03 Oct 2018

Ford Transit Custom v Hyundai iLoad Comparison Test

Van Diesel Land - We put two popular vans to the test
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Mid-sized vans are all the same. They are long and tall, driver and passenger cell perched precariously over front axle, with a sizeable square of hollow metal behind.

They near-uniformly leverage the torque-rich advantage of a turbo-diesel engine, they’re about 5.0 metres long, weigh 2.0 tonnes and can haul a circa-tonne payload.

There’s no great template-change with this Ford Transit Custom and Hyundai iLoad, though the former uses front-wheel drive while the latter powers the rear wheels only. Otherwise, both have been facelifted this year and both wear sub-$45K pricetags. So perhaps close your eyes and pin the tail on the donkey? Well, quite possibly not.

While Toyota’s HiAce nabs 33 per cent of volume in this small segment – mid-sized vans sell 200 per month versus dual-cab utes’ 1700 – it came out in 2005. The iLoad is newer, lobbing in 2008 but being freshly facelifted and with a 21 per cent class share, while the Transit Custom arrived in 2013 and snares 11 per cent of the vans.

Essentially, the Toyota is the elderly option but most popular, the Hyundai is second for volume and second-oldest, while the Ford lags behind for sales yet is newest. The question is, then: does vintage even matter with apparently all-the-same vans?

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TESTED

Model: Ford Transit Custom 300S ($43,790 plus on-road costs)

Spec: 96kW/385Nm 2.0-litre turbo-diesel 4cyl | six-speed automatic

Fuel use claimed: 7.2L/100km Tested: 9.4L/100km

Model: Hyundai iLoad ($41,790 plus on-road costs)

Spec: 125kW/441Nm 2.5-litre turbo-diesel 4cyl | five-speed automatic

Fuel use claimed: 8.8L/100km Tested: 11.2L/100km

OVERVIEW

The iLoad costs $38,790 plus on-road costs with a six-speed manual transmission, while the as-tested five-speed automatic asks $3000 extra. While twin-sliding doors and a lift-up tailgate are standard, optioning side-swing barn doors costs $550 extra.

The Transit Custom (in this 300S short-wheelbase spec – unlike its rival there’s also a long-wheelbase option) asks $40,990 (plus orc) with a six-speed manual, while the as-tested – and newly introduced – six-speed auto requires $2800 extra.

From here it’s $41,790 (plus orc) plays $43,790 (plus orc) with auto – fairly close.

Ford, however, charges $1000 extra for a second, driver-side sliding door, and while here barn doors are standard, a tailgate adds $550. It also gets optional satellite navigation ($600), alloy wheels ($1000), plus a Technology Pack (for just $1600) with forward collision warning, autonomous emergency braking (AEB), adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitor, lane-departure warning, rear cross-traffic alert, automatic on/off headlights/wipers, auto up/down high-beam, plus tyre pressure monitoring.

The Hyundai misses all of the above equipment, though it’s now $5200 cheaper.

THE INTERIOR

From the driver’s seat, the South Korean contender has a distinctly more car-like feel than its European-bred rival, with a lower seat position set further back from the windscreen, owing to a deeper dashboard. It is a rare van in which you sit in, not on.

While both vans get three-across front seats, the iLoad gets a wider and thicker outboard pair, with a narrower centre seat, where conversely its rival gets a trio of narrower pews that deliver greater comfort for the centre rider. There’s also more legroom for that middle person, because the Transit gets a notably less intrusive transmission tunnel that is further helped by placing its storage spaces higher up.

So although driver and passenger(s) must also clamber higher up into the Ford, there is at least terrific space. And although all surfaces are hard plastic – its rival includes soft-touch vinyl – it prioritises function over form, with superb storage that includes expansive dash-top trays, and four high-mounted cupholders/bottleholders.

By contrast the Hyundai has little space for your smartphone higher up, and only lower-down pop-out cupholders that further intrude into centre-rider room. At least it gets an upper glovebox with lid, while supersized door bins are common to both.

There’s a clear win to the 300S for infotainment, too, thanks to one of the highest resolution 8.0-inch touchscreens available in any vehicle for this price, plus Sync3 software that is simple to use, and offers near-flawless voice control. Simply say who you want to call, or (when nav is optioned) where you want to go, all in ‘one shot’.

Its rival’s 7.0-inch touchscreen is fine in isolation, and it’s a match for Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone mirroring technology too. While a digital radio, nav and voice control all aren’t available, at least in the latter case Siri/OK Google can be used via steering wheel-mounted controls should phone-mirroring tech be activated.

Basically, it’s a less sophisticated, but still useful way for any tradie to manage the day without pulling over or fiddling with screens incessantly.

Meanwhile, although some may prefer the iLoad’s ‘cab less forward’ interior design, it should be noted that this van does stretch 5150mm from front grille to tailgate, with a load length of 2375mm. Its rival, with a higher and more forward cab, stretches 4972mm lengthways, yet delivers a 179mm-longer 2554mm end-to-end load space.

The 2080mm-wide Transit is also 150mm broader than its 1920mm-wide rival on the outside, and predictably it offers 155mm extra cargo width – 1775mm plays 1620mm. Cargo height? It’s a similar story, 1406mm versus 1340mm in the Euro’s favour.

The South Korean’s quoted volume of 4426 litres also pales against its 5700L rival, although it just manages to snatch back a lead with a payload advantage – a 1098kg maximum against 958kg. And then it prepares to go in with quite the power play.

ON THE ROAD

A major house clean-up and move is the perfect environment in which to test these two mid-sized vans – loading, unloading, comparing laden and unladen performance.

Of all the measurements and figures in this test, the duo come closest together in kerb weight, with the 2062kg Hyundai being just 20kg heavier than its rival. Yet it also has a (comparatively) lusty, thrusty 2.5-litre turbo-diesel four-cylinder under its stout bonnet, with 125kW of power at 3600rpm and 441Nm of torque from 2000rpm.

Even with a seemingly outmoded five-speed automatic – though number of gears matter less with just a 4500rpm redline – the iLoad feels stronger everywhere, with notably superior overtaking response especially obvious with a full load.

The Ford’s 2.0-litre turbo-diesel four-cylinder makes 96kW at 3500rpm and 385Nm from 1500rpm, which translates to a greater period of foot-to-the-floor driving in busy situations. Postman Pat might be a bit behind, but this six-speed auto is also brilliantly adept at instantly coming to the fore and then relaxing, to help refinement.

This is a much quieter engine than its rival, and that trait combines with less road noise thanks to a fixed bulkhead behind the seats, rather than its rival’s wire mesh. There’s simply less of that hollow thrum that can permeate from an empty steel box.

Despite seemingly being worked harder, the Transit’s 72-litre tank also consistently showed higher range than its rival. After 100km of urban schlepping it showed 670km to empty for diesel usage of 9.4 litres per 100 kilometres. Over the same distance travelled the iLoad’s 75L tank showed 570km to empty, equating to 11.2L/100km.

Perhaps predictably for a newer vehicle also hailing from the Blue Oval’s European arm, which is renowned for steering and chassis tuning excellence, its mid-sized van contender is also the most pleasurable to drive, despite the performance deficit.

It starts with beautifully crisp and consistently light steering, and finishes with terrifically disciplined yet mostly compliant suspension that especially gets better at speed – being silky on the freeway and adept at disposing with rougher roads.

But it can’t quite get a clean-sweep.

The Big-H contender may have slower and inconsistently weighted steering, which can move from light and vague to heavier and dull, but its low-speed suspension compliance is superior. In particular, it delivers relaxed response over speed humps or when entering steep driveaways, smoothly compressing and extending its dampers, whereas its Euro rival can feel like a po-go stick – jolting up then down.

And the older contender still holds up well in other areas, with a fidgety freeway ride offset by a firmly planted feel at all times. Being rear-driven, it should provide greater traction with a full load in the wet, and in any condition its 11.2-metre turning circle is almost a half-metre superior than its (11.6m) newer foe.

Further helping off the road, too, is Hyundai’s capped-price servicing plan that is ideal for buyers who travel fewer kays. With annual or 15,000km intervals, it charges $1068 to 3yrs/45,000km, $1575 to 4yrs/60,000km, and $2440 to 6yrs/90,000km.

Ford’s equivalent plan includes annual or 20,000km intervals, so it asks $1515 to 3yrs/60,000km (note how it’s cheaper only if the kilometre count comes up first), $2600 to 5yrs/100,000km (roughly the same as to 6yrs/90,000km above), but a hefty $3170 should six years come around first and you require a 6yr/120,000km check.

With both offering a five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty, it all comes down to whether you travel more kilometres per year, in which case the Transit is for you, or less, in which case load up with the iLoad.

TMR VERDICT 

In many ways the iLoad doesn’t feel a decade old. Sure, some switchgear is dated and a few comfort and active safety features are lacking, but it majors on delivering big-ticket, no-frills functionality for less.

The front seats are comfortable, the cabin feels less van-like than its rival, the diesel is strong and the suspension treads a steady middle ground between compliance and control. The luggage bay may be smaller, but the twin-sliding doors are handy.

What’s also clear is that the Transit Custom 300S is the much more sophisticated offering. Smaller on the outside but bigger inside, it trades touchy-feely dashboard surfaces and wider seats for extra storage space and greater three-across legroom.

It may be slower, but it’s more refined and economical, and while the suspension isn’t perfect at really low speeds, its steering and ride control are otherwise as impressive as the benchmark infotainment and active safety technology are.

Yes, the Ford is $2000 to $5200 pricier than the Hyundai depending on available options, but arguably the extra outlay is worth it. As it turns out, newer really is better.

Ford Transit Custom 300S – 4.5 stars

Hyundai iLoad – 3.5 stars

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