Test drive: 2016 Ford Transit 350 HD

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Updated Dec 11, 2015

It didn’t even take a full model year for Ford’s newest commercial van entry, Transit – the van destined to phase out the company’s blue collar E-Series – to become the best selling van in the U.S.

Transit is built in Kansas City where the assembly plant casts its shadow over a dozen upfitters within 30 miles, allowing for quick turnaround from ship-through providers like truck body stalwart Knapheide Manufacturing Company.

Steve Freimanis, general manager of Knapheide Truck Equipment, says his company, depending on vehicle spec and availability, can turn a fleet order around in about two weeks. Much of the credit for the fast turnaround is due to Transit’s flat rails, which Mandar Dighe, vice president of marketing for Knapheide, says allow for quick body installation.

IMG_2391My test unit, a 2016 Transit 350 HD cutaway, was equipped with the standard 3.7-liter V6 engine and upfit with a Knapheide KUV body.

With 275 hp and 260 lb.-ft. of torque, the dual rear wheels did a nice job pushing the more than 1-ton galvanneal steel work body around the Kansas City interstate and nearby surface roads.

A holdover from the 2015 model year, Transit maintains a good road presence. Its responsive steering handles more like an SUV than a work van and features great visibility from the driver’s seat. Turning radius is tight for a van of its size.

New for the 2016 Tranist are a handful of technology bumps, like a standard rearview camera and trailer hitch assist. Trailer hitch assist automatically engages when the vehicle is shifted into reverse and displays a graphical overlay on the screen that helps guide drivers to line up a hitch with a trailer. Ford’s Sync 3 infotainment system is also made available to Transit this model year as an option. Transit’s fleet customers can add an available speed limiter that caps top speed at 70 mph. For the previous model year, speeds could be held to 65 mph and 75 mph.

Dual sliding cargo doors also will be available for the first time on Ford Transit medium- and high-roof vans. Four new paint colors for 2016 models are Shadow Black, Caribou (dark brown), Magnetic (dark grey) and Race Red.

Front dome lamps with map lights and theater dimming will be standard on all Transit variants and the USB jack has been moved above the cupholder in the center console for easy access in 2016.

All Transit engines (a 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6 and a 3.2-liter I5 diesel are available options) are matched with a 6-speed SelectShift transmission designed for low-end acceleration and efficiency and feature two modes of operation. Progressive Range Select lets the driver toggle on the shift lever to reduce the range of available gears while the van is in drive. A full-manual function lets the driver put the shift lever into “M” and use the toggle switch to select the desired gear.

I let the transmission and computer make its own decisions, and shifting was quiet and seamless in both heavy traffic and at highway speeds.

IMG_2396The standard rearview camera came in handy parking the nearly 150-inch wheelbase workhorse in spaces not designed for work vans, and when looking through the bulkhead and rear doors proved to be a challenge. Cutaway and chassis cab models have the option of moving the backup display to the rearview mirror versus the dash-mounted screen.

Taking up nearly two-thirds of the van’s overall length, the KUV features two adjustable divider shelves, street and curb side front vertical compartments; one adjustable divider shelf, street and curb side rear vertical compartments; one adjustable divider shelf, curb side horizontal compartment; and two full length shelves each side, interior of body.

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Not a single inch of the work body went to waste.

Dighe says that’s because the units are designed in partnerships with technicians who actually use the units. The company may draft several different initial work body concepts, he says, before putting them in the hands of the people who are going to use them. That feedback is used to drive improvements and efficiency for production models.

In dual rear wheel configuation, the Class 3 Transit’s payload capacity approaches just north of 4,500 pounds, and if you somehow need additional storage room, Knapheide offers optional overhead and side ladder racks. Sortimo systems and other tools can help save inches occupied by organizational chaos. The KUV can be further customized to suit a variety of tradesman needs.

The power locks were a nice and convenient option. With one touch, a technician can lock and unlock all of the KUV’s roughly one dozen doors.

Tranist’s unibody construction and Knapheide’s KUV made for a fairly tight marriage. Even unloaded, squeaks and creaks were minimal if not nonexistent.

Plumbing, HVAC and electrician fleets that require a reliable workhorse with ample storage that doesn’t handle like a rampaging bull on crowded urban roads have a good partnership in Transit and Knapheide.