Which is probably just as well, because the price of the UK’s dominant van is going up by around £800 as Ford joins the rest of the industry in meeting the European Commission’s more stringent emissions regulations coming into force for light commercial vehicles at the end of 2011.
The need to fit expensive particulate filters and other tweaks designed to bring down NOx and other local air pollutants explain the rise, but Ford has taken the opportunity to make a number of changes designed to cut vehicle operator’s costs.
The new, significantly more efficient, Duratorq 2.2 TDCi diesel engine replaces the previous 2.2 and 2.4 diesels, and comes in 100, 125 and 140hp iterations for both front and rear-wheel drive, and also in 155hp for the rear-driven alternative.
As well as increased service intervals, up from 15,000 to 20,000 miles, Ford is increasing its focus on reducing fuel economy with not one but two models under the low-emissions Econetic badging, which started on the car range before recently migrating to commercial vehicles.
Driven here is the short-wheelbase 280 Econetic, which we’ll come to shortly, but for operators of heavier vehicles, there’s also a new long-wheelbase medium roof 125hp Transit 350 Econetic. With 90% of the load volume and an increased payload compared with the rear-wheel drive high-roof 350, Ford is pushing those who drive heavy vans to reconsider their needs, claiming the Econetic would save more than £3000 on fuel alone versus the traditional big-selling rear-wheel drive 350, leading Ford MD Steve Clary to question why anyone, apart from those that need to tow, would choose the RWD over the Econetic.
But that vehicle is a test drive for another day. At the recent launch event for the Euro5 diesels, we were given the opportunity to sample the other Econetic model. Following on from the first, pre-Euro5 Transit Econetic, the Euro5 range has a short-wheelbase 280 optimised for efficiency. Claimed to be 8.5% more efficient than the previous Econetic, that already claimed an 11% gain on the standard model, Ford is now quoting 178g/km – dropping to 173g/km with the optional 62mph speed limiter – and an official fuel consumption figure of 43.5mpg.
Before we’re even out of the car park it’s obvious that Ford has made a big step forward regarding refinement. The complete annihilation of diesel clatter is impressive, thanks in part to increased noise suppression, as well as a series of small developments including a lowered compression ratio that allows increased power, greater efficiency and reduced noise. It’s also evident on the move, primarily at cruising speed, although engine noise is still prevalent under acceleration.
The new gearbox – six-speeds is now standard for all Transits – is sourced from the Ford Mondeo for front-wheel drive Transits, and actually provides the clichéd car-like shift Ford claims it would, while the efficiency boost of taller top-end gears is noticeable without being a hindrance to acceleration at higher speed. The Econetic model features the switchable 70mph speed limiter that gently kicks into action almost unnoticeably when you reach the motorway speed limit. It’s a refreshing change from the more brutal systems sometimes found, and almost makes you think that the van has just reached a natural velocity rather than an electronically controlled maximum. The Eco Pack – stop/start system and speed limiter – fitted as standard to the Econetic models, will be an option across the rest of the Transit range.
The external changes of silver grille and blue badge rather than red are designed to give the Euro5 Transit a residual value boost by making the new more efficient vehicles easily identified as used models a couple of years from now. The other indicator for UK vehicles, while not on the early-build models available to test, will be daytime running lights. Options added for 2012 include hill launch assist, a rear parking camera and an audio upgrade featuring DAB digital radio, Bluetooth and USB connectivity.
The Econetic 280 SWB is the peak of Ford’s across-the-board efficiency improvements for the Euro5 Transit, making the vehicle a more sensible ownership proposition than ever before. The refinement improvement and reduced fuel costs will appeal to driver and owner respectively, and represent a successful revision for Ford. Just remember how much fuel you’re saving when you take in the average £800 price rise for the new model.
Though the new Transit is a step up in price from its predecessor, that’s not a worry for the brand. “We’re not hiding from the price rises, we had to do it because of the technology,” Ford’s UK commercial vehicle boss Steve Clary tells What Van?
He says the efficiency boosts more than cover the extra cost, with fuel savings of at least £1000 on most like-for-like models.
The move from 15,000 to 20,000 mile service intervals also brings cost savings. “We’ve got to get the whole life cost message out to fleets, and contract hire, that the price comes down due to service, maintenance and repair costs,” says Clary. Ford has increased the service intervals as a result of an increased sump oil capacity. “Service intervals are driven by degradation of the oil, the engine could go further, there’s no doubt about that,” he says. “But we were told by customers that unplanned downtime is the worst thing you could possibly do. From a duty of care and unscheduled downtime perspective, customers are telling us they still want one-year inspections.” Clary said there is a whole-life reduction in SMR cost, despite a small increase in the cost of servicing as there’s more oil to put in.
The new Transit comes as Ford passed the 6.3m mark for production since the first one was launched 46 years ago.
Significant refinement and economy improvements, especially with the Econetic models, but it does come at a rising cost