Ford has ramped up its efforts in the light commercial van segment by taking its Transit Custom van and adding the one thing most buyers in the segment are looking for but Ford hasn’t been able to offer until now: An automatic transmission.
The new six-speed auto Transit Custom also pairs with a new EcoBlue diesel engine designed around the same principles as Ford’s EcoBoost petrol engine available in both Transit Custom and the larger Transit 350L FWD van.
The change allows Ford to play against rivals like the Mercedes-Benz Vito, Volkswagen Transporter, Hyundai iLoad and fleet-favourite Toyota HiAce, where previously it had missed out on the growing automatic van market.
Vehicle Style: Light commercial van
Price: $42,440-44,440 plus on-road costs (Transit Custom automatic only)
Engine/trans: 96kW/385Nm 2.0-litre 4cyl turbo diesel | 6sp automatic
Fuel Economy Claimed: 7.2 l/100km | Tested: 8.5 l/100km (when laden)
By adding an automatic to the Transit Custom Ford is expanding its reach within the commercial sector immensely - right now automatics make up around 60 percent of light van sales, and as with passenger cars that share is set to continue growing.
Ford has also introduced its new EcoBlue engine series on both auto and manual Transit Custom at 2.0-litres it’s smaller than the engine it replaces, but produces more power and torque while using less fuel. The front wheel drive Transit Van also scores the new engine when combined with an automatic, with higher outputs again.
For the most part Ford hasn’t made too many other changes to the Transit Custom, there’s a new crosswind stabilisation system, a new City Nav Pack option, and perhaps most unusual of all, an industry-first range of over 100 colours available from factory allowing buyers to tailor their van to their corporate image without the added cost of a vinyl wrap - though wait times for anything other than white or silver are expected to be around five-months and SVO paint options are an extra $1150.
Both the short wheelbase Transit Custom 290S and long wheelbase 340L add the new engine and auto to the range, and Ford invited us to Melbourne's busy industrial areas to sample the new six-speed auto in its natural environment.
- Standard Equipment: Cloth seat trim, rubber flooring, driver bucket and two-passenger bench seat with underseat storage, heated driver and passenger seats, manual air conditioning, leather-wrapped multi-function steering wheel, cruise control with speed limiter, trip computer
- Infotainment: Standard 4.0-inch display screen, AM/FM/DAB+ radio, CD player, USB connectivity, Sync voice controls, Bluetooth connectivity
- Options Available: City Nav Pack - 5.0-inch display with reverse camera, satellite navigation, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility front and rear park sensors, front fog lamps
- Cargo Dimensions: SWB - L:2555mm (at floor) W:1775 (1390 between wheel arches) H:1406mm Payload:1035kg LWB L:2922mm (at floor) W:1775 (1390 between wheel arches) H: 1406mm Payload:1334kg
Step up into the cabin of the Transit Custom and it's a lot like stepping into one of Ford’s passenger cars. As a built-for-work tool of trade there’s a plenty of robust hard plastics (of course) but the themes inside aren’t different from what you might find in a Fiesta.
The driver’s seat proved comfortable after a few hours behind the wheel (but I didn’t pull a full eight-hours shift there), the high-set shift lever is easy to reach and allows side-to-side step-through access.
A secondary glovebox above the instrument cluster provides handy hideaway storage and positions USB access immediately in front of the driver, but the ventilation controls aren’t as accessible to the left of the centre stack.
There’s more storage under the passenger seat which can also be accessed from the load area allowing an extra 530mm of carrying length, plus the outboard seats feature seat heating.
One thing missing is an assist-grip on the windscreen pillars to make getting in easier - not so bad on the driver’s side where you can simply hoist yourself in by the steering wheel, but more of a problem on the passenger side.
A foldaway armrest, lumbar support, and an almost-ridiculous amount of height adjustment for the driver’s seat make it much easier to get the right driving position, a fold-down laptop shelf in the centre seat turns the Transit into an office, and double-stacked door bins, plus huge bottle holders at each end of the dash mean nothing has roll about the cabin.
All vans at the launch event came loaded with Ford’s optional City Nav pack, which as the name suggests adds satellite navigation, as well as a larger colour display screen, reversing camera, front and rear park sensors and front fog lights - it’s a $2100 option but worth it for the camera and sensors if you’re often in tight spaces.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 2.0-litre EcoBlue four-cylinder turbo diesel, 96kW @3500rpm, 385Nm @1500-2000rpm
- Transmission: Six-speed hydraulic automatic, front wheel drive
- Suspension: MacPherson strut front, leaf spring rear, gas shock absorbers
- Brakes: Four-wheel disc brakes, 288mm front, 308mm rear
- Steering: Power steering, turning circle 10.9m (SWB) or 12.2m (LWB)
- Towing Capacity: 1800kg braked (SWB), 2100kg braked (LWB), 750kg unbraked
Commercial vans aren’t what they used to be - anyone who’s recently made the trade from an older van to a current generation model will tell you tell you so, and the result is better comfort, quieter running, and easier days behind the wheel.
The Transit Custom is no different, although the basic design has been on sale for a few years now Ford has used the new 2.0-litre EcoBlue engine to further improve noise and refinement levels compared with the outgoing 2.2-litre engine.
At idle Ford claims a 4dB noise reduction compared to the old engine, while the new EcoBlue engine produced an extra 4kW and 35Nm of torque while using less fuel.
The single-turbo engine complies with Euro 6 emissions regulations via a urea-injection exhaust treatment system with Ford suggesting around 9,000 to 11,000km between AdBlue fills depending on how the van is used.
Servicing requirements have also been pushed out to 30,000km or 12 months (whichever comes first) meaning less time off the road for scheduled maintenance.
As far as driving goes the new engine feels robust, with plenty of low-down torque doing the hard work. In low-speed traffic the six-speed auto works well with a smooth torque converter rather than a jerky dual-clutch system for easier operation.
Ford has also added an auto start-stop system for extra fuel savings when stopped, although the system never actually engaged itself during the introductory drive so it’s hard to say how unobtrusive (or otherwise) the system really is).
Manual gear changes via a rocker switch on the gear selector are available, but the transmission is also programmed to detect changes like inclines and loads, and adjust shift patterns to suit.
Heading from Melbourne’s industrial north to the industrial west along clogged arterial roads and smoother-flowing freeways proved there was little to dislike about the unladen ride and a series of agility exercises that gave the stability and braking systems a workout showed that the Transit Custom should conduct itself well if an ‘oh shit!’ moment should occur.
As expected, with a light load of a couple of hundred kilograms in the rear the ride settled, but the engine didn’t show much sign of struggle, keeping the Transit Custom alongside flowing traffic as Melbourne’s evening peak snarl started to take hold.
ANCAP Rating: 5 Stars - the Ford Transit Custom was awarded a maximum five-star score in 2014 from crash test data gathered by Euro NCAP.
Safety Features: Six airbags (dual front, front seat side, front curtain), electronic stability and traction control, trailer sway control, side wind stabilisation, roll over mitigation, ABS brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution and emergency brake assist.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: 3 years/200,000km (to private and small business customers only).
Servicing: Service intervals occur every 30,000km or 12 months (whichever occurs first) with service pricing set at $425 for the first service (and every odd interval) and $565 for every even interval. Additional pricing applies to brake fluid, coolant, drive belt and timing belt replacements with separate intervals for these items - your Ford dealer can explain full terms and conditions.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
Ford’s European-sourcing for the Transit Custom has meant that an automatic version has had to wait (European customers still prefer manuals unlike here) but the wait may well have been worth it, with Ford putting the right engine and transmission combo together.
While plenty of other European and Asian-built vans come with an auto option some stay decided old-fashioned (HiAce still only offers a four-speed auto) while others still stick with the jerky single-clutch automated systems that aren’t ideal in stop-start driving (like the Fiat Ducato).
Ford is also one of only two manufacturers to offer a five-star safety-rated van in the segment (the other is the Mercedes-Benz Vito) which is sure to be seen as a lure for fleet buyers with OH&S requirements in mind.
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
MORE: Ford News and Reviews
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