If you think its odd that the corner florist needs a full-size SUV to deliver a couple of pick-me-up bouquets, you're not alone.
Fully aware of which way the winds of fuel economy and thrift are blowing, and seeing a hole in the commercial truck market big enough to drive a compact van through, Ford has introduced the Transit Connect, which happens to be a compact van. Which I will refer to as the TC, because Transit Connect is a terrible name and Magnum P.I.'s helicopter pilot deserves at last to be immortalized in motor vehicle form.
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On sale overseas for the past 6 years, the small, but tall boy has proven its worth in the crowded urban centers of Europe and Asia, where a tiny footprint combined with serious cargo carrying ability have made it a strong-seller. Using a chassis cribbed from the Ford Focus, the front wheel-drive TC trades that car's independent rear suspension for a solid axle and a pair of pickup-style leaf springs which give it a payload capacity of 1,600 pounds.
With 135 cubic feet of cargo room behind the front seats, it has essentially the same onboard hauling abilities as a Ford Expedition EL, which is a yard longer, half a foot wider and 70 percent heavier than the Turkish-built TC.
The Expedition also has twice the power. On a quick spin around Manhattan, the largely unladen TC that I drove could get out of its own way like an obedient little economy car, but the 136 hp 2.0 liter 4-cylinder felt like it would be strained if the van was loaded to the max with wedding cakes or laundry, the kind of small businesses Ford is targeting with this new model.
Still, when you're driving around full up with ladies' unmentionables, it's unlikely that you'll be getting into any races with the Domino's delivery guy in the Toyota Echo next to you, so even if you had the extra horses they'd only be so useful.
As it is, the engine and 4-speed automatic transmission in the TC are good for 22 mpg city/25 highway. That may not sound like a lot compared to your Escape Hybrid, but it's better than anything that can carry as much stuff as the TC, including today’s slew of not-so-minivans. For many, this will be the big selling point, but Ford is also jamming every serious commercial option it has in its parts bin except the kitchen sink into the TC in the hopes of winning over plumbers and cabinet makers alike.
The neatest is the DeWalt-branded Tool Link, which uses sensors inside the van to communicate with RFID tags that are about an inch square and can be stuck on anything you need to keep track of. The idea is that you put them on all of your tools or chafing dishes or whatever the tools of your trade are, and the in-dash computer tells you exactly what’s loaded and what's missing. This way, you don't have to go rummaging through everything to find that microphone you thought left at the corporate retreat you just emceed.
And, so you don't go off joy riding between gigs, the boss can keep an eye on things from the office with the GPS-enabled CrewChief feature which reports on the TC's whereabouts in real time, providing your employer with all the info they need to make sure you are being as productive as possible as often as possible.
The TC ships in 'wagon' form, with a rear bench and windows in the rear doors for companies that have five employees, but the bench can all be deleted to free up more room and the windows replaced with panels turn the TC into a rolling billboard. A number of industry-specific racks, shelves, and other upfits are available to fill all that empty space, making the buying experience as painless as possible for customers who would rather not deal with a custom shop.
Ford has shown a concept for a family version of the TC, as well as one outfitted as a taxi which I will of course be referring to as the TaxC. Word is the folks from Dearborn are putting the full court press on New York City to get some of them into the yellow cab fleet there. It's a roomy layout, but based on the way the vehicle bounds over bumps and through potholes, perhaps not the ideal platform for passenger comfort. Still, it can't be much worse than an old Crown Victoria.
With a starting price of $21,475, the TC undercuts just about all of the competition, except maybe for the $19,690 panel side version of the Chevrolet HHR. The Ford has more than twice the cargo capacity of the Chevy, though, so its actually the large vehicle in that match up, and not a fair fight.
A compact van considered large? It's a small new world.
Even more futurism is on the way next year when Ford plans to introduce an all-electric version of the TC that may go as far as 100 miles on a charge for the not so low low price of $50,000.
At least there's plenty of room for the extention cord.
2010 Ford Transit Connect
Base Price: $21,475
Engine: 2.0L 4-cylinder
Power: 136 hp, 128 lb-ft torque
Transmission: 4-speed automatic
MPG: 22 city/25 hwy
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Gary Gastelu is FoxNews.com's Automotive Editor.