Car reviews - Ford - Transit - range
Car-like comfort, refinement and dynamics, five-star safety, fuel economy, slick gearbox
Room for improvement
Very limited range of offerings and bodystyles, no automatic will hurt sales
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17 Nov 2014
FORD invented the modern one-tonne van template, so with 49 years of experience and over seven million Transits made during that time, the all-new, sixth-generation version (now dubbed Custom) ought to be a corker.
And in many ways, it really is.
Designed and engineered in Britain like all of its predecessors, but built in Turkey, the newest Ford van is the first in its class with a five-star NCAP crash-test rating – a vital OH&S breakthrough.
Fortunately we never had the chance to test how effectively this handsome new Transit protects its occupants in an accident, but we can tell you that the gap between car and van has never been slimmer.
From the moment you open the hefty door, its European provenance becomes clear, imbuing the same sort of solid quality you’d find in the Volkswagen Transporter.
Then there is the obviously Focus-inspired dashboard: well, a Belmont-spec L variant anyway, since the absence of even a skerrick of brightwork makes the grey monochromatic fascia very workmanlike and Teutonic in appearance. Ironic considering the Titanium-level safety spec.
Anyway, this is a solidly serious piece of kit in here. Obviously Ford’s Cologne gang in Germany had more than a bit of input.
Bar the clever van details – and there are plenty to admire, such as the three-abreast seating, handily high cupholders, plentiful storage areas, 12V phone charger socket hidden above the instrument binnacle, coat hooks and commanding and comfy driving position – the experience is very car-like and refined.
And by that we mean in the intuitive ease of using the instruments, pressing the buttons and just operating the thing. This is a well-ventilated and accommodating interior that is as modern as you would expect. Cruise control, Bluetooth, power windows, heated seats, USB/iPod connectivity – there are features in here that would embarrass a Ford Fairmont Ghia of just a decade ago.
With the $1500 optional City Pack’s reverse camera and parking sensors fitted, the latest Transit is one of the most salubrious base-model vans we’ve ever experienced.
Only a single Custom model – the 290S short-wheelbase van – is currently available, and in just one tech spec at that – a 2.2-litre four-pot turbo-diesel with a six-speed manual gearbox.
Seriously, this is just like setting off in a manual diesel-powered Focus or Mondeo – revvy, torquey and smooth, with eager step-off acceleration and a hearty amount of mid-range torque for fast lane-change responses. Just like every white van out there should have.
With sharp and meaty steering, the Custom is now a proper driver’s choice, allowing for calm and composed cornering, backed up by a pleasing amount of feedback and feel.
We’re not joking when we say that a few makers of mid-sized passenger sedans could learn from the way this Transit handles. Dynamically the Ford is a delight.
We experienced two Customs – an empty one and a 290S fitted with 400kg of cargo ballast. The differences between the two were pretty slight, with the engine and chassis coping admirably with the heavier load.
Add strong brakes, a tight turning circle, admirable stability in crosswinds and an absorbent ride over rough roads, and the Transit has almost every base covered.
So what don’t we like about the new Ford van?Obviously the no-show automatic transmission will keep a high percentage of buyers away – no matter how slick and easy the six-speed manual is.
The colour choice is appalling – white or silver, and that’s it. The lack of a right-hand side sliding door and optional lift-up tailgate is an oversight, no matter how well the current twin barn-door arrangement works.
However, Ford says that if demand exists, all of the above might arrive, while the auto is due sometime in the middle of next year.
Nevertheless, with its massive cargo area, refined car-like comfort, civil interior presentation, and absolutely class-leading safety and driveability, the latest Ford Transit Custom streaks to the head of the one-tonne van pack – if the limited range has what you require.
Yes, it is exxier than most, but it is better-equipped and just more appealing all-round.
That’s half a century of experience right there showing. The Custom is at the vanguard of the one-tonne van world.
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