The WhatVan? Road Test: Ford Transit Custom
Thursday, April 18, 2013
Since its launch almost 50 years ago the Ford Transit has become an icon for the UK road transport industry. But how good is the latest version? We sampled the new Transit Custom – the What Van? 2013 Van of the Year – to find out.
Completely re-styled both inside and out and with a host of new features and a payload around a tonne, the Transit Custom is the first model in the new line-up to go on sale. Bigger Transit models will appear in dealerships towards the end of this year as the range gradually expands. However, as things stand, the front-wheel drive Custom is on offer with two wheelbases, one roof height, and three different versions of the latest 2.2-litre Duratorq TDCi diesel engine (100hp, 125hp or 155hp). It can be ordered in Base, Trend, Limited or Sport trim, as a van, a Double Cab in Van, a Kombi or a Tourneo, and in low-CO2 Econetic guise. We went for the short-wheelbase 155hp 290 2.9-tonner in Limited trim.
A radical departure from what was on offer before, the latest Transit’s dashboard is nonetheless practical and one of the stand-out features of an appealing interior.
In Limited trim it is possible to fold down the middle of the three seats to make a desk with a pen tray, two cup-holders and an elasticated strap to keep paperwork tidy.
Folding the cushions of both the passenger seats forward gives access to a roomy, concealed storage area. It is an ideal place to hide power tools, while a lockable glove box provides somewhere to conceal smaller items.
Each of the cab doors plays host to two stowage bins with the upper one incorporating a moulding that will hold a flask of tea or a 2.0-litre bottle. A lidded shelf on top of the fascia just above the instrument panel conceals a power point plus a socket for an MP3 player. There is another power point on the fascia itself, while separate cup and bottle holders can be found at each extremity of the dashboard.
The height and reach of the steering column can be altered. The driver’s seat of our test vehicle was electrically adjustable – still certainly a novelty on a van – for height, reach and rake as part of a front seat pack costing an extra £625 (all prices exclude VAT), and featured lumbar adjustment plus an inboard fold-down armrest. The seat was also heated, as were the Limited’s passenger seats.
Our 2.9m-wheelbase demonstrator’s load area features four powerful ceiling-mounted LED lights that provide ample illumination when loading and unloading at night. They cost £80.
Access to the 5.95m3 cargo bay is by means of a nearside sliding door or through opaque twin rear doors that can be swung through 90°. Release the beefy, user-friendly, bright yellow stays and you can push them through 180°.
Complete with a standard load-through facility should you need it, allowing items up to 3.0 metres long to be transported via a flap that offers space through the bulkhead and under the passenger seats, the full-height steel bulkhead should ensure that goods do not slide into the cab if they do break loose.
A fitted vinyl cover protects the Limited’s floor. The sides and doors were only partially protected by hardboard, however, and the protection provided did not extend to the wheel boxes. There are eight tie-down points, though.
The gross payload is 1083kg and our van could tow a braked trailer grossing at up to 2.0 tonnes.
You have to depress the clutch pedal to start the four-cylinder 155hp diesel engine. Married to a standard six-speed gearbox and equipped with a particulate filter, it produces top power at 3500rpm. Maximum torque of 385Nm makes its presence felt across a 1600-2400rpm plateau.
A shift indicator on the dashboard, smart regenerative charging and a battery management system are all designed to cut fuel usage, as are cruise control with an adjustable speed limiter. Ford has also fitted its Easy-Fuel cap-less refuelling system.
Chassis and steering
An independent suspension with MacPherson struts is fitted at the front along with an anti-roll bar while leaf springs help support the rear.
Our Custom Limited’s 16-inch alloy wheels came with Continental Vanco 2 215/65 R16C tyres, the presence of a full-size – steel – spare wheel is to be welcomed. Power steering comes as standard offering a kerb-to-kerb turning circle of 11.6m widening to 12.2m wall-to-wall.
Ford’s new offering boasts sharp and responsive handling with an impressive degree of feedback through the steering. Push it hard through a bend and it feels secure.
It rides well, too, coping with the majority of potholes with ease, and the slick gearchange makes it easy to get the most out of a willing, eager engine. The 2.2-litre enabled us to fly along when virtually empty, and when loaded with 25 bags of sand, each weighing 25kg and evenly distributed across the cargo bed, there seemed little or no impact on performance.
We noted, however, that the mirror casings shook uncontrollably at motorway cruising speeds and that there was rather too much vibration when the engine was allowed to idle. That aside,
the cab interior was admirably quiet and the efficient brakes inspired confidence.
Low-speed manoeuvring is a doddle, thanks to the presence of a rear-view camera, part of an optional Visibility Pack Premium package for an extra £985. When reverse is engaged the image appears in the interior mirror, which is otherwise of no use due to the opaque bulkhead. The aid makes it far easier to shuffle the van into tight parking spaces, especially in conjunction with the sensors fitted front and rear, which beep if you get too close to an obstacle.
As well as a CD player and an aux-in socket, a DAB radio is fitted to Limiteds. The control for the radio is to be found on the leather-trimmed steering wheel as is that for the onboard trip computer.
Also installed is Ford Sync with Emergency Assistance, which automatically calls the emergency services if there is a collision and an airbag is triggered. It additionally enables most MP3 players, Bluetooth-enabled phones, and USB drives to be operated with voice commands, plus incoming text messages will be read out to you. Our demonstrator came with an optional £690 ICE pack which included satnav and a five-inch screen.
Aircon, electric windows and power-foldable, heated and electrically adjustable exterior mirrors with an un-powered wide-angle lower section all come as standard on this model. Courtesy and map lights above the heated windscreen and more lights at the top of the full height, well-insulated, bulkhead are also included as is a highly effective heater.
Buying and running
Service intervals are set at a lengthy two years/30,000 miles, but we would strongly recommend interim safety checks given the hard life many vans face. A three-year/ 100,000-mile warranty is provided – roadside assistance is included for the first year – along with a 12-year corrosion perforation warranty.
Sensible measures include fitting multi-piece front and rear bumpers so there is no need to replace the entire bumper if just one section is damaged. We also like the provision of a washer bottle sensor to warn when the contents need topping up.
If we have any concerns it is over whether the Transit is as strongly built as some of its key rivals – VW’s near-indestructible Transporter for instance – and whether it will last as long. Perhaps our fears are groundless – we certainly hope so – but the creaks and groans emanating from the rear suspension during loading and unloading made us wonder just how durable Ford’s newcomer will prove to be. On the other hand, the cargo area doors felt solid enough and shut firmly, and that is always a good sign.
Safety and security
As well as ABS, the Transit Custom comes with load-adaptive Electronic Stability Programme, Roll-Over Mitigation, Traction Control, Emergency Brake Assist and, Emergency Brake Warning. Disc brakes are fitted all round and Hill Start Assist is provided. In addition, Lane Keeping Alert and Driver Alert are installed as part of the Visibility Pack Premium option.
The van comes with driver and passenger airbags, and driver and passenger thorax airbags plus curtain airbags are included in the optional front seat pack. There are also rain-sensing wipers, and its automatic headlights and front fog-lights are complemented by cornering lights. They illuminate the appropriate side of the road at night when turning the steering wheel more than 30º.
Remote central locking is included and you can lock and unlock the doors using buttons on the driver’s door. All the doors lock automatically once 5mph is exceeded with automatic relocking after 45 seconds if no door is opened. The bonnet is locked and unlocked using the ignition key, and a Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) plate is visible on the dashboard through the heated windscreen. A Thatcham Category 1 alarm plus the PATS passive immobiliser should help deter thieves.
Side rubbing strips protect the body from minor damage. Like the mirror casings, door handles, and bumpers, they are colour- matched to the rest of the metallic paint finish, which is offered as part of the Limited specification.
A hugely impressive van.
The Blue Oval’s history van
If you ever get to drive one of the first Ford Transits to roll off the production line back in 1965 then the first thing that may strike you is that it remains perfectly useable even today. – just so long as you take the extra-long braking distance into account. Perhaps that is because the Transit was way ahead of everything else on the market when it debuted, and Ford – admittedly with mixed success over the years – has tried to keep things that way.
The van has certainly won the loyalty of British buyers, enabling Ford to retain the number one slot in the UK light commercial market for as long as anybody can remember.
Facelifted in 1978, it was completely redesigned in 1986, facelifted again in 1994 and redesigned completely in 2000 with the choice of either front- or rear-wheel drive. It has been further updated since, with a major renewal in 2006 (right), Euro5 models arriving five years later and the new Transit Custom appearing in 2012.