Ford’s garlanded new Transit Custom is the latest light commercial to join What Van?’s long-term test fleet. Steve Banner gives us his first impressions on our reigning Van of the Year.
We have taken delivery of a new long-term test vehicle in the form of our 2013 Van of the Year:?the Ford Transit Custom. Our Custom is in Trend trim – above Base but below Limited and Sport – and powered by the 125hp version of the newcomer’s 2.2-litre TDCi diesel.
Larger derivatives will arrive over the next 12 months, but at present Ford’s newcomer comes with just two wheelbases and a single roof height. Also on offer at 100hp and 155hp, the 2.2-litre is married to a six-speed manual gearbox in all three cases.
While the van will be the volume seller, you can also order the Custom as a Double Cab in Van, a Kombi or as a Tourneo.
Trend trim ought to be the most popular choice among customers because it provides most of what you are likely to want. As well as all the entry-level model features, you benefit from electrically adjustable and heated exterior mirrors, automatic headlights, rain-sensing wipers for the heated windscreen, and cruise control with an adjustable speed limiter.
The driver’s seat can be altered for height, reach and rake – the steering wheel is adjustable for reach and rake too, now a standard feature on all Transits – and included in the deal is a radio/CD system complete with steering wheel-mounted remote controls and Ford Sync with Emergency Assistance, which automatically summons the emergency services if the van is in an accident. It also allows most Bluetooth-enabled phones, MP3 players and USB drives to be operated with voice commands.
Front and rear parking sensors are, impressively, standard on Trend, too.
A 2.9-tonner, our long-termer can handle a 1014kg payload and its 6.8m3 load area is accessible by means of a sliding nearside door and twin rear doors that can be swung through 90º. Release the easy-to- undo stays and they can be pushed through 180º. A full-height steel bulkhead is fitted as standard. Raise a flap at the bottom of the section behind the dual passenger seat and you can accommodate extra-long items such as planks and ladders without having to put them on a roof rack.
Standard load area length is 2922mm, increasing to 3452mm if you employ the bulkhead’s load- through facility. However, using it means losing at least some of the cab’s under-seat storage space – just the place to hide power tools and other items that might get stolen.
So what’s the long-wheelbase Transit Custom like to drive?
While we have yet to sample our new van with a full payload, the 125hp 2.2-litre seems well on top of things so far as we can judge. Combined with the easy-shifting six-speed ’box, it is proving to be surprisingly flexible and forgiving. It allows the driver to hold on to higher gears than might be expected for longer than expected and still make decent progress.
That said, over-eager driving up and down the M5 and failing to take as much notice as we should of the little green arrow on the dashboard advising you when to change up to cut your fuel bill meant that we averaged no more than 31.2mpg according to the onboard computer, a figure we are confident we can better.
As for the handling, the steering is certainly responsive. If anything it’s too responsive, reacting so quickly to inputs that it may require the reigning in of enthusiasm slightly to avoid coming unstuck.
In-cab noise levels are agreeably low and we have no quarrels with the ride bar a bit of bump-thump from the suspension, although even the best-tuned suspension would protest against some of Britain’s pot-holed highways.
We like the driving position, although the heating and ventilation controls are poorly positioned – to adjust them you have to take your eyes off the road for just that little bit too long. So far, though, our impression of the newcomer is a positive one. Hopefully that will remain the case in the coming months.