Maybe it was the bright Torch Red paint on the 2011 Ford Transit Connect van that attracted attention, more maybe it was how the very tall, yet small van moved nimbly into parking spaces labeled for compact cars.
Maybe it was because the Transit Connect — with room for five passengers and a large cargo — cost less than $65 to fill the fuel tank, even at today's prices.
Whatever the reasons, people stopped and checked out Ford's Euro-style people and cargo hauler. The curious and admirers included regular car buyers, not just the owners of small businesses targeted by Ford officials as purchasers of the Transit Connect.
Introduced to the States in 2009 after years of sale overseas, Ford's Turkish-built Transit Connect is growing its U.S. sales impressively. After a modest start of 8,834 sales in half a year in 2009, the Transit Connect's sales here last year grew to 27,405. And through the first four months of this year, sales are up again — some 46 percent over the same period last year.
For 2011, the unique-to-this-country Transit Connect is offered in a new trim package, the XLT Premium, that includes a full back seat, rear quarter windows that flip open and rear privacy glass.
Starting manufacturer's suggested retail prices, including destination charge, for the 2011 Transit Connect passenger van is $23,855 with 136-horsepower, four-cylinder engine and automatic transmission.
This compares with the $22,005 starting price for a Transit Connect cargo van with only two seats, both in the front.
While there are no direct, European-style, compact, tall van competitors in the United States, the 2011 Scion xB is a tallish, boxy vehicle with a 158-horsepower, four-cylinder engine and a starting retail price of $17,670 with automatic. And the 2012 Mazda5 is a small van with similar length as the Transit Connect. Starting retail price with automatic transmission and 157-horsepower, four-cylinder engine is $20,990.
The test Transit Connect was the new XLT Premium, and its large second-row windows, tall profile and red color immediately set it apart.
Road and wind noise were noticeable, and the Transit Connect is no sports car, but I liked driving it.
The floor inside the van was low to the ground, but passengers are set up from the pavement with legs extended downward in a kind of bus-ride fashion.
Views out and to the sides are good.
Headroom inside is massive — more than 50 inches for both front and back seat passengers.
There's even a plastic shelf, with netting at the front to keep items from sliding out, above the windshield.
All this head and storage space exists because the Transit Connect, riding on smallish 15-inch wheels, is more than 6 feet 6 inches tall — taller than a Cadillac Escalade with far larger tires. Driving the test Transit Connect in a downtown parking garage, I noticed the vehicle's roof hit the sign dangling down from the garage ceiling that warned the maximum height for vehicles is 6 feet 10 inches. And while I ducked my head at first, fearing that the Transit Connect's roof might not clear the garage ceiling, there were in fact four inches of clearance.
The Transit Connect also fit tidily in my garage at home.
This van is nearly 2 feet shorter than a 2011 Honda Odyssey, but it still provides an amazing 78.1 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seats.
This compares with the 70 or so cubic feet found in many sport utility vehicles. But in the SUVs, the cargo floor is higher up from the pavement, so it can take more effort to hoist items inside than in the Transit Connect.
Rear seats, accessed through sliding side doors, split into one-third and two-thirds pieces and can be put out of the way to allow a full 118.7 cubic feet of cargo space behind the front seats.
There is no tailgate on this vehicle. Instead, two rear doors, each with a window, open clamshell-like — one hinged on the right, the other hinged on the left. This means tall people don't have to worry about hitting their heads on a raised cargo door.
But these rear doors impair a driver's views out the rearview mirror. I once didn't see a motorcyclist who had pulled up behind me at a traffic light. I also couldn't readily make out some cars behind me.
Thank goodness for the tester's optional rearview camera and rear parking sensors, which were a great help when I wanted to back up.
The two-liter, double overhead cam, Duratec four cylinder delivers a meager 136 horsepower. The Transit Connect's tall profile needs help pushing through the air on highways, so I heard a lot of engine buzzing when I floored the accelerator on the highway. Power came on ploddingly, and this was without a full load of passengers.
Torque from this engine peaks at 128 foot-pounds at 4,750 rpm, and getting to 60 miles per hour from a stop can take more than 11 seconds.
The automatic transmission is only a four speed.
Fuel mileage rating is 21 miles per gallon in the city and 26 mpg on the highway. The gas tank holds 15.4 gallons, for a single-tank range of 350 miles.