Ford's Turkish-built Transit Connect has become the International Van of the Year 2003, winning a record 126 points out of a maximum of 140 from the 20-member panel of the Association of Commercial and Specialised Vehicle Editors (ACE).

The larger Transit line won the same award in 2001 with a score of 112.

The Transit Connect was rated first or tied for first by all of the 20 jury members from the four finalists for the 2003 award.

"Ford, unlike several of its competitors, did not use car-derived major components or parts in its construction. The result is a no-compromise commercial vehicle with a lot of designed-in technical content," said jury chairman Pieter Wieman.

Ford designed the Connect to compete in the European small van market dominated by PSA Peugeot Citroen, Renault and Fiat.

The Transit Connect is offered in either high roof, long wheelbase or a normal roof, short wheelbase forms. The first competes in the sub-one tonne sector of the European medium commercial vehicle market while the latter is designed for the light commercial vehicle market. Like its rivals, the Ford is also offered in a five-seat passenger and cargo-carrying 'combi' form called the Tourneo Connect.

Buyers choose from 75 and 90PS 1.8 litre diesel engines or a 1.8 litre 115PS petrol engine.

A wide choice of bulkhead and sliding side-load door configurations are also offered as well as a fold-flat passenger seat and flexible load restraint system allowing customers to install their own racking or shelving without drilling holes in the vehicle.

Options include passenger and side airbags and anti-lock brakes.

Production of the Transit Connect van line began at Ford's new Kocaeli plant in Turkey, about 80 km east of Istanbul, last summer. The model is already on sale in Turkey and Britain and will soon be launched in most other European markets.