It’s hard to overstate the impact the Ford Transit Custom has had on the UK’s light commercial vehicle sector since its launch in late 2012.
It rapidly established itself as the nation’s best-selling van ahead of its big brother, the Transit. Ford has totted up sales of 206,000 in under six years and claims that if the Transit brand as a whole was an original vehicle manufacturer (OVM) in its own right, it would be the eighth most popular manufacturer in the UK – including passenger cars as well as LCVs.
Iain Brooks, CV product marketing manager for Ford of Britain, points out the Custom was the sixth best-selling vehicle overall in the UK last year.
Ominously for all the other brands in the marketplace trying to hang onto Ford’s coat tails, the manufacturer is confident, as fleet director Owen Gregory puts it, that “the new product will build upon the success of the current one”.
The facelifted Transit Custom went on sale just ahead of the CV Show where it took a prominent place on Ford’s stand.
The engine line-up is based on the 2.0-litre Ecoblue introduced in 2016 with outputs of 105hp, 130hp and 170hp, but new to the range when it comes on board in the summer will be the Econetic (based on the 105hp unit), which delivers an official 49.6mpg with CO2 of 148g/km – a 6% improvement over the most efficient current van. Available in short-wheelbase form only the Econetic features a unique engine calibration, auto stop-start, low rolling-resistance tyres,
Ford’s Acceleration Control device and a fixed 62mph speed limiter.
Trim levels for the Transit Custom range are Base, Trend, Limited and Sport Van, with prices, excluding VAT, going from £20,995 to £32,000.
Chris Hamilton, chief designer for Ford of Europe, explains the brand has given the updated Custom a new front end with a three-bar upper grille that ties in with the design of the Fiesta and Focus cars. The passenger-carrying Tourneo gets a five-bar grille that Hamilton says is not so hard-wearing.
He says durability has also been enhanced by the addition of a protective, removable panel to guard against scrapes to the underside after Ford discovered the original Transit Custom would occasionally ‘ground’ when traversing speed humps and ramps. Hamilton also draws attention to a new more aerodynamic fender design, but it is to the interior that Ford has made the biggest changes with the introduction of more storage space and technology carried over from the car range.
The results are class-leading and, indeed, authentically car-like.
As Hamilton says : “It’s not [just] a van with seats.”
It’s out on the road that the Sport Van comes into its own – although it has to be said there are no slouches in the Custom range.
The driving position is as good as it gets in an LCV, rake and reach steering adjustment is included on all Custom variants, and the short gear stick is within easy reach of the driver. The gear change is snappy and precise and offers a more dynamic drive than the six-speed auto, which we sampled on a 130hp Limited van. The steering wheel is small but pleasingly chunky to hold while the steering itself is nicely weighted and directs the van exactly where you want.
It almost goes without saying that the 170hp engine is as keen as mustard and delivers the sort of performance more readily associated with hot-hatch passenger cars, and a payload of more than 800kg and a 6.0m3 load space are testament to the L1H1 Sport Van’s practicality too.