Trucks at Work
Hitting the highways with Big Red

Hitting the highways with Big Red

Ah, Big Red, how we miss thee; let us count the ways …

So I recently got to test drive a Ford Motor Co. full-size Transit van for week – the same model my compatriot Aaron Marsh got to pilot for a stretch not too long ago.

[You can go here and here for his ride-and-drive experiences.]

I affectionately dubbed this Transit “Big Red” for the obvious reason – it IS a big red van, after all – but also because it’s also the same color (race red} as my now long-departed Ford Windstar minivan (which went by the moniker “Ye Olde Minivan”).

Big Red – officially a 2016 Transit 150 LH 120-in. wheelbase van – got put through its paces, to a degree: covering 602.4 miles of mostly highway driving on long stretches of I-66 and I-81 in Virginia, while making a host of deliveries in the tight suburban confines of Fairfax County in the northern part of the state.

Priced at $40,980, Big Red featured a lot of pricey extras that most cargo van fleets might dispense with: Ford’s SYNC-3 onboard infotainment and navigation system ($2,083); front and rear air conditioning ($895); rear view camera system ($295); and exterior upgrade package ($380).

Oh but having satellite radio on board … priceless! It allowed me to listen to classic heavy metal on Sirrus XM’s Ozzy’s Boneyard and Hair Nation stations uninterrupted for HOURS to great bands such as Anthrax, Def Leppard, Dokken, Iron Maiden, and Metallica – even heavy metal “progenitor” groups like Uriah Heep, with its funky Hammond organ sound, made an appearance.

However, one “extra” more than proved its worth: the $1,835 upcharge for the 3.5-liter V6 EcoBoost gasoline engine. Its twin-turbocharger design provided critical extra “oomph” when needed, especially when merging onto highways with posted speed limits of 70 mph – but its less-is-more displacement helped deliver good fuel economy, too.

I must also say, the rear-view camera system – dubbed “rear park assist” on Big Red’s window sticker – proved a valuable upgrade, despite having windows in the rear cargo doors.

For example, it helped me spot a young kid walking her dog as I backed out of a hotel parking spot early on a grey rainy day down in Christiansburg, Va. Too low to see out the back window, the camera clearly displayed her and her canine companion as bright as day: thank goodness.

Another nice thing: you never noticed the van’s 6-speed automatic transmission change gears. Smooth shifting helped deliver an equally smooth ride. And the shift lever’s placement on the dash proved extremely ergonomic as well.

Driving Big Red really felt to me like driving a high quality sedan rather than a work vehicle: great wheel response, a suspension that dampened road vibration, excellent acceleration response and power, plus an awesomely wide view of the road through the van’s broad windshield.

A couple of quibbles, though, in terms of what I’ll call “fit and finish” items.

First, while there’s a great grab handle on the passenger-side door for making entry and exit from the vehicle easy and safe, no such handle exists on the driver’s side.

Balancing one hand on the door to enter or exit the driver’s side of the van proved dicey as, of course, the door would move. Holding onto the A-pillar did the trick but that just didn’t offer the security and stability of nice grab-handle.

Second, right under the shifter lever and the SYNC-3 screen is a too-small storage area. While it came fitted with two 12 volt outlets (nice!) the space proved too small to accommodate much, even an iPhone 6; you had to use the cup holder to truly secure the phone while charging it. A little more storage space in this area would be a plus.

All in all, though, those are minor tweaks. The guts of the Transit are solid – and that’s what really counts in the work vehicle world at the end of the day.

Ah, but we will miss the 24/7 heavy metal access. So long Big Red. It’s back to static on terrestrial radio and homebrewed CDs for me again.

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