Despite inroads made by Mercedes-Benz's appealing Metris passenger and cargo carriers, recently reviewed here, the Ford Transit still rules U.S. commercial van sales.
Mercedes popularized the large commercial van niche, in the modern era, with the 1995 European launch of the Sprinter.
For a while it had the spotlight to itself. But by the time it brought that vehicle to the U.S. in 2001, competitors were launching similar and less expensive vans with more familiar nameplates.
The Ford Transit sits atop the current sales charts, having held its position as the bestselling commercial van in the U.S. for the last 19 straight months. (Ford also claims the top spot in Europe.)
Sales this year through May of Ford's big urban workers, at 64,043 units, rose 41% compared with the same period last year, the company says. Fiat Chrysler's Ram ProMaster sales, at 14,175 units, climbed 44%. Sales of Nissan's NV cargo and passenger vans were up about 20%.
Ford claims to sell more than twice as many Transits as the nearest full-size commercial van, the Chevy Express -- not including sales of its smaller Transit Connect urban haulers.
The Transit comes standard with a 3.7-liter V-6 engine that makes 275 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. The version I drove had been upgraded to a 3.5-liter Ecoboost V-6, which produces 310 horsepower and 400 pound-feet of torque. A diesel version is available, too. All three engines come with a six-speed automatic transmission.
Around town, without a load, it felt powerful and peppy -- but also large and hollow, like a long metal box riding on stiff springs. A clean slate, its metal floor and walls bare, the interior echoed the engine and road noise as we made our way round the city. I was somewhat distracted by the continuous sound of gasoline sloshing in the fuel tank -- which was like sitting on a beach listening to the waves rise and fall -- while stuck in traffic on the 101.
It's a big vehicle, to be sure. At 83.6 inches tall, it was too big to fit in either of the two Los Angeles Times parking structures -- and the version we borrowed was the "low roof" model. The "high" ones rise to 108.6 inches, with an interior height of 81.5 inches. The shortest Transit is 17 inches longer than the Metris, and the longest one is almost five feet longer.
Ford has equipped the Transit with appropriately massive side mirrors and a more than adequate backup camera. So maneuvering the Transit was not a difficult job once I got used to its size.
At the lower trim level, the Transit is a working vehicle, with few amenities and few creature comforts. The seats are comfortable and electronically adjustable. But the interior has a low-rent plastic feel.
It has working truck specs, too. The version I drove has a towing capacity of more than 6,000 pounds and a payload of 4,000 pounds. That's a lot of sprinkler nozzles or electrical fittings.
The Transit van base price, for the entry level version, is $32,155. The model I tested, which included the engine upgrade, Ford's excellent SYNC communication and navigation system, a trailer tow package and a very appetizing Green Gem Metallic paint job, would cost $42,080.