Unicorn: The 2015 Ford Transit 150 XLT Wagon

Front 3/4 view of 2015 Ford Transit 150 XLT Wagon
The 2015 Ford Transit 150 XLT Wagon.
First, apologies for the misleading headline.  You'll see plenty of 2015 Ford Transit 150 XLT wagons on the road.  They'll be airport shuttles for rental car companies, hotels, convention centers...you know, the usual.

But how many will you see in people's driveways?

Magazine ad for 1969 Ford Club Wagon
1969 Ford Club Wagon magazine ad.

As you see from the print ad above, it wasn't always such an odd question.  As recently as the late 60s and early 70s, Ford was pitching full-size vans as the answer when a 9-passenger station wagon wasn't enough.  And Ford wasn't alone.

Print advertising for 1967 Chevy van
1967 Chevy Van print ad.
As this classic Chevy ad shows, the automakers were even targeting families of four.

What happened?  All sorts of stuff.  Motorhomes and SUVs , mainly.  Full-size vans went through their customized "bedroom on wheels" phase in the mid-to-late-70s and after that, with the arrival of the first minivans, the big boys became work tools.

But....you still can buy a big van, in this case the new Ford Transit, as a family car.  That's how the tester we drove for a week came equipped.  $34,470 is what it costs to get started in XLT trim, as a standard-wheelbase 8-passenger wagon. Choosing the XLT trim gets you front and rear air conditioning, an 8-speaker AM/FM/CD audio system, carpeting, rear interior lighting including map lights and theater dimming, rain-sensing wipers, a rear-view camera with trailer hitch assist and four-wheel-disc antilock brakes.

Interior view of 2015 Ford Transit 150 XLT Wagon
2015 Ford Transit 150 XLT Wagon interior.
Ours had extra-cost Green Gem Metallic paint, the 3.5-liter V6 engine, a 3.31 limited-slip axle, lane-keeping alert, engine block heater, reverse park aid, keyless entry pad, rear window defogger, a MyFordTouch audio system (again, like the one in the Ford Edge we tested recently, trouble-free), a rear-view camera, alloy wheels, floor mats and privacy glass.

The window sticker was marked only "VEHICLE NOT FOR SALE" and showed no prices.  But using the "build" feature on the Ford website, we wound up with an as-equipped price of $40,020. Figure another grand or so for destination charges.  EPA fuel economy estimate 14 city/19 highway.  We saw a consistent 16.8 in a 60/40 mix of urban freeways and city streets, which is about what we saw in real-world driving recently in a Chevy Suburban, which had one fewer seat and cost 30 grand more.

So could the Ford Transit 150 XLT Wagon be not just a plausible, but an economical alternative to full-size SUVs?  Well, yes.  It would take getting over some prejudices and phobias, not unlike my own.  Having seen the Transit's predecessor, the Econoline (later just the "E" series van) all my life and having driven literally dozens of them as news vehicles during my television days, I've still yet to warm up to the tall, narrow-looking styling of the European-styled Transit (same goes for the RAM ProMaster).  But once inside, they're a marvel of space efficiency.  Everything is simply roomier.  And at the wheel, well, it's hard to call something the size of the Transit 150 XLT Wagon "nimble", but within minutes I was past any concerns about maneuverability.  It is infinitely better than the old-school vans and no more of a chore to drive than any other modern vehicle...which is to say no chore at all.

Bottom line, the Transit would be a solid choice for larger families on a budget.  It's worlds better than the vans that were more commonly used that way decades ago.  But I don't count on seeing many in my neighbors' driveways.