Ford now has a four-strong Transit model line-up, with the Courier and the Connect models dealing with businesses looking for compact LCVs and the big fully-fledged Transit offering really huge carriage capacity. In between is this Transit Custom, the ideal size for many businesses and Ford's entrant in the large van market. Jonathan Crouch drives it.
Ten Second Review
Ford's Transit has ruled the British large LCV market for around half a century, its very name synonymous with its purpose. In the past, this may have had a great deal to do with tradition and the vast choice of derivatives on offer but today's sales success is very much down to quality of product. Take this Transit Custom. It slots into the range beneath the largest model, known simply as 'Transit', and is there to take on Vito and Vivaro-sized Medium-sized vans in the volume part of the LCV sector. It's a very complete commercial vehicle indeed.
Think of a large-ish van and it's a pretty sure bet that you'll be thinking of this one, Ford's Transit, the self-proclaimed 'backbone of Britain'. And it's true, thousands of British businesses do indeed depend on this vehicle. So successful has it been on these shores since its original launch back in 1965 that its very name has almost passed into our language, a byword for van versatility.
This Custom version hits the sales sweet spot in the medium range LCV marketplace for a vehicle not too big - and not too small. Here is Ford's answer to European market leaders like Volkswagen's Transporter, Mercedes' Vito, the Peugeot Expert, the Citroen Dispatch, the Renault Trafic and what on these shores, we know as the Vauxhall Vivaro. To deal with such tough opposition, the Blue Oval brand is offering an enormous range of choice to British businesses, with over 300 Transit Custom derivatives on offer. Not bad when you remember that there were just 75 variants available when the original model Transit was first launched back in 1965. As a result, whether today your large van needs are to carry packages or people, then this Ford remains an option that you simply can't ignore.
Under the bonnet, the range these days is based around one engine, an improved version of Ford's 2.2-litre TDCi Duratorq unit developed in conjunction with Peugeot Citroen which operates with a clever Auto-Stop-Start system and is offered in three states of tune for Front-wheel drive customers - with either 100, 125 or 155PS. All of these units feel usefully pokier than they did in their earlier feebler guises, with a surge of power from just 1,500rpm and even the entry-level TDCi 100 developing a useful 310Nm of torque, a figure rising as high as 385Nm is you opt for the 155PS version.
Either way, there's enough pulling power to be able to tow a braked trailer of up to 2.0 tonnes. The other thing you notice at the wheel with these engines is how much quieter they are thanks in part to the 6-speed manual transmission with its long gearing. And of course the provision of a standard bulkhead across the range helps further here.
The sprightly handling and performance makes it important that the brakes are up to the job. This was something Ford improved in later versions of the previous generation model, which by the end of its life featured disc brakes all-round. You'll also want this vehicle to be manoeuvrable, hence a decently tight turning circle that varies between 11.6m (kerb-to-kerb) and 12.2m (wall-to-wall). And should you be at an uphill junction, standard Hill Launch Assist will help you get away smoothly.
Design and Build
A van needs to look smart, modern and professional. This one does, with signature kinetic design features that bring a sportier stance and bold rising shoulder line, clearly marking out this design as a cargo carrier very much of its time.
Inside, the cabin design is very different from what went before, the dash featuring the same herringbone-style layout for stereo and 'phone functions and blue backlit infotainment display that we're used to seeing in the latest Ford passenger cars.
Certainly, the cabin itself is a well thought-out piece of designwork, normally a three-seater in straightforward panel van guise or a front two-seater in the double cab-in-van model form. Getting comfortable at the wheel is certainly a lot easier than it was before thanks not only to a height-adjustable driver's seat but also, at last, to the provision of a steering wheel that can be adjusted for both height and reach.
Most models get the option of being able to fold down the middle of the three seats to create an impromptu desk big enough for a laptop or a clipboard with two cupholders, a pentray and an elasticated band that'll keep your paperwork in place. We also like the way that folding the base cushions of both the passenger seats forward opens up a roomy, concealed 93-litre storage area for hiding away valuable items like tools.
Market and Model
Let's start with what you'll pay. There are several hundred Transit Custom derivatives from which to choose, with most being centred around the Panel Van bodystyle we tried. Adding people to the packaging mix means you might want to look at the Double-Cab-in-Van bodystyle with its extra rearward seats in front of the load bay. Or, if you want to give the whole space over to the carriage of people, there's a 9-seater Kombi minibus. If you want something even more luxurious than that, there's a smarter, more luxurious 8 or 9-seater Tourneo passenger bodystyle, but Ford really now consider this as a passenger car product and a decent alternative to really large MPVs for bigger families.
Here though, our main focus is on Transit Custom Panel Vans. Though it is possible, excluding the dreaded VAT, to get yourself into a short wheelbase version of one of these for under £20,000, most models will be sold in the £20,000 to £25,000 bracket that's common to the medium range van class. In rough terms, you need to be looking at adding around £700 to the cost of any given short wheelbase variant if you want to upgrade it to beefier long wheelbase spec. You can also talk to your dealer about the higher roof bodystyle also developed for this van which will only cost a few hundred pounds more.
As for rivals, well they're many and varied of course. Short and long wheelbase Transit Custom models compete mainly with Medium-sized vans like Vauxhall's Vivaro, Renault's Traffic, VW's Transporter, Mercedes' Vito, Peugeot's Expert and Citroen's Dispatch. You'll need the fully fledged model just known as 'Transit' (or in Ford-speak as the '2 Tonner') if you want the next class up from this.
Practicalities and Costs
Certainly the bulky stuff should go in OK, with even the lowroof version offering a rear door aperture 1400mm wide and 1340mm high, though of course that'll be higher if you've specified the high roof option. The roof height, along with your selection between short and long wheelbases, will also of course determine your loadspace volume. At the bottom of the range, short wheelbase low roof customers get a very decent 6.0m3, which, thanks to a loadspace length of 2555mm and a class-leading width between the wheelarches of 1,390mm, is enough to make this the only vehicle in the SWB medium range van class able to transport up to three europallets with a one metre-high load. Make use of all that space and you'll be glad of a payload of at least 883kgs.
So, in short, you may not need the long wheelbase version we tried, but if you do, then you'll find that the extra 0.37m of length is enough to up the loadspace volume to 6.8m3, while to match it, payload rises to anywhere between 1,014 and 1,414kgs, depending on the Gross Vehicle Weight you choose.
Whatever Transit Custom model you choose, it'll get a sliding side door with class-leading height and width (1,320mm high in lowroof form and 1,030mm wide).
As for running costs, these have been improved substantially over the previous generation model, with even standard Transit Custom variants delivering a combined cycle fuel return of 42.8mpg and 174g/km CO2 emissions. To improve upon that, you need to be looking at one of the ECOnetic models which benefit from an Auto Start Stop system.
This may be the most sophisticated Transit we've yet seen but businesses will still buy it for the same reasons. This Custom model remains such a simple, straightforward one-stop choice and it'll help that it satisfies a wider variety of commercial needs than any other Transit derivative.
Across the rest of Europe, Transit models enjoy none of the market dominance that they have in the UK but on the evidence of this Custom version, you'd have to wonder whether Continental buyers are missing a trick.
That wasn't always the case of course. Ford's dominance in the British LCV sector has traditionally been founded on little more than the fact that UK buyers tended to replace their Transits with another because that was what they'd always done. That may continue, but what is different today is the quality of the product those people are buying into. Very few rivals can these days beat either this Ford's practicality or its day-to-day operating costs. It is, once again, number one for a reason.