Ford Transit Custom van review
The Ford Transit Custom van takes on the VW Transporter and Mercedes Vito, with a car-like cabin and greater safety
The Ford Transit Custom is at the forefront of the drive to improve cabin refinement in the commercial vehicle sector, and Ford’s mid-size panel van is pretty much as comfortable as any family car. It also has a car-like approach to safety, and the Transit Custom is the only van in its class with a full 5-star rating from Euro NCAP.
It’s not the new kid on the block anymore, as the Custom has been around since 2012 when Ford carved up the Transit sector into two separate segments – following the lead of rivals like Volkswagen and Mercedes, who have been doing the same for years with their Transporter and Crafter, and Vito and Sprinter vans, respectively.
Ford’s approach has been to make Transit Custom models available with up to 1.5-tonne payloads, while the full size Transit takes over if you need more capacity.
You can get short and long-wheelbase versions of the Custom though, as well as versions with high or low roofs. And with three versions of the 2.2-litre TDCi Duratorq diesel motor available too, there’s no shortage of variety in the Custom range. They’re all front-wheel-drive, and pleasingly economical whichever motor you choose.
If your job requires more than just a driver, there are double-cab or crew vans that feature seating behind the driver with the bulkhead pushed further back to enclose a smaller load area. You can also have a basic Kombi minibus with seats for up to nine, while the Tourneo Custom offers a more luxurious experience – again for nine passengers – in more of a people-carrier style. There isn’t a tipper model in the line-up unfortunately, but the larger Transit takes care of that. And if you want to move down a size, the Ford Transit Connect is a more compact panel van that sits beneath the Custom.
The Ford Transit Custom comes in five trim levels – base, Trend, Limited and Sport.
When Auto Express named it as our first-ever Van of the Year, we heaped praised on its safety credentials, including Ford's SYNC with emergency assistance, which helps occupants phone the emergency services in one of 26 languages. The judges also said the Transit is one of the best-driving vans around, with good ride and handling.
In fact we liked the Transit Custom so much we even ran one on our long-term test fleet.
MPG and Running Costs
The Transit Custom comes with Ford's 2.2-litre Duratorq TDCi engine with outputs of 99bhp, 123bhp or 153bhp,all mated to a six-speed manual gearbox. All models are front-wheel drive and deliver a claimed fuel consumption figure of between 39-42mpg, with emission levels of 178-189g/km of CO2. That compares well with the VW Transporter, offering 32-44mpg and CO2 emissions of 166-240g/km.
As with the Volkswagen Transporter BlueMotion models, Ford customers can opt for extra efficiency with ‘eco-friendly’ variants tagged ECOnetic.
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There’s an ECOnetic Technology pack option on most variants in the Transit Custom line-up, all using a specially calibrated 99bhp engine with auto start-stop, smart regenerative charging – where the alternator works harder when the van is braking or decelerating, using less engine power during acceleration – a gearshift indicator in the dash, a switchable speed limiter, a battery management system and aerodynamic wheel trims.
The result is a claimed fuel consumption of up to 46.3mpg and CO2 emissions of just 162g/km. Service intervals have been set at a market-leading two years or 30,000 miles and Transit Custom is covered by a three-year/100,000-mile warranty.
The Transit Custom has remote control central door locking as standard. For added security, the driver can open one individual door without automatically unlocking the others.
The other doors stay securely locked, until you activate a switch on the driver’s door and in fact, you can use this switch to control the locking and unlocking of all the vehicle’s doors. Two different types of alarms are available, but they're on the options list.
Load Space and Practicality
The Transit Custom was launched in short and long-wheelbase and standard-roof variants, providing 5.9-6.8 cubic metres of load volume, similar to the Volkswagen Transporter but ahead of the Renault Trafic. They were joined by a high-roof version of the LWB model, with 8.29 cubic metres of load space, early in 2014.
A full-width steel bulkhead is standard on all models, even fitting behind the second row of seats in the double-cab-in-van models. This reduces noise in the cab and provides protection for the occupants against moving loads. The bulkhead has a load-through facility for longer loads to slide under the front passenger seat, allowing items up to 300cm (3m) long to be carried, even in the shorter versions of the van, compared with a maximum 280 cm in the longer version of the Vauxhall Vivaro.
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Short models can carry three Europallets and all Customs have an easy-clean load floor liner with tie-down rings in the floor and the lower walls. Ford offers an innovative integrated roof rack as a £350 option. Capable of carrying up to 350kg, the roof rack’s cross rails fold flat to the roof when not in use, to reduce drag and improve fuel economy.
Extra-bright LED load area lighting is available for £80, providing improved visibility when working in the back of the van. Unlike the Mercedes Vito Dualiner, the second row of seats in the double-cab-in-van models cannot be folded or removed to extend the load bay, as there is a bulkhead behind them. However the nine-seat Custom Kombi has two rows of three seats that can all be folded and removed to create a full-length van, if that level of versatility is required.
In the cab, the front passenger-seat cushions can be flipped up to reveal a hidden storage compartment that will easily accommodate a laptop or small toolbox, providing added security.
Reliability and Safety
The Transit Custom has been awarded a maximum five-star Euro NCAP safety rating and was the first commercial vehicle to receive a Euro NCAP Advanced reward in recognition of its optional lane keeping alert system, which vibrates the steering wheel if the van drifts across road markings without indicating.
The van comes with ESP electronic stability programme, traction control and emergency brake assist, which increase the pressure on the brakes when the system senses an emergency-braking manoeuvre. The van’s indicators also flash automatically during heavy braking to warn other drivers.
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The Custom also comes with rollover mitigation, designed to identify a potentially dangerous driving situation and activate the ESP to restore stability, and load adaptive control, which adjusts the ESP system to compensate for varying loads in the rear of the van.
Driver Alert is also fitted as standard – it’s a system that sounds an alarm if is senses the driver is losing concentration.
We’ve not heard of any particular reliability or build quality issues with the Transit Custom problems, which is not surprising as the engines and much of the driveline was carried over from the previous Transit - which itself had an impressive reputation for durability and reliability.
Driving and Performance
The Transit Custom is a very comfortable van to drive. It's the first Transit to have an adjustable steering column – so the steering wheel adjusts for reach and rake. In combination with the eight-way adjustable driver’s seat, this should allow any size or shape of driver to get comfortable.
The high riding position provides good visibility and the Custom comes with excellent mirrors that have secondary blind spot lenses fitted.
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All three engine ratings deliver strong performance, though the 99bhp engine has to work hard when fully laden. The six-speed gearbox is smooth and easy to use, and the steering is light yet positive. There's no automatic or automated option as yet though, unlike the Vito and Transporter, but the Transit Custom is as good to drive as either of its Mercedes and Volkswagen rivals - and a class ahead of vans such as the Citroen Dispatch and Vauxhall Vivaro.
Cab and Interior
The previous generation Transit had one of the best cab interiors of any van, with a space for literally everything. The Transit Custom comes close, but loses some of the practicality, though it retains plenty of storage cubbies and boxes. The Custom uses a similar centre console to Fiesta and Focus cars, with an audio control that resembles a mobile phone button pad. There are also plenty of buttons on the steering wheel, for audio, Bluetooth, cruise control and voice activation where fitted.
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The cab is comfortable and well equipped, with air-conditioning standard on Limited and Sport trims. Even Base models have an aux input, a trip computer, electric windows, two 12V charging points, passenger seat storage compartment, and courtesy headlight delay, allowing you to walk away in the dark before the lights turn off.
The popular Trend specification adds front fog lights, heated electric mirrors, cruise control, a heated windscreen, auto lights and rain-sensing wipers, Ford’s SYNC audio streaming and voice control system and leather trim for the steering wheel and gear lever.
The Limited trim level adds a DAB radio, heated front seats, air-conditioning and power fold doors, while the Sport Van gets a host of styling additions and part-leather interior.
(Width is body without side mirrors, overall width including mirrors is 2,290mm)
Load area dimensions
(Widths are maximum, width between wheel arches is 1,390mm)
- Power: 99bhp – 153bhp
- Weight (GVW): 2,500kg – 3,325kg
- Payload: 683kg – 1,484kgkg
- Loading height (approx, unladen) : 533mm - 589mm