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 takes the winning commercial vehicle formula developed over more than fifty years by the Ford Transit and squeezes it into a smaller package. It’s a mid-sized panel van that offers genuinely car like levels of refinement, composure on the road and safety kit.
It’s not the new kid on the block anymore, as the Custom has been around since 2012 when Ford carved up the Transit panel van sector into two separate segments – following the lead of rivals like Volkswagen and Mercedes, who had 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. These days, you can go smaller within the Transit range too with the Transit Connect and Transit Courier completing a four model Transit line-up that covers all the van bases.
You can get short and long-wheelbase versions of the Custom, as well as versions with high or low roofs. And with three versions of the Euro6 compliant 2.0-litre EcoBlue TDCi 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 front seats 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 people carrier offers a more luxurious experience – again for nine passengers. There isn’t a tipper model in the line-up unfortunately, but the larger Transit takes care of that. The other key choice is between trim levels that run from – Base through Trend, Limited and Sport.
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When Auto Express named it as our first-ever Van of the Year, we heaped praise on the Transit Custom’s safety credentials as well as its ride and handling. Competition has become a lot hotter since then with the likes of Vauxhall’s Vivaro, Renault’s Trafic, Mercedes’ Vito, Volkswagen's Transporter, Citroen’s Dispatch and Peugeot’s Expert all being launched in all new guises in the years since.
The Transit Custom has aimed to keep pace with the 2016 addition of the EcoBlue TDCi diesel engines, extra safety kit, improved handling and more technology. As a result, the Ford Transit Custom is the best van to drive in its class and is only really let down by an interior control interface that is starting to feel a bit dated.
MPG and Running Costs
The Transit Custom comes with Ford's 2.0-litre EcoBlue TDCi engine with outputs of 104bhp, 128bhp or 168bhp, all mated to a six-speed manual gearbox. All models are front-wheel drive and the two less powerful engines with Auto-Start-Stop deliver the same official combined fuel consumption figure of 46mpg, with emission levels of 157g/km of CO2. Efficiency-wise that makes the Transit Custom a match for anything in the sector and even the powerful 168bhp models achieve 43mpg and 172g/km.
To achieve these impressive economy figures while meeting the latest Euro6 emissions standards, the EcoBlue engine features an advanced combustion process with common-rail injectors turbocharging technology taken from Ford’s acclaimed EcoBoost petrol engine range.
Ford estimates that the efficiency improvements over the old 2.2-litre TDCi engines in the Transit Custom will save the average operator £1,250 per year. That’s offset slightly by the need to fill the van’s 21-litre AdBlue tank every 6,000 miles in order to keep the Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR) exhaust after-treatment system functioning.
The Custom aims to control costs in other areas too. Its service intervals have been set at a market-leading two years or 36,000 miles and the vehicle is covered by a three-year/100,000-mile warranty.
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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 between 6.0 and 6.8 cubic metres of load volume, similar to what you would get in the majority of mid-size panel vans. The high-roof version of the LWB model was added later with 8.3 cubic metres of load space which is a serious amount of capacity.
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.
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 or VW Transporter Kombi, 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.
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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 was the first commercial vehicle to be awarded a maximum five-star Euro NCAP safety rating, setting the standard to which other panel vans have aspired in recent years. These days, the latest car safety tech is commonplace in the van market but the latest Custom has moved the game on again.
The latest models feature an ESP electronic stability programme designed specifically for Ford’s larger vans with Side Wind Mitigation technology built in to help in windy conditions. There’s also 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. Traction control and emergency brake assist, which increases the pressure on the brakes when the system senses an emergency-braking manoeuvre, are also included.
On the options list there’s more by way of technology to help the Transit Custom’s driver. There’s Lane Keeping Alert system, which vibrates the steering wheel if the van drifts across road markings without indicating. More impressive is Pre-Collision Assist with Pedestrian Detection that can identify and warn of an impending collision, applying the brakes if the driver doesn’t respond in time.
We’ve not heard of any particular reliability or build quality issues with the Transit Custom problems, which is not surprising as the original engines and much of the driveline was carried over from the previous Transit - which itself had an impressive reputation for durability and reliability. Now the new EcoBlue engines are in place, we’ll have to wait to see if anything changes.
Driving and Performance
The Transit Custom is a very easy van to drive. There’a an 8-way adjustable driver’s seat as standard and the steering wheel adjusts for reach and rake. This should allow any size or shape of driver to get comfortable.
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The high riding position provides good visibility and the Custom comes with excellent mirrors that have secondary blind spot lenses fitted so you can get a clear view of what’s behind.
Performance and flexibility from the new EcoBlue TDCi engines in the Transit Custom are very impressive. Even the 104bhp entry-level unit delivers a 360Nm hit of torque from 1,375rpm, getting quickly off the line and coping easily with inclines.
It’s going to be a fine choice for operators doing mainly urban mileage but if you’re carrying bigger loads or covering big distances on the motorway, the 128bhp unit will be better. Here there’s even more mid-range muscle with 385Nm at 1,500rpm allowing the driver to select a higher gear more of the time. Then, if you really need it, the range topping 168bhp (405Nm) option turns the Transit Custom into a seriously quick van.
The EcoBlue engines probably aren’t quite as quiet in the Transit Custom as they are in the larger (and newer) Transit but noise levels are still well controlled. The six-speed gearbox is smooth and easy to use, and the steering is light yet positive, the best you’ll find in a panel van.
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. It can get a little confusing and the small screen isn’t always easy to read at a glance. The larger touchscreens offered in rivals like the VW Transporter are better.
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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, remote central locking, 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, folding 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