The Ford Transit Custom has taken the medium van segment by storm since its launch in November 2012 – the fact that it became the first model to win the What Van? Van of the Year Award for two years running when it retained the prize for 2014 bears testament to its impact.
Interior quality, innovation, styling, equipment and the driving experience have all contributed to its success, while features such as the optional roof rack that folds into the roof, as well as the load-through hatch allowing extra-long items to slide through a gap in the bulkhead leading under the double front-passenger seat, have also met with approval and been imitated by  the likes of Renault and Vauxhall.
Ford has kept the Custom in the spotlight by adding Sport, Econetic and high-roof versions to the line-up. The high-roof model 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 on the range offers more durability than rivals’ composite constructions, and the high-roof Custom is compatible with a roof rack that can carry a 100kg load. Citroen claims that Ford did not introduce the all-steel roof to the sector and draws attention to its own Dispatch medium van, which has had one since 2007, along with its PSA stablemate the Peugeot Expert and, more recently, the model they begat in July 2013, the Toyota Proace.
The largest-capacity Dispatch panel van is the L2H2 model, providing 7.0m3 of load capacity. Citroen has recently introduced a pack consisting of a height-adjustable driver’s seat with armrest and lumbar support, a single passenger seat with an armrest, plus passenger and lateral airbags to the range. Nevertheless, with 10,000 sales in its 12 months since launch, the Custom is setting the pace in the mid-sized van sector, and it is now up to its rivals to respond.
The first heavyweight challengers to break cover are the Vauxhall Vivaro and its sibling, the Renault Trafic. Both debuted at the CV Show at the NEC Birmingham in April. Skin-deep differences include new front ends that chime with the design cues of their respective passenger car stablemates.
Available as a panel van, combi, double-cab or platform cab, the vans go on sale in the UK this autumn, and a new 1.6-litre engine will boast what the partner firms claim is best-in-class mpg. They will be available in single-turbo 90hp and 115hp form, or with 120hp and 140hp as a twin-turbo unit, the more efficient with class-leading official consumption of 49.5mpg and CO2 of 149g/km. The twin-turbo is designed to provide peak torque low down the rev range to boost performance without having to delay gear changes.
The vans’ cabins boast 90 litres of storage space across 14 different compartments including 42 litres of space underneath the passenger seat. A handy work surface can be found by pulling down the centre passenger seat-back.
An ingenious feature is the passenger’s sun visor mirror that has a concave element to it that allows the driver to see into the blind spot created by not being able to look over the shoulder at angled junctions.
Load spaces range from 5.2m3 to 8.6m3, and the manufacturers promise more specification details closer to the vans’ on-sale dates in September. Renault predicts the Trafic could capture 50% of its UK sales.
Nissan has not yet revealed plans for its next medium van – the current Primastar is a rebadged Vivaro/Trafic – but with Renault/Nissan president Carlos Ghosn calling for increased LCV synergies it would be no surprise if it shares the same 1.6 Renault engines.
VW has updated its Transporter Bluemotion to further improve the efficiency of its most environmentally friendly medium van. Priced at £19,245 excluding VAT, the LCV, which is available only as a panel van, has official consumption on the combined cycle of 48.7mpg and CO2 of 153g/km, representing a 3.9mpg improvement in economy and a 13g/km reduction in emissions compared with the previous Bluemotion model. VW achieved the improvements through modifying the engine management system and transmission, using low rolling-resistance tyres, start-stop, battery regeneration systems and cruise control.
“Every aspect of the vehicle’s specification has been optimised to reduce weight and improve aerodynamics,” says VW.
The Transporter Bluemotion is powered by VW’s 2.0-litre 114hp common rail TDI engine.
Mercedes, meanwhile, is aiming to gatecrash VW’s hometown show by launching its new Vito in Hanover in September.
Fiat Professional introduced the Sportivo performance-oriented trim to its line-up in April. The £13,195 Scudo Sportivo 2.0 130 Multijet gains 40hp compared with the equivalent Scudo Tecnico 1.6 90 Multijet.