Ford’s Transit vans have dominated the UK light commercial vehicle market for 50 years and the positive response given to the launch of the Transit Custom last year, including it becoming What Van? 2013 Van of the Year, suggests the status quo is set to continue for a good while yet.
The manufacturer has moved to draw a clear line between the one-tonne Custom and the heavy two-tonne Transit that will follow in 2014, both in naming and styling. It has also broadened the Custom range, with two models at opposing ends of the scale: the Econetic, positioned as the most efficient model in the line-up, and the more generously endowed and striking SWB Sport 290 van (see opposite page). The 290 nomenclature designates a gross vehicle mass of 2900kg, with a payload of 1075kg. The Econetic, on the other hand, comes with a choice of five models covering three payloads and in short- and long-wheelbase form. Both versions are front-wheel drive and are powered by Ford’s 2.2-litre Duratorq TDCi diesel engine, but whereas the Econetic is propelled by 100hp the Sport is harnessed to an output of 155hp.
Fuel consumption on the Econetic is kept down by a series of features not included as standard on the
other derivatives in the line-up. A stop/start system works seamlessly in traffic and a gear-change indicator helps to encourage frugal driving habits. Ford’s Acceleration Control system counters aggressive driving styles by progressively limiting acceleration as engine speed increases, which the manufacturer claims can improve fuel economy by up to 15%. The Econetic also gets a switchable 70mph speed limiter, a coolant bypass valve for a quicker warm-up, optimised gearing with a 6% longer final drive ratio, low rolling-resistance tyres and aerodynamic wheel trims.
The result of these fuel-saving devices, according to Ford, is combined consumption of 44.8mpg and CO2 emissions of 166g/km. To the Custom Econetic’s credit, its 100hp engine did not seem to be unduly hindered by these constraints upon its performance, even with a half-load in the back. A 62mph fixed speed limiter can also be specified and this, says Ford, will improve economy to 46.3mpg and cut CO2 by a further 4g/km.
The cabin in the Econetic, as in the Sport van, does not offer overhead shelves, but otherwise the stowage provisions are good and the interior environment overall is light, roomy and comfortable. There is ample space to stash a bottle of water in the door buckets and the cup holders are stylishly moulded into the shape of both of the doors. There is also a lockable glovebox with space for an A4 file.
Unlike some single cab vans, the three-person bench seat would probably accommodate three adults in relative comfort, and we managed a driver plus two children with no bother at all.
The dashboard-mounted gear stick means there is plenty of room to move around inside the cab too. It is not advisable, however, to attempt to reach the temperature controls while on the road – they are a bit of a stretch from the driver’s seat and in a slightly awkward-to- reach position behind the gear lever. On the Econetic derivative, as is the case with the entry Base trim, manual aircon is not standard but can be added for an ex-VAT price of £600. This may seem like an unnecessary expense to most operators bearing in mind the UK’s usual summer climate, but driving the Econetic in the July heatwave this year made us aware just how much a decent system can improve the in-cab environment, particularly during a busy working day. Wind blowing through wide open windows can also play havoc with any paperwork on the dashboard that’s not securely held in place.
The Econetic comes with AM/FM radio, with USB, Bluetooth and steering wheel-mounted audio
controls as standard, but in addition we had the ICE Pack 5 option, which includes satnav, DAB radio and Ford’s Sync communication system. This will set you back £310 excluding VAT.
The canvass-covered seats were cool and comfy in hot weather, while the steering wheel is adjustable for height and reach across all models in the line-up, unlike the Custom’s predecessor. The driver’s seat, being eight-way adjustable and equipped with an armrest, can be manoeuvred to suit all shapes and sizes. By contrast, the passenger bench seat is rigidly fixed in an upright position, which is likely to become uncomfortable after a prolonged period.
The layout of the dashboard, including the oval-shaped central console flanked by vertical air vents, is one of the Custom range’s design highlights and a radical step up from previous Transits. The provision of two 12V power points in the cab is impressive, one of which is found in a lidded compartment in front of the steering wheel alongside a USB/iPod port.
A full-steel bulkhead separates the cab from the load bay. There is also a clever load-through hatch at the base of the bulkhead behind the passenger seats, which enables ladders or pipes of up to 3m long to be stowed in the load area. The metal flap to the hatch is magnetically secured when either open or closed, and is standard on all Customs not specified with just a single passenger seat.
When not used to accommodate lengthy items protruding from the load bay, the passenger bench seat can be lifted to access a useful additional in-cab storage box. This means occupants do not have to squeeze their legs around tool bags or other equipment.
The 6.0m3 load space houses eight tie-down loops, and the four powerful LED lights on the ceiling are a worthwhile option at £80 excluding VAT if you need to load and unload in the dark. Access to the cargo bay is via a sliding door on the passenger side or through twin rear doors that open to 90 ° and then on
to 180 ° through releasing the stays. The load floor is protected by vinyl lining.
With a 2.9m wheelbase and 16-inch steel wheels, the Custom Econetic has a kerb-to-kerb turning
circle of 11.6m. It does not get parking sensors as standard but we would strongly advise speccing them if squeezing in and out of tight spots is part of the daily routine. An outlay of £283 excluding VAT would be money well spent if it helped to prevent a ding or insurance claim.
An economical, practical and refined medium van with impressive levels of standard kit and a capable engine.