payload capability. The payload out back undoubtedly aided handling feel. The primary limitation ended up being its small-width tires, though delivery folks and airport shuttle drivers aren’t going to care (we hope).
Transit’s four-wheel disc brakes also proved worthy, with a good initial grip and low fade during our testing.
All variants of the Transit can be powered by a buyer’s choice of Ford’s 3.7-liter V-6, 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6 or a 3.2-liter inline-five PowerStroke diesel. Each engine is mated to a six-speed automatic transmission propelling the rear wheels.
Having spent extensive time with all three mills, our personal favorite ended up being the EcoBoost, despite assumptions the diesel would win our hearts. The 3.5-liter generates a healthy 310 horsepower and 400 foot-pounds of torque, more than enough for this van. Off-the-line performance is such that it can put a grin on the driver’s face, while the torque delivery is linear and strong throughout the rev range.
On the diesel side, the PowerStroke actually feels a lot like the EcoBoost, with 185 horsepower and 350 foot-pounds from 1,500 to 2,500 rpm. The low-end diesel grunt is impressive and torque is consistent until the high end of the rev range. We noted that the diesel and transmission often seemed at odds with one another, resulting in confused shift patterns.
The 3.7-liter V-6, considered the base engine in Transit, sports 275 horsepower and 260 foot-pounds of torque. While not as fun to drive as the other, more powerful two, this engine will likely serve as a favorite among corporate fleets for being the most economical engine on the option list and generally a no-complaints match for the Transit.
In the end, we favored the EcoBoost over the other two for its low-end power delivery and quiet operation versus the PowerStroke. During our tests, the EcoBoost was quickest off the line when loaded and consistently felt more powerful throughout the rev range. Concurrently, passengers can literally hear every noise the PowerStroke makes, from the fuel pump to the pistons.
The inside of the Transit is also a substantial improvement over the outgoing E-Series van. Driver and passenger seating positions are very upright and comfortable for long drives. Additionally, the controls are laid out in a more ergonomically friendly setup, such as the navigation display positioned very upright and within reach of both passengers.
In fact, during our time with the Transit, we found the cab an enjoyable place to be. Interior noise levels are low, though not as low as most pedestrian Ford products, and engine noise is not too intrusive.
While the Transit’s cab is important, what’s behind the cab is what will seal the deal for fleet buyers. With three different lengths, the Transit can offer up to 487 cubic feet of cargo space, which is not much less than some New York City apartments. Additionally, in high roof configuration, people as tall as 6’4” can stand comfortably in the cargo bay.
Ford is also giving buyers a lot of flexibility with the cargo box. Transit can be ordered from KC with LED lighting in the back and with optional side panels that protect cargo from getting damaged by Transit’s sheet metal. Usable tie-down hooks can also be found throughout the cargo box.
The rear doors of all Transits swing out to nearly 270 degrees. By default, they open to 90 degrees, then with the flip of a lever on the door, the door will then swing out the remaining distance to get it out of the way.
Naturally, most Transit buyers are going to opt for upfitting the cargo box to their pleasure, of which there is a metric ton of upfitters waiting to customize the Transit box for whatever the client wants.
For buyers wanting the wagon version of the Transit, Ford offers it in 12- and 15-passenger configurations. We rode in a 12-passenger version of one during the media launch so we can vouch that it is a comfortable ride.
Overall, Ford is betting that American businesses are ready for the European style utility van with this 2015 Transit. In terms of execution, there’s no doubt there is a lot of love about this commercial van. For those corporate accounts eager for a more innovative fleet option, the 2015 Transit is your ticket.