After too long an absence, What Van? is moving back into the minibus sector and has presented Ford’s ubiquitous factory-built Transit with the Minibus of the Year Award for 2020.
Get on a full-size bus these days and you are increasingly likely to benefit from onboard Wi-Fi. Minibus passengers want the same facility, so it is pleasing to see that they can make use of 4G if they are travelling in a Transit, courtesy of a built-in FordPass Connect modem.
If they need to plug their mobile devices in then there are plenty of power outlets ready to hand, and there is no requirement to wrestle with a manual sliding side door when they want to leave the passenger saloon; Ford can provide one that is power-operated, along with a powered access step, with the latter standard on all models.
The Transit minibus can carry 11, 14 or 17 passengers depending on whether you select the L2, L3 or L4 model. Two different roof heights are on offer – H2 or H3 – with gross weights at 3.5t, 4.1t or 4.6t. Perhaps surprisingly, they are all rear-wheel drive with the choice of either single or twin rear wheels. Only diesel power is available, with Ford’s 2.0-litre Ecoblue engine at either 130hp or 170hp married to a six-speed manual gearbox.
All the seats come with headrests and lap-and-diagonal belts, with overhead racks for coats and other items available on some models.
Safety has to be paramount when carrying so many passengers, so it is pleasing to see that all Transit minibuses come with a plethora of devices designed to minimise risk. As well as ABS and electronic stability programme, the line-up includes hill-start assist, electronic dynamic cornering control and emergency brake warning.
Standard too is lane-keeping aid along with pre-collision assistance with pedestrian detection. Lane keeping aid is there to ensure you do not idly wander across a white line and into an adjacent lane if you lose concentration while on the motorway. The other two features monitor the road ahead, and alert you to any vehicles or pedestrians who might cross your path. If you fail to react the brakes will be applied automatically.
Three different trims are listed, with Leader the entry level. Move up to Trend and your minibus will feature front and rear air-conditioning and front and rear parking sensors, while Limited gets you side park assist – it is designed to make parallel parking a whole lot easier.
The lengthy options list includes front- and rear-view cameras and an electric pack should you want to have a tow-bar fitted and haul a trailer. You may well wish to do so if, for example, you are using the minibus to transport passengers from an airport car park to a terminal.
The Transit minibus shares the same platform as its van stablemate. As a consequence it will hopefully benefit from the already well-regarded 10-speed automatic transmission due to appear in rear-wheel drive Transit light commercial models next spring. It comes with adaptive shift scheduling, which can assess individual driving styles to optimise gearshift timings. All in all, it sounds like the ideal box for a minibus.
Like van operators, minibus operators are under pressure to either cut exhaust emissions or eliminate them altogether.
Renault Trucks is riding to their rescue with an electric wheelchair-accessible passenger-carrying Master Z.E. – our Highly Commended choice.
Converted into a minibus by Renault Trucks-approved converter Minibus Options, the first example is now being operated by Kent-based charity Compaid. An L2H2, it can transport up to nine passengers.
Master Z.E’s 57kW electric motor draws power from a 33kWh lithium-ion battery pack. It offers a range of around 100 miles between recharges Minibus Options says, with a recharge time of around six hours.
The passenger saloon offers a degree of flexibility, with demountable seats enabling it to be set out in various ways. It can take three seated passengers and up to two wheelchair users, for example, and both the wheelchairs and their occupants can be fully secured.
Positioned just inside the back doors, a fold-down ramp provides wheelchair access while a floor-mounted winch powered by its own rechargeable battery is installed to make it easier to pull wheelchairs and their occupants aboard. Using a separate battery means the Master Z.E’s traction battery is not depleted prematurely, so its range can be maintained.