It’s never been done before, but the Ford Transit Custom has retained the title of What Van? magazine’s Van of the Year.

Having taken the top prize in 2013, the excellence of the new medium-sized Transit has led to its unprecedented success in the 2014 What Van? Awards.

Interior quality, innovation, styling, equipment and the driving experience are all factors in the Transit Custom’s success, as Ford splits its UK market-dominant commercial vehicle offering in half for the first time with the launch of a new full-size Transit large van in 2014 to join the Custom, which has now been on UK roads for more than 12 months.

Innovations such as the load-through hatch allowing extra- long loads to slide through a gap in the bulkhead leading under the double front-passenger seat, and the optional roof rack that folds into the van roof, help make life easier for users, as do features such as the optional LED load area lighting that’s a real boon for anyone working inside their vehicle after dark.

The cabin is class-leading for quality, having been effectively lifted from the car range and sharing its materials and design. Features also migrating across from Ford’s cars include the Sync voice-activation system that instructs the audio and Bluetooth mobile phone controls, plus the likes of a rear-view camera as well as driver and lane-keeping alert systems.

The load area of the short-wheelbase model will take three Europallets, and there is also a long-wheelbase alternative with an extra 367mm of load length, and 0.8m3 more load space.

Engine choices range from 100hp through 125hp to the most powerful 155hp option, all from the same 2.2-litre diesel base, and there are three trim levels of Base, Trend and Limited.

By the end of the third quarter of 2013, 8200 Customs had been registered in the UK from a total of more than 25,000 across Europe, and Ford has added new models at the sport, economy and size extremes of the range during this year, to add to the launch line-up. Starting with the most appealing one of those, the
Sport Van (right), the flagship of the Transit Custom range, arrived this summer. It is the stand-out model thanks to its not-too-subtle sports stripes down the bonnet, as well as the 18-inch alloy wheels with low-profile tyres and a styling kit including body-coloured side skirts, front spoiler and wheel arch extensions, while the interior gets heated part-leather seats and a leather-trimmed gear lever, plus other luxuries such as DAB digital radio and cruise control. It’s powered by the 155hp engine, and the latest version of the Sport Van, a concept that dates back to 2007, is only available in short-wheelbase 290 configuration.

At the other end of the scale is the new Transit Custom Econetic. Ford claims best-in-class efficiency for the one-tonne Econetic model, which offers an official 46.3mpg figure and CO2 emissions of 162g/km, 8% below the previous Econetic model. Powered by the 100hp version of the 2.2-litre diesel, the Econetic is available in short- or long-wheelbase forms and with three different gross vehicle weight alternatives.

Features designed to reduce fuel usage include an innovative Acceleration Control system, which limits acceleration to levels achievable when the vehicle is fully laden, which Ford claims makes a 4-15% difference to real-world fuel use. A stop-start system that shuts the engine off when the van is at a standstill and a switchable 70mph speed limiter are two other features, and Ford has also tweaked the gear ratios, fitted low rolling-resistance tyres with aerodynamic wheel trims and added a coolant bypass valve to speed up the engine’s warm-up phase.

The Econetic, along with the Sport Van, joined the range in early summer 2013, but more recent is the high-roof variant (pictured opposite). For an extra £500 plus VAT, the high-roof Transit Custom offers an extra 20% of load volume via a roof that’s 370mm higher than the regular vehicle, taking maximum loadspace to 8.3m3 with a load area height of 1780mm.

Ford claims the all-steel roof offers more durability than rivals’ composite construction, and the high-roof Custom is compatible with a roof rack that can carry a 100kg load.

The Transit Custom was branded best-in-class for safety by European crash test organisation Euro NCAP following its test late last year, where it scored a maximum five-star result, with praise coming for the availability of the lane-keep assist safety function.

But the Transit Custom’s ability to retain its award is about more than just being an excellent vehicle. In October, Ford launched 100 specialist Transit Centres, which are designed to better serve the light commercial vehicle marketplace. The sites will be upgraded by the end of next year, with the goal of high-tech showrooms designed to minimise vehicle downtime through extended opening hours and elevated aftersales and service standards. The new centres will dovetail with the Transit24 programme announced earlier in 2013, pledging while-you-wait servicing that includes late-night appointments, a response within 20 minutes to online service booking requests, the offer of collection and delivery, and a promise that every vehicle will be washed before being handed back.

This all comes together with the quality of the Transit Custom to make a worthy winner of the What Van? 2014 Van of the Year Award, making history as the first van to hold on to the trophy for a second term.

Whether it will be able to make it a hat-trick of wins will be interesting, especially given the competition coming in the next 12 months, from both within and outside of Ford itself.