Ford's mid-range Transit Custom van offers an even stronger LCV proposition with EcoBlue diesel engine technology. Jonathan Crouch takes a look at what's on offer.
Ten Second Review
Ford's Transit has ruled the British large LCV market for around half a century, its very name synonymous with its purpose. In the past, this may have had a great deal to do with tradition and the vast choice of derivatives on offer but today's sales success is very much down to quality of product. Take this Transit Custom, now imprved with more efficiency EcoBlue diesel engines. It slots into the range beneath the largest model, known simply as 'Transit', and is there to take on Vito and Vivaro-sized Medium-sized vans in the volume part of the LCV sector. It's a very complete commercial vehicle indeed.
Think of a large-ish van and it's a pretty sure bet that you'll be thinking of this one, Ford's Transit, the self-proclaimed 'backbone of Britain'. And it's true, thousands of British businesses do indeed depend on this vehicle. So successful has it been on these shores since its original launch back in 1965 that its very name has almost passed into our language, a byword for van versatility. This Custom version hits the sales sweet spot in the medium range LCV marketplace for a vehicle not too big - and not too small. Here is Ford's answer to European market leaders like Volkswagen's Transporter, Mercedes' Vito, the Peugeot Expert, the Citroen Dispatch, the Renault Trafic and what on these shores, we know as the Vauxhall Vivaro. To deal with such tough opposition, the Blue Oval brand is offering a more efficient EcoBlue diesel engine range and, as usual, an enormous range of choice to British businesses, with over 300 Transit Custom derivatives on offer. Not bad when you remember that there were just 75 variants available when the original model Transit was first launched back in 1965. As a result, whether today your large van needs are to carry packages or people, then this Ford remains an option that you simply can't ignore.
Under the bonnet, the big news is the replacement of the old 2.2 TDCi diesel this LCV was supplied with at launch with a new generation 2.0-litre Ford EcoBlue engine. It's offered in 105PS, 130PS and 170PS power ratings, each of which offers increased power and torque compared to before. Improved low-end pulling power - with 20 per cent more torque at 1,250rpm - delivers more flexible and responsive performance in everyday driving. There's also now the option of a smoother, more efficient automatic gearbox, a 6-speed SelectShift auto transmission. Either way, there's enough pulling power to be able to tow a braked trailer of up to 2.0 tonnes. The other thing you notice at the wheel with these engines is how much quieter they are thanks in part to the 6-speed manual transmission with its long gearing. And of course the provision of a standard bulkhead across the range helps further here. The sprightly handling and performance makes it important that the brakes are up to the job. This was something Ford improved in later versions of the previous generation model, which by the end of its life featured disc brakes all-round. You'll also want this vehicle to be manoeuvrable, hence a decently tight turning circle that varies between 11.6m (kerb-to-kerb) and 12.2m (wall-to-wall). And should you be at an uphill junction, standard Hill Launch Assist will help you get away smoothly.
Design and Build
A van needs to look smart, modern and professional. This one does, with signature kinetic design features that bring a sportier stance and bold rising shoulder line, clearly marking out this design as a cargo carrier very much of its time. Inside, the cabin design is very different from what went before, the dash featuring the same herringbone-style layout for stereo and 'phone functions and blue backlit infotainment display that we're used to seeing in the latest Ford passenger cars. Certainly, the cabin itself is a well thought-out piece of designwork, normally a three-seater in straightforward panel van guise or a front two-seater in the double cab-in-van model form. Getting comfortable at the wheel is certainly a lot easier than it was before thanks not only to a height-adjustable driver's seat but also, at last, to the provision of a steering wheel that can be adjusted for both height and reach. Most models get the option of being able to fold down the middle of the three seats to create an impromptu desk big enough for a laptop or a clipboard with two cupholders, a pentray and an elasticated band that'll keep your paperwork in place. We also like the way that folding the base cushions of both the passenger seats forward opens up a roomy, concealed 93-litre storage area for hiding away valuable items like tools.
Market and Model
Let's start with what you'll pay. There are several hundred Transit Custom derivatives from which to choose, with most being centred around the Panel Van bodystyle. Adding people to the packaging mix means you might want to look at the Double-Cab-in-Van bodystyle with its extra rearward seats in front of the load bay. Or, if you want to give the whole space over to the carriage of people, there's a 9-seater Kombi minibus. If you want something even more luxurious than that, there's a smarter, more luxurious 8 or 9-seater Tourneo passenger bodystyle, but Ford really now considers this as a passenger car product and a decent alternative to really large MPVs for bigger families. Here though, our main focus is on Transit Custom Panel Vans. Though it is possible, excluding the dreaded VAT, to get yourself into a short wheelbase version of one of these for under £20,000, most models will be sold in the £20,000 to £25,000 bracket that's common to the medium range van class. In rough terms, you need to be looking at adding around £700 to the cost of any given short wheelbase variant if you want to upgrade it to beefier long wheelbase spec. You can also talk to your dealer about the higher roof bodystyle also developed for this van which will only cost a few hundred pounds more. As for rivals, well they're many and varied of course. Short and long wheelbase Transit Custom models compete mainly with Medium-sized vans like Vauxhall's Vivaro, Renault's Traffic, VW's Transporter, Mercedes' Vito, Peugeot's Expert and Citroen's Dispatch. You'll need the fully fledged model just known as 'Transit' (or in Ford-speak as the '2 Tonner') if you want the next class up from this.
Practicalities and Costs
Certainly the bulky stuff should go in OK, with even the lowroof version offering a rear door aperture 1400mm wide and 1340mm high, though of course that'll be higher if you've specified the high roof option. The roof height, along with your selection between short and long wheelbases, will also of course determine your loadspace volume. At the bottom of the range, short wheelbase low roof customers get a very decent 6.0m3, which, thanks to a loadspace length of 2555mm and a class-leading width between the wheelarches of 1,390mm, is enough to make this the only vehicle in the SWB medium range van class able to transport up to three europallets with a one metre-high load. Make use of all that space and you'll be glad of a payload of at least 883kgs. So, in short, you may not need the long wheelbase version we tried, but if you do, then you'll find that the extra 0.37m of length is enough to up the loadspace volume to 6.8m3, while to match it, payload rises to anywhere between 1,014 and 1,414kgs, depending on the Gross Vehicle Weight you choose. Whatever Transit Custom model you choose, it'll get a sliding side door with class-leading height and width (1,320mm high in lowroof form and 1,030mm wide). On to cost of ownership, an area where this model's latest EcoBlue diesel engines really score. Ford claims that fuel efficiency has improved by 13% in comparison to the older 2.2-litre TDCi unit, and it talks of CO2 emissions starting from as little as 157g/km. This engine also delivers extended 2-year/37,000 mile service intervals.
This may be the most sophisticated mid-range Transit van we've yet seen but businesses will still buy it for the same reasons. This Custom model remains such a simple, straightforward one-stop choice and it'll help that it satisfies a wider variety of commercial needs than any other Transit derivative. Across the rest of Europe, Transit models enjoy none of the market dominance that they have in the UK but on the evidence of this improved Custom version, you'd have to wonder whether Continental buyers are missing a trick. That wasn't always the case of course. Ford's dominance in the British LCV sector has traditionally been founded on little more than the fact that UK buyers tended to replace their Transits with another because that was what they'd always done. That may continue, but what is different today is the quality of the product those people are buying into. Very few rivals can these days beat either this Ford's practicality or its day-to-day operating costs. It is, once again, number one for a reason.