With plenty of cargo space for gear and bikes, the 2015 Ford Transit and Jayco Octane Super Lite are a made-for-each-other couple
Sometimes the problem with the great outdoors is there’s just a bit too much of it. For example, sunny at home but then cloudy and cold en route, dust storms followed by thunderstorms, a deceptive lull and then winds kicking up at midnight and howling like a wolf through dawn’s early light. Such was the case at Willow Springs International Raceway in the Southern California desert last spring for the annual Corsa Moto Classica riding school, vintage motorcycle races, bike show and swap meet. The event is but once a year, and the track generously opens its large pit area for RVs at no additional cost. With so much to see and do, not going due to blustery weather wasn’t an option, meaning the only option was to prepare — and then go do it.
Under such conditions, having a vehicle that can store motorcycles as well as people and gear, safe and secure from the elements, becomes paramount. Ford’s new long-wheelbase, extended-body, high-roof Transit van, a competitor to the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter and Ram ProMaster, deserves serious consideration. While the Sprinter has been the gold standard here through 13 years and two generations, it was followed last year by a Fiat-built Ram ProMaster van offering front-wheel drive for an impressively flat and low floor, but with limited towing and some ergonomic challenges.
Like the Sprinter and ProMaster, the new Transit is available in multi-passenger wagon and two-passenger cargo-van configurations. For our motorcycle-track weekend, we chose the two-passenger extended wheelbase T350 HD model equipped with a 3.2-liter Power Stroke five-cylinder turbodiesel engine producing 185 horsepower and 350 lb-ft of torque, driving through a six-speed automatic and dual rear wheels with 195/75R16 tires. The MSRP as equipped was $50,295.
The diesel powertrain lends the Transit greater towing capacity than the 3.5-liter EcoBoost and 3.7-liter V-6 gas engines that are also available. The maximum tow capacity of the diesel van is 7,100 pounds, adequate to tow the test Jayco Octane Super Lite 161 toy hauler. As it turns out, the van’s 14 feet of inside storage length and 5-foot 8-inch interior width (not counting fender wells) was plenty adequate to store three motorcycles.
Loading bikes and gear into the Transit was straightforward enough with the Jayco trailer detached. However, with the trailer hitched, we found it was still possible by angling a loading ramp to either side at the rear opening or the side opening. We limited this unconventional technique to dirt bikes only, and I would not relish the loading-at-an-angle approach with most road bikes. The 6-foot 8-inch ceiling height inside the Transit was a wonderful asset for moving about without banging our heads.
When storing bikes in a stationary garage, you don’t need anything but a center or sidestand, but stout tie-down points are critical in any truck or trailer. Motorcycles can become a major mess and dangerous projectiles if they break loose during transit. Fortunately, the van featured a dozen separate tie-down rings located in convenient places around the interior.
Our 270-mile round-trip route took us from Southern California to the desert town of Rosamond where Willow Springs, a 62-year-old road course, features events most every weekend. A weight-distributing hitch and sway control are always useful features on a sizable trailer setup, but in this case the sway control was not necessary even with the high winds that were present in the desert. The Transit towed the Jayco trailer beautifully. Partly out of respect for the winds, we never pushed our speed past the legal or prudent range. As a result, there were no issues whatsoever with stability, and we never needed to use the included trailer brake controller manually because we never experienced extreme sway issues. Under normal conditions, the brake application was smooth and progressive.
The ergonomics in the Transit are superior to the Ram ProMaster and competitive with those of the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter. The seating position is high, there is ample glass area, and the 10-way power seats are plenty comfortable. On the highway, as expected, the interior is a bit on the noisy side when the vehicle is unloaded, due to the cavernous shape and heavy-duty rear suspension and axle, but once the vehicle was loaded and the trailer hitched up, the ride quality improved and the noise level dropped to comfortable levels.
Along with factory insulation on the interior walls, other Transit niceties included a handy backup camera, Bluetooth for smartphone pairing, multiple small storage spaces including door bins, cup holders and even dual overhead storage bins. Downsides for our test van included the lack of available second-row seating, a rather uninspiring six-speaker sound system, and the absence of a navigation system on the small multi-function display (although a nav system is available optionally).
The Transit did not operationally “present” as a diesel at all, either in terms of starting, noise or vibration, although it did require extra attentiveness to seek out diesel fuel stations and the pump locations en route. With the trailer in tow, it delivered 12 miles per gallon, and without trailer, after our trip was completed, nearly 25 miles per gallon, which is comparable to a similarly equipped Sprinter van. Adding positively to the experience was a trip computer that provided real-time status of the remaining fuel range.
Various other features on the Transit make using the vehicle simpler and more enjoyable, including a capless fuel filler, especially handy with diesel fuel, which can make your hands more odiferous than a dinner of Sloppy Joes and onion rings. Central locking is another handy feature, as are nonskid, easy-cleanup vinyl flooring, and USB and MP3 ports for importing music.
One last Transit feature worth mentioning is the rear doors, which open almost 270 degrees and attach to the sides of the body with magnets. However, we discovered that, while parked, some wind gusts were enough to dislodge the doors and swing them closed, making a supplemental restraint necessary if frequently operating under such windy conditions. Even so, we were impressed overall by the Transit’s spaciousness, driving experience, fuel economy, comfort and utility features. Right out of the box, it is indeed a viable contender for the already established Sprinter and front-wheel-drive ProMaster.
As the smallest of Jayco’s Octane Super Lite series, the 161 model has a gvwr of 7,000 pounds, just 100 pounds less than the Transit van’s 7,100-pound maximum loaded trailer tow rating. So they truly are happy together. The Jayco is ideally sized for two people. You can store two bikes or possibly three narrower ones in back, where a 7½-foot-wide fold-down wall doubles as a loading ramp. Maximum useful storage space is 10 feet 4 inches long and 8 feet 2 inches wide, not counting fender wells. Seven really stout tie-down rings give huge confidence that your bikes, ATV or side-by-side will be right where you parked them when you arrive.
The trailer comes with just about everything an adventure-seeker needs, including air conditioning and a convection microwave oven, a furnace, a large refrigerator/freezer, a two-burner LP-gas stove, and a private bathroom with a toilet, shower and tub. Additional features include an onboard fuel station, roof ladder, fully automatic electric awning, window coverings and a stereo system with twin USB ports for playing tunes or charging phones or tablets. We never came close to using up the available water supply or holding tanks over our Willow Springs weekend, although we admittedly did have a sink and toilets available in a nearby building.
The 161’s flexible interior gives plenty of options, from entertaining to sleeping to storage. The fold-down bunks are too short for some adults, however, at 5 feet 8 inches long.
Additional handy features include a folding dining table (that desperately needs a storage solution other than lying on the floor on a piece of carpeting), plenty of cupboard and drawer space in the kitchen, and simplicity of operation for everything. Actually, aside from its economy-oriented features, the $23,231 Jayco trailer doesn’t have many downsides at all. A glaring one, however, is the size of the fold-down twin bunks, which measure 5 feet 8 inches long. Obviously, this is fine for many people, but if you’re taller, you’ll need to either curl up or be content to have your feet stick off the end of the bed. There is room for longer bunks inside, so it’s a bit of a mystery why they are sized as they are. Jayco also offers an electric queen bed which is a good option for couples.
Also, as mentioned above, with its dual-axle setup and 205/75R15 rubber, the Jayco towed beautifully behind the Transit with no noticeable swaying even in crosswinds. We arrived at Willow Springs on a Thursday afternoon in time to begin the long weekend. Setting up camp was easy because of the simplicity of unlatching and lowering the Jayco’s rear ramp and then releasing and removing the motorcycles. For anyone who’s ever struggled with this process in a van or pickup, a toy hauler is bliss.
With our food already stored in the cabinets and our bedding and gear bags close at hand, the Jayco was as easy to utilize as if we were simply walking into another room of the house. In lieu of carpeting, the trailer has the requisite vinyl floor covering for a toy hauler, with a wood pattern that sweeps or wipes clean easily, making for trouble-free housekeeping during the weekend.
Ample lighting in both the trailer and van made nighttime activities easy. The Jayco is nicely illuminated both inside and on the exterior, where both the entry door and loading ramp are well lit. Meanwhile, the Transit has five bright LED lights inside the cargo area, and they’ll stay on for as long as you have a door open — a nice feature made even more practical by their low-energy draw.
In the crosswinds that were present all weekend, having the four manual stabilizing jacks, one at each corner of the trailer, helped keep the unit secure, both in the winds and when people were moving around inside.
To Prove It, Do It
Traveling is always something of a leap of faith, and so the idea of combining a big, boxy van and a trailer, altogether measuring some 42 feet long, full of people, gear and motorcycles, definitely needed a litmus test.
Our route started in the California foothills, descended to the Pacific coast, traveled the freeways to the famous Grapevine leading from SoCal into the 3,800-foot Tehachapi Mountains, and finally wound up in the California desert. Along the way, we encountered passing truck blasts, a heavy thunderstorm that left parts of the roadway submerged, and in the desert, wind aplenty. There’s a reason the Mojave is the location of enormous wind-power stations.
At every turn, literally and figuratively, the Transit and Jayco package handled the conditions with ease. Once at Willow Springs, the high winds prevented us from using the electric awning or even setting up our folding chairs, as the latter might only have blown away. But even on this blustery weekend, we surely found huge validation for our original idea: If you bring the great indoors along with you, the great outdoors can be hospitable, no matter how inhospitable it gets.
I’ve always liked vans, and the Transit is a salute to our successful Willow Springs motorcycle adventure. After this drive, I’ll definitely give the Ford Transit and Jayco Octane Super Lite experiment a rousing “two wheels up.”
While John Stein was busy hauling motorcycles to the Mojave Desert in a Transit van, we were hard at work testing the Transit Wagon to find out how good it was at hauling a group of eight people. OK, so it wasn’t work, really…we were touring central California’s wine country with some friends from out of town. But that’s beside the point.
“Wagon” is what Ford calls its vans with passenger seats in them, and the largest Transit Wagon offers enough padded expanse for 15 backsides. Since we run neither a small school nor an airport shuttle, we opted for the 10-passenger, medium-roof model with the base 3.7-liter V-6 engine. “Base” is somewhat a misnomer here, as this spirited double-overhead-cam engine produces a silky smooth 275 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque, more than enough for our impromptu tour-bus operation. Our guests found the seats comfortable, and taller passengers appreciated the adequate legroom and 6 feet of interior height.
If you have a large family — or a lot of friends — this is a vehicle that offers a place for everyone and a carlike driving experience. The Wagon is back.
— Chris Hemer
Jayco | 574-825-5861 | www.jayco.com
John L. Stein served as a charter editor of Automobile magazine and road-test editor of Cycle, the world’s largest motorcycle magazine. His expertise stems from decades of automotive, motorcycle, truck, trailer and marine product testing. Competing at Daytona and Sebring sharpened his analytical skills — as did racing a kangaroo through Australia’s outback on a motorcycle.