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Ford Transit Custom vs Vauxhall Vivaro: who makes the better mid-size van?

Commercial vehicle sales are just as crucial to Ford and Vauxhall as cars. We run the rule over their panel vans

Vauxhall and Ford are two brands that have been directly competing for UK van sales over a number of decades. Today, Ford’s Transit Custom is leading the way by not only being one of the UK’s best-selling medium vans, but also one of the country’s best-selling vehicles in general.

Is the Transit Custom actually the better van, though, or is it just a case of it having a bigger name than the equivalent Vauxhall Vivaro? To settle this dispute once and for all, we decided to put the two vans against each other to determine which is the best buy for your business.

Vauxhall Vivaro

Ford and Vauxhall’s grasp on the passenger-car market remains strong, but both brands are even more successful when it comes to light commercial vehicles. Between them, they occupy the top-four places in the UK sales charts, with Ford’s number one, the Transit Custom, selling almost as well as Britain’s best-selling car, the Puma.

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The Transit Custom is a unique proposition in this segment, but the Vivaro is closely related to other Stellantis models. Apart from their grilles and badges, the Vivaro is identical to the Citroen Dispatch, Peugeot Expert, Fiat Scudo and Toyota Proace. Regardless of which you go for, they all have one strong plus point in common. Under the skin, the front of the van platform is based upon the EMP2 running gear that is used in the Astra and Grandland. This means the Vivaro benefits from the same suspension, powertrains and infotainment and safety tech as Vauxhall’s cars. 

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This has had a pronounced benefit on the Vivaro’s road manners. Anyone familiar with the previous-generation model will know the vagueness to the steering and the ponderous handling, but this version is so slick that it feels more nimble than the Ford. This electric model is responsive at low speeds, but the silent powertrain only highlights the road roar coming from the tyres. It’s responsive at low speeds and incredibly smooth to drive around town, but if you choose to venture further afield, the Vivaro’s range of diesel engines will be a better bet. With five different power outputs, there’s a little more choice than the Ford offers, but there’s no four-wheel-drive variant. 

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However, the key difference between the two is cargo capacity. The Vivaro’s maximum of 5.3 cubic metres is well behind the Ford’s volume, while access is trickier via the smaller doors. 

Ford Transit Custom

The Transit Custom we have here is soon to be replaced – in fact, we’ve driven its brilliant new successor abroad already. The latest model gets angular new styling, but more importantly it builds on the current model’s plus points while bringing in improved refinement and fabulous cabin tech – but its age hasn’t diminished why we find it such a strong contender. 

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For the fundamentals on which a van should be judged – load space and carrying capacity – the Transit Custom is towards the top of the class. In base L1 H1 form, it’ll hold six cubic metres of stuff (that’s 0.7 cubic metres more than the Vauxhall) weighing up to 763kg. The square, boxy shape goes right up to the roof (an area that’s 2,554mm long and 1,406mm high), which makes it easy to lift even the bulkiest of payloads into position. 

The model we’re testing is the Double Cab Van five-seater, which makes a perfect no-nonsense MPV; there’s a huge amount of space for six people, yet behind the solid bulkhead is a 3,500-litre ‘boot’. 

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On the road, the Transit Custom is still fairly van-like to drive. That isn’t a criticism; it means that it feels stable, steady and robust, helped by some torquey diesels – power ranges from 103bhp to 168bhp – and a choice of manual and automatic gearboxes. Its replacement will add to the powertrain line-up with plug-in hybrid and fully-electric variants, too. The latter will be offered in two different outputs  – 134 and 215bhp – while larger- battery models promise a WLTP range of 236 miles. Thanks to 125kW rapid charging, a 10-80 per cent battery top-up will barely occupy half a lunch break.

Results

Our choice: Vauxhall Vivaro

Tidy road manners and a broad line-up make the Vivaro a commendable choice. However, the same can be said of its badge-engineered siblings, so shop around before making a decision. As an overall package, the Transit is stronger still.

ProsCons
Tidy handlingPayload falls short
Smooth electric powertrainsNarrow three-abreast cab

Runner up: Ford Transit Custom

The Transit Custom has been king of the van segment for as long as we can remember, and its grip on the commercial class shows no signs of abating. This market-leading model is set to be replaced by something even more advanced, refined and capable.

ProsCons
Superb load capacityYou’ll need to wait until summer 2024 for the electric models
Upcoming replacement is even more sophisticatedBewildering array of variants

Figures

 Vauxhall Vivaro LCV Electric GS

Ford Transit Custom Active Van

Price (excluding VAT)£51,388£39,335
Powertrain1x e-motor, 75kWh battery3cyl in-line/999cc
Power/torque134/260bhp/Nm168/405bhp/Nm
TransmissionSingle-speed/FWD6-spd man/FWD
Length/wheelbase4,959/3,275mm4,973/2,933mm
Height/width1,905/2,204mm2,060/2,272mm
Load capacity5.8 cu.m6.0 cu.m
Load space length/height2,512/1,397mm2,554/1,406mm
Payload/towing weight1,000/1,000kg1,256/2,500kg
Turning circle11.3 metres11.8 metres
Basic warranty/recovery3 yrs (60k)/1 yr3 yrs (60k)/1 yr
Driver Power manufacturer position24th28th
NCAP: Adult/child/ped./assist/starsNANA
0-62mph/top speed14.3 secs*/81mphNA
WLTP economy/range189 miles38.2mpg
Claimed CO20g/km193g/km
Airbags/parking sensors/cameraFour/f&r/yesSix/f&r/yes
Lane keep/blindspot/AEBYes/no/yesYes/£450/yes
Climate control/cruise controlYes/yesYes/yes
Leather/heated seats/metallic paintArtificial/yes/£600Part/driver/£650
LED lights/dual passenger seatYes/yesYes/yes
DAB/connected servicesYes/yesYes/yes
Sat-nav/digital dashYes/noYes/no
Wireless charge/CarPlay/Android AutoNo/yes/yesNo/yes/yes

Ford vs Vauxhall

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Chief reviewer

Alex joined Auto Express as staff writer in early 2018, helping out with news, drives, features, and the occasional sports report. His current role of Chief reviewer sees him head up our road test team, which gives readers the full lowdown on our comparison tests.

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