Kansas City, Missouri – That’s also the case with work vans, which used to be little more than tippy, tinny big boxes. It’s now a segment that’s as much about comfort and features as it is about work, and that’s the story behind the new 2015 Ford Transit.

The Transit replaces the E-Series (Econoline) van that Ford has made since 1961. Europe has had the Transit since 1965, but this is the first time it’ll turn its wheels on this side of the pond. The design is global, but Transits for North America are made at Ford’s truck plant in Kansas City.

(Disclosure: Travel, accommodation, and meals were provided by the automaker to the writer.)

HeapMedia208649

We first saw these tall, European-style vans in 2003 with the introduction of the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter, sold initially with a Dodge badge. The market now includes the Nissan NV and Ram ProMaster, along with the Chevrolet Express and GMC Savana twins.

All of those are good vans, but I think the Transit is going to dominate the segment. Its performance, features and available configurations put it above ProMaster and Express/Savana, while its extensive dealer network is much larger than the number of outlets where you can buy or service a Sprinter or NV.

HeapMedia208645

The Transit comes in three heights: a low-roof exclusive in the lineup to North America (designed primarily to fit into parking garages), a medium-roof that will probably be the volume seller, and a high-roof version. There are two wheelbase lengths and three body lengths, and it comes as a cargo van (maximum payload 4,650 lbs.), passenger wagon (3,710 lbs.) with seating for 8 to 12 people, and cutaway/chassis cab for custom bodies. It’s a unibody with rear-wheel drive, and a dual-wheel version is available.

The price list is several pages long, depending on the engine, roof height and body length, trim line and options, but the base tickets are $32,449 to $36,349 for the cutaway/cab chassis models; $33,799 to $44,499 for the cargo van; and $39,599 to $51,749 for the passenger wagon.

HeapMedia208654

The base engine is a 3.7-litre V6, making 275 horsepower and 260 lb.-ft. of torque. It’s meant to be the entry-level, but I really like driving it, with its quiet but strong acceleration. It’s officially rated at 16.6 L/100 km in the city and 12.6 on the highway. By comparison, the outgoing E-Series van’s base engine is a 4.6-litre V8, making 225 horsepower and 286 lb.-ft. of torque. It’s rated at 15.9 for the city and 12.3 on the highway, but those are with the old two-cycle tests. If it were tested under the new five-cycle system that is used on the Transit, it’s estimated at 17.7 and 14.4. Even a slight difference in fuel economy can made a huge dent in a big fleet’s operating costs, and I suspect this engine will make some new friends.

HeapMedia208652

Up from that is a turbocharged 3.5-litre EcoBoost V6. The idea here is that you get the fuel economy of a smaller-displacement engine under light load, and when you need full power, the turbo kicks in to give you the equivalent of a V8: 310 horsepower, and 400 lb.-ft. of torque, with fuel economy of 16.6 in the city, and 12.5 on the highway. The third is a gutsy, Ford-built 3.2-litre V6 turbo diesel, making 185 horsepower and 350 lb.-ft. of torque. All three engines come exclusively with six-speed automatic transmissions.

What draws so many people to these vans, besides the fact that a worker can stand up in many of them, is their road manners. Even the largest Transit—and it’s huge—doesn’t feel as big as it is when you’re behind the wheel. Ford set up a closed course during the launch, and while it did look odd to see these big vans taking on a slalom, they proved to be far more settled and controlled than I might have expected.

HeapMedia208655

The details are there, too. There are pre-drilled mounting points for exterior roof racks and interior racks and shelving, so upfitters don’t have to cut through the corrosion barrier. The dash and console are filled with cubbies, and the seats are very comfortable, with a good driving position.

The general public usually doesn’t give too much thought to work vans, but fleets and businesses do, and I think they’re going to like what they see. Capable, roadworthy, and very comfortable, the Transit looks like the next big thing we’ll see on the road.