The arrival of the Ford Transit Courier in july will see the completion of the uK market leader’s overhaul of its LCV product line-up that began with the launch of the Ranger pick-up truck in January 2012 and has since taken in the Transit Custom, Transit Connect and full-size Transit.
All of the models preceding the Courier have been very well received in the marketplace and, judging by our first impressions, the little city van is likely to meet with a favourable response too.
The Courier is available as a panel van and a Kombi and with two levels (Base and Trend) and with three engines: two diesels – 95hp 1.6 and 75hp 1.5 units – as well as Ford’s 1.0-litre ecoboost petrol engine.
While the car-derived Ford Fiesta Van remains a viable product for Ford – last year it was up 20% in shifting 3792 units, according to the SMMT – there is a sense that traditional CDVs are becoming marginalised as more practical, purpose-built alternatives increase in popularity; Peugeot has dropped the 207, for example, and Vauxhall has withdrawn the Astravan from the light van segment.
In the baby van sector, however, the sea change came with the introduction of the high cube Fiat Fiorino and the equivalent Citroen nemo and Peugeot Bipper products from its Sevel partners. These vans raised the bar in terms of payload capacity and load space when they emerged in 2008, and Ford has now got around to taking them on at their own game.
It is the first time the brand has attached the Transit name to such a small van.
Paulo Giantaglia, Ford of Europe’s chief programme engineer for the Courier, says: “The Courier is an affordable, hard-working van that offers unrivalled fuel economy and bigger load space than its closest competitors. This is the perfect vehicle for today’s busy city streets and will bring Transit capability to a whole new group of customers.”
Fiat Professional, for one, is bullishly welcoming the competition. UK boss Sebastiano Fedrigo has described Ford’s decision to enter the sub- segment Fiat created as “an endorsement of the Fiorino’s success, a compliment”.
Ford claims the Courier will offer best-in-class fuel efficiency and load space while, when it comes to payload, its 660kg capacity matches the Bipper and Nemo and exceeds the Fiorino’s 610kg limit. Another rival on Ford’s radar, Mercedes’ Citan Compact, has a payload of just 490kg.
However, the group of rivals may dispute Ford’s claim on loadspace because while the Courier can accommodate 2.3m3 behind the bulkhead, the Fiorino, the Nemo and Bipper cite load volume of 2.5m3, while the Mercedes-Benz Citan Compact provides 2.4m3. Ford, though, draws attention to load-carrying features such as an optional mesh bulkhead and fold-dive passenger seat that can increase load volume to 2.6m3 and enable the Courier to carry longer items of up to 2.59m.
Ford claims its most frugal engine, the 1.6 diesel, achieves 97g/km CO2 and 76.3mpg
on the combined cycle when equipped with auto stop- start and a 62mph speed limiter. With just auto stop- start fitted the figures are 100g/km and 74.3mpg.
The most economical figure quoted by the competition, excluding the car-derived Vauxhall Corsavan and Ford’s own Fiesta Van, which have both cut emissions to below 90g/km and achieve more than 80mpg – as does Fiat’s Punto Van – is for the Peugeot Bipper 1.3 HDI 75 EGC with CO2 of 109g/km and fuel economy of 68.9mpg.
When it comes to prices, the Courier starts at £11,045 for the Base spec van, which is available with either the 1.0- litre ecoboost or the 75hp 1.5 diesel. This represents a £140 hike over the cheapest entry- level opposition van, the Bipper 1.3 HDI 75.
We tested the Courier with the 95hp 1.6 diesel engine that is only offered with the higher-level Trend specification. Our vehicle was also fitted with auto stop- start for an additional £150.
Like the rest of the Courier range, this model comes with five-speed manual transmission. The load bay is accessed via glazed twin rear doors, which open to 90° and can swing through to 180°, although the clips to enable them to do so were a little flimsy, which was surprising considering the high standard and toughness of the fittings and fixtures overall. There is also a sliding near-side door to offer a more convenient way to load and unload the van when parked at the kerb side.
The cabin is protected from objects that may come loose in the cargo box by a full-height, full-width steel bulkhead, which was glazed on our van to offer some extra rear-view vision in addition to that provided by the side mirrors, but with six tie-down points, including four mounted to the side of the van, it should be possible to secure loads anyway. It would be worth investing in the load floor cover, a £30 option, to protect the cargo bay against minor damage. Trend spec models get a 12V power point in the load bay. For vans without glazed rear doors an unglazed bulkhead is available.
We drove the van with a half-load on board and while this may have contributed
to its excellent ride quality by minimising bounciness, it did not appear to inhibit the eagerness of its performance.
The build quality is first rate – all the doors and cabin components have a sturdy feel to them – and once on the road there are no irritating rattles and squeaks. Wind and road noise is kept to a relaxing minimum and the bulkhead cuts out sound interference from the rear. Ford’s extensive testing of the Courier appears to have paid off. The manufacturer claims to have driven prototypes over the equivalent of one million miles, akin to a couple of return trips to the moon,
it says. The company says the durability testing simulates years of extreme use and includes more than 250,000 miles on public roads under typical customer operating conditions. To ensure reliability, engineers opened and closed the doors 250,000 times in non-stop endurance programmes.
In line with the rest of the Transit range, a multi-piece rear bumper, protection strips on the sides of the body, and high- mounted front and rear lights help to guard against accident damage and should reduce repair costs.
Ford’s clever easy Fuel device, a standard fit on Couriers, prevents expensive fuelling mistakes by only allowing the right nozzle to fit into the tank. To further help keep running costs under control, all models offer extended one-year/20,000-mile service intervals.
The Courier’s interior is basically a scaled down version of those in the two- tonne Transit, Custom and Connect. It’s stylish, user-friendly and certainly sets new standards for the sector.
Ford has made the most of the limited space available to provide decent stowage facilities. These include a centre console that is big enough to hold A4 documents and small laptops or tablets, a full-width overhead shelf (standard on the Trend specification, otherwise a £45 option) and a drawer under the passenger seat to stash valuables out of sight.
A new innovation on all models is the dashboard- mounted Device Dock, which allows drivers to store, mount and charge their phones and navigation systems.
Our van had rear parking sensors and cruise control with switchable speed limiter, both of which are available as £150 options.
Trend models get DAB radio with CD as well as Ford Sync with emergency Assist in addition to the Bluetooth and uSB that comes as standard. The van we drove was also furnished with a five-inch touch screen with satellite navigation, air-conditioning and a rear-view
camera that comes as part of a pack for £650. But somewhat confusingly, this option also includes the leather steering wheel with radio controls and leather gear knob that are standard on Trend anyway.
Ford is to be commended for making eSC standard on its smallest van, and the system incorporates Hill Start Assist,
Traction Control and Roll-over Mitigation. The manufacturer has tuned the Courier’s chassis with what it describes as a unique steering ratio and dual- rate rear springs with the aim of providing excellent driving dynamics under all load and road conditions. The results are impressive – the van is smooth and comfortable on long journeys, belying its compact dimensions. As stated, we had a half-load on board, but Ford pledges that the ride is equally refined when the van is unladen. On winding roads or in busy city streets, sharp steering and a snappy gear change result in agile handling and excellent manoeuvrability – the Courier has a turning circle of 10.5m kerb to kerb. This is wider than the Fiorino, Bipper and the Nemo, which all manage to spin round in a smaller 9.9m.
Reach- and rake-adjustable steering helps the driver find the best position, as does the rake- and reach-adjustable seat – a nice touch is that the passenger also gets one of these.
Ford is deploying its Courier engines in the model line-up
for the uK to target specific customer groups. The 1.0 petrol ecoboost engine is available in Base and Trend vans, the 75hp 1.5 diesel is offered in Base and Trend vans and in Kombi mode, and the 95hp 1.6 diesel is placed only in the Trend van.
Mark Easton, LCV product manager, Ford of Britain, says the strategy reflects the likelihood that big fleets will opt for the 75hp van while user choosers and small operators will go for the 95hp diesel. He reckons the ecoboost will take a modest 5% of the sales mix with the Kombi chipping in with 1-2%.
Easton defines the market the Courier will compete in as the B-ISV segment (B-platform integrated style van). The ISV embodies vans designed as a piece rather than as a chassis with a load box bolted on. He says the Fiesta Van already accounts for 15% of this sector and adds that Ford is targeting at least 30% with the introduction of the Courier.
However, he admits the sector is fragmentary and not easy to define.
“It’s not as clear cut as we would like it to be,” he says.
Easton has observed a trend for larger fleets to downsize in order to reduce running costs and increase flexibility, and argues Ford can now provide a Transit model to meet all needs.
“Buyers want a mix of vehicles rather than one size fits all,” he says.
He is less certain that all customers will use the Transit name to describe their vans.
He suggests large operators will say “I’ve got a bunch of Transits” while buyers of single vans, such as a florist, will say, “I’ve got a Courier”.
Down the line
Ford is predicting class-leading whole-life costs for the Transit Courier. Taking KwikCarcost’s forecast for a 75hp 1.5 diesel with a starting price of £14,305 at 48 months with 20,000 miles per annum, it expects a 20% residual value of £2813.
It claims this equates to a saving of £1627 over the Peugeot
Bipper 1.3 75 S, £1207 against the Citroen nemo 1.3 875 X, £1787 versus the Fiat Fiorino Cargo 1.3 Multijet 75, and £3461 compared with the Mercedes Citan 108 Compact 1.5 75, which, although predicted to be worth £2833 after four years, has the highest starting price in the group of £16,374.
Another extremely competent and impressive van from Ford to complete the overhaul of its light commercial line-up.