Keeping the lead in any industry isn’t an easy task, and globally, Ford’s firm grip on light commercial vans has been backed up by a strong product and solid feature set with competitive pricing.
However, Australian customers have often had an easier time leaning into alternatives such as the Hyundai iLoad, Toyota’s venerable HiAce, and even the underdog Renault Trafic. But with this updated Transit Custom now featuring some key improvements, it’s now a little better armed to shake off the competition.
We’re three years from the official launch of Ford’s 4th-generation Transit and in that span buyers have been increasingly selective about which entrant in the LCV market are worthy of their ultimate purchase. Long gone are the simple notions about producing the cheapest box on wheels, automakers have had to respond by upping their game and introducing some of their passenger car appeal into the mix.
There isn’t much at all to differentiate the updated Transit Custom over the version it replaces. Partially that’s down to its role of being inherently nondescript, and investing in new exterior bits would be a waste of effort, but it’s also because there wasn't much wrong with the Transit’s design in the first place. For the eagle-eyed, the 2017-25MY Ford Transit Custom sheds the hub cabs and uses full wheel covers for its 16-inchers instead.
Like before, the Blue Oval’s cargo carrier has a payload capacity of over one tonne (listed as between 1,035 and 1,387kg) while promising fuel efficiency, comfort, car-like road manners, and a high standard of safety features to match. And, also like before, the 2017 version arrives in either 290S short-wheelbase or 340L long-wheelbase configurations.
While much of the Ford’s practical credentials are unassailable, its original 2014 launch as a manual-only affair did not do it any favours in the sales race. This 2017 update, though, fixes this shortcoming while using the occasion to beef up the hauler’s already solid repertoire.
Should the automatic option be selected, there will be six forward ratios that behave in much the same way in operation as well as in behaviour as the six-speed auto found in many Ford passenger cars. The gearing, though, is smartly engineered to provide maximum pulling power in lower ratios while having the breadth to settle into a smooth and efficient cruise at higher speeds. No matter the transmission choice, though, power is now derived from a new 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel from Ford’s EcoBlue line.
Despite its slightly smaller capacity compared to the older 2.2-litre Duratorq, the new motor generates slightly more power at 96kW (a 4kW increase) while peak torque is also up to 385Nm (a 35Nm increase) and available from 1,500rpm to 2,000rpm, and in the real world provides a cleaner pull and quite decent acceleration.
As you might have been able to glean from its name, the EcoBlue’s big feature is that it’s Euro-6 compliant, using the AdBlue treatment to filter out harmful gasses and particulates before being expelled the exhaust. Ford has also worked hard to ensure that fuel consumption goes down along with emissions, claimed to sip just 6.4-litres/100km in the SWB and slightly more at 6.6-litres/100km for the LWB.
These figures are, of course, to be taken with a grain of salt and will depend on situation, but every indication is that Ford’s new engines are indeed a big improvement over the last. They’re also noticeably smoother, which certainly is appreciated when the stop-start system is engaged (crucial to its lowered fuel consumption) and on long highway journeys.
The extra poke goes well with the Transit Custom’s handling characteristics too. Ford has left the suspension and steering configurations intact from the pre-update version, and we have no complaints - the rack is light and relatively quick, and its compact 11 metre turning circle is helpful. It’s also surprisingly enjoyable to drive something this nimble (comparatively speaking) while knowing its purely utilitarian purpose, and that can go a long way in alleviating driver fatigue and frustration. However, to ensure a more communicative chassis, the Transit Custom’s unladen ride quality can get a little busy over bumps.
In terms of raw load space, there’s pop-up roof racks, ladder clamps, and multiple tie points along the floor. Additionally, an extra 530mm of floor cargo length can be accessed from the load area, making use of the space under the front seats.
Ford has introduced a new tailgate option as opposed to the standard barn doors, and there’s also the option of a driver’s side sliding door, costing $550 and $1,000 respectively. The insulated bulkhead means that rearward vision through the small window will take some getting used to, and the obstructed rear glass and smallish mirrors don’t help matters either.
The Transit Custom’s interior feels very much like sitting in one of Ford’s passenger cars, luckily many of the hard-wearing plastics used here given a more luxurious finish in their non-commercial offerings, but the aesthetic and layout should be familiar to many.
There’s comfortable (and heated) seating for three adults up front (2+1) and some ergonomic touches to help with the day-in day-out slog, such as a foldout armrest and laptop shelf from the centre seat, many compartments for loose items located throughout - and many placed high up for maximum use of space. Other notable conveniences are dual 12-volt outlets and a secondary glove box above the gauge cluster with a USB port and 3.5mm audio input.
That being said, the Transit Custom misses out on Ford’s latest SYNC 3 infotainment system, and therefore features like support for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are omitted as well. It instead uses the smaller 4.0-inch TFT display with more basic support for Bluetooth pairing.
In-built navigation comes as part of a $2,100 City Nav pack, bringing with it an upgrade to a more vibrant 5.0-inch display while adding a reversing camera and front/rear parking sensors. These features ought to be standard-fit, if not the infotainment then especially the reversing camera.
The 2017 Transit Custom retains the same 5-star ANCAP safety rating it received upon its original arrival in this 4th-generation skin, equipped with 6 airbags to aid a structure that performs well in a collision. At this price, it is lacking the more advanced safety features such as collision alert, lane departure warning, and blind spot monitoring. However, a useful addition for this segment is the new cross-wind assist that comes as part of a new stability control update.
The new EcoBlue engine also comes with some substantial improvements to its servicing intervals, with its maintenance schedule now extended to every 12 months or 30,000km. For comparison, that’s double the 15,000km intervals recommended for the pre-2017 Transit Customs running the older 2.2-litre Duratorq. Further, the warranty now covers a 3-year period or 200,000km of distance travelled, a figure that extends to its eligibility for Ford’s roadside assistance.
While it may look much the same, the 2017 Ford Transit Custom goes a long way in fixing the shortcomings of the 2016 model, whether that’s through the smaller improvements in terms of refinement and ergonomics or through larger strides like a new engine and transmission. It may still have areas that need attention, and time will tell whether it outperforms the competition, but the Ford now is an undeniably better proposition than it ever was.
AutoExpress - 4.6/5 - “The Transit Custom has aimed to keep pace with the 2016 addition of the EcoBlue TDCi diesel engines, extra safety kit, improved handling and more technology. As a result, the Ford Transit Custom is the best van to drive in its class and is only really let down by an interior control interface that is starting to feel a bit dated.”
Drive.com.au - “From a rational point of view the Transit Connect stacks up well against its competitors and has serious potential to dominate the market is Ford can successfully get the message across about its new hard-worker.”
Vanarama - 5/5 - “Ford’s latest Transit Custom is the most practical one-tonne panel van yet. It feels good to drive, and even better to look at, but more importantly the Custom has some very thoughtful additions which will make ownership and time on the road in the van so much more enjoyable.”
CarsGuide - 8.3/10 - “…we concluded the latest Transit Custom with EcoBlue engine and six-speed automatic had all the credentials needed to be a serious player in the 2.5-3.5 tonne van segment […] It's competitively priced, and well designed, with few faults. This van is worthy of serious consideration.”
Telegraph.co.uk - 4.5/5 - “Still the guv’nor on the streets, the Transit provides a good blend of economy, driving appeal and range, but the opposition is starting to do some of those a bit better, particularly in the interior. A shame this revamp didn’t address those shortcomings.”
Motoring.com.au - 75/100 - “You pay a premium for the Ford Transit Custom, but you’re getting one feature-packed and advanced van for the money. With the automatic transmission, the new Transit Custom gives Ford its best chance yet of making a serious dent in the medium van market. With a five-star ANCAP rating, numerous clever features and a lean, clean Euro 6 engine, it thoroughly deserves to.”