By Derek Price
The delivery van wars are heating up.
If you didn’t know such wars existed, you’re not alone. Unless you’re a small business owner who uses your van to make money — as a plumber, florist or handyman, for example — you probably haven’t paid much attention to the revolution these workhorses have undergone in recent years.
While American vans like the Ford Econoline and Ram Van dominated the market for decades, today’s vans are more likely to have European roots with boxy, upright shapes and funkier styling. For better or worse, they look more like the tall Mercedes Sprinter in “American Pickers” than the Mystery Machine in “Scooby Doo.”
That’s certainly the case with Ford’s big, square Transit van, not to be confused with the smaller Transit Connect. The Transit replaces the E-Series in Ford’s van portfolio for 2015, and while it’s built in Kansas City, it shares some DNA with the Turkish-built Transit that sells in Europe by the millions.
Ordering a Transit isn’t like going to your local Ford dealer and picking one off the lot, either. Customers typically will want to customize their van for its exact job, which is why Ford offers so many different versions of the Transit.
It’s available in three body lengths, two wheelbases and three different roof heights to meet the demands of each job. It’s also available in van, wagon, chassis cab and cutaway body styles that can be further customized by outside companies called upfitters, who add things like storage bins and equipment racks to finish out the van.
Ford is emphasizing efficiency with the three engine choices in the North American Transit: a standard 3.7-liter V6, a 3.5-liter EcoBoost it shares with the F-150 pickup, and a new 3.2-liter, five-cylinder Power Stroke diesel. All three engines are paired with a six-speed automatic that sends power to the rear wheels.
That gives it a very different driving feel from the Ram Promaster, which uses a front-wheel-drive, Italian design from FIAT.
Driving the Transit was a blast for me because it was such a contrast from the ordinary crossovers, pickups, SUVs and economy cars I usually review. The medium-roof, long-wheelbase, bright red delivery van that Ford sent me to test drew a lot of attention as I drove it around town, making me wish I had a business to advertise on its billboard-size walls. It’s an eye-catcher.
While I’m a writer, not a plumber, I tried to notice the things I might appreciate if I had to make a living from a van like this. I liked how the back doors could be locked open so they couldn’t be closed by a gust of wind, and I loved all the storage spaces built into the driver’s area.
Of course, the people who buy this van — or a whole fleet of them — will be most concerned with its operating costs, and Ford says that’s one of the Transit’s strong points. Its global design is meant to be durable enough and affordable enough to operate in 116 markets around the world, and buyers can get extended-hours service and technical help at more than 600 Ford Business Preferred Network dealers when they need it.
It’s a new van that aims to meet the same needs business owners have always had: flexibility, reliability and affordability.
At a Glance
What was tested?
2015 Transit 250 Medium Roof Van ($37,555). Options: Fixed rear door glass ($75). Price as tested (including $1,195 destination charge): $38,825
Wheelbase: 147.6 in.
Length: 217.8 in.
Width: 97.4 in.
Height: 100.8 in.
Engine: 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6 (310 horsepower, 400 lbs.-ft.)
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
2015 Ford Transit
Why buy it?
It’s a flexible, capable platform for people who use their vans to make a living. Its three powertrain options, including a five-cylinder diesel, give customers several efficient choices.