When we first tested Ford’s Transit Custom four years ago people repeatedly came up to us and asked us about it. Every time we stopped at a fuel station to fill up with diesel we were promptly surrounded by a gaggle of Transit fans eager to find out as much as they could about the newcomer.
The Transit Custom’s sales success means it is now a relatively common sight on Britain’s highways, so the latest version is unlikely to get quite the same reaction. Perhaps it should.
While the vehicle looks the same, it has changed significantly beneath the metal. The old 2.2-litre TDCi diesel has been dropped in favour of the new Euro6 2.0-litre EcoBlue at 105hp, 130hp or 170hp.
As well as delivering more torque lower down the rev range and longer service intervals, the newcomer offers significantly better fuel economy than its predecessor, says Ford.
The Custom can be specified with two overall lengths and two roof heights, offering from 6.0m3 to 8.3m3 of cargo space. Payload capacities range from 674kg to 1,474kg and you can order the Custom as a six-seater Double Cab-In-Van or as a nine-seater Kombi as well as in van guise.
Recently launched are the Colour Edition special edition and a wider range of Sport models. However, we took to the UK’s seasonally damp highways in a, more prosaic, 130hp L1H1 van in Trend trim, which is above Base but below Limited and Sport.
With commendable honesty, when it comes to load cubes Ford always likes to quote the VDA figure alongside the more commonly relied upon SAE figure. The former measures cargo capacity using standard-size wooden blocks, which puts our test van’s load space at 5.4m3. The latter relies on sand or similarly loose material that runs into every nook and cranny, increasing the L1H1 body’s theoretically available space to 6.0m3.
Access to the load box is by means of a sliding nearside door plus twin opaque rear doors that can be swung through 90°, or through 180° if you liberate the chunky, easy-to-release stays. All the vehicle’s doors lock automatically at above 5mph.
Inside the cargo area you will find eight tie-down points with a hefty-looking full-height steel bulkhead at the far end. It boasts a load-through facility: a flip-up flap at the bottom that allows over-length items such as planks and ladders to be carried by making use of the space under the passenger seats. It increases available load length to 3,085mm.
As a consequence you may not need to make use of a roof rack. As it happens, though, our Transit was fitted with an ingenious optional roof-rack system that folds away flat when not in use.
At a modest 588mm, rear loading height is low thanks to front-wheel drive. Our van’s load bed was protected by a tailored plastic cover – Ford’s Easy Clean load floor – and the sides, doors and wheelboxes were defended by a ply-lining kit.
Two interior lights are fitted, which is good as too few van cargo areas feature proper illumination at night.
Cab and equipment
With an attractively styled fascia, the Transit Custom offers one of the most pleasant working environments of any van in its class.
Oddment stowage facilities in the three-seater cab include a pair of bins in each of the doors, a decent-sized lidded and lockable glove box, a shelf in the dashboard, a tray just in front of the gear stick for small change and a lidded compartment that contains a 12V power point on top of the instrument binnacle.
You will find another 12V power point on the fascia.
Look to the top of the heated windscreen and you will spot a compartment for sunglasses. Turn your gaze to each extremity of the dashboard in turn and you'll see a 2.0-litre-capacity bottle holder and a cup holder.
Flip down the centre section of the middle seat’s back and it turns into a reasonably useful desk complete with a couple of cup holders, a pen tray and an elasticated band to keep paperwork in place. Pull up the cushions of each of the passenger seats and you will find a roomy storage compartment underneath, although it should be remembered that this is the space into which over-length items slide.
Both the steering wheel and the comfortable driver’s seat are height-adjustable – the angle of the seat cushion can be adjusted too as can the lumbar support – and it is pleasing to see that the occupant of the cab’s middle seat enjoys some legroom. That is not always the case in rival vans of this size.
Electric windows and electrically adjustable and power-foldable exterior mirrors with lower wide-angle sections are included in the deal as is a driver’s airbag.
The manual air-conditioning is an option and in our view should be standard. Trend-specification vans come with a eadio/CD system, Sync including emergency Assistance, a four-inch display, Bluetooth connectivity with voice control, AppLink, audible text messaging and privacy mode, a USB connectivity port with iPod functionality, and remote audio controls.
One of the key benefits of this package is that it allows you to play music, make and receive hands-free calls and control apps on your smartphone with voice commands. Emergency Assistance means that the emergency services can be alerted fast if your Custom is in a serious smash.
Our demonstrator came with all of this plus an optional satellite navigation system, a DAB radio and with a five-inch rather than a four-inch screen.
All the usual electronic onboard safety systems are in place including ABS, electronic stability control with load adaptive control, roll stability control, hill-start assist, emergency brake assist, emergency brake warning, side wind stabilisation and traction control.
With common-rail direct fuel injection operating at 2,000 bar, a variable-geometry turbocharger and a particulate filter, Ford’s new four-cylinder 16-valve EcoBlue diesel is said to offer up to 20% more low-rpm torque than its predecessor. Fuel consumption and CO2 emissions are said to be down by up to 13%.
EcoBlue comes with Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR) in order to meet the mandatory Euro6 emission standard. That means that it requires periodic doses of AdBlue. The AdBlue filler point is under the flap that conceals the diesel filler point and we found a Ford funnel in the glove box intended to make it easier to pour in the fluid. You will typically need to top up the 21-litre AdBlue reservoir every 6,000 miles.
The whole package is married to a standard six-speed manual gearbox, while auto stop-start isn’t standard.
Chassis and steering
Independent suspension with MacPherson struts and variable-rate coil springs is fitted at the front along with a stabiliser bar, while leaf springs help support the rear. Our test van’s 15-inch steel wheels were decorated with plastic covers and shod with Continental Vanco 2 215/65 R15C tyres.
Power-assisted steering delivers a 10.9m turning circle.
The Transit Custom corners rather like an overgrown go-cart – and that is not meant as a criticism.
Responsive steering means it heads in precisely the direction you want it to go in while the suspension system ensures you hang on to the highway through some surprisingly tight bends (unless, of course, you opt to do something really stupid).
The ride could stand to be slightly better damped, however, given the questionable quality of Britain’s road surfaces.
The engine packs a lot more punch than Ford’s figures suggest. We kept feeling we were having to rein it in and that it had a lot more to deliver if we really gave it its head.
That makes it a good all-rounder – as at home among the chimney pots and zipping along rural routes as it is on the motorway.
Ford manual gearboxes have always impressed us with their slickness and the speed of the gear change they deliver, and the Custom’s is one of the best. Nipping from one cog to the next seems to take nanoseconds – just what you need if you’re on stop-start urban delivery work and a fully automatic 'box is not an option.
As it happens, a fully automatic 'box soon will be on Custom. The six-speed SelectShift auto transmission will shortly be made available on 130hp and 170hp models with auto stop-start as standard.
Drop down a gear and floor the accelerator pedal and you are rewarded by an encouraging growl from the engine. Perhaps a little bit more could be done to tune out engine and wind noise, but these are minor criticisms of what is otherwise a remarkably impressive package.
The headlights come on automatically when the light starts to fail. It is a facility that is a real boon in gloomy winter weather as are the highly effective static cornering lights and front fog lights.
The wipers come on automatically when they sense rain, and use a 'clap-hands' action.
Buying and running
With service intervals set at two years/36,000 miles, workshop visits will be a rare event for many operators, which should help keep running costs under control. Wisely, however, Ford specifies an annual safety check.
A three-year/100,000-mile warranty is included in the deal plus a 12-year corrosion perforation warranty. However, the roadside assistance package only lasts for a year.
Our Transit Custom is supposed to return almost 45mpg on the combined cycle according to official figures. As with almost all vans, the official figures were adrift of reality. We recorded closer to 40mpg, although we must admit we didn’t always change gear with fuel economy in mind when the dashboard indicator told us to.
Our Custom was fitted with Acceleration Control as an option. It’s an engine calibration designed to restrict acceleration and reduce fuel usage when the van is lightly laden. Without it, our diesel consumption might have been a whole lot worse.
Cruise control and an adjustable speed limiter are standard on Trend, but we made no use of them.
It's good to see that you still need the ignition key in order to open the bonnet – a neat security feature. Side rubbing strips protect the optional metallic paint from minor damage while Park Pilot front and rear parking sensors should help defend the van against more serious harm.
The use of multi-piece bumpers front and back means that if a bumper collects a smack then it will not have to be replaced in its entirety.