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Driven: Ford lobs new Transit minus auto option

Load-lugger: Ford's Australian Transit range will be limited in the early days to two body lengths.

Ford at pains over long wait for automatic versions of new super-safe Transit van

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21 Feb 2014

FORD Australia admits it is playing with one hand tied behind its back over the lack of an automatic transmission in its all-new Turkish-made VN-series Transit Custom van.

But it says class-leading safety and a long list of standard features set it apart compared to cheaper mid-sized diesel rivals such as the Hyundai iLoad, Toyota HiAce and Renault Trafic.

The first of many variations of the sixth-generation van icon launches this month in six-speed manual, front-wheel drive-only configuration. But buyers may have to wait until the middle of next year before being able to choose one with an automatic.

As announced earlier in February, the base 2930mm short-wheelbase 290S kicks off from $37,490 plus on-road costs, to be followed in June by the 3300mm long-wheelbase 330L from $39,490.

“With around 60 per cent of sales being automatic, we can only play in 40 per cent of the market,” said Ford Australia product marketing specialist Michael Risby at this week’s Transit media launch.

Ford Australia brand communications manager Neil Macdonald added that the company was working hard to ensure availability in the not-too-distant future.

“We are working through it now to get the automatic through the system,” he said. “But Europe is a market heavily skewed towards manual transmission so it will take time.”

However, Ford is confident that the Custom’s status as the first and only van in its segment to have achieved a maximum five-star Euro NCAP crash-test safety rating will help it comfortably exceed the paltry 500 units its ageing VM Transit predecessor managed last year – though by how much nobody would reveal.

“We do have plans to increase the volume with the new Custom compared to the old model,” is all that Ford’s SUV and light truck manager Danni Winter said on the matter.

The Blue Oval’s cautious approach also extends to the very limited number of options on offer at the moment – with important items such as dual sliding side doors (only the left-hand side has one) and a lift-up tailgate unavailable to Australian buyers for now.

“We offered them in the previous-model Transit but there was very little take-up,” Mr Macdonald said.

“But if there is demand we will look at bringing them back.”

To help lure one-tonne van customers, Ford is throwing in a five-year and 200,000km warranty until June 30 (meaning that Custom 330L buyers will only have a few weeks to act) – though, again, it seems the company is testing the waters since Ms Winters hinted that the offer may extend beyond that date.

Built in Turkey and derived from the European base specification, Ford Australia has handpicked a number of items from the overseas Trend, Limited and Sport variants in order to come up with a unique Aussie Custom.

This means all 290S and 330L models arrive with class-leading safety specification including electronic stability and traction control featuring load-adaptive, anti trailer-sway and rollover-mitigation technology for added security, anti-lock brakes, six airbags (dual front, side and curtain) and emergency brake-light activation all as standard equipment.

These are on top of car-like safety and convenience items including cruise control with speed limiter, a leather-wrapped steering wheel with phone, audio and voice control activation, a tilt and telescopic steering column, heated seats, a multi-function trip computer display, air-conditioning, power windows, remote central locking, radio/CD/USB/iPod/Bluetooth connectivity and SYNC voice control with emergency services contact via a paired phone.

The Custom also includes three-seat capacity with full lap/sash seatbelt and headrest protection, a fixed integrated glazed cabin bulkhead, an under-cushion load-through function for extra-long items and a hidden storage facility,There are also 180-degree opening rear barn doors, integrated roof racks with a lockable fold-down function to help cut wind drag, powered and heated exterior mirrors, a full-sized spare wheel, mudflaps, 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, bottle holder, a rubber floor, a glovebox capable of accommodating an A4 hanging file storage, two compartment lights, eight tie-down hooks and a load area protection kit.

A $1500 City Pack adds front and rear parking sensors, a reversing camera with Trailer Hitch Assist, front fog lights and an electro chromatic exterior mirror.

Ford says the advanced safety and equipment list comfortably offset the Custom’s pricing premium over cheaper diesel-powered rivals such as the iLoad CRDi (from $35,490), Trafic SWB (from $34,990) and the Volkswagen Transporter TDI250 (from $36,490), while undercutting the Peugeot Expert L2 LWB ($38,990) and the Mercedes-Benz Vito 110 CDI SWB ($38,990).

Brandishing all-new styling, the Custom 290S measures in at 4972mm long, 1986mm wide (2290mm with mirrors), 1972mm high and a wheelbase of 2933mm in length.

Being the Low Roof version, it offers 1406mm of internal load height.

With a claimed “class-competitive” load carrying ability, the 290S comes with a 5.95 cubic-metre load space and a load length of 2555mm, while the 330L has 6.83 cubic-metre load space and a 2922mm load length.

The standard under-seat extender allows for narrow loads of up to 3.1m long in the former and 3.4m in the latter Custom.

Under the bonnet is a 2.2-litre turbo-diesel engine producing 92kW of power at 3500rpm and 350Nm of torque developed between 1450-2000rpm.

Fuel consumption is rated at 7.1 litres per 100 kilometres (heavier 330L: 7.3L/100km) on the average combined cycle while the carbon dioxide emissions output is 186 grams per kilometre (330L: 191g/km).

Steering is power-assisted rack and pinion, the front suspension is made up of MacPherson struts, variable-rate coil springs and an anti-roll bar, while a single-leaf spring takes the load out back.

The 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.

Along with that extended warranty, the Custom arrives with a capped-price servicing deal and roadside assistance.

Only two colours will be offered for now – white and silver.

Ford says it is investigating importing other body-styles besides the Custom van just launched – such as a high roof version with 1778mm of internal load height, as well as a Double-Cab-in-Van and Kombi nine-seater people-mover wagon variant – but not before 2015 at the very earliest.

There is also the Tourneo Custom minibus with a flexible rear-seat arrangement that is capable of over 30 different configurations. This is an unlikely starter for Australia for the time being.

2014 Ford Transit Custom pricing*
290S 2.2L TDCi$37,490
330L 2.2L TDCi$39,490
*Excludes on-road costs.

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