A commercial van like the Ford Transit just needs to do simple well.
The name suggests a no-bull attitude to the task of shifting gear, and in terms of offering big torque and a bigger loading area, the fourth-generation Transit, simply, delivers the goods.
Among the bewildering array of variants Ford offers – short, medium or long wheelbase, plus LWB ‘Jumbo’, front- or rear-drive, cab-chassis or van – we steered the baby of the range, with a 2.2-litre Duratorq turbo diesel engine driving the front wheels.
This oil-chewing grunter makes only 92kW, but the 330Nm is where the action’s at. Specifically, that action comes in full from 1350-2400rpm and makes light work of shifting heavy desks, lounges, entertainment units and beds – yep, it was time to move house this week.
Most ‘gearshift indicators’ are marketing-derived, eco-obsessed nonsense designed to get drivers into the tallest gear possible, despite many non-boosted petrol engines delivering very little at low revs.
But the Transit appreciates its place, and the Duratorq is at its best down there. So when the gearshift light says to upchange, listen. Even with a hefty load and two mates alongside on the front bench seat, the van maintains speed on hills at 1200rpm, picks up speed from 1500rpm, and starts getting frisky by 2000rpm.
The dash-mounted six-speed manual is a slightly rubbery but reasonably slick stick to move around anyway, so swapping cogs is no chore. With diesel brimmed in the 80-litre tank, the Transit showed a 950km range, and after a few hundred kilometres of back-and-forthing, that seemed realistic.
Beyond the basics, the Ford Transit SWB TDCi 280 – to read off its barn-door badge – does stuff you wouldn’t expect from a van. Like … steer.
Grip the leather-wrapped tiller, which is shared with the previous-generation Focus LX, and what you’ll find is surprisingly accurate and quick response. Thanks to the decent steering and stubby nose, the Transit feels far more nimble around town than the ute crew of Toyota HiLux, Holden Colorado, Ford Ranger, and Nissan Navara.
Battling from one side of town to the other meant there was no avoiding Sydney’s notorious Parramatta Rd, yet even on this short-wheelbase model, and despite the archaic rear suspension leaf-springs that most load-luggers continue to use, the ride never turned lumpy and unwieldy; thankfully, that kept a dresser mirror away from a nearby tall-boy.
The 15-inch steelies – no need to call them chasers on a diesel van – with chubby 70-aspect tyres helps to keep nasties from shimmering through spines and furniture.
The cabin plastics are of the durable, hard working, hard-plastic variety, and the cloth seat trim seemingly leftover from a 1998 Ford Ka. Although the dials are actually shared with the last Focus, the air-conditioning controls, which push on and off via the end of the fan dial, seem to be borrowed from a non-descript vehicle from the 1980s. Call it retro, but not retro-cool.
Loading in out, it’s possible to appreciate the low loading lip, grippy textured-rubber floor, floor clips and side rails – perfect for hooking on ocky-straps. A passenger-side sliding door provides good access in addition to the rear barn doors.
There are many competitors that will load-up as well as the Transit – think Hyundai iLoad, Mitsubishi Express, Fiat Scudo and Renault Master. The Toyota HiAce will continue to lead the commercial van sales charts.
Surprisingly enough, however, the Ford Transit is also a relatively fine drive. It steers and rides nicely; the turbo diesel is flexible and reasonably refined, but most of all it’s so effortless in the bottom part of the tacho. These days even stability control is standard.
If a commercial van just needs to be simple, then the Ford Transit does exactly that, and does it well. But for those looking to make mundane tasks seem a bit more special, this entry-level van is also simply a good drive.