07 Nov 2018

Ford Transit 350L 2018 new car review

Does this all-rounder van shine enough to standout?
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To think that full-sized vans, such as the 2018 Ford Transit 350L, cost about the same coin as the flagship dual-cab utes that are clear commercial-vehicle sales winners here in Australia.

Rather than having to juggle tools out the back, the family inside, plus any off-road aspirations, the $50,000-plus Transit 350L seems fit for load-hauling purpose. It’s six metres long, with a wheelbase that stretches as far as a Kia Picanto micro hatchback’s entire body length – 3750mm – complete with three seats up front and 11,000 (!) litres of volume behind.

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Ford last year updated the Transit with a six-speed automatic transmission, as tested here, and it has just added a formerly-optional touchscreen with Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone mirroring, a digital radio, satellite navigation and reverse-view camera standard.

But the 350L needs to stay competitive, because just this year Mercedes-Benz launched its new-generation Sprinter and Volkswagen its brand-spankers Crafter, the competition of which we’ll dissect here, along with Renault’s perennial and great-value Master van.

Vehicle Style: Large van

Price: $51,990 plus on-road costs

 Overview

Engine/trans: 125kW/405Nm 2.0-litre turbo-diesel 4cyl | six-speed automatic

Fuel Economy Tested: 9.9 l/100km

 Overview

OVERVIEW

While the Transit Custom is brand new, and a competitor for the Hyundai iLoad, this Transit 350L is a full-size larger and about $10K pricier, starting here in long-wheelbase mid-roof front-wheel drive specification from $51,990 plus on-road costs.

Standard with the 350L is a 2.0-litre turbo-diesel four-cylinder producing 125kW of power at 3500rpm and 405Nm of torque from 1750rpm until 2500rpm. It’s also cleaner than several Euro V emissions-compliant dual-cabs, because it uses a 21-litre AdBlue tank (topped up periodically at little cost) to reduce nasty particulates and meet a stricter Euro VI standard.

 Overview

There’s a plethora of choice from there – for $2500 less you can trade this front-wheel drive auto for a rear-wheel drive six-speed manual, scoring a 100-litre fuel tank (versus 72L here) plus 2750kg towing (plays 1800kg), though this auto’s 1230kg payload drops to 1170kg.

You could also, for $1500 more, option a ‘high roof’ that swells load height by 239mm, from this tested model’s 1886mm to 2125mm. We’ll see how that, along with load length and width, plus standard equipment, compares to its Sprinter, Crafter and Master rivals below.

 Overview

THE INTERIOR | RATING: 3.5/5

Standard Equipment: Remote central locking, automatic on/off headlights, cruise control, manual air-conditioning, leather-wrapped steering wheel, and power windows and mirrors.

Infotainment: 6.5-inch colour touchscreen with Bluetooth and USB connectivity, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone mirroring, satellite navigation and digital radio.

 Overview

Options Fitted: None.

Cargo Volume: 11,000 litres.

The 5981mm-long Ford packs in a 3533mm load length, 1784mm load width, and the aforementioned 1886mm load height and 1230kg payload of this 350L ‘mid roof’ auto model grade. We’ll start out back and work our way forward – naturally for this type of vehicle.

The closest competitor in terms of price is the $51,490 (plus orc) Master long-wheelbase, which stretches 6198mm from tip to toe, with load length/width/height of 3733mm, 1765mm and 1894mm. So basically, it’s a longer area but near-identical in the other respects, with a claimed 13,800L load volume comparing favourably to this Transit’s 11,000L space.

That said, Renault wants another $2200 from you for a touchscreen with sat-nav and foglights that are standard here, although you do get blind-spot monitoring and lane-departure warning, climate control, auto on/off wipers and keyless auto-entry unavailable here.

Both the new Crafter and Sprinter are available in long-wheelbase versions that sit closer to the Master in size, but are priced well beyond it or this Transit. So the Crafter TDI410 medium-wheelbase auto at $55,490 (plus orc), and Sprinter 314CDI medium-wheelbase auto at $59,349 (plus orc) are closer competition here.

The Mercedes-Benz might be pricey, but it gets active lane-keep assistance and all-speed autonomous emergency braking (AEB), as well as a blind-spot monitor, as standard. Volkswagen will do low-speed AEB standard, but it leaves the rest, as well as adaptive cruise control, on the options list. Does the admittedly cheaper Ford offer any of this? Well, no.

But it does offer more space. The Crafter TDI410 is near-identically long (5986mm) on the outside, and offers an even wider load width out back (1832mm). But having slight load deficits for length (3450mm) and height (1726mm) is enough to crimp volume to 9900L.

The Sprinter 314CDI is shorter from tip to toe (5932mm), and out back (3272mm), but it deploys its 1789mm load height to oust the Volksy, if not this Ford, with a 10,500L space.

So, for room out back, it’s Renault first, Ford second, Benz third and Volkswagen fourth, while for payload, it’s Master first again (1540kg), then Sprinter (1409kg), Crafter (1385kg) but Transit last (1230kg). 

While this isn’t a direct comparison test, though, the 350L acquits itself very well up front, despite sharing plenty of parts with the 2012-era Focus hatchback, as well as a 6.5-inch touchscreen from previous-generation Fords – rather than the sparkling new unit from the smaller, fresh-generation Transit Custom, which is amazingly crisp. It’s still great, though.

There’s plenty of door and overhead storage, twin bottle and cupholder spots on each side, and generous space for three across the cloth-covered trio of seats. Meanwhile satin-chrome trim, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and auto on/off headlights help it feel beyond basic.

ON THE ROAD | RATING: 4.0/5

Engine: 125kW/405Nm 2.0-litre turbo-diesel 4cyl.

Transmission: Six-speed automatic, FWD.

Suspension: MacPherson strut front and leaf-spring rear.

Brakes: Ventilated front and solid rear disc brakes.

Steering: Hydraulically assisted mechanical steering.

This is where the Transit 350L can deploy its ace card. This 2.0-litre’s 125kW/405Nm outputs eclipse the 105kW/330Nm of the same-sized Sprinter 314CDI’s twin-turbo diesel engine, while also soundly beating the larger, but 110kW/350Nm 2.3-litre Master unit.

Only the Crafter TDI410’s 130kW/410Nm trumps it by a fist-full of digits in each case, and it adds two extra gears to this Ford’s six-speed auto as well. But don’t forget the $3500 premium and smallest-here load area…

It can easily be argued that this 350L offers a blend of the others’ highlights. You don’t have to suffer the ‘automated manual’ lurchiness of the Renault, for a start, because this torque converter auto is smooth and crisp. Yet it’s far from slow, with even 500kg-plus worth of furniture (as measured on a trip to the tip) failing to dent the performance offered here.

A commendable on-test fuel consumption figure of 9.9 litres per 100 kilometres is testament to the effortless, if a fraction noisy, nature of this particular full-sized van. It’s enjoyably responsive, and gels nicely with the rest of the package – while not being a high-point.

The clear highlight of this Ford, though, is the steering and ride quality of a van that clearly benefits from the tuning genius shown in other models from this brand, be it the smaller and also-brilliant Transit Custom, or a Fiesta or Focus hatch.

Mid-weighted steering, which is tight and right, ensures that this big unit never feels ponderous or unmanageable either in town or at speed beyond it. And even when loaded-up, the suspension keeps superbly level across freeway expansion joints, for example, with significantly less head-toss than most dual-cab utes – notably a HiLux, if not Ford’s Ranger.

Forward visibility is excellent, rear visibility is aided by dual side mirrors plus the standard rear-view camera (and front and rear parking sensors), while Ford rightly boasts of a credible 13.3-metre turning circle that is only really a metre or so wider than many full-sized SUVs.

Once again, the area where the 350L could most improve is in terms of active safety technology, with blind-spot, lane-keep, adaptive cruise and – most crucially – AEB all offered in the newer and smaller Transit Custom, but not here. It’s also worth noting that the Renault and VW can tow 2500kg, the Benz can lug 2000kg, but the Ford is rated at 1800kg.

SAFETY

ANCAP rating: Not tested.

Safety Features: Six airbags, ABS, electronic stability control (ESC), front and rear parking sensors, and reverse-view camera.

WARRANTY AND SERVICING

Warranty: Five years/unlimited km

Servicing: With annual or 30,000km intervals, the Transit 350L costs an affordable $405, $655, $490, $655 and $490 for each check-up respectively, to five years or 150,000km.

RIVALS TO CONSIDER

The Sprinter 314CDI RWD is for those who prioritise active safety and fresh design above performance and price, and it offers a super competitive load area for its smaller size.

By contrast the Master LWB is the value buy, but we’d test drive the ‘automated manual’ first as it can be an acquired taste (and this tester dislikes it). Add the option pack before signing and you’re barely beyond this 350L’s price, with more kit and extra load volume.

The Crafter TDI410 looks to best balance performance with active safety and ‘newness’ for the price, but watch out for that smaller cargo area if loading stuff to the brim is a priority.

  • Mercedes-Benz Sprinter 314CDI RWD
  • Renault Master LWB
  • Volkswagen Crafter TDI410 MWB

TMR VERDICT | OVERALL RATING: 4.0/5

If the Transit 350L scored a cabin refresh, more active safety technology and a higher payload, it could comfortably add another half-star to its score here. Thankfully, with the exception of unavailable AEB, these are minor rather than major deficiencies versus rivals.

Unlike its competitors, the Ford doesn’t otherwise dip in any specific area, trending well above average in each discipline.

It’s more powerful, and packs a smoother transmission than the similarly priced Renault Master. Yet it delivers a larger load area and better infotainment than the more expensive Volkswagen Crafter, and greater performance than the also-pricier Mercedes-Benz Sprinter.

Add a five-year warranty (beating the others’ three-year cover), long 30,000km servicing intervals with a relatively affordable capped-price charge, plus the inherently excellent steering and suspension, and the Ford Transit remains the unrivalled all-rounder here.

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