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Detroit Auto Show 2010: Ford Transit Connect innovates on specs, size

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Sam VarnHagen/Ford/AP

(Read caption) The 2010 Ford Transit Connect boasts 125 cubic feet of storage, gets 25 mpg on the highway, and minds its manners in the city.

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When's the last time you got excited about a van? (OK, that first Pontiac Trans Sport with the remote control sliding door was pretty nifty.)

But Ford's Europe-bred Transit Connect has many – and not just the auto press – agog at the prospect of the city-friendly, fuel-sipping cargo van's arrival on US roads.

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What's all the fuss? Some 600,000 Transit Connects have been sold in Europe since its introduction in 2003, without an entry to the US market. With the US trying to bounce back from recession, a sensible, efficiency-minded workhorse would seem to be just what small businesses need. And starting at $21,475, the price isn't too much of a setback.

The boxy (yes, it's boxy, but so is cargo; get over it) hauler boasts a 52-inch interior height, 125 cubic feet of storage, and hefty 1600-lb maximum load capacity, all while maintaining respectable fuel economy (at 22/25 city/highway) and a "climb-free" entry and exit. Compare those numbers to the ones posted by pick-ups and traditional vans, and a Transit Connect owner makes some sacrifices. But the gains in maneuverability – Jalopnik puts its turning circle at 39 feet – and customization more than make up for it.

In stock form, the Transit Connect comes as a blank slate for the most basic of work vehicle functions – hauling stuff. But at the buyer's option, Ford can install an in-dash computer with Bluetooth printer for generating invoices on the go (for use only when the vehicle's parked, natch). Less common, we're sure, but still cool is Ford's "Crew Chief" fleet management suite. It gives the big boss a way to look in on a network of vehicles, reporting things like location, whether a vehicle has been idling a long time, or any of 30 diagnostic measures in the name of efficiency and preventative maintenance. Also cool in concept but unlikely to see much real-world implementation, is the available DeWalt ToolLink system. It lets the user mark tools with a series of RFID tags and, before leaving a location, can give a heads-up that something's missing.

One head-scratcher – the Wi-Fi hotspot-creating Ford Sync system we effused over earlier this month doesn't appear to be an option. As a utilitarian vehicle, the Transit Connect's omission of the gee-whiz add-on makes sense, it just hampers our plan to create a mobile blogging station in the back of one.

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