What with the Fiesta Van, Transit Connect, the superb Transit Custom, Ranger and Transit Courier, there can be no denying that Ford now boasts the best range of light commercial vehicles it has ever had.
The line-up is topped off by the mighty new two-tonne Transit, so-called because that is roughly how much the biggest version can carry; and while its appearance may be more Chicago than Cheltenham – a version is to be built and sold in the US – it looks like yet another winner from Ford.
Prospective purchasers are spoilt for choice. The Transit is up for grabs with a choice of front-wheel drive and rear-wheel drive, and you can even order it as a 4x4. Two different roof heights and three different load lengths are on offer, gross weights go up to 4.7 tonnes this time round, and load volume model-for-model has been boosted by approximately 10% when compared with the newcomer’s predecessors. The biggest Jumbo Transit offers 15.1m3 of carrying space.
Power comes courtesy of a 2.2-litre Duratorq TDCi Euro5 diesel at 100hp, 125hp or 155hp, with a six-speed manual gearbox as standard. The two most powerful versions can be ordered with equipment that enables them to meet the forthcoming Euro6 regulations if required.
Two levels of trim are available: Base and the more-richly specified Trend.
Ford’s newcomer has not been designed solely as a van. Chassis cabs, chassis double-cabs and Double Cab-in-Van models are being rolled out too.
Faced with such an embarrassment of riches, we opted to test a £22,125 FWD 290 L2 H2 Trend – in other words, a front-wheel drive 2.9-tonner with a 10.0m3 load area – with the 125hp unit under its bonnet.
For your money you get a roomy, comfortable three-seater cab that shares its styling with that of the smaller Transit Custom – which is no bad thing – and with ample storage space.
The accommodation for pens, clipboards and all the other paraphernalia drivers haul around with them includes a lidded compartment on top of the instrument panel that plays host to a 12V power point plus aux and USB ports, deep bins in each of the doors and a capacious, lidded and lockable, glove box. To all that can be added shelves above the windscreen, shelves on top of the dashboard in front of the passengers, and cup and bottle holders at either extremity of the fascia.
Flip down the centre section of the back of the inboard passenger seat and it turns into a desk complete with a pen tray, two cup-holders and an elasticated band to keep paperwork tidy. Not an original idea admittedly, but none the worse for that.
Take a look underneath the dual passenger seat and you will see even more storage space.
With a seat adjustable for height as well as reach and rake – the angle of the cushion can be altered too – and a height and reach-adjustable steering column, the driving position can accommodate most shapes and sizes. You get an armrest as well as lumbar adjustment.
One thing we really dislike, however, is the positioning of the heating and ventilation controls – which in our case included the controls for the air-conditioning system – with their adjacent 12V power socket. They are too far over onto the passenger side of the dashboard, which means the driver has to lean over slightly and stop looking at the road ahead for a second or two in order to tweak them – and a second or two is all it takes to end up in trouble.
Something we really like, though, is the cab interior’s exemplary standard of fit and finish and the use of high-quality materials throughout – not features always found in Transit cabs in the past.
Access to the 10m3 cargo area is by means of a sliding nearside door plus opaque full-height twin rear doors. The former features an internal step plus a handily placed yellow grab-handle to ease access. The latter can be swung through 90º and latched into place, then through 180º if you pull an easy-to-use, clearly marked yellow lever in order to release them.
Access through the back doors is aided by a step integrated with the bumper.
Loads can be secured to two tie-down points at the base of the full-height steel bulkhead plus four positioned on the side walls along each side of the cargo area, making 10 in all.
The protection afforded by the load bed’s easy-to-wash-down plastic cover extends up over the wheel boxes, while a mixture of plastic and plywood panels defends the lower one-third to one-half of the cargo bay’s sides against scrapes and minor dents.
The extra-bright LED lights installed in our vehicle’s load area cost an additional £96 (all prices quoted here exclude VAT).
Maximum load length is 3044mm. Maximum width is 1784mm narrowing to 1392mm between the rear wheel boxes, while maximum height is 1886mm. Rear loading height is 668mm.
The side door aperture width is 1300mm with a height of 1700mm. The dimensions for the rear door aperture are 1565mm and 1748mm respectively.
Grossing at 2900kg and with a 3.3m wheelbase, our test Transit could handle a 940kg gross payload and tow a braked trailer grossing at 2800kg.
The four-cylinder transverse-mounted diesel develops maximum power at 3500rpm. Top torque of 350Nm bites across a 1450rpm to 2000rpm plateau.
An official combined fuel consumption of 37.7mpg is quoted, and we averaged closer to 35mpg. CO2 output is 197g/km and the Transit is fitted with a particulate filter.
Chassis and steering
The Transit’s front suspension is dominated by independent MacPherson struts plus an anti-roll bar, while leaf springs help support the rear. The front suspension mounting bushes and brackets are stiffer than those previously used.
Decorated with plastic trims, our van’s 15-inch steel wheels were shod with Bridgestone Duravis 215/65 R15C tyres.
Power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering affords a wall-to-wall turning circle of 12.6m, shrinking to 11.9m kerb to kerb.
Ford vans invariably offer smooth, slick gear changes and the Transit is no exception. We slipped quickly and effortlessly from one gear to the next, with no notchiness or baulking, as we enjoyed the van’s precise handling and direct steering.
The vehicle rode well too, and went about its business quietly, with well-muted in-cab noise levels.
Criticisms? Our test Transit exhibited some jerkiness when accelerating away from rest, with low-speed manoeuvres accompanied by a level of nervousness. We didn’t dare squeeze the accelerator pedal too hard when easing into a parking space. We’re guessing there was a software fault. Otherwise, the Transit accelerated strongly through the gears and had no trouble maintaining the maximum permitted motorway speed.
Opt for Trend specification and you won’t be short of clever kit. A radio/CD player with Ford Sync, Bluetooth and USB/iPod connectivity lets you operate most popular MP3 players, Bluetooth-enabled phones and USB drives using simple voice commands, and will help summon the emergency services if your van is involved in a smash. It will read incoming text messages to you too.
Our demonstrator was additionally graced by an onboard computer that will, among other things, tell you how many miles you can go before you need to fill up with diesel and your average fuel consumption. Electric windows, electrically adjustable and heated exterior mirrors with a separate wide-angle lower section and a heated windscreen are all provided as well.
The aforementioned air-conditioning system will set you back £720. A 230V three-pin power socket was positioned between the driver and passenger seats for an extra £72 so you can charge up your laptop without the need for a special adaptor.
Buying and running
Service intervals are set at two years/30,000 miles and the time required for scheduled maintenance has been reduced from 5.4 to 4.2 hours over 90,000 miles compared with the previous Transit. The multi-piece rear bumper should be easier and cheaper to repair because only the damaged section will have to be replaced if it takes a knock rather than the whole lot.
The Transit is protected by a three-year/100,000-mile warranty plus a 12-year anti-perforation corrosion warranty.
The vehicle comes with the usual list of modern safety devices, so let’s hear it for Electronic Stability Control, Roll-Over Mitigation, Load Adaptive Control, Traction Control, Emergency Brake Assist and Hill Start Assist.
On top of that you get Curve Control, which helps you stay on the road if you take a bend too quickly. Disc brakes are fitted all round while cruise control with an adjustable speed limiter will hopefully keep speeds at a sensible level.
A driver’s airbag and front fog lights are included in the deal as are rain-sensing wipers and automatic headlights that illuminate as the light starts to fade.
Front and rear parking sensors should help protect the Transit from minor bumps and bangs as well as potentially prevent passers-by from being injured. Deep rubbing strips that extend their protection to the rear wheel arches should lessen the risk of the sides collecting minor scrapes.
Turning to security, remote central deadlocking comes as standard, and buttons in the cab enable you to lock and unlock all the doors too. They lock automatically at speeds above 5mph also.
You need the ignition key to unlock the bonnet – a sensible security arrangement – while, finally, an immobiliser is, of course, fitted.
Ford's big new baby is an impressive package, no doubt about it. If we needed a large panel van and we were spending our own money, then this is the one we'd pick.
Due to celebrate its 50th anniversary next year, Ford’s Transit is, at least so far as the UK is concerned, a true automotive icon. Okay, it’s assembled in Turkey these days rather than in Southampton, but that has not dented its popularity among British buyers, and at least the engines are made in Dagenham.
Given the sophistication of those engines it is worth nothing that the first Transits to roll off the assembly line were offered with a Perkins 4/99 1.8-litre diesel alongside rather more appealing petrol engines. Power output from the Perkins lump? A modest 41hp, and to accommodate it the Transit had to be given a protruding nose.
Facelifted in 1978, Britain’s favourite panel van was completely redesigned in 1986, facelifted again in 1994 and redesigned completely in 2000 with the choice of either front- or rear-wheel drive. It has been further updated since, with a major renewal in 2006, Euro5 models appearing five years later, and the Transit’s smaller cousin, the new Transit Custom,
arriving in 2012.