Ford Transit Sportvan— April 2007
Sunday, April 22, 2007
Other manufacturers already have 'sporty' versions of their products on the price list, notably Mercedes with the Vito Sport, Vauxhall's Sportives and Volkswagen's Transporter Sportline. Until now, however, Ford has made a conscious effort to steer clear of this marketing approach.
Ford has an enviable reputation for its sporting prowess over the years, both on the race track and in the forests. It all began with that momentous 1-2-3 win at Le Mans in 1966 when the GT40s wiped the smile off Ferrari's smug face and continues to this day with the Focus WRC.
It exhibited a prototype of a Fiesta SportVan at last year's Commercial Vehicle Show, but was at pains not to make a big brouhaha.
This year things are very different. Not only will the sporty Fiesta Van be very much in evidence, but commercial vehicle director, Steve Kimber, will be whisking the covers off the latest addition to the UK's best selling panel van range, the Transit SportVan.
Kimber will not be alone on the Ford stand first thing on the Tuesday morning of this year's CV Show. He will be ably assisted in the big unveil by diminutive German racing driver Sabine Schmidt, the queen of the Nurburgring.
Schmidt came to prominence in the UK thanks to her appearance on Top Gear when she frightened the living daylights out of presenter Richard Hammond who was in the passenger seat of a standard road-going Transit while she attempted a lap of the 'ring in under 10 minutes to beat the time set by co-presenter Jeremy Clarkson in a diesel-powered Jaguar.
She didn't manage to top Clarkson's time, but it was a close-run thing and a sterling effort.
Schmidt was over in the UK earlier in the year to drive the Transit SportVan on the test track at Ford's Technical Centre in Essex. The resultant video can be seen on the Ford stand and shortly after the show we will post a link to the video on the What Van? web site.
Ford has produced 'special' Transits in the past — Supervan, Transit WRC and Connect XPress — but these have been one-offs designed purely for promotional purposes. Sportvan should be viewed more as a special edition model and is up for grabs to anyone wishing to make a bit of a statement while going about their work.
Based on a standard front-wheel drive short-wheelbase Transit, SportVan really stands out from the crowd. It's wrapped in unique Performance Blue paintwork with GT40-like white bonnet stripes, has twin exhaust pipes and sits on 18in alloy wheels fitted with low profile 235/45 tyres; there will be no bumping up kerbs in this van!
The front grille and bumper are body-coloured, as are the rear spoiler, front air dam, side skirts and wheelarch extensions. Mudflaps all-round complete the external cosmetics.
With Transit being so high profile as far as the general media is concerned Ford would have been foolish to endow the SportVan with an engine outside of the existing line-up in the range. It would have been accused of irresponsibility at the very least.
With this in mind SportVan is powered by the standard 2.2-litre TDCi which produces 130 bhp. Take it from us, this engine provides perfectly acceptable performance thanks to its high torque output of 229 lb/ft which is available from as low as 1,600rpm.
It isn't just SportVan's exterior that has received a makeover; the interior gains a host of goodies as well, on top of the standard remote central locking — including deadlocking — driver's airbag, ABS and ESP.
Lucky owners get full leather seats, air conditioning, in-dash six CD player with steering column remote controls, cruise control, electric windows and door mirrors (heated as well), tinted glass and leather steering wheel and gearknob.
The list doesn't end there. Rain-sensing wipers, automatic headlights, front fog lights. a passenger airbag and a load area lining kit.
The on-the-road price of this latest addition to the Transit line-up (excl VAT) is £18,750, a £2,000 premium for what equates to about £3,000 of additional goodies.
The Transit Connect sits inbetween the Fiesta Van and Transit so we would be surprised if Ford didn't take this opportunity to complete the SportVan range with a Connect prototype of some type, slated to be on sale towards the end of the year. Think Connect Xpress with the 110 bhp TDCi engine and the same blue paint job with the white stripes from its bigger brother and you're probably not far off the mark.
The SportVans, however, will not be the only news emanating from the Ford stand at the show. Ford will also be introducing a 4.6 tonne derivative and announcing the availability of an all-new diesel powerplant. We have sparse information on the engine, but can reveal that it has five cylinders, a first in the long history of the Transit. We will post full details on our web site when we have them.
Ford has to tread carefully when attaching the 'Sport' tag to Transit in particular and we think it has got it just about right. We still reckon that the turbo boost could have been cranked up a tad, but Ford is playing it safe.