This hard-working cargo van wins us over with an overwhelming number of options and an engine that’s delightfully overkill.
– Cleveland, Ohio
I usually drive a review car at least 250 miles; that’s a good distance to get to know one when we only have a week with each. I drove this 2016 Ford Transit a mere 83 miles, though. I was busy that week moving my family to a new house, so while 83 miles sounds like far fewer than what’s needed for a proper review, they were hard-working miles, and I spent just as much time loading and unloading this long-wheelbase, extended-length, high-roof cargo van as I did driving it.
What I learned is that a job reviewing cars comes in handy when you have specific tasks to accomplish, like moving your worldly belongings from point A to B in one trip. I also learned electricians, painters, and inspectors are more interested in talking about a cargo van in your driveway than the Corvette that was there a week before. Finally, I learned the cargo van segment, where the rear-wheel-drive Ford Transit and Mercedes-Benz Sprinter hold court, is incredibly competitive and every option is a decent choice. Which one you prefer will come down to the details.
- The Transit I drove was fitted with the van’s top engine: a biturbocharged 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6 producing 310 horsepower and 400 pound-feet of torque (a less powerful V6 and a more fuel-efficient five-cylinder diesel are also available). It was my favorite part about driving the Transit because it moves this very big boy with ease; unladen it’s like a cherry red hot rod in the shape of a tiny house. With the van packed with boxes, its EcoBoost engine, which is far more boost than eco, barely noticed the added weight. The penalty came at the pump, where I experienced fuel economy in the low teens while driving these heavy loads across town on city streets.
- This is my first time trying Ford’s latest attempt at a next-gen infotainment system with Sync 3. It’s also the first time I can say Sync is a net positive to the experience of driving a vehicle. Ford played it super safe with Sync 3 in terms of the user interface design, but it went all out on processing power so the system responds faster than even Chrysler’s vaunted UConnect. Sure, its appearance is a little drab and lacking in color, but you can’t fault its ease of use and performance.
- If there’s any company that knows how to offer a single a vehicle in hundreds of configurations, it’s Ford. The company has been building F-150s this way for decades. The Transit is no different, offering two wheelbases, three lengths, and three roof heights to go along with three engines and your choice of cargo- or passenger-carrying configurations. And that’s before the upfitters get involved. If you need a very specific van for your small business, Ford can build you a Transit that meets your needs. The only thing it lacks is four-wheel drive, which Mercedes offers on the Sprinter.
- The small-business owners I spoke with, most of whom were driving Sprinters, said they preferred a Mercedes badge on the grille of their van to a blue oval. I asked if they feared it implied that their services were expensive, and they all said no, it rather implies they’re a successful, stable small business with a professional reputation. Fair enough, though a three-pointed star might not play well in regions where “Made in America” is more appealing to people than a German carmaker’s reputation for luxury. The Transit is built in Missouri, and while the Sprinter is currently imported from overseas, Mercedes-Benz just broke ground on a new factory in the U.S. to build them locally.
- Having loaded, unloaded, and driven the Transit for a week while at the same time checking out the upfitted Sprinters being driven by the small-business owners we hired during our move, I can say the Ford felt a little cheaper. Whether it was the gauge of the metal feeling a little thinner when you slammed the rear doors or the plastics not being quite as nice, I’m not sure. One area I can point to specifically, though, are the double hinges on the rear doors: the Ford’s look more delicate and I worried about them breaking, whereas the Sprinter’s are beefier and feel stronger.
Photos: John Neff / Motor1.com