Like the black-and-white cookie, the full-size van market is clearly divided. On one side sits a trio of old-school body-on-frame vans from Chevrolet, GMC, and Nissan; on the other rests a triad of modern unibody haulers. Leading this progressive pack is the 2017 Ford Transit, a model that beat out its two compatriots, the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter and the Ram ProMaster, in our most recent comparison test of big vans.
Despite more than half a century of sales in Europe, the full-size Transit remains a relative newcomer to the U.S. market, having been formally introduced for the 2015 model year as a replacement for the long-in-the-tooth, body-on-frame Ford E-series (née Econoline). Compared to its ill-handling predecessor, the surprisingly docile Transit is a revelation. Its massive windshield, strut-type front suspension, and well-tuned rack-and-pinion steering provide the big van with a wave of civility no E-series could claim. Turn-in is sharp, the chassis is composed, and an expansive forward view makes it remarkably easy to pilot the big beast through city traffic.
Van Enough to Be Your Van
Don’t think for one second that Ford has wussified the full-size van—our Transit 350 test vehicle’s claimed 4230-pound payload is greater than the Ford F-250 Super Duty pickup truck’s. No doubt, the Transit 350 is designed primarily for hauling heavy loads. And Ford offers innumerable ways to do just that, as the model is available with two distinct wheelbases, three body lengths, three roof heights, and as either a “Passenger Wagon” or a cargo “Van.” Also, the Transit offers a choice among three powertrains.
Our Transit 350 cargo van came to us wearing a coat of $150 Caribou Brown paint and sitting on the longer 148.0-inch wheelbase. With the ’tweener body length and topped off with the medium-height roof option, the Transit 350 cast a shadow some 19.6 feet long while standing 8.4 feet tall. Opening the split tailgate reveals 357 cubic feet of cargo space, with enough room available for a six-footer to stand upright. There are studio apartments in New York City with fewer square feet of floor area. A passenger-side sliding door provided easy access into the two-seat Transit 350’s cargo space.
While buyers can opt out of windows aft of the B-pillars, our test van came equipped with a piece of privacy glass for the sliding door and the rear doors, as well as rear window defoggers, for a total of $650. A $940 power running board that exposed itself upon opening the sliding passenger-side door, and tucked itself away upon closing the door, was a feature that seemed superfluous given the Transit 350’s low step-in height. A fixed running board is available for $160.
Van, That’s Quick
If money is to be spent augmenting the Transit 350, we’d recommend dropping the $1865 needed to replace the Transit 350’s standard 275-hp 3.7-liter V-6 with the 310-hp twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter V-6 fitted to our test vehicle. Dubbed EcoBoost in Ford parlance, the forced-induction engine pulled the 5423-pound cargo van to 60 mph in just 6.8 seconds, and the big brown box jumped past the quarter-mile pole after 15.3 seconds at 90 mph. Of more importance to cargo-van consumers, though, is the engine’s 400 lb-ft of torque that comes on at 2500 rpm and works with the standard six-speed automatic transmission to blast the Transit 350 from 30 to 50 mph and from 50 to 70 mph in just 3.8 and 4.8 seconds. Coming to a halt from 70 mph took only 171 feet. Impressively, the Transit 350’s acceleration and braking figures compare favorably with those of the last Kia Optima SX 2.0T we tested.
Mind you, we tested this Transit 350 cargo van completely unloaded. Throw a few hundred (or thousand) pounds of junk in this box and expect the Transit’s acceleration and braking figures to take a hit. Still, with so much torque on tap, we can’t imagine the Transit 350 EcoBoost ever feeling completely overwhelmed. With or without a payload, though, don’t expect much of the cargo van’s ability to tackle turns. Around our 300-foot skidpad, the empty van’s Hankook Dynapro HT LT tires pulled just 0.60 g before the stability-control system declared enough fun had been had. Fuel economy was similarly unimpressive; we averaged 14 mpg during the Transit 350’s stay with us. Although the EPA does not rate the Transit 350’s fuel economy, a 1028-pound-heavier Transit 150 passenger van fitted with the same EcoBoost engine managed a more satisfying 22 mpg when we tested it roughly two years ago. That people-hauling van sported a taller 3.31:1 rear axle ratio, though, while our cargo van came equipped with a shorter 3.73:1 rear end, a $325 option that also includes a limited-slip differential. Coupled with the $485 Trailer Tow package, our test van was rated to tow as much as 6800 pounds, which is 1400 more than a Transit 350 EcoBoost cargo van equipped with the standard 3.31:1 rear gear.
Without any cargo onboard, the Transit 350 cargo van’s rear end bounced around on the less-than-ideal roads near C/D headquarters like a basketball being dribbled by a Harlem Globetrotter. On at least two occasions our morning coffee leapt out of its cup as we drove to work. Nevertheless, those who commute on smoother byways are bound to appreciate that there are seven cupholders carved into the Transit 350’s hard-plastic dashboard, although there are only two seats.
Although the Transit 350 cargo van is far from luxurious, the full-size van can still be equipped with its share of frills. Our test van’s $1495 Interior Upgrade package added items such as a 4.0-inch color display screen in the gauge cluster, a leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls, cruise control, and Bluetooth phone connectivity. An additional $1230 brought a 6.5-inch touchscreen multimedia system with navigation running Ford’s latest Sync 3 software. Although menu structures were logical and the system was quick to respond to inputs, the screen’s faraway location at the top of the dashboard made it necessary to stretch in order to physically enter commands. Fortunately, available voice commands helped to somewhat mitigate that flaw.
Other items tacked onto our Transit 350 included a set of front wheel-well liners for $360, a trailer-brake controller for $230, a pair of massive heated side mirrors for $220, automatic headlamps and rain-sensing windshield wipers for $195, an entry keypad for $95, backup sensors for $295, and an annoyingly loud backup alarm for $125. Unless you enjoy angering your neighbors or have a circular driveway at your home, then the backup alarm is an option best left unchecked.
All told, our wannabe UPS truck wore a price tag of $45,670—pricey, but not far off the fare charged to get into a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter with similar equipment. Compared with similarly equipped body-on-frame alternatives such as the Chevrolet Express 3500 and the Nissan NV3500 cargo vans, though, the Ford costs at least $5000 more.
Still, we’d argue that the Transit 350’s mature on-road manners, low load height, and torque-rich twin-turbo V-6 justify the higher cost of entry over its less advanced peers. Progress, much like a good black-and-white cookie, is worth paying a bit extra.
VEHICLE TYPE: front-engine, rear-wheel-drive, 2-passenger, 2-door van
PRICE AS TESTED: $45,670 (base price $37,035)
ENGINE TYPE: twin-turbocharged and intercooled 24-valve DOHC V-6, aluminum block and heads, direct fuel injection
Displacement: 213 cu in, 3497 cc
Power: 310 hp @ 5500 rpm
Torque: 400 lb-ft @ 2500 rpm
TRANSMISSION: 6-speed automatic with manual shifting mode
Wheelbase: 147.6 in
Length: 235.5 in
Width: 81.3 in Height: 100.7 in
Passenger volume: 84 cu ft
Cargo volume: 357 cu ft
Curb weight: 5423 lb
C/D TEST RESULTS:
Zero to 60 mph: 6.8 sec
Zero to 90 mph: 15.3 sec
Rolling start, 5–60 mph: 7.1 sec
Top gear, 30–50 mph: 3.8 sec
Top gear, 50–70 mph: 4.8 sec
Standing ¼-mile: 15.3 @ 90 mph
Top speed (governor limited): 97 mph
Braking, 70–0 mph: 171 ft
Roadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad*: 0.60 g
C/D observed: 14 mpg
C/D observed 75-mph highway driving: 17 mpg
C/D observed highway range: 420 mi