Today’s urban LCV driver has a lot to cope with, from positioning the van in unprecedented levels of traffic, congestion zones, sat navs and flashing blind-spot indicators, to dodging cycle couriers and pedestrians staring at smartphones. One thing that would make life easier, would be not having to constantly change gear, or keeping a foot hovering over the clutch pedal.
Automatic transmissions are an increasingly popular option at the heavier end of the van market. The majority of supermarket home delivery 3.5-tonners for instance are equipped with autos, primarily in Iveco Daily and Mercedes Sprinter vans.
There are a few auto boxes available at the lighter end of the van spectrum too, though often limited to a single trim level or engine choice. Ford is changing that, with the introduction of the Powershift auto transmission in Transit Connect. This six-speed automatic, which comes with Auto-Start-Stop as standard, can be allied with either the 100hp or 120hp versions of Ford’s 1.5-litre Euro 6 diesel engine. It is offered in short and long wheelbase vans and double cabs, and can be twinned with Base, Trend and Limited trim levels.
Traditionally automatic transmissions have been accused of excessive fuel consumption and operational inefficiency. Times have changed however, though the Powershift box does record a slight fuel consumption drop. Its 56.6mpg compares well to a similarly powered manual Connect’s 61.4mpg. CO2 emissions also take a hit, rising from 119g/km to 129g/km, though there is little change in available payload for those concerned about higher weights.
There is a very definite effect on the bottom line though, with the auto adding £1,300 to 100hp models, where it replaces a five-speed manual. Powershiftcarries a slightly more palatable premium of £1,000 on 120hp vans, as they normally come with a six-speed manual.
The auto transmission has a rocker thumb switch in the head of the gearlever, to allow the driver to change up and down manually, but it gets little use. Likewise a sport setting does little more than hold gears for longer and increase the noise levels in the cab.
That’s because left to its own devices the Powershift box works brilliantly, shifting up and down the gears smoothly and anticipating gear change points perfectly. Of course 120hp in a van of this size is always going to provide easy acceleration and cruising, but the combination of Powershift and the more powerful 1.5-litre engine work really well.
Our test van is in mid-range Trend trim, with body coloured front bumper and rear bumper end caps, front fogs, electrically operated and heated door mirrors and the Quickclear heated windscreen. Inside the van you get a DAB radio with Ford’s SYNC 1 voice control and Bluetooth connectivity. There is a flexible dual passenger seat, the folding outer section combining with a flap in the standard bulkhead to allow the carriage of longer loads.
Payloads stretch right up to 1-tonne on Transit Connect these days, though this long wheelbase model offers 878kg of carrying capacity. It delivers a competitive load volume of 3.6m3 too.
What we think
The additional premium is harder to lose in a smaller van, but Powershift needn't result in increased costs and its a real winner behind the wheel.
MODEL Ford Transit Connect Trend
BASIC PRICE £18,395
ENGINE 4-cyl/1,500 cc
FUEL INJECTION Common-rail
POWER 120hp @ 3,500rpm
TORQUE 300Nm @ 1,750-2,000rpm
KERB WEIGHT 1,457
MAX TRAILER WEIGHT 1,200
LOAD SPACE LENGTH 2,153
LOAD SPACE WIDTH 1,538
LOAD SPACE HEIGHT 1,269
LOAD VOLUME 3.6m3
COMBINED CO2/MPG 129g/km/56.6mpg
Oil Change 1 yr/20,000 miles
Warranty 3 yr/unlimited miles