As we have been driving around Baja, many people have been interested in our little Ford Transit Connect van. We have gotten a lot of questions about what its capabilities are. So, I thought I would write a post for people curious about how our van has been performing as a Baja mobile.
Let me start this blog post by saying that the Ford Transit Connect is not really designed to be an off-road vehicle. The van’s primary selling points are its maneuverability and its fuel efficiency. In those two categories, the Ford Transit Connect has definitely been performing as advertised. We have found that the van reliably gets an astounding 30 mpg. Additionally, while Baja is a world renowned off-road driving location, we have found that 90% of our driving here is still on paved roads. There is a 2 lane highway that runs the length of the peninsula and passes close to many of the surfing locations that we were most interested in visiting. Of course, to actually get to most surf locations we have to leave the highway and travel on dirt tracks to get close to the ocean. While the Ford Transit Connect was probably never meant to go off-road, with patience, driving skill, and a little luck, it has been able to make it to a fair number of off-road locations.
A number of people have told us that the rule of thumb on the Baja is: if the locals can do it, you probably can too. Of course, it is important to remember the locals will know the roads way better than a visiting surfer. They will know where the sand is the deepest and where the biggest boulders are. Therefore, we are always very careful when we are traveling off-road.
The most restrictive factor in taking the Ford Transit Connect off-road is that it only has 6 inches of ground clearance. This means that the best tactic is to try to avoid larger rocks and boulders. When it is impossible to avoid a large rock or boulder, then it is very important to go slowly over the obstacle, trying to keep it near the edge of the car so it does not scrape the oil pan. This is actually an area where the maneuverability of the Ford Transit Connect has a surprising advantage over other larger and wider vehicles. The Transit Connect is only 72” wide total. This makes it is possible to negotiate a high line, avoiding many of the rocks that tend to accumulate between the ruts of unmaintained roads. Unfortunately, the Ford Transit Connect does not have a 4 wheel drive option – although some of the larger Sprinters are now starting to have this as an option.
We have been stuck in the sand once in our van. The day after Christmas we travelled down an unmaintained dirt road to a campsite and surf spot called Punta Conejo. While the road to the campsite was pretty rough, we made it to the main site after about 35 minutes of careful driving. After making it to the main site, we thought we would check out some some of the more sheltered sites under some trees on the other side of a dry arroyo. Unfortunately, the gravel in the arroyo was deeper than it looked
and we got stuck about 3/4 of the way across. To get unstuck, we pulled out our travel shovel and started digging. We also let some air out of the tires to improve traction on the sand and put some large flat stones under the wheels to give them something to grip. Luckily, a father and son who had been out on a motorbiking day trip also pulled up and helped us push out. From this episode, we were glad that we had kept to our practice of camping at well established sites because that meant there were a fair number people nearby to lend a hand. We were also glad we had kept to our practice of arriving at campsites relatively early in the day, because it meant we had plenty of time to dig out while it was still light out. Hard won piece of advice: it is best to maintain a relatively fast speed all the way through a patch of loose sand or gravel.
As far as the interior of the vehicle goes: since we are on an extended trip, we wanted to have as much storage as possible. We installed two large shelving units on the interior of the van to hold our clothes and personal items, and we slide our legs under the shelves when we sleep. However, these shelves definitely do make the van less comfortable to sleep in. Once we get back to the U.S. we will probably take these units out, so we will have more room to sleep. The storage we have under the platform we created provides more than enough storage space for a 1 or 2 week adventure. (Here is a link to a video showing everything we have stored in the van currently.)
All in all, we have been very pleased with our van. From what we have seen there is no “perfect” vehicle for Baja. Everything comes with trade-offs. For us, the trade-off is fuel efficiency for off-road capability. While it probably would not be possible for us to make it to some of the most remote surf areas in Baja, we are very glad to have the good gas mileage, especially since we plan on adventuring with the van for many years to come.