Courtesy Ford Motor Co.
The 2015 Ford Transit follows a trend of high-roof unibody vans replacing full-frame models.

Compared to Ford's best-selling E-Series work van, which ceased production at the end of June, the new 2015 Transit offers newfound flexibility and refinement. It is an antidote to the Econoline's one-size-fits-all design, which for decades received only minor updates.

The old-school van's simple ways had staying power, so skeptics may question whether the Transit's steel-unibody construction can stand up to the same daily abuse. After much rigorous testing, Ford officials believe it to be a capable replacement—even though Transit's 7,500-lb towing capacity falls short of the E-350's 10,000-lb rating.

"By every other measure, the Transit outperforms the E-Series," explains Tim Stoehr, marketing manager for Ford's commercial truck line. "Better fuel economy, greater cargo volume, bigger payload—you name it." The company recently invited ENR to try out the new van near its factory in Claycomo, Mo.

Topping the Transit's new features are three roof heights, a welcome development for anyone who hunches over to retrieve tools at a jobsite. The low-roof Transit's headroom is roughly the same as the outgoing model's, but the medium-height roof rises 72 in. from floor to ceiling. The high-roof variant offers enough room for a 6'5"-tall driver to stand without ducking. The van offers two wheelbases and three body lengths, but prospective buyers should be warned that not every configuration can be mix-and-matched. Passenger-van, chassis-cab and cutaway models are also available.

Cargo volume ranges between 246 cu ft and 487 cu ft, while the E-Series offered only up to 278 cu ft. Transit is also ahead in payload: Its 4,650-lb maximum tops the E-Series' best by 600 lb. Access is made easier by larger openings and 50/50-split rear doors that swing 270° on long-wheelbase models.

Three engines are available, starting with a standard 3.7-liter V-6 that puts out 275 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque. A 3.5-liter EcoBoost turbocharged V-6 cranks out 310 hp and 400 lb-ft, while a biodiesel-compatible 3.2-liter Power Stroke five-cylinder turbodiesel offers 185 hp and 350 lb-ft. All come mated to a six-speed automatic transmission and rear-wheel drive. Gone from the mix are V-8 and V-10 engines.

While fuel economy estimates aren't yet available for all configurations, regular-wheelbase Transit passenger vans with low or medium-height roofs are rated at 14 miles per gallon city and 19 mpg highway with either gasoline engines. Ford engineers estimate the diesel will be 25% more efficient, meaning owners can safely expect to get better than 20 mpg on the highway. Either way, these engines should provide lower operating costs (see chart).

Inside, Transit's quiet cabin has some of the hard plastic you would expect in a work truck, but the materials are richer. Gauges and controls are simple to use. Numerous cupholders and storage cubbies can hold everything from a large water bottle to loose change. We found a 4-in. multifunction display too small for viewing the optional rearview camera, and the optional MyFordTouch infotainment system was cumbersome to use. A larger, 6.5-in. display is available.

Elsewhere, front seats offer all-day comfort, while the standard tilt-telescoping steering wheel makes it easy for operators to find an ideal driving position. Modern safety features, including optional side-impact airbags—something that's not offered on the E-Series—bring additional peace of mind.

On the road, the Transit feels refined. Its unibody construction and tuned suspension give it a solid feel without the truck-ish handling you might expect from a cargo van. A tight, 39-ft turning circle—nearly 10 ft less than a comparable E-Series—makes it a nimble workhorse.

Available now, Transit starts at $30,560 delivered, comparable to that of the new Ram ProMaster but higher than the Nissan NV and the old-school Chevrolet Express/GMC Savana—and $965 more than the outgoing E-Series. On the other end of the spectrum is the Freightliner/Mercedes-Benz Sprinter, which carries a starting price of nearly $37,000.

  2015 FORD TRANSIT T150 2014 FORD E-150
City 14 MPG 13 MPG
Highway 19 MPG 16 MPG
Combined 16 MPG 15 MPG
Annual Fuel Cost $4,625 $4,933