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2020 Ford Transit Cargo Test Drive Review
The 2020 Ford Transit adds new powertrain options and standard safety tech to create a fully-modern commercial van.
When it comes to work vehicles, trucks get all the glory. You see countless ads touting the work capabilities of the newest and best pickups. But commercial vans like the 2020 Ford Transit are the unsung heroes. Vans like these are the lifeblood of businesses small and large, be it a massive internet provider or a local contractor.
They might all look the same to the untrained eye, but these vans are incredibly varied in how they are outfitted. Automakers and aftermarket companies offer all manner of equipment for any job. The 2020 Ford Transit is a versatile blank canvas for these different equipment setups. The Transit also offers available all-wheel drive, newly standard safety technology, and creature comforts that its hard-working drivers could only dream about years ago.
Look and Feel
It’s something you probably have never noticed, but there are more commercial van options than you might have realized. The Transit is one of the most common, but its rivals include the Nissan NV, Ram ProMaster, Mercedes-Benz Sprinter, and Freightliner Sprinter (essentially a rebadged Mercedes, since some of us can’t wrap our heads around a Mercedes work vehicle).
The Transit has a sharp front-end design, which is one of the only places where styling liberties can be taken on a commercial work van. Aggressive headlights flank a new, larger, grille to let you know this isn’t a sleepy old van. The Transit is offered in a number of configurations, as well as cargo, passenger, and crew body styles. The crew van is a combination setup, with two rows of seating and a cargo/work area behind them. All versions of the Transit have a strong character line that runs from the front end along the length of the vehicle. It visually breaks up the van and gives it a modern look.
Inside, the dash and controls will be the only area that looks consistent among all the different configurations for this van. The Transit has a simple, straightforward, cabin, but can be outfitted with creature comforts such as heated seats and a touchscreen infotainment system. As we’ll get into later, the Transit’s dash area is about as useful as you can get in a motor vehicle.
Standard features on the Transit are pretty sparse. The list includes 16-inch steel wheels, power-adjustable side mirrors, power locks and windows, manually-adjusting front seats, and air conditioning. The standard stereo consists of an AM/FM unit with Bluetooth connectivity, dual USB ports, and a 4.0-inch display screen. For 2020, Ford has added new grab handles and climate control vents to the Transit.
We drove a low-roof, regular-wheelbase Transit T-150 Cargo Van. The Transit is also available in T-250 and T-350 trims. The standard upholstery is vinyl, and it is available with upgraded cloth or leather upholstery. The cloth seats come with either manual- or power-adjustable front seats. Our leather-clad test model came with 10-way power-adjustable heated seats. Our test model also came with remote keyless entry, remote start, heated front seats, and the upgraded SYNC 3 infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. When properly equipped, this is a comfortable place to spend your work hours.
The new standard engine for the 2020 model year is a 3.5-liter naturally-aspirated V6. It makes 275 horsepower and 262 pound-feet of torque and provides adequate acceleration for getting work done around town. If you want stronger acceleration—whether the cargo area is loaded or empty—you’ll want to select the optional 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6 found in our test model. Thanks to twin turbochargers, it puts out 310 hp and 400 lb-ft of torque. The EcoBoost V6 provides surprising acceleration. Either from a standstill or cruising at highway speeds, there’s still plenty of getup-and-go. This will be helpful for merging onto a freeway or performing a passing maneuver.
Power with either engine is routed to the rear wheels with a new-for-2020 10-speed automatic transmission with manual mode. Ford has also added all-wheel drive as an option for 2020 and that was selected on our test vehicle. This will be an attractive option for companies and contractors that operate in colder climates. To get the most out of the all-wheel drive, engine, and transmission, the Transit even has drive mode settings. These include Normal, Eco, Slippery, Mud/Ruts, and Tow/Haul modes.
The all-wheel-drive Transit is stable in corners and even when carrying some speed through a highway offramp. It is incredibly maneuverable for a full-size van, with a turning radius that is tighter than one would expect. This is critical for getting in and out of all the different places a contractor may have to take the Transit.
The only real annoyance with driving the Transit is Ford’s shifter design. The conventional PRND layout is perfect, but past Drive is Manual mode, and it’s way too easy to unintentionally shift into this mode. It is not until you are accelerating and the Transit refuses to shift out of first gear that you notice, and shift it up into Drive. But otherwise, the Transit is an incredibly manageable vehicle to drive.
Form and Function
The Transit is available in regular, long, and extended wheelbases, as well as low-, medium-, and high-roof configurations. Most adults will have to crook their necks standing up in the back of the conventional-roof version. The medium- and high-roof setups are perfect for those who spend a good amount of their workday in the back of their panel van.
Ford makes use of every square inch of the Transit’s dash. There are cupholders within cupholders in the center console, helpful compartments everywhere, and the entire top of the dash consists of multiple cargo trays. In our test model, this included a 12-volt auxiliary outlet and a USB port. Perhaps the best features of the Transit’s useful cabin are the outboard cupholders. They are large enough for a big water bottle or extra-large soft drink cup from a drive-thru. They are also placed perfectly for any left-handed drivers behind the wheel.
For taller occupants, the driver’s seat does not slide far back enough, and the dead-pedal is too high. Anyone with long legs will have to contort to actually use it. The result is an awkward left leg position for the driver and hampers comfort over long distances. The plush leather seats helped make the drive more comfortable, but few may spring for this premium upholstery. The front doors have cutouts that make the doors narrower as they get lower. This helps you open the doors farther in tight spaces without hitting a guardrail or another car’s fender.
The Transit Cargo comes with 50/50 rear barn doors. They open to a full 90 degrees and have multiple detents so as not to swing freely when opened. These doors can also be opened to a full 180 degrees and require an extra latch to be released so you don’t over-open them accidentally. For 2020, Ford has also added an optional power-sliding side door.
As mentioned, the base stereo is an AM/FM unit with Bluetooth and USB capability. Our test van came with the optional SYNC 3 infotainment system, operated via an 8.0-inch touchscreen. SYNC is easy to use and comes with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as standard equipment. It’s generally intuitive, but there is no home button. When you want to exit a CarPlay app, such as Waze, you need to go to CarPlay’s home screen, then find and select the Ford app. This brings you to the SYNC home screen. In our week of driving the Transit, we found those extra keystrokes a bit frustrating, especially when it could be solved by a simple home button in the dash.
The Transit van comes standard with the FordPass Connect system. It comes on fleet-sales vans and includes a 4G WiFi modem. This provides telematics that can track the vehicle’s location, its speed, fuel level, and the amount of time it has been running. It also provides vehicle diagnostics and maintenance alerts. For those using the vans, it may feel like a bit of Big Brother, but it’s a great way for fleet managers to monitor the status of their vehicles.
For the 2020 model year, Ford made a whole host of driver-assistance features standard. These include forward-collision warning, automatic emergency braking, lane-keeping assist, lane departure warning, and automatic high beams. Newly optional safety equipment includes blind-spot monitoring, front-and-rear parking sensors, cross-traffic alert, and a front/rear split-view camera system.
These features join existing safety features such as front- and side-impact airbags, traction control, a tire-pressure monitoring system, and a backup camera. More than that, the Transit’s design ensures safe operation, thanks to large windows and side mirrors that provide terrific sight-lines. But the blind-spot monitoring and backup camera take much of the stress out of driving one of these windowless panel vans. Though the Transit’s rear doors have windows, the pillar where the doors meet does create a small blind spot in the center of the rear-view mirror. As such, the Transit would be a good candidate for an integrated rear-view camera mirror, like the feature found in many new Chevrolet vehicles.
The EPA does not require fuel-economy estimates for commercial vehicles like the Transit Cargo Van. There are, however, fuel-economy ratings for the Transit Passenger Van with the naturally aspirated 3.5-liter V6. It returns 15 mpg city, 19 highway, 17 combined with rear-wheel drive. With all-wheel drive, it returns 14 mpg city, 19 highway, 16 combined. Our EcoBoost twin-turbo V6 will not have identical fuel economy estimates, but it’s a general reference. In our week of combined city and highway driving, our EcoBoost, all-wheel-drive test Transit averaged 16.7 miles per gallon. Your fuel economy will vary, especially when loaded up with work equipment.
Base MSRP for the 2020 Ford Transit is $34,510 for the cargo van. The crew van starts at $36,720, and the passenger van starts at $40,180. From there, you can select the low-, medium-, or high-roof version, as well as regular-, long-, and extended-wheelbase setups. There are also nine payload options and five different rear axle ratios to choose from. A la carte pricing may have gone to the wayside in the pickup truck market, but it’s still the norm in commercial vehicles like this.
It didn’t happen overnight, but the proliferation of creature comforts of the passenger-car market has finally made its way to commercial vans. From SYNC infotainment to standard driver-assistance features and available all-wheel drive, these vans are better than ever. They are often looked at as a cost on a spreadsheet for accountants, but for those that use them every day, the work van is now a nicer place to earn a living.
From open-wheel racecars to specialty off-road vehicles, George Kennedy has driven it all. A career automotive journalist, George has been a contributor, editor, and/or producer at some of the most respected publications and outlets, including Consumer Reports, the Boston Globe, Boston Magazine, Autoblog.com, Hemmings Classic Wheels, BoldRide.com, the Providence Journal, and WheelsTV.
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