Ford Transit van review
From its driving experience and efficiency to safety tech and vast model range, the Ford Transit sets the standard that others have to beat
There’s no bigger name in vans than Ford Transit. For over 50 years the big Ford has been the go-to van for businesses in the UK and across Europe. It’s even reached the point that ‘Transit van’ has become the popular catch-all term for any panel van, no matter who builds it - much to the annoyance of Ford’s rivals.
The trouble with having a reputation like the Ford Transit’s is that you have to uphold it. In a bid to do exactly that, Ford introduced a series of updates in the summer of 2016. The most important was the arrival of EcoBlue TDCi engines that meet the Euro6 emissions standards but there were also improved driving dynamics plus additions in the technology and safety departments.
From its launch in 1965 the Transit van was groundbreaking, offering a more car-like driving experience than the forward control Ford Thames van it replaced. A wide range of variants was introduced too, which quickly helped Ford to corner the market for panel vans, tippers, minibuses and Luton vans.
Skip forward 50 plus years and the latest Ford Transit faces tougher competition than ever before, from direct rivals like the Vauxhall Movano, Mercedes Sprinter and Citroen Relay. However Ford’s on-going investment in the model has ensured it continues to offer a huge choice of sizes, formats and configurations, helping to keep the Transit at the head of the pack. Sadly it’s not built in Britain any more, as Ford closed its Southampton factory when the last model expired and the Transit is now built in Turkey. At least the new EcoBlue TDCi diesel engines are made in Dagenham.
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Ford’s complete Transit range is now up to four models, and includes the Transit Courier and Transit Connect compact vans plus the Transit Custom mid-sized panel van. Those models leave the Ford Transit (often referred to as the ‘Transit two tonne’) free to compete in the large panel van segment, and it does so with the traditional baffling range of bodystyles. According to Ford, there are now over 450 variants from panel vans to minibuses. Somewhere in that gargantuan line-up there should be a Transit van for everyone.
There are two core trim levels, Base and Trend, with all models getting remote central locking, an 8-way adjustable driver’s seat, a full bulkhead and an impressive collection of safety tech. There are three load lengths (L2, L3 and L4) and three roof heights (H1, H2 and H3). The biggest Transit Jumbo models still aren’t quite on the scale of its largest rivals but the Transit’s efficiency is a match for anything out there - as is the driving experience.
MPG and Running Costs
The price of fuel being what it is, every business is keen to use as little as possible and the Transit is well up to the task. The latest range is powered by Ford’s advanced 2.0-litre EcoBlue engines which offer a 13% fuel economy improvement over the old 2.2-litre engines and feature a Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR) system that uses AdBlue injections to get the Transit under the Euro6 emissions standards. This means that all Transits now have a 21-litre AdBlue tank which will last the van around 6,000 miles before a refill is needed.
Features like Ford’s Auto-Start-Stop, regenerative braking and a gear shift indicator contribute to that efficiency performance but so does the latest 2.0-litre EcoBlue diesel found in all Transit models. The four-cylinder features an advanced combustion process with common-rail injectors operating at a pressure of 2,000 bar and capable of making unto six fuel injections into the cylinder per cycle. There’s also turbocharging technology taken from Ford’s acclaimed EcoBoost petrol engines and a built-in exhaust gas recirculation system.
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The powerful 168hp version manages 40.9mpg in the long wheelbase/medium roof (L3/H2) form with CO2 emissions of 179g/km. You don’t gain a huge amount by opting for the less powerful engines but the rear-wheel-drive models do increase fuel consumption.
The drive to cut costs in this Transit isn’t limited to the engine bay. The high-mounted lights, all-round body protection and multi-piece rear bumper were designed to minimise the chance of damage and cut the cost of repair should any mishaps occur. Service intervals of two years or 36,000 miles will go down well with operators as will a cut in the maintenance time needed over the first 93,000 miles to just 4.2hrs.
Insurance costs should be competitive too, and Ford has done its bit to keep your loads and personal items safe too. Remote central locking and anti-tamper shielded locks are standards, as are doors that lock as you drive off. There are two optional alarm systems, including a basic perimeter alarm and a more sophisticated Thatcham Category 1 system.
Load Space and Practicality
The Transit range is vast. There are panel vans, chassis cabs, drop-side trucks and minibuses. The vans offer gross vehicle weights from 2.9 tonnes to 4.7 tonnes in the Transit Jumbo and load volumes from 9.6 cubic metres to 15.1 cubic metres. Some of the Transit’s rivals go up as far as 17 cubic metres so that’s one area where the Ford falls slightly short.
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Ford has worked to increase the usability of the Transit’s load area too. Little features like the bright LED lighting and the tough plastic load floor covers that extend up the walls of the van help, as does the wide step cut into the rear bumper.
The load space is more uniformly shaped than in the previous Transit so getting larger items inside should be easier. The doors open wide and there’s a handy catch inside the rear doors that releases them to open the full 180 degrees.
Reliability and Safety
Ford subjected this Transit to a rigorous testing programme that took in 680,000 miles of driving in the full range of conditions this global panel van is likely to encounter. Of that, 310,000 miles were undertaken in the hands of actual Transit customers who used the vehicle day to day and reported any issues. After all that, it certainly should be durable.
It should be safe too. Ford has fitted one of the most advanced ESC stability control systems ever seen on a van with a variety of add-on features specifically designed for commercial vehicles. There’s now Side Wind Stabilisation to help deal with crosswinds and Curve Control technology that can brake individual wheels to keep the Transit under control if it detects the driver entering a corner too fast. Load Adaptive Roll Stability Control negates the destabilising effect of a heavy load in the back and Trailer Sway Control helps keep a wayward trailer in check.
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Even more impressive is the arrival in the Transit of Ford’s Pre-Collision Assist with pedestrian detection. Available from the options list, it can detect and warn the driver of an impending collision, preparing the braking system in advance, then apply the brakes automatically if no action is taken by the driver.
In addition to that high-tech safety net, all Transits also get front, side and curtain airbags. Tyre pressure monitoring, lane-keeping assist, cornering headlights and a neat reversing camera that displays a colour image in the rear-view mirror are also available.
Driving and Performance
There are three engine power options available with the Transit, all derivatives of the 2.0-litre EcoBlue common-rail diesel engine. Then customers have the choice of front, rear or all-wheel-drive.
The range-topping 168bhp version delivers excellent performance and flexibility aided by 405Nm of torque from just 1,750rpm. If you regularly approach your van’s payload capacity, this might be the engine to choose but even if you don’t its flexibility and superior refinement make it a highly desirable option.
The next rung down the ladder is also the biggest seller, the 128bhp unit that delivers its maximum 385Nm at 1,500rpm. It needs to be worked harder to shift a moderately laden Transit and there’s an increase in engine noise as a result but it should prove more than adequate for most users. The final power option offers 104hp and 360Nm of torque, it’s a little more noisy again but the Transit remains pleasantly smooth and free of vibration in the cab. This engine will be in its element around town but may struggle a little with larger loads on the open road.
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Refinement is generally a Transit strong point with all the engines staying very much in the background below the 3,000rpm mark. It’s the wind noise that comes through most at motorway speeds and even this is hardly intrusive.
The Transit’s suspension displays that well-oiled suppleness we’ve come to expect from Ford passenger cars. It irons out minor blemishes expertly and cushions the big jolts well too. The latest models have revised damper settings and the way the it eased over the bumps (with a 600kg load on board) during our test was very impressive for a large panel van.
The driver is presented with one of the jazziest steering wheels we’ve yet seen in a panel van. It’s small, tactile, features chrome inserts on the spokes and produces similarly polished responses from the Transit.
The revised electrically-assisted rack and pinion helm offers light weight, accuracy work and a tight 11.9m turning circle. Together with the impressive forward visibility it all makes this a very easy van to drive, even in its larger guises. The dash-mounted gearshifter is a little notchy but its slots positively into each ratio after the initial reluctance and the revised suspension settings see the Transit resist body roll very well on faster roads.
Cab and Interior
The Transit cab borrows heavily from Ford passenger cars in terms of design with lots of familiar switchgear dropped in. In the interests of durability Ford has upped the toughness of the plastics and the result is a very solid-feeling environment that seems built to last.
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The central display screen that marshals the infotainment functions is on the small side by modern standards at 4” and the cluster of buttons below it on the dash take some mastering before simple tasks become intuitive. The software is the Ford SYNC system and Bluetooth is included as standard, the generous equipment list is evidence of how far vans have come in the user-friendliness stakes. Operators can also select the Ford SYNC 2 navigation system from the options list and this brings a larger 6.5” touch screen interface that is far easier to use.
Storage is pretty good with lots of options for stowing small to mid-size items but the Transit may be found lacking in areas to plonk larger stuff. It’ll have to go in the bin concealed under the passenger seat.
More importantly, the driving position seemed very comfortable and roomy, while the passenger seat too seemed a good place to sit out a long journey.
- Power: 99bhp - 153bhp
- Gross vehicle weight: 2.9 to 4.7 tonnes
- Load volume: up to 15.1m3
- Turning circle: 11.9m