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Van-style space above a Focus chassis: is this the best of both worlds?

The Ford Transit’s journey from a carrier of people to actual people-carrier has been a long one. For as long as there has been a Transit – and that’s easily as far back as anyone on Autocar can remember – there has been a variant equipped to carry passengers.

Although the Tourneo name was introduced in 1995, it was the launch of the original Tourneo Connect in 2002 that started Ford on the path towards a privately owned Transit product.

Alternative to the Grand Tourneo Connect include the Seat Alhambra, Ford Galaxy and Vauxhall Zafira Tourer

Although the ground had already been well softened by existing van-derived cars, such as the Citroën Berlingo — and the Ford remained a studiously commercial product — the model’s huge flexibility, natural robustness and value for money are all features bequeathed to its successor.

Of course, for decades, these were minibuses – the humblest workhorse of the people-shifting business. That hardly changed even with the introduction of the Tourneo nameplate in the mid-1990s. Early editions were eight or nine-seaters simply made a mite plusher than they were before.

However, that gentle evolution of comfort and quality has led inexorably to the fifth generation of the Transit and the proper introduction of the Grand Tourneo Connect at the utility end of the seven-seat MPV market; as standard it has five seats but for a small additional outlay you get an extra two.

There is obvious room for the Grand Tourneo Connect in the seven-seat market, too, since the Ford S-Max, our favourite regular people-carrier, starts at £24k. The long-wheelbase Grand Tourneo starts at just £19k.

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Of course, the S-Max drives like a car – rather a good one, in fact – but what about the Grand Tourneo? Well, let’s find out if the £5k saving offsets any apparent shortfall.

DESIGN & STYLING

Ford Grand Tourneo Connect headlight
Along with most of the front end, the Tourneo shares its headlamps with the current Transit Connect

Clearly, recognisably, there is a van beneath the Tourneo. But there is also – somewhat more distantly – the Ford Focus, too, and the Ford Kuga.

That’s because the Connect family is based on Ford’s current Global C platform, which, among other things, means that the car gets a rear torsion beam rather than the leaf spring design that featured on the previous model. Not that the shared commonality of some of the underpinning architecture is going to have the neighbours fooled.

The integral roof rails are only integral to the Titanium model

The Ford Transit lineage is all too obvious – if for no other reason than the squared-off rear end of the Grand version tested so completely dwarfs practically everything else in the class, except maybe the equally gargantuan Volkswagen Caddy Maxi Life.

The car – and despite its appearance, we feel comfortable calling it that – is 4818mm nose to tail in long-wheelbase format (as distinct from the shorter standard Tourneo Connect), making it about the same length as a Galaxy, but also almost 8cm taller.

That space, unsurprisingly, is central to the Grand Tourneo’s appeal, as are the dual sliding rear doors and huge tailgate that permit easy access to it. The third row of seats is actually a £240 option, but once chosen, the big Ford is a genuine and pretty much unrivalled seven-seater.

The front seats get height adjustment and a centre armrest, pleasingly. The second row of seats doesn’t slide, but the seatbacks fold down on to the bases, two-thirds/one-third, and can from there can be pushed lower, to sink on to the floor.

The rear two seats are separate and slide fore and aft. To fold them, the bases are flipped over and the seatbacks drop down on to them. It’s better to slide them forward before folding them, though, otherwise their covers can interfere with the tailgate. In seven-seat guise, the boot floor is higher, but it also means the load bay is flat along its whole length.

Fold them all down and there’s 2050mm of flat load length capable of swallowing 2620 litres – nearly 300 litres more than in even a Ford Galaxy.

Moreover, with the most powerful 118bhp variant of the 1.5-litre Duratorq diesel engine and a six-speed manual gearbox fitted, the Tourneo will tow an additional 845kg along behind it while a 99bhp version, with a five-speed manual ’box, completes the oil-burner range. If you are after a petrol version then the lighter Tourneo Connect may be the answer as it can be had with the 99bhp 1.0-litre, three-cylinder EcoBoost motor.

All drive the front wheels, which are turned by electric power steering. The computerised assistance doesn’t stop there, either. As well as traction and stability control, hill start assist is standard and the £300 factory-fit tow bar comes with Trailer Sway Control thrown in.

INTERIOR

Ford Grand Tourneo Connect dashboard
There's no shortage of space in the front of the Grand Tourneo Connect

Trim levels has been simplified from when it originally came to market in 2014 to just Zetec and Titanium. This means that there is far more standard kit on the entry-level versions than before. Opt for the entry-level Zetec model and you will find the Grand Tourneo Connect comes with a manually adjustable driver's seat, heated mirrors, electric windows, Ford's Quickclear front windscreen and front foglights as standard. While inside there is air conditioning, DAB radio and Ford's SYNC 1 infotainment system.

Want more? Then maybe the range-topping Titanium models is for you, with folding mirrors, static cornering lights, rear parking sensors, alloy wheels, roof rails and active city braking all included in the package.

The driving position is good, with well spaced pedals. It's not overtly van-like

It isn’t just the Tourneo’s structural architecture that is based on Ford’s current Global C platform.

Place the dashboards of a Tourneo Grand Connect and a Ford Focus next to each other and you’ll note that, from the top down, they’re all but identical until you reach the gearlever, whose binnacle is mounted high in the Tourneo, rather than flowing flush into the lower centre tunnel. So it’s all very car-like.

But although the layout might be the same – down to the same steering wheel, rather than saddling the Tourneo with some massive, flat-set, buttonless item – the perceived material quality does differ. Think of the Tourneo as a car with the cockpit layout of a Focus but with material choices more like a Ford Fiesta’s.

Even though the driving position is extremely sound and will feel entirely conventional to those used to cars rather than vans, there are some hard plastics in here that belie the Tourneo’s origin – just as the masses of headroom do, including an overhead storage cubby for worksheets and such.

Nonetheless, those of us who have become familiar with the idea that a Ford is infused with a particular – buzz word approaching – DNA will find much that’s both familiar and pleasing inside. Ergonomically, the Tourneo is generally good, with driving controls that are spaced as a car driver would expect them.

Beyond the front seats, things remain impressive. If you've opted for the seven-seat option the rear pair of chairs fold, separately, into the boot floor and, once erected, give more headroom – 1050mm – than a lot of cars’ front seats.

The standard middle row splits 70/30 and similarly folds flat, and there is strong legroom and huge headroom again. Access is a doddle via the sliding doors, too. And the load bay, as you’d expect of a car derived from a commercial vehicle, is low and long, with a flat load lip, which is a decent height for sitting on, sheltered from the elements by the huge tailgate. None of our testers can remember testing a car this practical during the past decade.

It's with the multimedia system where some of the ‘premium’ differences between Ford’s regular cars and a car like the Tourneo come in. The Grand Tourneo Connect gets a mono LCD screen above its stereo controls, which are slightly convoluted themselves, as on many other Fords. There are four buttons beneath the keypad, referenced on the small screen, and it’s not the most intuitive of systems.

Still, there is phone connectivity with acceptable call quality, and the cabin is quiet enough that the stereo does not have to be turned up to speaker-blowing levels to be heard. The steering wheel controls are intuitive enough, too.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

Ford Grand Tourneo Connect rear
The Ford is offered with the choice of a 94bhp 1.6-litre diesel, a 114bhp 1.6-litre diesel or a 148bhp 1.6-litre petrol

Engine options for the Grand Tourneo Connect comprise a 1.5-litre Duratorq diesel in 99bhp or 118bhp outputs, with five- and six-speed manual, or six-speed automatic transmissions respectively.

If you’re expecting there to be a downside to using a small-capacity diesel engine to propel a vehicle that has a 1785kg kerb weight and frontal area of a garden shed, you’d be right.

A front-mounted engine drives the front wheels through a manual gearbox; an automatic is offered but only for the petrol

But it’s not the Ford Tourneo’s lack of outright pace that is particularly disappointing, or surprising; a 0-60mph time of 13.2sec is par for the high-output 1.5-litre diesel's 68bhp-per-tonne course. It’s the engine’s from-rest hesitancy that takes the most driving around.

You’ll want quite a few revs engaged before slipping the clutch to get the Tourneo under way. Fail to apply sufficient revs and, if you don’t stall, there will be a small hesitation, as if the 1560cc, 118bhp engine realises how much work it has to do.

Once the motor has woken up, though, things are okay, and it’s extremely easy to swap between gears via the slick shift to keep the motor on the boil. Control weights are very good here, too: consistent, responsive and easily modulated.

The motor is respectably quiet as well. There’s a little road noise, most notably from the rear, and more wind noise than in a lower MPV with smaller mirrors, but refinement gives no cause for concern; a cabin volume at idle of 43dB is extremely quiet.

And although 71dB at a 70mph cruise, at which the engine is spinning at 2600rpm, is above average, this isn’t the tin box that some might dismiss it as.

RIDE & HANDLING

Ford Grand Tourneo Connect cornering
The van origins are evident in its looks, but it drives like a car

If it looks like a van, it goes like a van and its doors slide like a van, it must drive like… actually, it drives surprisingly well. Since Ford’s dynamic reinvention during the mid-1990s, we’ve become accustomed to its cars steering, riding and handling a certain way. A pleasing way.

And what’s particularly gratifying about getting into a Grand Tourneo Connect is that, within the first 50 yards, you can tell that it has been developed with the same ethos in mind.

The brakes stood up to our tests well, so they should cope with towing a trailer down an incline without bother

It steers nearly as well as a Ford Fiesta or a Ford Focus, with linearity, accuracy and just the kind of torque build-up off of straight-ahead – the steering’s weight change, to you and me – that makes it seem like you can actually feel the turning forces building up in the front wheels.

This is the kind of tuning that is key to making a Ford feel the way that it does, and despite a roof that sits 1852mm from the ground, the Grand Tourneo Connect has been granted the same kind of attention. So it rides rather like a Ford, allowing control of its body movements to take some priority over the low-speed ride – although this is largely fine, too, because it’s on 55-profile tyres.

All of which is a pleasant surprise for what is a van at heart. Obviously, you can’t have everything. There is a 1785kg kerb weight and that high centre of gravity to contend with and, as plenty of Scottish engineers over the years have told us, there is no quibbling with the laws of physics. But Ford has done a better job here than, we suspect, most manufacturers would bother attempting.

Its braking distances are sound, although there’s considerable dive when you slam on the anchors. It’ll haul itself to rest in 49.6 metres from 70mph and in 2.9sec from 60mph in the dry, where 50 metres and 3.0sec are the yardsticks at which things start to bother us.

Likewise, it’s okay in the wet: a 3.2sec stopping time from 60mph and a distance of 55.1 metres. Handling is predictable. Stability control is standard and the traction control can be disabled while leaving the rest of the stability control in place.

That’s as it ought to be, allowing the car enough slip to extricate itself on low-friction surfaces but keeping the safety net intact elsewhere. In a high-speed emergency lane change, it feels like there’s no risk of a topple – and the stability control works deftly.

The Grand Tourneo Connect is a good car to drive, but the priority here is to make sure that it will look after you if you find yourself at extremes. To that end, the Tourneo is a commendable enough piece of kit.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

Ford Grand Tourneo Connect
The Grand Tourneo has conventional doors at the front, sliding doors to the rear and a roof-mounted tailgate

If the Tourneo’s no-nonsense approach appeals, Ford’s matter-of-fact attitude to its pricing is likely to chime right alongside. Conventional seven-seaters in the traditional MPV vogue can be removed from the field of battle immediately.

Some may have the upper hand in car-like handling and comfort, but none measures up in the practicality stakes, and a mid-spec diesel-engined version of most won’t leave you much change from £30k.

Ford has found room for not only seven seats but also a space-saver spare wheel, instead of a can of hopeless-foam

If you’re utterly unafraid of the utilitarian, former-van vibe, there are other spectacularly large options available – the Peugeot Expert Tepee, Volkswagen Caddy Maxi Life and Citroën Dispatch Combi spring to mind – but, once VAT is factored in, both start north of £20k.

As we’ve mentioned, the Grand Tourneo – in entry-level Zetec trim – starts at just shy of £20k. Even a range-topping Titanium model, stuffed with luxuries such as rear parking sensors and cruise control, is £22,295 before options.

Furthermore, because the engines are all close to the cutting edge of Ford’s offerings and the Tourneo isn’t offensively heavy (when empty), you get reasonable economy and emissions.

At 119g/km, the 118bhp 1.5-litre diesel actually emits less CO2 than the equivalent Ford Galaxy and is rated marginally better at 58.9mpg combined. We achieved 45.1mpg on a steady motorway touring run, which is weirdly – perhaps because of the car’s aerodynamics and small engine – less than we managed in conventional, everyday driving.

Our testing brought our average down, but you should expect mid to high 40s.

VERDICT

Ford Grand Tourneo Connect
A great way to be über-practical, if you can stomach the appearance

The worst part of having a Ford Grand Tourneo Connect as a private vehicle would be, we suspect, the constant effort of telling people that it’s rather better than it looks.

Wherever you’ll go, it will look slightly out of place, which is why, we imagine, most people’s experience of it will be on the way to or from an appointment or airport. Be prepared to make the leap, though, and you’ll find that this is one of the most convincing seven-seaters around. Only the Volkswagen Caddy Life Maxi can truly be classed as its equal.

You have to live with the way it looks, but the rewards are huge. Literally

With this car’s large glass area, good seats and a vast capacity, passengers will find it more pleasurable than most MPVs – particularly those in the cheap seats, where things are far less claustrophobic and cramped than is the norm.

It’s all that you’d expect from a van with windows, then, except for the drive, which is what you’d expect from a Ford and more pleasing than you have any right to expect from a car that looks like this.

Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

Ford Grand Tourneo Connect 2013-2021 First drives