Ford Transit Prisoner Transport Vehicle

Year after year, both the JDPower Initial Quality Study and the JDPower Vehicle Dependability Study consistently drive home one point. Think twice about buying any new vehicle in its first year of production. That sage advice is what makes the brand-new, 2015 Ford Transit so compelling.

The 2015 Ford Transit, pretty much as we are seeing it for the first time, has a long and proven track record in Europe. More than 7 million have already been put into commercial and fleet use. The full-size Ford Transit has been in production since 1965, longer than its American cousin, the full-size 1969 Ford Econoline (E-series). The two vans have always been similar but very different in some ways.

The E-series was dropped after the 2014 model year. Introduced at the 2013 Detroit Auto Show, the 5th Gen Transit replaced the E-series van in mid-2014 as a 2015 model. The Transit is now produced by the Kansas City Assembly Plant, home of the F-series (F-150) pickup.

Just arriving stateside, the 2015 Ford Transit is actually in its Fifth Generation. It was the Third Gen 1986-2000 Transit that got the bodyshell style where the hood, windshield and leading edge of the box all have about the same angle. The Fourth Gen 2001-2013 Transit—developed by Ford in Dearborn—was now available in Front Wheel Drive or Rear Wheel Drive. All previous models had been RWD. All full-size Transit vans sold in North America will be RWD.

The 2015 Ford Transit looks profoundly European. Turnaround is fair play: The original Transit in Europe was a departure from European vans of the day with its then-called American-inspired styling.


Versions and Load Ratings

The Transit is available in four E-series familiar versions: Transit 150, Transit 250, Transit 350 and Transit 350 Heavy-Duty. The Transit is available as a cargo van, passenger van, chassis cab, and cutaway van.

European styling aside, the big differences between the Transit and the E-series Econoline are the roof heights, wheelbases, and body lengths. The Transit comes in three roof heights: Low Roof (83.6 inches), Medium Roof (100.8 inches) and High Roof (110.1 inches). The roof height is measured from the ground to the tallest point on the roofline. It is available with a Standard 130-inch wheelbase and Long 148-inch wheelbase, and three body lengths: Regular (8–10 passenger), Long (12–15 passenger), and Extended Length (15 passenger).

Measured from the bed of the van to the inside roof, the interior cargo heights are 56.9 inches (Low Roof van), 72.0 inches (Medium Roof van), and 81.5 inches (High Roof van). The corresponding cargo heights for the wagon are about 4 inches less than for the van. A 6-foot, 5-inch passenger can stand upright under a High Roof. The High Roof is available only on the Transit 250, 350 and 350 HD. In fact, the High Roof is the only way the Extended Length version comes.

The Transit has two types of side cargo door, depending on roof height. The Low Roof version uses a 60/40 split side cargo door. The Medium and High Roof versions use a sliding passenger-side cargo door. All side doors, regardless of roof height, hinged/sliding or van/wagon, have the same 51.2-inch opening width.

Like all of the NextGen Euro-vans, a sliding door on the driver’s side is available. This option is helpful to deploy tactical teams. We don’t always have a choice in the direction of approach. The 50/50 hinged rear doors open to 180 degrees on the Regular wheelbase and to 270 degrees on the Long and Extended Length versions.

Euro-styling aside, this is a FULL size van. The Regular wheelbase Transit 150 has a cargo volume behind the first row of 247 cu. ft. (Low Roof) and 315 cu. ft. (Medium Roof). The cargo volume steady increases up to 487 cu. ft. (Extended Length, High Roof).

Visually, it is very tempting to compare the Transit to its two European sidekicks, the German Sprinter van and the Italian RAM ProMaster. However, the most fleet-functional comparison is to the Ford E-series. Nostalgia and tradition aside, the Transit has it all over the E-series Econoline in the areas that matter the most: cargo capacity and fuel economy.

The Low Roof, Regular wheelbase Transit is just slightly larger than the discontinued E-series. At the other end, the High Roof, Extended Length Transit with 487 cu. ft. of cargo space is 75 percent larger than the largest 3-series. The Transit can pull up to a 7,500-pound trailer and haul up to 4650 pounds. The Transit is vastly superior to the Econoline in every way that matters for a fleet.

As on the E-series Econoline, an Ambulance Prep Package is available on the Transit PTV with Medium and High Roof versions. Think rear HVAC for prisoners and/or Tactical team members. This option includes a numerically higher rear gear ratio, dual batteries, an auxiliary fuse panel, and auxiliary heat and A/C prep package.



The exterior styling is still clearly from Ford of Europe. However, the powertrains show definite Ford of Dearborn influence. The standard engine is the 275 hp, 3.7L V6 shared with the Police Interceptor Sedan and Police Interceptor Utility.

This 3.7L Ti-VCT V6 can be converted by aftermarket upfitters to run on Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) or Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG or propane) by specifying the optional “Gaseous Engine Prep Package.” This prep package puts hardened, CNG-tolerant exhaust valves and seats in the 3.7L V6.

The 2015 Transit has two optional engines. One is the 185 hp, 3.2L inline 5-cylinder diesel. The other is the 310 hp, 3.5L EcoBoost V6, also shared with the PI Sedan and PI Utility. The EcoBoost produces more torque (400 lb-ft) than the diesel (350 lb-ft). All Transits come with a 6-speed auto.

The 3.7L V6 might be acceptable for the 6,160-pound GVWR PI Utility. Not so much for the 8,600-pound GVWR Transit 150, let alone the 9,000-pound GVWR Transit 250. Definitely think EcoBoost. Perhaps think turbo diesel.


EcoBoost Best Choice

The 3.7L Ti-VCT V6 and the twin-turbo 3.5L EcoBoost V6 both have exactly the same fuel economy ratings: 14 City; 19 Highway; 16 Combined. That means the 3.5L EcoBoost V6 will have the same operating cost as the 3.7L V6. Experience with the 3.5L Eco Boost has already proven the maintenance and repair cost is no different. Of course, the residual value of the EcoBoost-powered Transit will be higher.

Think twice before powering any Transit 150 or 250 with the 3.7L V6, even though it is standard. Don’t think you will save gas with the 3.7L V6 instead of the 3.5L EcoBoost V6 in the taller or longer vans. The 3.7L will have to work so hard that the mileage will be worse. Not to mention agonizingly slow.

Don’t think the twin-turbo 3.5L EcoBoost is overkill. It produces 55 hp more than the old 5.4L V8 but 50 lb-ft less torque. Overall, the performance is the same. Fuel mileage? The 310 hp, 3.5L EcoBoost V6 produces just about the same torque as the 305 hp, 6.8L Triton V10 but gets (an estimated) 46 percent better Highway mileage.

The 3.5L EcoBoost is already common to many Ford fleets and has an $1,865 MSRP. The 3.2L I-5 diesel is new to American Fleets and is a $5,995 MSRP option. Clearly, the way to improve performance over the standard 3.7L V6 engine is via the 3.5L EcoBoost V6.


Driving Impressions

Our Transit PTV test vehicle was the Medium Roof, Long wheelbase, Transit 250 powered by the 310 hp, 3.5L EcoBoost V6. The Transit has a gear shifter mounted half on the instrument panel and half on the center console. It is an extremely ergonomic location. Your hand naturally falls to exactly there. The gear selector itself has a very short throw and it is easy to select any of the gears.

The down-angle steering wheel seems very low. It tilts and telescopes but even at maximum up and maximum out, the steering wheel feels like it is sitting in your lap. In fact, this might be the most Euro aspect of the Transit. You get accustomed to it, but it takes a few days.

The driver cannot see the end of the hood, which is common with today’s vehicles. However, the huge windshield, low side glass, flat sides and great mirrors give the driver an excellent feel for the corners of the Transit. The Transit has awesome windshield wipers that perfectly clear the huge, sloping windshield.

The Transit has excellent outside rearview mirrors: a large flat mirror above an oversize parabolic mirror on both sides. With the low-cut door glass and the massive windshield, visibility out the front, at an intersection and out the sides, is excellent. However, the rearview camera is a must-have option on the Transit PTV.


Nimble and Maneuverable

The Transit PTV was pretty nimble for a full-size van. It had a tighter turning radius than expected. The 148-inch wheelbase Transit has a turning circle of 39.2 feet. This compares to 42 feet for a 140-inch wheelbase Sprinter and 48.6 feet for a Ford E-series van. The Transit is, of course, highly maneuverable in congested, crowded urban settings…that is its European heritage!

The Transit PTV had a relatively slow, confidence-inspiring initial turn-in and a relatively high number of turns lock-to-lock. Like all NextGen Euro-vans, the Transit looks top heavy but doesn’t come off as top heavy. The Transit has a tolerable, surprisingly minimal amount of body roll. The Transit has an extremely well-damped suspension. The Transit did not wallow back and forth. Over wavy roads and uneven pavement, the Transit has a little up-down or side-to-side body movement but it is quickly controlled.

We did not do any slalom-style, accident avoidance, or evasive maneuvers with the Transit PTV. However, we did a number of steady state cornering tests, i.e., enter and exit a freeway. The Transit vans and wagons come standard with AdvanceTrac® (electronic stability control) with RSC® (Roll Stability Control™).

Far from sporty, of course, the Transit gave a firm sense of driver control. In 10 days of driving like we owned the road, we did not find any shortcomings in the way the Transit handles in city traffic or highway cruising. In fact, the Transit tracks very well going down the road.

The on-center feel is excellent. The tall, narrow-wheelbase Transit seemed a bit sensitive to crosswinds and oncoming semi-trucks, but not bad. The Transit does not have crosswind compensation like the Sprinter. However, the steering is so strongly self-centering, even with no cargo the Transit was very well mannered. Perhaps surprisingly, the Transit was very comfortable to ride and to drive. It cruised down the highway effortlessly.

The Transit is a work van. It does not have quite the same sound deadening as a Ford F-150 Platinum. However, for a work van it was fairly free of squeaks, rattles and road noise. It had very, very little wind noise, even past the huge outside mirrors.


Performance and Economy

The 3.5L EcoBoost V6 is perfect for this Transit 250. With 310 hp and peak torque at just 1500 rpm, the EcoBoost V6 had plenty of power at all speeds. The V6 pulled hard from a stop and had plenty of punch for a 50 mph to 70 mph pass on a dual lane road. We have nothing but the highest praise for the 3.5L EcoBoost V6. It has been out long enough, in heavy enough applications, that turbo reliability is just not an issue.

The 310 hp, 3.5L EcoBoost-powered Transit 250, upfitted with the full, three-zone Havis partitions, hit 60 mph in 9.0 seconds. That is a ½-second faster than the 255 hp 5.4L V8-powered E-250 Econoline we tested a few years ago. The Transit PTV has a top speed of 97 mph (observed) but can be speed limited to 65 mph or 75 mph.

We put 300 miles on the Transit PTV during our 10-day evaluation. This was mostly in either 10-mile roundtrip or 60-mile urban and suburban roundtrip runs. In crosstown tasks and transports, we averaged 15.8 mpg, extremely high mileage for a ¾-ton van, thanks to the 3.5L EcoBoost engine.



Upfit by Havis

It is Havis that turns the Ford Transit into a Transit PTV. For that matter, it is Havis that can turn the Transit into a variety of configurations. Havis Kwik-Kit® prisoner transport units are available for Ford E-series, Ford Transit, Chevrolet Express, Mercedes Sprinter, and RAM ProMaster vans. They are available in 80-inch, 100-inch, and 120-inch lengths. The units come in One, Two or Three Compartment designs.

The One Compartment unit has benches on both sides with a 30-inch aisle in between. The One Compartment is the choice for transporting prisoners all of the same category, i.e., all-male, all-female, all-juvenile. The Two Compartment units have bench seats with a center divider and bench seats and 15-inch aisle with a fore-aft divider.

Our Transit 250 PTV had the Havis Kwik-Kit Three Compartment unit. This had bench seats with a center divider and a separate bench seat behind the passenger side door. This option allows you to transport three different categories of prisoners all at the same time. The two-person seat in the separate compartment has lockable storage under the bench.

The Havis enclosure was quieter than it had any right to be. The Buzz, Squeak and Rattle was at an absolute minimum. A couple of the dead-bolt emergency hatches could be heard from time to time. Every once in a while, the retractable outside side step would rattle. Overall, the three-section enclosure was at least as quiet as the best K9 kennels.

The Kwik-Kit units are made from 1/8-inch aluminum with formed channels and welded joints. Aluminum keeps the weight down to make the most of the GVWR, minimizing the effect on handing and fuel economy. Sealed edges limit the penetration of fluids while the white powder coat allows easy cleaning. Every compartment has emergency exit hatches with quick-release slide bolts, and perforated viewing section on front wall has a clear polycarbonate cover.


Optional meal pass-through panels are available.

When not used to transport prisoners, depending on which prisoner transportation unit is installed, the full-size van can be used to move bulky items like cones, bicycles or large evidence. The Kwik-Kit units are transferable between vehicles. Since they are bolted in, not welded, they can be removed and even placed into vans of different makes. However, some new parts may be required and not all models are interchangeable.

The Kwik-Kit includes a fixed rear step. A rear flip-down step is an option. The grab strap at the back of the seat is standard. A two-point (lap) seat belt is an option. Flat bench seats are standard. Raised seat dividers (Cheek Chocs) are an option.

A hinged hatch for meal pass-through, exterior roof flood lights, under-bench lockable storage, and van-vent adapter kit are all options. Other options include sound-deadening insulation, camera video monitor, rear exterior video camera, roof-mounted power vent, intercom system, and slide-out side step.

Havis is currently designing and finalizing many details for various new van products. They will be offering new, 60-inch high Prisoner Transport inserts (Kwik Kit) for the Medium height roof Ford Transit vans. These kits will be offered in 100-inch and 120-inch lengths; and Single, Double or Triple compartment designs. Other compartment configurations might be available in the future.

The 60-inch-high Kwik-Kit will fit into the High roof van, but they do not plan to offer a Kwik-Kit higher than the 60-inch unit. The 60-inch high kits for the Ford Transit and RAM ProMaster are the same product except for the vehicle specific items such as steps and AC/Heat system.

Retrofit kits for their older style 50-inch high kits will not be available for the ProMaster van due to the wheelwell height. The wheelwell is taller than the older-style PT bench. Havis will continue to offer their older designed 50-inch-high kits for the Ford Transit with Low roof. They will also be offering retrofit kits for customers who wish to transfer 2007-2014 Havis Kwik Kits into a new Transit van.

Havis currently offers 119-inch-long by 60-inch-high Prisoner Transport inserts for the Sprinter van. This is offered in Single, Double or Triple compartment designs. This was originally designed for the low-roof model Sprinter. It will fit into a high roof van, but they do not offer a kit higher than the 60-inch. They do have an optional Upper Filler Panel kit for High roof applications.

At the present time, they do not have plans to offer other specialty inserts for the Transit or ProMaster. However, they do plan to offer Prisoner Partitions and Window guards for the Ford Transit Window Vans, and consoles and computer mounts for all of these NextGen vans.

Published in Law and Order, Dec 2014

Rating : Not Yet Rated

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