Putting America's newest big van through the Costco test

For me, the words “American full-size van” conjure images of 1970s party wagons from Ford, Dodge and GM. We’re talking sidepipes, porthole windows and maybe a unicorn or scorpion airbrushed on the side. Inside: plush velour. That’s one kind of van. The other is the battered white tradesman genre, its interior bearing all the luxury of a Chinese shipping container. Until recently, those '70s vans were still the standard, as any U-Haul customer would know.

Suddenly, though, the dinosaurs are all but extinct, replaced by Euro-style vans like the Mercedes-built Freightliner Sprinter, Ram ProMaster and now, the Ford Transit.

The Transit replaces the E-Series, a platform that wasn’t fundamentally much different last year than it was in 1975: body-on-frame construction and a snub nose stuffed with either a gas-guzzling V-8 or a V-10 that was about as efficient as a burning oil well. There was no diesel.

The nouveau Transit offers a five-cylinder diesel, a 3.7-liter V-6 or, my favorite option, a 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6. That last one, paired with the smallest body (medium-wheelbase, low-roof) results in one of the most surprisingly fun vehicles of the year—310 hp, 400 lb-ft of torque and rear-wheel-drive. Priced at about $35,000 with eight-passenger seating, the Transit EcoBoost strikes me a smart alternative to big SUVs and minivans. To put it to the test, I brought it to the alpha adversary of interior capacity: Costco.

Costco doesn’t do small. If you want to shop there, you’ve got to go in with the attitude that you’re provisioning a ship for a six-month expedition. And they’ll accommodate that, with their giant bags of flour, or dog food, or towering racks of toilet paper. Even Costco’s shopping carts are huge, looking something like the one the Jackass guys ride around in. The limit at Costco, always, is the size of your vehicle. But not today.

The Transit, with unibody construction, a tall roof and small wheels, offers more than twice the interior volume of the outgoing E-Series. To put some perspective on that, I decided to buy as much toilet paper as I could carry and see how far that taxed the Transit’s abilities.

Armed with a flat dolly, I stacked the Charmin as high as I dared and made my way to the register: $215. That’s a lot of toilet paper. But not enough, it seems, to challenge the Transit. When I loaded it up, it easily had room for a couple more pallets. And that was still behind the third row of seats, which are removable. As is the second row. In this case, TP does not stand for Transit Problem.

If you can get past the aesthetics — which, frankly, are a little challenging — the Transit is a bargain do-everything family truckster that doesn’t drive like a truck. The American van is back, I say, and all it needs is a scorpion on the side.