July 22, 2014
Vehicle Style: Medium commercial van
Engine/trans: 92kW/350Nm 2.2 turbo diesel 4cyl | 6sp manual
Fuel Economy claimed: 7.1 l/100km | tested: 8.9 l/100km
White vans. When it comes to four-wheeled vehicles, is there anything less sexy?
They’re not fast, they don’t look cool and, unless you’re a delivery driver or painter, it’s unlikely you’ll ever get excited over one.
But there are ‘vans’... and there’s the Ford Transit Custom. Its squat stance and ‘fat Focus’ styling makes it stand out visually, but inside there’s a wealth of features designed to make a delivery driver’s life at the wheel a little easier - and a lot safer.
What a huge omission then is the lack of an automatic?
There’s a market for manuals, sure, but how many among the numbers of couriers fighting grid-locked city traffic every day would choose a manual over an auto alternative?
An auto version is coming - but it’s not here now with this model. Luckily, then, it has one of the best and easiest to use manual boxes you’ll find.
In fact, the updated Transit just happens to be the best-driving van around.
- cruise control, manual air conditioning, power windows, dual-level wing mirrors, trip computer, Bluetooth audio/telephony, steering wheel-mounted controls, USB audio input, steel cargo bulkhead, retractable roof racks
- Optional equipment: front and rear parking sensors, reversing camera, fog lamps.
- Cargo bay dimensions: L: 2555mm (3085mm through hatch), W: 1775mm (1390mm between arches) H:1406mm.
- Cargo bay volume: 5.36 cubic metres (VDA)
A high seating position, great forward vision, comfy seats, a low floor and a steel bulkhead between occupants and cargo are all standard on the Transit Custom, and crucial features for any van to be considered a comfortable and practical work vehicle.
There’s also what must be the nicest steering wheel to ever be fitted to a commercial van, but there’s more to the Transit Custom than that.
Cruise control is also on the list of standard kit, and tunes can be piped into the audio system via a USB input or over Bluetooth.
Passenger comfort is also enhanced with heated seats for the driver and leftmost passenger, and there are large cupholders and bottle holders on both sides of the cabin.
Meanwhile a storage cubby above the instrument panel hides a shallow tray and a 12-volt outlet, and is intended for storing and powering a portable GPS unit.
A storage compartment can also be found under the passenger seats, and is another nifty feature of the Transit Custom..
Safety-conscious drivers will find much to love in the Transit too.
It’s the only van in its segment to offer six airbags by default (dual front, dual side and curtain), and stability control, traction control, and ABS are all standard.
So though the $37,390 Transit Custom may be a little pricey for a van, you certainly get a fair whack of features for your money. That said, a rear camera and front and rear parking sensors are only available as cost options.
The load compartment is spacious, even in the short wheelbase variant.
From the rear door to the bulkhead there’s 2555mm of length, while an extra 530mm can be added if you open the small pass-through hatch in the lower left corner of the cargo bulkhead.
The cargo area measures 1775mm wide and 1406mm tall, and there’s 1390mm between the rear arches - plenty of room for a standard pallet. Eight tie-down points are provided, and are mounted clear of the floor
All up, there’s 5.36 cubic metres of cargo volume (according to the VDA method).
Got more gear to stow? The retractable roof racks give you more options for cargo carriage, and are a standard feature too.
ON THE ROAD
- 2.2 turbo diesel inline four, 92kW/350Nm
- 6-spd manual, front-wheel drive
- MacPherson strut front, torsion beam rear suspension
- Disc brakes all around.
- Towing - max braked: 2500kg, unbraked: 750kg.
- Turning circle: 10.9m
The Transit’s 2.2 litre turbo diesel four-cylinder surprises with its smoothness and quietness, but also its keen power delivery and relatively linear torque curve.
You still need more than 1900rpm on the dial for it to pull its strongest, but unlike some other commercial vans there’s a wide flat torque band and no big spike in torque or power to contend with.
And though the Transit Custom is only available with a manual transmission for now (an auto is coming, but not this year), it’s the most user-friendly manual in the segment by a wide margin.
The clutch is light, the shift action is smooth, the gate is clearly defined and the ECU automatically feathers the throttle as you feed in the clutch, greatly reducing the chance of stalling.
The latter is especially useful when creeping up towards a loading dock, as the only pedals you need to worry about are the clutch and the brake - even on gentle inclines.
In fact, compared to some of the jerky twin and single-clutch automated manuals available in other vans, the Transit Custom’s manual is far easier to live with.
On the road, the Transit drives beautifully. Unladen it performs almost like a car (albeit a car almost double the height of a Fiesta and with the aerodynamic profile of a shipping container), and it turns in very nicely via its light and direct power steering.
With a bit of weight aboard it’s just as nice, with the small bonus of a more settled rear end thanks to the springs having some mass to work against.
Though we weren’t able to get the Transit Custom loaded up to its GVM, we got the impression that it certainly wouldn’t struggle.
ANCAP rating: The Ford Transit Custom has yet to be tested by ANCAP
Safety features: ABS, EBD, brake assist, traction control, stability control, trailer sway control.
The Transit custom is unique in being the only van in its segment to offer dual front, front side and curtain airbags as standard.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
Some of these competitors are cheaper, others have slightly more power, but the Transit leads them all when it comes to safety, equipment levels, refinement and driveability.
We’re going to save you some running around: check out the Transit first.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
Not only is it the most civilised van we’ve driven, but it’s the best out there. Full stop.
Our four-star rating reflects the value, accommodation, features and driveability of the Transit Custom, relative to others in this segment. As larger delivery vans go, this one raises the bar.
There are some aspects about the Transit Custom that may be deal-breakers though.
One, of course, is the lack of an automatic option. It might be the best manual we’ve found in a commercial van, but some operators require an automatic transmission to allow all employees to drive their vehicles.
Another potential deal-breaker is the lack of a high-roof variant. At 1406mm tall, you need to stoop in the back.
Ford still continues to offer the ‘old’ Transit in RWD and with the high-roof bodystyle available. But it’s a much less pleasant beast than the Transit Custom.
So, these debits aside, the Transit Custom is the new yardstick in the mid-sized commerical van segment.
If you’re shopping for a van, and the manual transmission isn’t a deal-breaker, put it at the top of your list.
MORE: Ford News and Reviews
Pricing (excludes on-road costs)
- 290S Custom - FWD manual - 2.2-litre TDCi - $37,490
- 330L Custom - FWD manual - 2.2-litre TDCi - $39,490