Ford Transit Connect Sport long-term test review: Connect vs Combo

  • What’s it like to live with a Ford Transit Connect Sport
  • Incredibly well-equipped, good fun to drive, smart looking
  • We compare our Connect to the Vauxhall Combo Cargo

Long-term test of the Ford Transit Connect on Parkers Vans and Pickups - find out what it's like to live with Ford's popular small van.

Update 4: Connect vs Combo

Ford Transit Connect Sport long-term test review - with Vauxhall Combo Cargo

As I am new to the van scene, I’ve decided to take out one of our other vans in an attempt to compare and contrast the two. The van that I’ve switched for and will be running for a few days is the Parkers joint Small Van of The Year 2020 Award winner, the Vauxhall Combo, which we've also been running as a long-term test van here at Parkers. 

The Combo is delightfully red again, although it has left the black racing stripes behind and comes across more ‘Postman Pat’ than ‘Big Red Machine’. It also immediately gives a sense of practicality as the dimensions look as if they are bigger and you can just imagine the back to be full of parcels.

How the Combo and the Connect compare inside the cab

Much like the first time I stepped into the Connect, I was surprised at the amount of tech and gadgets on display. There is an even bigger 8.0-inch infotainment touchscreen, a head-up display, reversing camera and sensors, all sorts of driving assistances such as lane assist and more. It just about exceeds the tech on the Connect.

Ford Transit Connect Sport long-term test review - driver's view of the cab

However, that’s not to say I found it better. The touchscreen seems to be slow to respond, and it’s not got the easiest menu system to navigate through while on the move. Underneath that I’ve found that the temperature controls are annoyingly dark and kind of sloped away from you, which proves to be frustrating - especially at night.

Ford Transit Connect Sport long-term test review - Vauxhall Combo Cargo cab

That said, the Combo seems to have more room in the cab, even more so since there is a third seat, and plenty of space for storing things, even if my water bottle doesn’t fit in the cup holders. It definitely shapes up to be built for comfortable, sensible and practical purposes. The Connect is still rather plush inside albeit a little simpler in comparison, whereas the Combo increases the number of luxuries by a fair margin and offers many creature comforts to deliver a safe, relaxing drive.

How the Connect and the Combo compare to drive

The larger differences become apparent when it comes to driving the two vans.

When driving the Vauxhall I feel like I’m driving a van with purpose, like I should be delivering packages or transporting goods of sorts. It isn’t a bad drive by any stretch of the imagination, it feels comfortable and all the tech is integrated nicely into the cabin.

All of the driving assistance systems help ease your journey, and I can imagine on a long drive in particular these will be a welcome addition. It’s simply built for function and gracefully manages everything you would need it to.

Ford Transit Connect Sport long-term test review - Vauxhall Combo Cargo driving

Then we have the Connect Sport, and here is where it excels. This van is built to drive like a car, but not any car, a Ford. Not only can this van be driven with purpose in mind (it is possible to drive the sports van in a manner of professionalism, believe it or not) but it can be pushed beyond that if so desired.

It’s fast and handles pretty much everything you throw at it. If you want to have some fun with corners on winding country roads, you really can. If you want to gain speed quickly for an overtake or when joining from a slip road, you can. Yet if you want to drive sensibly while hauling an armchair across the country it will happily do that, too.

The Transit can be a Postman Pat one trick pony, but it can also be a thrown around like the multi-talented red and black 1990s wrestler that it truly is [And if that doesn't make any sense, read the first report... Ed].

Update 3: Going the distance

Ford Transit Connect Sport long-term test review - front view, Race Red, driving round corner

Recently the Connect Sport has been used for longer distances and I thought I’d share how it fares. I wasn’t expecting a van to be a comfortable cruiser, but this van has certainly proved that they can be.

The seating position allows for a good view out of the cab, except for the limiting A pillar, and the partial leather seats themselves are comfortable for sitting in for numerous hours. It has taken some time to get to grips with the lack of rear-view mirror, but now that I’m used to it, I haven’t had any issues with viewing the cars behind or when changing lanes on the larger roads. Plus, it may be amusing to know that you are treated slightly differently when driving a mean looking sports van, people tend to allow you through and respect that you can’t see directly behind (or so I like to think)

The cruise control Is still proving to be delightful and makes every long-distance drive that bit more bearable, and the infotainment system hasn’t managed to confuse itself and freeze again. At first, I used Google Maps for navigation, but the van's very own navigation system has surprised and impressed me. It has yet to take me the wrong way, it has a simple yet very effective display paired with the small screen in-between my dials in the dash (especially when it comes to exiting at junctions and which lane to use) and in fact seems to have successfully selected routes with less traffic or closures.

Ford Transit Connect Sport long-term test review - infotainment screen

Smaller comforts like the two cup holders situated next to the handbrake are welcomed, although I’ve found myself elbowing taller water bottles when changing gear, but that’s a very minor gripe. Following on from that, I did half expect there to be plenty of storage compartments and while there is the shelf overhead and your usual door pockets and glove box, I have often found myself wondering where to put my coat.

We do, however, have a place for storing your phone equipped with a wireless charging pad. Albeit very dark, annoyingly shaped and the number of times I’ve forgotten my phone in there is astonishing. I’m still not convinced, nor can I work out, whether it has been charging my phone, but if it has been then that is very convenient.

Finally, a quick mention of the sun visors. These have been rather inadequate despite being large, I can never seem to get it placed correctly and the result is blinding, but maybe that’s a van thing? 

All in all, I’d say the Big Red Machine (just like it’s wrestling counterpart) wins this round.

Update 2: Armchair enthusiast

Ford Transit Connect Sport long-term test review - armchair in the load area

To gain a real understanding of the van’s capabilities, it made sense – to me anyway – to lug a piece of furniture across the country. Or to put it another way, when you become the custodian of a vehicle capable of doing so, the requests naturally come pouring in.

In this instance, my grandmother (85), requested a new armchair. One that can stand you up, lean back and recline, the whole lot, and thus the hunt for this armchair began. Soon enough my Dad found the perfect example. In Sheffield. I live near Peterborough, and my Grandmother, well, she lives in Watford.

So, on a miserably cold and dark Monday evening after work, my Dad and I took to the road to collect said armchair.

This proved to be the perfect time to play with some of the tech in the Big Red Machine.

Toy time

Firstly, the cruise control. As previously mentioned, I have driven few vehicles prior to the van, none of which have been sophisticated enough to be equipped with cruise control, so this was a new experience.

I can gladly say that I was delighted with the outcome, it proved to be a lot easier to use than I had expected and did exactly what I wanted. Everything could be done with a touch of a button, set the speed, adjust the speed, limit the speed, it was all there and in a practical position on the left of my steering wheel (I realise it may sound like I’ve only just discovered fire here). Fantastic for cruising at 70mph on our motorways.

Ford Transit Connect Sport long-term test review - Elliott driving

I also took the time to play with the voice control and infotainment system. Voice control, included with the Sync 3 system in the van has come in handy, mostly, for phone calls. Asking the van to ‘phone mum mobile’ works well enough and it has managed to pick out my voice in some loud environments, so it’s pretty accurate overall.

Of course, to do this you have to connect your phone with the van.

Bluetooth troubles

I’ve been using Bluetooth to do the connecting, and it was very quick and simple to set up. Following this I’ve been playing music using apps on my phone – the Ford’s sound system isn’t the best in the world, but it usually gets the job done.

However, on our journey to Sheffield the infotainment system had a little meltdown. Whilst listening to Jake Bugg’s Simple Pleasures the screen somehow froze and wouldn’t allow me to do anything – I even lost the navigation telling me how to reach the armchair, so the journey was no longer simple or pleasurable.

Strangely the playlist managed to continue, but we were locked in to that one playlist, and it wasn’t my finest compilation.

Loading life

We did eventually manage to reach our destination and the loading of the cumbersome armchair took place.

Both the back doors are able to open very wide, allowing easy access to load the thing, and the van itself doesn’t sit that high so it didn’t take a great effort to lift the chair in.

Another feature, that is perhaps overlooked, was the light in the back, especially as it was a dark evening – although it did turn off after a while and I had to open the driver door to regain visibility.

There was plenty of room for the one chair, which was sizeable, but you would maybe struggle to fit much more in unless expertly packed. And there are plenty of points for tying things down, which proves to be useful for items of all shapes and sizes, and this meant that there was no movement in the back whilst driving.

Talking of driving, I really noticed no difference in the performance, maybe a little slower but It was natural instinct to take it slower anyway, so I didn’t find this a problem at all.

Best of all, my grandmother was delighted with her new chair. A good deed, well done. And the infotainment system has been behaving itself ever since.

Update 1: Meet our new Ford Transit Connect Sport Van

Ford Transit Connect Sport long-term test review

When asked, ‘Would you like to drive a red van with racing stripes as your first long termer?’ of course my answer was yes!

Having just joined the team as Automotive Videographer, and befitting of the role, I have a bunch of camera equipment to look after and haul between shoots. So, it seemed sensible that my first vehicle with Parkers was a van. However, sensible isn’t the right choice of word, this is a Race Red sports van with black stripes after all.

Ford Transit Connect Sport long-term test review - rear view, Race Red

Now, I’ve never driven a van, in fact I’ve driven three cars in my life so far. A Lamborghini driving experience when I was sixteen and my driving teacher’s car being two of them. Following that is my first car, a 2002 Ford Fiesta, but never a van. Though, and I may be tempting fate here, already I’m thoroughly enjoying what the Transit Connect Sport has to offer and more to the point, what it’s like to be a man with a van. 

First impressions 

Before getting behind the wheel I’ll touch on the appearance of the sports van. As previously mentioned, we’ve got it in a Race Red paint job, combined with the Sport styling pack which gives us front and rear stripes, chrome rear bumper scuff plate and styling kit. It was certainly a bold choice, and I’m happy to report I’ve been on the receiving end of some questionable looks... which I think is the point?

As soon as I took to the wheel, I couldn’t help but feel that the cab of this van was rather luxurious, then again, I suppose in comparison to my old Fiesta most modern vehicles would be. But seriously, it has partial leather heated seats and dual-zone climate control, not to mention a 4.2-inch infotainment system, heated windscreen, heated door mirrors (with power folding function!) and bi-xenon headlights.

Ford Transit Connect Sport long-term test review - cab interior

The infotainment system includes DAB radio, sat-nav and Ford’s latest Sync 3 software – which means it’s also got FordPass Connect for on-board wifi and smartphone connectivity. What’s more there’s a wireless phone charger, plus reversing sensors and reversing camera. And that’s to name but a few key features.

Be sure to note the number of heated gadgets I’ve listed; all prove to be very handy during these cold and bleak winter days. In truth I wasn’t aware vans could be so well equipped but it’s a very welcomed surprise.

What’s it like to drive?

For now, it has only been used for my commute to and from work, this consists of country roads, city roads and the A1. Although I’ve had limited experience in it, I am already thoroughly impressed. As it’s a sports van you’d hope for some speed, and it certainly seems to deliver, and Ford’s reputation for handling doesn’t disappoint either.

My journey even has elements of fun when in the van, the country roads are winding and fast, perfect for testing the vans capabilities. It may be early on in the test, but initial thoughts are… this van is going to be quite the vehicle to get around in.

The next few months with this ‘big red machine’ (named after the black and red clad wrestler, Kane – obviously) are sure to be a learning curve. I certainly wasn’t expecting to be running a van, especially not as soon as the first week of starting the job, but I accept the challenge and look forward to what it has in store for me.

Also read:

>> Ford Transit Connect full review

>> Vauxhall Combo Cargo long-term test

>> VW Transporter long-term test