The ubiquitous Ford E-Series van is finally bowing out to the 2015 Ford Transit, synchronizing Ford's van lineup around the world. The new Transit is a great hauler, but don't be fooled by the car-style dashboard, it's a van alright. We know, we autocrossed it (Sort of).
(Disclosure: Ford flew me out to Kansas City, stuffed me full of beef and let me put all the hotel coffees I wanted on their tab just so I could tour the Transit factory and drive everything in their new van lineup.)
Ford began introducing us to the 2015 Transit van with a tour of the mighty Kansas City truck plant where it's assembled. The floor looks clean enough to eat off, a tribal dance of robots whip the big parts of the van together in a flurry of mighty hydraulic arms while human helpers leisurely tack in they tiny bits.
I was told robot hands are too cumbersome for detail work like interior fittings. Wonder how much longer that will be true.
Can you tell which side has just been remodeled? The older-looking half is where F-150s are born, and will be redone soon enough to commence construction of the 2015 bodystyle.
The 2015 Transit is being built in seven sizes for the US market, broken down in the chart below. Customers will be able to pick between passenger and cargo variants, but they can't be mixed-and-matched so easily once they leave the factory; Floors in passenger models are four inches higher to accommodate mounting points, heating ductwork, and seatbelt integration.
But from the driver's perspective, the biggest discernible difference between the Transit variants are the engines. Choices are a 3.7 V6 (270 HP and 260 lb-ft), a 3.5 EcoBoost (310 HP, 400 lb-ft) or a 3.2 five-cylinder Power Stroke diesel (with 185 HP and 350 lb-ft of torque). Each is mated to a 6-speed automatic with rear-wheel drive.
Ford has no plans for an AWD or 4WD Transit, nor do they have any interest in dropping that little diesel in the new F-150. I promise, I asked several people for you.
Here's how each engine performed around Kansas City, on the highway, and around a miniature autocross course Ford made out of cones in a large parking lot. Each van in the test was carrying half it's maximum payload; which equated to about 2,000 pounds of construction materials strapped to the cargo floor.
The pedal-action-to-power responsiveness reminded me of an older minivan. That's pretty reasonable for a full-sized work van with a metric ton of junk in the trunk. It's hard to get creative describing the experience of driving this; it was exactly "fine."
3.5 V6 EcoBoost
I was disappointed to note that the big, satisfying turbo woosh isn't as audible here as it was in the F-150 Tremor but a boot in the throttle gives this thing serious motivation. With the cargo load, it's reasonably brisk in the context of a van. With nothing behind the cockpit but empty seats, this thing properly hauls ass and happily eats rear tires.
This engine's been proven as a great base for tuning in other applications... if you're looking to build this generation's A-Team van I reckon you've just found where to start.
The 3.5 was also the only engine Ford wanted to talk fuel economy on; they say the EPA estimates 14 MPG in the city and 19 on the highway. I can only tell you it does "less well" at full throttle for half an hour.
3.2 I5 Power Stroke diesel
The most noteworthy thing about this Ford-made engine is that it's not unusably anemic. I mean, it doesn't let you forget it's a diesel — put the pedal to the floor and the engine will turn around, raise an eyebrow at you, then make a little more noise. But compared to other oil burners it would be an easier engine to transition to from gasoline.
The rest of the vehicle's attributes have more to do with size and payload preparation than engine output.
The 2015 Ford Transit face is inoffensive, if a little fish-like. But for overall appearance points it's a Goldilocks situation for sure: The medium-wheelbase, medium-roof model looks "just right." That said you can't blame Ford for an awkward-looking high-roofed van, though, there's only so much swagger you can get of something that's almost 110" tall and still fits in a highway lane.
Ford fans will find the interior familiar; the dash, gauges, and infotainment screen look pulled straight out of a last-generation sedan. The styling works for me, it's certainly prettier than the outgoing E-Series but I'm sure there will be those who lament the loss of the "total utilitarian" look. The 7" MyFord Touch interface in the range-topping XLT is especially useful as a back-up camera.
The XL lacks that and a few other niceties, but the big screen is all you really miss in the cheaper model. Without it, the camera is only displayed through a tiny viewer the size of a business card that isn't too easy to make sense of.
Ride & Handling
The van is planted enough for driving like an idiot with confidence. I felt compelled to test that for you because "it drives fine if you drive it slow, like a cargo van should be driven," isn't as fun to read. So, you're welcome.
Last-minute lane changes are executed without egregious bodyroll, and understeer doesn't really rear its head until you dive into a corner at full tilt with traction control off. Speaking of which, T/C can be deactivated but the background driver aids cannot. Anti-roll computers even step in seamlessly with a big wheel-jerking handbrake turn to keep the sail-shaped whale stable. So while flipping the switch puts the tires to work a little harder, the van will fight for its life to keep composure no matter how hard you hammer on it.
That's great news for folks who have to trust their fleets of vans to goofballs on their staff or worse; renters. Obviously bald tires would make murdering the Transit a little easier, but for the most part its will to live is strong.
Passenger variants are plenty smooth, and while the dually hauler was significantly stiffer it didn't feel any worse than a heavy duty pickup. Let me translate if you've never driven one of those either; your grandma would complain straight away but a younger driver with any leaf-spring experience probably wouldn't notice the extra jostling until they hit a nice big juicy pothole.
Hauling & Towing
Even the smallest Transit has more space than I'd know what to do with, and the rear doors opening all the way out is a great feature for loading. Here are the complete dimensions for those who are cross-shopping against other vans.
MWB LR = Medium wheelbase, low roof
MWB MR = Medium wheelbase, medium roof
LWB LR = Long wheelbase, low roof
LWB MR = Long wheelbase, medium roof
LWB HR = Long wheelbase, high roof
LWB EL HR SRW = Long wheelbase, extended-length, high roof, single rear wheels
LWB EL HR DRW = Long wheelbase, extended length, high roof, dual rear wheels
Models are broken down even further by windows, seating configuration, doors, and the like so there's too much variance between then to provide a comprehensive price list. But MSRPs start in the mid-$20's and go all the way up to over $50,000.
The 2015 Ford Transit would be a pretty absurd choice for personal use unless your entire extended family lives together, but it's reasonably refined for a work vehicle has a lot of room for customization.
As always I'm happy to answer follow-up questions on aspects I might have glossed over, especially if you're looking to try one out when they hit showrooms in a few months.