As we say goodbye to our impressive long-term Ford Transit Custom, Steve Banner reflects on the good and the bad of half a year spent in the company of our 2013 Van of the Year
After almost 3700 miles of glitch-free driving we are saying farewell to our long-term test long-wheelbase Ford Transit Custom with a good deal of regret. It is by far and away the best Transit we have ever driven.
Ford’s latest offering is way ahead of its predecessors – and ahead of most of its competitors to – when it comes to ride, handling, build quality and in a host of other ways. Anybody who seriously supposes that the closure of the Southampton assembly plant, where the Transit was produced for many years, will result in sales declining steeply in the UK had better think again in the light of what we have experienced over the past few months.
That is not to say that the Transit Custom is perfect. The heating and ventilation controls are badly positioned – the passengers can get to grips with them far more easily than the driver can – and the little light that tells you whether the (optional) air-conditioning system is on or off is barely visible from behind the wheel.
Then there is the question of fuel consumption. While the official claimed combined figure is a shade under 41mpg we were unable to improve on 34mpg. As has long been the case, nob operator would realistically expect to match the official figures, and getting 83% of the combined figure is a decent result.
Of course, some of it may relate to us periodically ignoring the little green arrow that illuminates on the dashboard when you need to get busy with the easy-shifting six-speed manual box and change up a gear. It may also relate to our demonstrator's guilty secret. It is – quite rightly – limited to 70mph on the grounds of fuel economy, road safety and legal compliance. Hit the Eco button to the right of the steering wheel, however, and the restriction is immediately cancelled. As law-abiding citizens, we naturally kept our fingers well away from that ever-so-tempting switch.
With a 6.8m3 cargo area accessible from the rear and from the nearside our Transit Custom proved capable of swallowing all sorts of cargo, from defunct electrical equipment and a worn-out divan bed destined for the local tip to mountains of garden rubbish. Wrestling the bed on board and wrestling it off again we were almost pathetically grateful for the low loading height afforded by the van’s front-wheel- drive configuration.
We were never anywhere near utilising our 2.9-tonner's 1014kg payload capacity to the full. Something we did do though was move the handy hatch at the bottom of Transit Custom's full-height steel bulkhead and make use of the space under the dual passenger seat to provide some extra length. Doing so extends the load bed from 2922mm to a useful 3452mm – just the job if you happen to be carrying long items that would otherwise stick out through the rear doors.
Pull up the cushion and the area beneath the seat can also be used to conceal power tools, laptops and other items that are best hidden away if you have to park your van somewhere and leave it for a while.
On the subject of parking, our van came in Trend specification, which meant that we benefitted from front and rear parking sensors. Although they started to beep insistently when we were still some distance away from anything that we might bump into, erring on the side of caution is no bad thing. That’s especially the case if you are at the wheel of a vehicle with an opaque bulkhead and rear doors.
So would we buy a Transit Custom if we needed a van of this size? It would undoubtedly be on our shopping list.
The Transit Custom is now at the very top of the class, rivalling Volkswagen’s excellent Transporter, and Ford has narrowed the gap between the two models so there’s nothing to choose, especially with the Custom’s class-leading innovation and driving dynamics.
Let’s hope the Transit Custom’s big brother, the very American-looking 2.0-tonne Transit, is as good as its sibling when it goes on sale next year.