The Ford Transit is to commercial vans what the MG is to sports cars and the Volkswagen Beetle is to small cars – the long-term benchmarks by which all others will be forever judged. Since the model first appeared in 1965, more than seven million Ford Transits have been sold globally.
Like many Australians, as a youngster your www.carshowroom.com.au correspondent first saw much of Europe through the windscreen of battered Ford Transits. But times change and these days the ‘white van’ market is hotly contested between diverse vehicles from Europe, Japan and South Korea.
No wonder Ford took development of the all-new Transit so seriously. These things sell in big numbers and must endure a very hard life.
So the all-new Ford Transit Custom arrives on the back of more than 5,000,000kms of development testing, including more than 400,000kms in the hands of major fleets who operate Transits every day. That and exhaustive testing such as slamming the front doors 250,000 times non-stop to confirm their durability.
Ford Transit Custom Overview
Car Showroom tested the Ford Transit Custom 290S. Priced from $37,490, the 290S is the short-wheelbase member of the Ford Transit Custom family ($39,490 starting price for the larger 490S model).
Our test vehicle was fitted with the optional ($1,500) ‘City Pack’ which adds front and rear parking sensors, a rear-view camera with trailer hitch assist, electrochromatic interior mirror which displays the camera image and front fog lights.
Currently Ford only sells the Transit Custom with a six-speed manual transmission. While many van operators - even those in the city - actually prefer a self-shifter (a light clutch and easy shifting makes the Ford Transit Custom a breeze even in stop-start traffic) an automatic transmission will arrive early in 2015.
Of course critical dimensions are out the back. Standard pallets are the uniform measure and Ford Transit Custom can easily accommodate one with a cargo area which measures 2555mm in length, 1775mm in width, 1406mm in height and 1390mm in width between the rear wheel arches.
Ford Transit Custom Engine
Under the bonnet is Ford’s familiar 2.2-litre Duratorq TDCi turbo-diesel engine. Driving via a six-speed manual transmission, the European turbo-diesel provides impressive refinement and performance for the all-new Transit Custom.
Maximum power s 92kW at 3500rpm and peak torque of 350Nm is delivered between 1450-2000rpm. For fuel consumption you can chalk-up 7.1l/100kms.
Ford Transit Custom The Interior
There are certainly some strong cues from the Ford Focus and Fiesta inside the all-new Transit Custom – particularly the centre console, vents and steering wheel. And that’s a good thing because www.carshowroom.com.au rates the interior design of Ford’s German-origin hatchbacks very highly.
The front doors open deep revealing a low floor and ubiquitous raised seating position. Seats are nice and the third (centre) seat which tradies usually reserve for their apprentice is actually spacious, comfortable and comes with a headrest and three-point seatbelt (not all rivals serve the apprentices so well).
We really liked the driving position (more car-like than some) – aided by the high-mounted gear-lever which came easily to hand left of the steering wheel.
As expected in the latest-generation Ford Transit Custom, efficient working conditions are well thought-out including a rubber storage bin on the dashboard for coins (tolls and meters), a dashboard bin with a 12-volt outlet (for the likes of remote satellite navigation, electronic delivery systems and EFTPOS devices) and a large out-of-sight storage bin under the passenger seats.
Ford Transit Custom Exterior & Styling
The all-new Ford Transit Custom joins a growing trend for European vans to be bold and contemporary, proudly showing their toughness. We like Transit’s chunky front–end with large headlights, a complex bonnet line and purposeful exterior mirrors.
The front windows show the hallmark Ford Transit ‘kick-up’ window line. And in this latest-generation model that has been repeated at the rear where clever use of lines for the barn doors and windows gives a complexity which just didn’t exist in earlier commercial van designs.
Ford Transit is clever too with three standard-fit roof racks which fold flat when not in-use.
Ford Transit Custom On The Road
Knowing the Ford Transit was in the www.carshowroom.com.au garage we had grand plans of attending to some ‘Life Admin’ but, you know it was one of those weeks…a mate called offering a game of golf, the children had sport and so our loads remained un-moved. But we did get to put the unladen Ford Transit over our usual range of city and rural roads.
First things first – fuel consumption (a biggie for van owner/operators). That 2.2-litre turbo-diesel is a fuel-miser (rated at 7.1l/100kms) and obviously aided by our lack of loads, hardly shifted the fuel gauge during the week.
For performance, we again tip our cap to Ford’s turbocharged 2.2-litre. With nice ratios in the six-speeder to help, the Ford Transit Custom accelerates promptly from a standing start, offers good mid-range torque and cruises with very impressive refinement.
But it’s the ride and handling where Ford Transit scores maximum points. Underneath is a MacPherson strut front suspension and torsion beam rear end which has all been very handily calibrated.
The result is a very polished all-round showing with car-like steering response, nice grip and good balance even when pressing on over our high-speed mountain roads test loop. And while you sit tall in the Ford Transit, good suspension tune means, unlike many rivals, this load-lugger doesn’t feel like the front wheels are under your feet and behave like a shopping trolley.
Braking too shows the benefits of clever suspension design and of course Ford’s years of experience with these sorts of vehicles. We tried a few emergency stops - with no load on-board remember - and even on noticeable side slopes, our Ford Transit stopped true and fuss-free every time (ABS, EBD, brake assist and trailer sway control are all standard).
In the city we immediately felt confident driving the Ford Transit – hey this is a van so rear three-quarter visibility isn’t like a convertible but otherwise you have good all-round visibility. A relatively small 10.9-metre turning circle made for easy parking (our Ford transit was also fitted with the optional parking sensors and rear-view camera with the image displayed in the internal rear-vision mirror).
Ford Transit Custom Issues
The Ford Transit Custom isn’t at aimed at the budget end of the market and the $37k plus asking price reflects that. Also the lack of an automatic transmission at this stage will put a few buyers off with out even testing driving.
Ford Transit Custom Verdict
At $37,490, the Ford Transit Custom 290S isn’t the cheapest of these sorts of vans but on many fronts it stakes a serious claim to being the best of the bunch. We’ve driven lots of vans over the years and, as the newest design on the block, the all-new Ford Transit arrived with high expectations…our big white beast didn’t disappoint.
That 2.2-litre turbo-diesel is both punchy and refined and is perfectly mated to the ratios of the six-speed manual. Combine that with a comfy, spacious and stylish driving environment and the Ford Transit Custom really is a van in which you could comfortably operate for hours (as many do).
Loading is easy, there are eight tie-down points, the 10.9-metre turning circle and optional reversing camera make parking easy.
And you can’t argue with six airbags (dual front, side and curtain).
Ford Transit Custom The Competition
As van operators know, there’s vans and there’s vans. You always need to carefully compare specifics appropriate to your needs and relative costs (such as dual side doors and windows, cargo bay dimensions, towing capacity etc).
That said, while the all-conquering Toyota HiAce and Hyundai iLoad continue to do brisk business because they’re terrific, there’s a building surge of Europeans, like the Ford Transit Custom muscling-in. And as anyone who has visited Europe knows, these sorts of vans are big business there doing work in those crowded European mega-cities which place a premium on driveability.
Fiat Scudo is sharply priced from $28,990 and brings some beefy Italian style to the table.
Renault is actually the biggest-selling commercial vehicle brand in Europe and lobs into this league with just-updated Trafic range starting from $34,990. Like the Ford Transit Custom and Fiat Scudo, the Renault Trafic has the latest chunky Euro look which we really like.
We driven extended distances in the Volkswagen Transporter and can definitely confirm its long-distance comfort and practicality. Kick-off is $38,490 and there’s a massive range of variants.