By Andy Enright
Sometimes buying the default option isn't always best. Manufacturers get lazy over time and rely on customers not doing their homework, cutting costs in the background and coining a short term profit. It was never like that with the Ford Transit. It's been an easy recommendation for so long that it must have been tempting for Ford to rest on its laurels a little, to feel that they didn't need to invest quite so much in this byword for medium vans. Unfortunately for Ford's opponents, the Transit's just become better and better. Here's how to track down a good used fifth-generation model.
2//4/5dr medium/large van (2.2 diesel [Sport Van])
The Ford Transit's history starts way back in 1965 but we're going to press the fast forward button and spool quickly past the Mark Two (1978-1986), the Mark Three (1986-2000) and the Mark Four (2000-2006). The model we look at here was built between 2006 and 2013 and while it wasn't a new from the ground up design, it was nevertheless a fairly extensive refresh of the Mark Four; certainly enough to get its own model designation. Uniquely, Ford has always attempted to do something with this product that no other brand has felt able to manage, namely to straddle two distinct LCV market sectors - medium-sized vans and the very largest ones - with one single product. Vauxhall needed its Vivaro and Movano models to do this, Renault its Traffic and Master, Mercedes its Vito and Sprinter, Volkswagen its Transporter and Crafter - and the list goes on. Ford contends that this is because such rival products are less flexible and adaptable than this Transit - and the list of its derivatives seems to bear this out. From 78 variants back in 1965, by the time of this MK5 model, the range had grown to a choice of over 600 entities, including an enormous Jumbo van model to take on the largest of its rivals. Mid 2006 saw the launch of the Sport Van, a limited production Van featuring the 130PS 2.2 diesel engine with additional styling parts including body stripes and 18-inch alloy wheels. Late 2007 saw the launch of the 140PS powerplant for front wheel drive models, replacing the 130PS unit and coming complete with the VMT6 6-speed manual transaxle to cope with the extra power. The same 6-speed transaxle was introduced to volume mid-power front-wheel drive Transit variants in late 2008 when the 110PS unit saw its power increased to 115PS. In 2009, the "coated Diesel Particulate Filter" (cDPF) - designed to meet higher emission standards than the Euro IV requirement - was introduced as an option on all diesel engines. The Transit ECOnetic version was launched in summer 2009. Based on a Transit 280 SWB Van with 2.2-litre 115PS Duratorq TDCi power, this variant quickly became a fleet favourite with its 39.2mpg economy and 189g/km emissions. By 2013, the development of the MK5 model had run its course and Ford decided to replace the range with not one but two different designs. The Transit Custom arrived first in early 2013 to satisfy customers in the medium-sized Volkswagen Transporter/Vauxhall Vivaro/Peugeot Expert/Mercedes Vito market. Then late in 2013, a larger model, designated simply 'Transit', was launched to take on bigger competitors in the Volkswagen Crafter/Vauxhall Movano/Peugeot Boxer/Mercedes Sprinter segment. With over seven million vans sold, the Transit is undoubtedly a winning formula. It just keeps getting reinvented. What You Pay (used_pay)
What You Get
As for rivals, well they're many and varied of course. Short and medium wheelbase Transit models compete mainly with Medium-sized vans like Vauxhall's Vivaro, Renault's Traffic, Volkswagen's Transporter, Mercedes' Vito, Peugeot's Expert and Citroen's Dispatch. Long wheelbase and Jumbo Transit variants in contrast, are targeted more at large van segment rivals - the Vauxhall Movano/Renault Master design for example. Or the Mercedes Sprinter/VW Crafter collaboration. And of course the vehicle you'll find variously badged as either a Peugeot Boxer, a Citroen Relay or a Fiat Ducato. Whichever Transit trim level you end up getting, you should find that your vehicle will come decently equipped. With virtually all models, you can expect to find features like tinted glass, electric windows, a decent quality MP3-compatible CD stereo with steering wheel remote controls and an AUX jack for portable music players, a Thatcham Category 1 alarm, a sliding side door, a bulkhead and a remote central locking system that's configurable so operators can choose which doors are unlocked in which order when selected buttons on the water-proof, self-charging remote key are pressed. Safety-wise, though only a single driver's airbag is standard (front passenger and side curtain airbags were only optional), there's ABS braking with electronic brakeforce distribution to make it more effective and emergency Brake Assist, plus ESP stability control is included across the range.
What You Pay
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What to Look For
The Transit is built to be extremely tough, and has benefited from many years of continual development. The interior isn't the last word in sophistication but it is hardwearing. The vehicle was covered from new by a three-year/60,000 mile warranty which also included Ford breakdown assistance. Check for damage to locks, tired rear suspension, rogered clutches and brakes and make sure that the load bay tie-downs aren't bent or broken. The engines tend to be very rugged but issues with batteries and alternator wiring have been reported.
(approx prices, based on a 2009 Transit 2.2 FWD panel van) As with most Ford models, spare parts are reasonably priced and very plentiful. You'll be able to pick up a starter motor for around £50 while an alternator shouldn't cost you much more. A front bumper is around £45. Small wonder these vehicles are so popular. The cost is peanuts to replace most parts.
On the Road
We remember being hugely impressed with the fourth-generation Transit, launched back in 2000. We got to speak to the design engineers and were surprised at what importance they placed on the way the vehicle drove. The fifth-generation model took this a stage further with steering feel and response simply unheard of amongst LCVs. Like any commercial vehicle, it handles better fully loaded, but even in the unladen state, cornering response is predictable and body roll well controlled. You'll find it even better if you're one of the few who end up at the wheel of a Transit with rear-wheel drive, rather than the usual front-driven layout. Not that that's why customers typically opt for rear-wheel drive: superior grip when heavily laden is just one of the reasons why this configuration can handle heavier payloads and tow more easily, hauling a braked trailer of up to 2200kgs in most guises. So easily will it do so in fact that for many, the All-wheel drive system also developed to run with the Transit platform is not really needed. All of which means that it's just as well that the brakes are up to the job. This was something Ford improved in the 2006 model change, adding disc brakes all-round. You'll also want this vehicle to be manoeuvrable, hence a decently tight turning circle that varies between 10.8 and 13.3m on most mainstream models. And should you be at an uphill junction, standard Hill Launch Assist will help you get away smoothly. Under the bonnet, the range is based around one engine, a Euro5-compatible 2.2-litre TDCi Duratorq unit developed in conjunction with Peugeot Citroen which can operate with a clever Auto-Stop-Start system. Go for a later model van and it's offered in three states of tune for front-wheel drive customers - with either 100, 125 or 140PS. Buyers of the rear-driven model also have a more powerful version of this unit, giving them 155PS. All of these units feel usefully pokier than they did in their feebler Euro4 guises, with a surge of power from just 1,500rpm and even the entry-level TDCi 100 developing a useful 310Nm of torque, a figure rising as high as 385Nm is you opt for the 155PS rear-driven version. The other thing that long-time Transit regulars will notice at the wheel with these engines is how much quieter they are thanks in part to the 6-speed manual transmission with its longer gearing. And of course the provision of a standard bulkhead across the range helps further here. It's all a world away from the rattly old TDdi diesels that earlier Transit buyers had to put up with.
The Ford Transit has been part of the national identity since 1965, though not so much these days since the Southampton construction plant was closed and production transferred to Turkey. The MK5 models that rolled from the lines between 2006 and 2013 were the last British-built ones and a testament to what made the Transit such an icon. They're tough, they drive well, there's a dizzying array of body styles, drivetrain layouts and engine choices on offer and they're plentiful on the used market. This means that you can always afford to be fussy when shopping for a used Transit. If you don't like what you see, a better kept one will not be far away. In other words, while you can go wrong, there's really no excuse to.