Ford Transit Custom van review
The updated Ford Transit Custom uses car-like tech to take on the VW Transporter and Mercedes Vito
If you're looking to buy a Ford Transit, there are more versions of Ford's big-selling van than ever. In fact, the Transit name is now an umbrella brand that Ford uses to cover a wide variety of models, from the smaller Courier and Connect models to the full-size Transit itself. In the middle is this, the Transit Custom, which is Ford's one tonne van.
The Transit Custom arrived in 2012, and it marked the division of Ford's van range into two-tonne (Transit) and one-tonne (Transit Custom) variants. Since then, Ford has constantly updated the Transit Custom to keep it competitive in the class, and it has proved successful, as Ford sells more Transit Customs each year than Jaguar's entire model range combined. 2016 saw a new more efficient EcoBlue diesel added to the range, while a full mid-life facelift appeared at the end of 2017 for the 2018 model year. Go into a Transit Van Centre today and this is the new model you'll be driving home in.
This update added a nose that copied the look of the Ford Fiesta, Kuga and Focus to give the van a more upmarket look and an air of solidity, while the main focus is on interior upgrades. Higher spec models now come with Ford's latest multimedia system from the car range, which features new, clearer graphics a revised layout and an upgraded version of Ford's Sync3 voice control system.
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In terms of payload and cargo volume, the Transit Custom remains unchanged. There are L1 and L2 wheelbases, and they are offered with standard H1 and H2 raised roof heights. Unlike some high-roof models, the H2 doesn't offer extra stowage above the driver's head in the cab. Instead it's a Luton-style arrangement, as the load area goes forward to use the space over the cab.
In addition to the standard three-seat van, there's the five-seat double cab in-van, which has an extra row of seats in the back with a bulkhead behind them and sliding doors with windows. This is also available in L1 and L2 body lengths. And then there's the Tourneo Custom, which is the passenger carrying variant of the Transit Custom. It's recognisable from the front thanks to its five-bar grille, compared to a three-bar grille for the standard Transit Custom.
All versions of the Transit Custom are front-wheel drive and powered by the 2.0-litre EcoBlue diesel that was introduced in 2016. This saves fuel at a rate of up to 15% over the old 2.2 TDCi without sacrificing performance. As before the facelift, the engine comes in 105PS, 130PS and 170PS forms, which have 104bhp, 128bhp and 168bhp respectively. All three use a six-speed manual gearbox as standard, while a six-speed Powershift auto is available with the two more powerful engines.
If you want a petrol Transit, you'll have to wait until 2019 for Ford to introduce the Transit Custom plug-in hybrid. It's currently under development and being evaluated by different organisations, including Transport for London. It features Ford's 1.0 EcoBoost three-cylinder turbo petrol engine, an electric motor and a battery pack located under the load floor, although this doesn't affect load volume. Ford is working out how to give the hybrid a decent driving range without harming payload capacity before the final production model arrives.
Four trim levels are available on the Transit Custom - the base model, then Trend, Limited and Sport. Even Trend versions are fairly generously equipped, while Limited is pretty luxurious for a van. Sport - as you would expect - gets racy touches such as larger alloy wheels, body stripes and sports seats, although you'll need to look elsewhere if you want extra performance.
Auto Express named the Transit Custom its first-ever Van of the Year when it was launched, while the facelift helps cement its position as the class leader. No other rival can match its combination of talents, with sprightly handling, decent comfort when cruising, a nice interior and the workhorse ability to get the job done.
The Transit Custom goes up against tough competition in the form of the Mercedes Vito and Volkswagen T6 Transporter, the Renault Trafic and Vauxhall Vivaro, as well as their Fiat Talento and Nissan NV300 spin-offs, plus the newer trio of the Citroen Dispatch, Peugeot Expert and Toyota Proace. However, we still think the Transit Custom is a great all-rounder that has an edge over its rivals.
MPG, CO2 and Running Costs
Ford's 2.0 EcoBlue TDCi engine comes in 104bhp, 128bhp or 168bhp forms, and all three are fitted with a six-speed manual gearbox as standard. A six-speed Powershift automatic transmission is also available on the two more powerful engines.
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 and turbocharging technology taken from Ford’s acclaimed EcoBoost petrol engine range.
Later in 2018, Ford will introduce a Transit Custom Econetic, with different engine mapping and low rolling resistance tyres designed to lower emissions of the 104bhp diesel further, 148g/km.
Ford estimates that the efficiency improvements the standard EcoBlue engines offer 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 though. 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.
Load Space and Practicality
The Transit Custom comes in L1 and L2 short and long-wheelbases, providing between 6.0 and 6.8 cubic metres of load volume, which is similar to what you would get in the majority of mid-size panel vans. There are H1 and H2 standard and high-roof variants which are available in both body lengths, with the largest of these offering 8.3 cubic metres of load space.
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 items to slide under the front passenger seat, so materials up to 3m long can be carried, even in the shorter versions of the Transit Custom.
Short models can carry three Europallets, and all Customs have an easy-clean hard rubber load floor liner with tie-down rings in the floor and the lower walls. Extra-bright LED load area lighting is available for about £80, and it provides improved visibility when working in the back of the van. If you need more capacity, Ford offers an integrated roof rack as an option costing about £350. It's capable of carrying up to 350kg, and the cross rails can be folded flat when not in use to reduce drag and improve fuel economy.
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.
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.
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.
Reliability and Safety
The Transit Custom earned a five-star Euro NCAP safety rating when it was launched in 2012, so it sets 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 a Lane Keeping Alert system, which vibrates the steering wheel if the van drifts across road markings without the driver using the indicators. More impressive is Pre-Collision Assist with Pedestrian Detection. This can identify and warn of an impending collision, and can apply 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, which is not surprising as much of the driveline was carried over from the previous Transit - which itself had an impressive reputation for durability and reliability. The new EcoBlue engines are designed to be relatively maintenance-free, and offer variable service intervals based on van use, so owners could travel up to 37,000 miles or wait two years between services.
Ford has the largest chain of dealers in the UK, and it has dedicated Transit Centres across the country, too. These offer tailor-made servicing for van users while sales representatives will be able to offer specialist knowledge to make the most of Transit ownership.
Driving and Performance
The Transit Custom is a very easy van to drive. There’a an 8-way adjustable driver’s seat as standard (top-spec vans get electric assistance) and the steering wheel adjusts for reach and rake. This should allow any size or shape of driver to get comfortable.
The high seating position provides good visibility and the Custom comes with excellent mirrors that have secondary blind spot lenses fitted with a wide angle of view, so you can get a clear look at what’s going on behind. In addition, you can spec the Transit Custom's bulkhead and back doors with a windows, giving you an additional view out, as well as of your cargo.
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, and it gets quickly off the line and copes surprisingly easily with inclines. Dump a full load on board and it'll struggle a bit more, but overall it's an impressive unit.
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 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 when compared to rivals. 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.
The six-speed Powershift auto isn't the best automatic gearbox we've tried. It has a tendency to downshift the instant you want to accelerate, and while the shift isn't jerky, the extra noise in the cabin spoils refinement, which is otherwise excellent. At motorway speeds there's hardly any wind rush around the wing mirrors, and tyre and engine noise are kept well in check, too.
Cab and Interior
The last 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, although it retains plenty of storage cubbies and boxes.
The Transit Custom gained the same centre console as the latest Fiesta with the 2017 update, so you get a large tablet-style screen that sits forward and on top of the dashboard. The touchscreen is easy to get along with, although like any of these systems, a bouncy ride will see you struggling to press the on-screen 'buttons' without taking your eyes off the road for longer than necessary. A multifunction steering wheel is available, which has controls for audio, Bluetooth, cruise control and the voice activation system where fitted.
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.
Passenger space is reasonable, although space for the two front seats is a bit tight if you're driving three-up. Space for the driver is good, though.
(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)