Ford adding an automatic transmission system to its Transit line-up is likely to draw groans of resignation, not to mention howls of dread, from its main rivals in the large van sector.
Automatics are particularly favoured by multi-drop supermarket delivery fleets because they not only reduce driver fatigue but also guard against heavy-footed drivers regularly obliging their employers to fork out for replacement clutches.
Iveco, with its eight-speed automatic Daily, and Mercedes, with its seven-speed Sprinter Auto, have dominated this segment of the market, but they now have to contend with the market-leading ‘blue oval’ brand muscling in on the action with its own six-speed Selectshift automatic Transit. These three will also shortly be joined by another heavyweight, VW, entering the fray with an eight-speed automatic version of its new Crafter.
Ford offers Selectshift with 130hp and 170hp derivatives of its 2.0-litre Ecoblue engine on front-wheel drive Transits only, which sets it apart from the Daily and Sprinter that are driven from the rear – the Crafter is likely to be available as an automatic in both FWD and RWD.
All the automatic Transits come with stop/start to help keep fuel costs in check, and prices start at £27,065 on the road (all prices exclude VAT) for the Base 130hp version. The Transit line-up overall is priced from £24,415 on the road.
Ford claims it engineered the Selectshift auto specifically for the Transit Custom and Transit and adds that the system has a new torque converter and external casing to optimise refinement, with a maximum torque capacity of 415Nm.
We got behind the wheel of a 170hp Transit Trend – the higher of the two trims available – in the generously proportioned long-wheelbase, high-roof (L3H3) format. This van comes with a load volume of 13.0m3, a load length of 3,494mm and a load box height of 2,125mm. It can hump a gross payload of 1,321kg too.
The highest-roof, long-wheelbase 2.3 Iveco Daily Himatic offers a payload of 1,185kg but a whopping 18m3 of load space, while the 7G-Tronic 2.1-litre LWB high-roof Mercedes Sprinter can accommodate 14m3 of load volume but just 1,035kg of payload.
In addition to the Base spec model, Trend brings heated windscreen, power-heated folding mirrors, auto headlights and windscreen wipers, front fog lights, cruise control – an obvious bonus for operators carrying big loads over long distances – Ford’s connectivity Sync with emergency assist package, leather-trimmed steering wheel and gear knob, a lockable glove box, an easy-clean floor lining in the load box, cornering headlights, and front and rear parking sensors – an absolute must on a van this size, in our opinion.
We reckon another essential is air-conditioning, especially in hot weather, but you’ll have to select this as an option for £600. The high-roof (H3 roofline) configuration of the model tested here adds £800 onto the price of the H2 version, and the Premium Visibility Pack brought along a rear-view camera and lane-keeping alert with driver alert for another £600.
We also got the Ice Pack 15 navigation system, which enhances the Trend’s connectivity kit with DAB radio, Sync 3 with a six-inch touchscreen, Bluetooth, USB, voice control and Emergency Assist. Customers may wince at the £1,175 price tag, however, particularly as Bluetooth is included in Base trim and Ford Sync with Emergency Assist is added with Trend anyway.
As is the norm for Ford vans, the L3H3 auto is an excellent drive with precise steering combining well with the slick automatic transmission to bring the best out of the 170hp drivetrain that delivers generous torque across the rev range. The L3H3 Transit’s sure-footed handling on both urban and out-of-town routes is particularly impressive for such a large van.
|Ford Transit Trend 350 L3H3 2.0 TDCi 170hp FWD|
|Price (ex VAT) £33,715|
|Price range (ex VAT) £24,415-£36,565|
|Insurance Group 46|
|Service intervals 36,000mls|
|Load length 3,494mm|
|Load width (min/max) 1,392/1,784mm|
|Load bay height 2,125mm|
|Gross payload 1,321kg|
|Load volume 13.0m3|
|Engine size/power 1,996cc/170hp|
|Combined fuel economy 40.4mpg|
The Selectshift auto transmission is a significant addition to what is already an impressive Transit line-up. The market leader's rivals should be afraid – very afraid.