Ford is competitive in a variety of segments, but one area where it dominates is in the commercial vehicle market, specifically its Transit model.
The automaker made news Thursday with the debut of its E-Transit model, which is expected to arrive late in 2021. Until then, the company’s internal combustion-powered model will be forced, sigh, to carry on as its standard bearer — and if you like vans, that’s good news!
Overview: The 2020 Transit carries most of the market, in part, because the company offers so many variations: cargo van, chassis cab, cutaway, crew and, for our purposes today, the passenger van. The Transit is regularly used by hospitals, nursing homes, hotels and more as shuttle van, competing with the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van for these duties.
Exterior: Looking at the Transit, in our case the 14-passenger high-top XLT AWD model, it’s tough not to wonder how often the thing ends up riding on two wheels – or worse, completely on its side – because it looks so top heavy.
It’s harsh to describe its looks as the best of a bad lot, but it’s a van with a sloped front end designed to make a giant rectangle more aerodynamic while continuing to offer plenty of interior space for storage or, in this case, 14 people.
The passenger side sliding door offers easy access to the interior of the van and when closed, it fit nicely into its frame. The rear doors open wide, offering 253-degree access to the rear of the van. When configured for passengers, it comes with plenty of windows that are big enough to offer plenty of light without making it look like a fish tank on four wheels.
“… There’s no eloquent way to describe how it looks on the outside, other than if you’re a fan of awkward, large vehicles, the Transit’s exterior looks pretty good …”
In the Agate Black our model came in, it’s stately. Fortunately, I AM a fan of oversized vehicles and just seeing it made me giggle with anticipation to get in and drive it.
Interior: Since our model was the top-of-the-line XLT, it came very well equipped. Our black leather seats – yes, 14 leather-clad captain’s chairs – were comfortable and supportive. With the high roof, standing up to move into one of the dozen seats behind the driver wasn’t issue for anyone shorter than 6-foot, 5-inches tall.
For the driver and front-seat passenger, access to the cab portion was easy. The seating position for the driver offers a great view all around the outside of the vehicle while checking out the gauges when the Transit was in motion was simple with no obstructions. Reaching the 8-inch touchscreen as well as the simple dials for the HVAC controls was no problem either. Van drivers must be thirsty as there were four cupholders up front as well as other cubby holes for additional items like cell phones, writing utensils, etc.
Powertrain: Our Transit weighed in at just under 7,200 pounds — before adding 14 passengers. To make sure this workhorse can get the job done, Ford needed to make certain it got a proper powerplant for what I came to call Black Beauty. Fortunately, it did with the 3.5-liter, dual overhead cam, 24-value turbocharged EcoBoost V6 engine. Mated to a 10-speed transmission, it puts out 310 horsepower and 400 pound-feet of torque.
There is an option for a less powerful 3.5-liter naturally aspirated V6 engine. It puts out 275 hp and 262 lb-ft of torque. Given the way the EcoBoost pushes the van around, which we’ll talk more about later, it’s the clear choice for the Transit. It also comes equipped with stop-start technology, which helps on the gas mileage, and in this case, wasn’t obtrusive.
Safety and technology: The Transit is a big, big vehicle and in the case of our model, Ford stopped short of wrapping it in bubble wrap to keep it safe and protect others. It comes standard with Post-Collision Braking, Pre-Collision Assist with Automatic Emergency Braking (AEB), Auto High-Beam Headlamps, Lane-Keeping System and Forward Collision Warning. The Lane-Keeping system is a bit inconsistent in terms of how far off the road you have to go before it activates. The auto high beams are a fabulous feature and were very effective and timely. Fortunately, I did not test the other safety features.
However, it also came with cross-traffic alert, which is priceless when backing up such a large vehicle. The rear-view camera also provided wider than expected coverage. The van came with Ford Co-Pilot 360, but fortunately, I didn’t test most of the emergency avoidance tech in the system.
Safety tech aside, the Transit makes it easy to keep passengers entertained, especially with the FordPass Connect 4G WiFi modem on board. No more fighting about what movie to watch, tell the backseat co-pilots to login and pipe down. The Transit also comes with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto available. One surprise is that it only came with Sync3 while Sync4 was made available more than a year ago.
Driving impressions: While it’s not a sports car, the Transit has plenty of giddy up and all of that oomph from the vertical pedal gets to the ground courtesy of the all-wheel drive. Between the large windows and mirrors, powerful engine and additional electronic assistance, driving the Transit’s largest version was fun. Again, I spent most of my time chuckling to myself while behind the wheel; however, when it was handed over to me, a colleague offered a similar assessment.
So I’m going to say it: the 2020 Ford Transit was fun to drive. More importantly, it offered plenty of go even when fully loaded. The ride and handling was good and despite the vehicle’s size body roll was not overwhelming.
Wrap Up: Few people are in the market for a full-size, 14-passenger van. However, if you are, we can certainly endorse this one. More importantly, this Transit really acts as an ambassador for the company, giving those transferring from hotel to airport or getting shuttled to their vehicle insight into what Ford can do. In that case, it’s a winner.