Car reviews - Ford - Transit - 290S
Design, practicality, car-like dash, dynamic tuning, sweet manual gearshift, storage galore
Room for improvement
Could do with more oomph, no auto option, no dual-sliding side door option, no tailgate option, no overhead grab handles, two-person passenger bench too upright
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14 Nov 2014
Price and equipment
HOW does our favourite new van work as a weekend plaything?To find out, we secured a Custom 290S 2.9-metre wheelbase van with optional City Pack.
Built in Turkey on an all-new platform, Australian-bound versions of the handsome new sixth-generation van, launched in February, is based on the entry-level Euro spec, but with bits from the Trend, Limited and Sport variants offered elsewhere added.
Obviously the 49-year old Transit series can shift stuff brilliantly – that is in no doubt.
An exercise involving loading and then transporting and unloading crates of fruit and vegetables for a charity highlighted the genuinely useful items fitted as standard.
These include a fixed integrated glazed cabin bulkhead, an under-cushion load-through function for items up to 3.1-metres long/or hidden storage, 180-degree opening rear barn doors, integrated roof racks with a lockable fold-down function to cut wind drag, a glovebox capable of holding an A4-size hanging file, two compartment lights, eight tie-down hooks and a load area protection kit with a rubber floor.
With a “class-competitive” carrying ability, the Custom 290S as tested comes with a 5.95m3 load space, a load length of 2555mm and load height 1406mm.
Note though that desirable options like dual side-sliding doors or a lift-up tailgate aren’t available for Australia… yet. Ford says if enough of you want it, they will build it.
But can the Transit cope as a car? After all, people have long bought pick-up trucks like the HiLux for weekend pleasure as well as weekday business.
First signs are great, as the latest Transit is the first van in its class ever to achieve a five-star Euro NCAP crash-test rating range-wide.
Safety has been a priority, with electronic stability and traction control featuring load-adaptive, anti trailer-sway and rollover-mitigation technology, anti-lock brakes, six airbags (dual front, side and curtain) and emergency brake-light activation inclusive.
City Pack ($1500) adds all-round parking sensors, a reversing camera with Trailer Hitch Assist, front fog lights and an electro chromatic exterior mirror.
More convenience comes from three-seat capacity with lap/sash seatbelts and head rests, tilt and telescopic steering column adjustment, cruise control with speed limiter, a leather-wrapped steering wheel with phone, audio and voice controls, heated seats, a multi-function trip computer, air-conditioning, power windows, remote central locking, powered and heated exterior mirrors, radio/CD/USB/iPod/Bluetooth connectivity and Ford's SYNC voice control with emergency services contact via a paired phoneIt also features a full-sized spare wheel, mud flaps, two 12-volt sockets, twin rear wipers, a fold-down centre armrest with a laptop or writing panel, a phone charger within a hidden dash-top compartment and bottle holder.
The high spec means that, at $37,490 plus on-road costs, the Custom 290S is more expensive than diesel-powered rival equivalents such as the Hyundai iLoad CRDi ($36,490), Renault Trafic SWB ($34,990) and the Volkswagen Transporter TDI250 ($36,490).
But the Ford is $1500 cheaper than the Peugeot Expert L2 LWB and the Mercedes-Benz Vito 110 CDI SWB.
Note that the 290S and its $2000 more expensive long-wheelbase 330 litre (for 3.3-metre wheelbase) sibling are just the first of many Custom variants coming.
Both are front-drive manual-only propositions for now. Autos are due later in 2015.
First impressions are not favourable if you’re under 175cm tall, because there are no grab handles to help haul you into the cabin. It’s hard work.
Once there, however, you sit high and mighty, with panoramic views of the road ahead and on to the side thanks to deep windows.
And beyond that, well, it’s a side-glassless van with a rear bulkhead. Vision out will always be poor. Thankfully that City Pack’s reverse camera helps.
The surprisingly car-like dashboard architecture is very similar to the current Ford Focus’ – that is, a stylised mass of buttons and vents, with a pretty four-spoke steering wheel, classy instrument dials flanking a comprehensive trip-computer screen, SYNC voice-activated connectivity for the Bluetooth phone and audio streaming systems, and an absolute plethora of storage items.
Because the Transit sits three abreast, there’s no lower console, so the manual gear lever is positioned up high where it is an easy reach away.
Except that you’re in a box, the driving position is comfy and commanding.
That fixed twin bench beside the driver is a bit too upright to be considered anything other than perfunctory, but at least it allows transportation of a third person.
Each outboard position has a heating element that blasts a furnace of heat through the seat of your pants.
Yet for all the comfort creatures, the Transit loses none of its workhorse smarts. It’s well built, practical and extremely accommodating for two folk – three at a pinch.
Engine and transmission
As with the last of the old VM models, the new VN employs a 2.2-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel engine that delivers 92kW of power at 3500rpm and 350Nm of torque developed between 1450-2000rpm.
It’s a relatively well-insulated unit, even during cold start-ups, but not very powerful for something that has to lug stuff around.
Acceleration is initially sluggish unless you really go hammer and tongs, since the TDCi relies on all that low-down oomph before it thinks about hustling along.
Once you get used to rowing the sweet-shifting six-speed manual gear lever, progress becomes agreeably rapid and easy to exploit, with a torque-driven eagerness on the move that is just what the white-van woman or man needs to zip in between traffic.
The combined average fuel consumption figure, by the way, is rated at an impressive 7.1 litres per 100 kilometres, though that’s pretty arbitrary in the real world, as we were often nudging 10L/100km with only a slight load on board.
But then we were revelling in the Transit’s entirely unexpected and rather incongruous dynamic capabilities.
Ride and handling
OK so the engine doesn’t make the Transit especially fast but the steering and handling sure make it the sportiest van of this size you can buy.
Informative, eager and yet light enough to be extremely manoeuvrable around town (thanks to an ultra-tight turning circle), the latest Transit's steering is just like most Ford passenger cars in that it works with the driver.
Though you won’t mistake it for a Fiesta ST, the van’s handling and road-holding are exemplary, thanks to a precisely tuned and composed chassis set-up, backed up by a strong set of brakes.
And even the ride quality rates highly – quite a feat considering that rear end is held up by old-fashioned leaf springs.
If you relish driving then the Transit is your van. It shames most medium-sized sedans for sheer dynamic pleasure.
For the record, the VN’s turning circle is 10.9m, brakes are 288mm discs all-round and tyres are 215/65 R15 on steel rims. Maximum towing capacity is rated at 2500kg.
Safety and servicing
As with all new Fords, the Transit brings a seven-year, 105,000km (whichever comes first) capped-price servicing regime with free roadside assist.
The Transit is currently the only van to score a range-wide five-star ENCAP crash-test rating.
Warning. If you are a driving enthusiast and are open-minded enough to think outside the square, the boxy Transit may woo and seduce you. Nothing in its class feels better behind the wheel.
That it also does the delivery duties with such aplomb reflects the Ford’s 49-year experience in the field.
Sales are already outstripping supply and we thoroughly understand why. Transit raises the bar.
Mercedes-Benz Vito 110 CDI SWB, from $38,990 plus on-roads
Safe and car-like to drive, the Vito makes a case for itself with a comfortable and useable interior, backed up by a massive load area and punchy performance.
But it isn’t cheap.
Volkswagen Transporter TDI 250 SWB, from $36,490 plus on-roads
Updated in 2010 but based on a 2004 design, the T5 is now one of the oldest designs, but still walks a fine line between interior/drivetrain refinement and workhorse-capability.
Hyundai iLoad Liftback CRDi, from $36,490 plus on-roadsBig, reliable and practical, the iLoad is popular for good reason with no-nonsense operators, but it one of the coarser options, isn’t especially pleasant to drive and can get very noisy. Does the job.
MAKE/MODEL: Ford VN Transit Custom 290S
ENGINE: 2198cc 4-cyl turbo diesel
LAYOUT: FWD, transverse
POWER: 92kW @ 3500rpm
TORQUE: 350Nm @ 1450-2000rpm
TRANSMISSION: 6-spd man
TOP SPEED: 157km/h
SUSPENSION f/r: Struts/Leaf spring
STEERING: Electric rack and pinion
BRAKES f/r: Discs/discs
PRICE: From $37,490 plus on-roads
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