2014 Ford Transit Connect Wagon marks breakthrough in minivan segment

Since it's not a traditional minivan, the 2014

Since it's not a traditional minivan, the 2014 Ford Transit Connect Wagon is actually closer in size to a Mazda5 that a Dodge Grand Caravan or Honda Odyssey. (Credit: Ford Motor Company)

Nowhere in Ford's press or promotional literature will you see the 2014 Transit Connect Wagon referred to as a minivan.

But one walk around this big-roofed rig with its dual-sliding side doors and up to seven-passenger seating capacity is enough to confirm that "minivan" is the most relevant designation, even if it's from Europe.

The TC Wagon, which arrives in late 2013, is the junior-sized civilian offshoot of a series of new windowless commercial-vans heading to North America from Ford's factory in Spain. Size-wise, it falls into the compact class, which means it's significantly smaller than more traditional minivans from Chrysler, Toyota and Honda. In fact, a more direct comparison to the Mazda5 might work best.


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Unlike the Mazda, the TC Wagon will be offered in two sizes - five- and seven-passenger - separated by nearly 16 inches in overall length and in the distance between the front and rear wheels. The pair replaces the original five-passenger Transit Connect van that arrived for the 2010 model year. In terms of size, that model was about mid-point between the two newbies.

The retiring Transit Connect's much taller body was always better suited for work-van duty, while the new Transit Connect Wagon's stylish sheetmetal seems far more car-like in appearance and in application. In fact, it represents a long-overdue departure from the classic minivan shape that has been the norm since Chrysler revolutionized the segment three decades ago.

The five-passenger TC Wagon's just-right size is more aesthetically pleasing, but for larger families the elongated seven-seat version will likely get the nod. Both are finished off as well as any other members of Ford's compact fleet, including the Focus sedan and hatchback and Escape small utility vehicle.

With three distinct trim levels - XL, XLT and Titanium - the TC Wagon can be spiced up just about any way you want, from utilitarian basic to full-on premium class transporter with leather seat coverings, king-size panoramic glass roof, a navigation system with 6.5-inch screen, fancy wheels, upgraded sound system and other niceties. Also available is SYNC with MyFord Touch, which is the automaker's latest voice-controlled infotainment and communications system, plus your selection of either cargo-van-style side-hinged rear doors, or a more traditional liftgate.

In either case, the split-folding second-row - and the dual fore-and-aft-sliding third-row seats found in extended models - can be flattened for maximum stowage. The TC Wagon will accommodate up to 1,200 pounds of cargo and tow up to 2,000 pounds. Think personal water craft or ATV here.

Along with its compact silhouette, the TC Wagon promises to maintain a solid grip on fuel consumption by way of its engines. The starting point is a 2.5-liter four-cylinder, while a turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder "EcoBoost" powerplant is optional. Ford has yet to announce specific outputs, but since both are available in other Ford models, you can assume that the base 2.4 will likely deliver about 165 horsepower and 170 pound-feet of torque, while the 1.6 turbo-four should earn a 170/184 rating.

Power is directed to the front wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission that has been specifically tuned for in-city driving, although it's also geared for maximum highway efficiency. Seeing as Ford is boasting a 30-plus-mpg highway rating for the turbo, 23 mpg in the city and 31 on the highway is reasonable guess with the base 2.5 being a touch thirstier.

Far from being just a cargo van with added windows and seats, the Transit Connect Wagon is nothing short of a fully turned-out utility hauler. Ford is keeping the starting prices to itself for now, but it would surprise no one if you'll be able to drive a short-wheelbase model off the lot for about $24,000, which would put the longer model at about $26,500.

The TC Wagon represents a breakthrough of sorts in the minivan field, even if, categorically speaking, Ford would rather you refer to it as something other than a minivan.

What you should know: 2014 Ford Transit Connect Wagon
Type: Four-door, front-wheel-drive compact van
Engines (hp): 2.4-liter DOHC I4 (168, est.); 1.6-liter DOHC I4, turbocharged (173, est.)
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Market position: Ford's total conversion of a compact work van into a fully decked-out minivan is certainly unique, but its usefulness as a people and cargo carrier is unquestionably a clever move.
Points: TC Wagon's styling makes a bold statement; If you can live with the smaller dimensions and powerplants, it will reward you with good fuel economy; Full-load trim levels add a luxury element; An AWD option would round it out; Copycats will likely follow; Seriously, Ford couldn't think of a shorter name?
Safety: Front airbags; side-impact airbags; side-curtain airbags; anti-lock brakes; traction control; stability control.
MPG (city/hwy) 23/31 (2.4, est.)
Base price (incl. destination) $24,000 (est.)

BY COMPARISON

Mazda5
Base price: $20,700
Small minivan gets some competition, but not if you want a manual gearbox.

Dodge Grand Caravan
Base price: $21,900
Keeping the price low and content levels high makes it a popular choice.

Honda Odyssey
Base price: $29.000
Roominess and prestige make this maxi minivan a hit with suburbanites. 

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