On the surface, the 2015 Ford Transit 150 is probably the most boring vehicle I've driven this year, but that's what's most interesting about it. It's a largely empty commercial van -- almost literally a big box on wheels -- but, more importantly, it's a blank slate.
Yes, the 2015 Ford Transit 150 XLT that arrived at the CNET offices was filled with row after row of seats and largely configured as a people carrier/airport shuttle/church bus/tourist transport, but it's easy to look at the boxy 150 and imagine it as a cute little food truck, a mobile dog groomer, a bloodmobile, an emergency vehicle... I could list roles for it all day.
High-trim... for a van
Though most Transit 150s that roll off of the assembly line are fated to become anonymous workhorse cargo trucks and service vans or the cavernous, empty, rubber-matted rental vans you'll use when it's time to move to a new studio apartment, our example arrived as a pretty high-trim XLT model. That is to say, high-trim for a commercial van. That means alloy wheels, carpeted interior, Pueblo Gold Metallic paint and touchscreen infotainment. The feature list for a "high-trim" commercial van is on par with what I'd expect from an "entry-level" small hatchback.
In the dashboard of this 2015 model is the optional Sync with MyFord Touch infotainment stack, a 6.5-inch touchscreen-controlled suite of connected navigation with traffic, digital media sources and communications tech. This is the same setup that we've been seeing in Ford vehicles for years, so its appearance offers no real surprises. It's still a system with a good set of features but that's seriously hampered by awkward organization and sluggish response times. In the Transit 150, the driver also must contend with the fact that the touch screen is a fairly far reach across the wide dashboard, making it even trickier to use on the go.
Fortunately, there's Sync voice command to fill in the gaps with its excellent recognition accuracy and low-distraction operation. In its default state, Sync can be a bit chatty, reminding me with in its robotic tones that I could use Sync voice commands at the beginning of every single trip, but the advantages far outweigh the minor annoyances in this case.
This example is also equipped with a power inverter and a 110V outlet for plugging in equipment. I also counted two USB ports for connecting iPods or digital storage or charging smaller handheld devices.
It's no tech car, but this 2015 Transit does aid its driver with optional lane departure alerts and an optional rear camera. That camera really should be a standard feature and, fortunately, it will become so for 2016MY models. 2016 also marks a changeover from optional MyFord Touch tech to the improved Sync 3 suite, which should be much more responsive and better organized, and the addition of a driver alert function that notifies the driver to pull over and take a break if the lane departure system is triggered too often.
So, yes, the dashboard looks like it was lifted from a Ford Focus and plopped into a much larger vehicle. Of course, one major difference between the Ford Transit 150 XLT and Ford's small hatchback is the seating for up to 11 souls (including the driver) and their cargo.
When I say cargo, I mean that with about 94 cubic feet of space behind its third row, you could carefully stack about about 23 large, 30-inch suitcases. Adding a fourth row to bump up to an 11-seater still leaves the Transit 150 with room for 10 suitcases (or twice as many small carry-on-sized bags). And this isn't even its largest form.
Our example is, specifically, a "medium-wheelbase, low-roof Transit wagon." It's got a 130-inch wheelbase and an overall length of about 220 inches and is 83.6 inches tall. The Transit is available in three lengths (regular, long and extended) and three roof heights (low, medium and high).
At its largest, an "extended-wheelbase, high-roof Transit wagon" stretches to a length of 264 inches and a height of 107.7-inches. In this form, there's room for 15 passengers on its five rows, and 25 large, 30-inch suitcases. Ditch the seats and there's 487.3 cubic feet of space behind the driver, room for 122 large suitcases.
The Transit can be had with a pair of hinged side doors or a sliding door. It can be a "wagon" like ours with seats or a van with just a big empty space behind the drivers. The interior can be individually outfitted for a variety of uses with integrated shelves, racks and storage bins. The Transit can even be had as just a cab with a bare frame behind it, ready for an even more complete overhaul.
Whatever you choose, there's plenty of space for stuff. Ahead of the driver's seat, I counted no fewer than eight cupholders in the door, at the A-pillars and in the center. There's even a pair of massive storage spaces low on the dash that could probably accommodate a 2-liter bottle for -- uhh, you know -- for long hauls.
Despite all of this capaciousness, I felt cramped in the driver's seat. There's plenty of headroom -- measured in feet -- and shoulder space, but the combination of a tall seating position with a steeply angled steering column meant that I ended up having to sit very close to the wheel and pedals to comfortably reach the controls, so close that I constantly (and painfully) smacked my knee on the steering-column adjuster every time I exited the XLT. The irony of not having space to maneuver in one of the largest vehicles I've ever driven was not lost on me.
Engine options, efficiency
Just ahead of the cabin, wedged unbelievably tightly into the Transit's compact engine room, is Ford's 3.7-liter V-6 gasoline-powered (or E85 Flex Fuel) engine. Interestingly, the vents on the Transit's short hood are functional, or at least one of them is, serving as an entrance for cool, outside air to be drawn directly into the van's intake. Power is stated at 275 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque, which isn't an overwhelming amount of power for a vehicle of this size, but enough to get move the fully loaded van at an acceptable rate.
During my testing, I averaged 17.7 mpg over mostly highway miles, which lines up favorably with the EPA's guesses of 14 city, 19 highway and 16 combined mpg. I'd imagine that with eight people on board, those efficiency numbers would dip just a bit, particularly around town. The 3.7-liter engine is mated with a six-speed torque-converter automatic transmission sending power to the rear wheels. (Two final drive options are available, giving operators yet another choice between optimizing efficiency or capability.)
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Drivers who want a bit more oomph can option a 3.5-liter EcoBoost engine that uses twin turbocharging to boost output to 310 horsepower and 400 pound-feet of torque. A package that converts the 3.7-liter engine to run on compressed natural gas or liquid petroleum gas (CNG/LPG) is also available for low emissions use cases, as well as a 3.2-liter diesel engine option that boasts 350 pound-feet of torque for hauling heavy loads and high-mileage applications. Like the chassis that surrounds it, the Transit's engine bay is remarkably flexible.
Even with the base 3.7-liter, the Transit boasts a 2,900-pound payload and can hold up to 450 pounds on its roof with an optional ladder rack. With the addition of optional equipment and one of the more powerful engines, that payload grows to just over 4,500 pounds and an optional towing package with sway control and trailer brake control increases its trailering capability to 7,500 pounds. By the way, my fantasy use for the Transit is as mobile garage for a towed race car.
Pricing with lots of wiggle room
The reality is that these vehicles aren't really bought by you, the individual consumer; they're ordered for fleets, services and livery use. And because of their highly customizable nature and the availability of fleet discounts, establishing a price range for comparison can be tricky. The vans you see on the street may cost significantly more or less than any price I could quote here.
For the sake of simplicity, we'll stick with the range for the configuration most likely to be considered by an individual owner -- perhaps an enterprising Las Vegas Uber driver specializing in large parties, an entrepreneurial mom starting a daycare pickup service or a small band that needs to get to shows with all of their instruments and equipment, seriously, half the fun of this van is figuring out cool things to do with it -- the 2015 Ford Transit 150 MWB LR 8-seater wagon, which starts at $32,270.
We've also got the optional $325 limited-slip rear axle, which should boost cornering grip and $150 Pueblo Gold metallic paint, which should boost curb appeal. XLT trim upgrades and optional features (including the alloy wheels, MyFord Touch tech and driver aid features) bump our as-tested price to $38,750.
At that price, the Transit lines up nicely with the Nissan NV passenger van, which stickers at $37,500 similarly equipped (but without lane departure alert), and is more van for the money than the more compact.