The new Ford Transit Custom isn’t cheap, but it doesn’t need to be.
It sets a new benchmark for compact vans with five star safety and a level of refinement that is extremely close to its passenger car siblings. Yes, it is that good.
The Ford Transit Custom is the front-drive one-tonne version of the next generation Transit. The larger capacity rear-drive Transit Cargo will arrive mid-year.
The Ford Transit Custom that is available here and now is the 290S, the short wheelbase version, which costs $37,490.
That means it slots in just below the Mercedes-Benz Vito ($38,990) and above the entry-level diesel Toyota HiAce ($36,990) and Hyundai iLoad ($35,490).
A long wheelbase version of the Custom, called the 330L, is due within the next month and will cost $39,490.
The Ford may demand a premium over the Hyundai, but it is extremely well specified and this helps improve both its safety and refinement.
Front, side and curtain airbags are standard, as is electronic stability control (ESC). These features, along with a body structure design that incorporates super high tensile steel such as boron, saw the Transit score five stars in a Euro NCAP test. Given the Australian van has all the same kit, that should mean a five star rating in Australia too.
The only other van with five star safety is one particular niche Vito model, whereas every Ford Transit is five-star rated.
All Australian Transit Customs get a bulkhead behind the driver and passenger, which allows for the fitment of the curtain airbags and also keeps any items from breaking free and coming into the cabin.
Also, the same bulkhead eliminates a tremendous amount of noise.
This tester has driven a lot of vans and some are so noisy that you wonder how the driver stays sane.
This Ford Transit is remarkably quiet. There is a little wind noise around the wing mirrors and some diesel clatter and idle, but it is otherwise serene.
Bare floors, large metal areas that pass on a huge amount of noise, are a problem in the less refined vans.
Ford has decided to fit a plastic floor liner as standard and this undoubtedly helps nullify some of the sounds and vibrations.
The Ford Transit engine is reasonably quiet too.
It is a 2.2-litre four-cylinder common rail turbo diesel. A near-identical engine is fitted to the Australian-developed Ranger ute. Some upgrades have been made, including a variable geometry turbo. It is quieter than the engine in the Ranger, with less injector noise.
The engine makes 92kW of power and 350Nm of torque and the official fuel consumption figure for the short wheelbase version is a class leading 7.1L/100km. That inches up to 7.3L/100km for the long wheelbase version.
There is only one engine, with only one tune, which means there’s no petrol unit. That’s okay, though, because this is a perky diesel with the most torque of its four-cylinder rivals, and only slight turbo lag.
Ford is only building the Transit with a manual transmission at this stage.
It is a competent six-speed manual with a light clutch and is a pleasure to use (it is certainly less notchy than the manual Ranger).
The problem is that there is no automatic or automated manual.
Ford Australia knows only too well that this is an issue as Transit lost a massive Australia Post contract several years ago because it had no auto option.
Executives says there will be some kind of automatic or automated manual made available for the Transit Custom, but they either have no idea when it could get here or aren’t saying.
The Ford Transit cabin mixes style and practicality. Its dashboard looks nearly identical to the Fiesta and Focus with a few minor differences. First up, the plastics are all hard instead of soft. That’s no big deal. Just like those cars, the radio is unnecessarily cluttered and you can get easily confused trying to work out what all the buttons attached to the steering wheel do.
Eventually, when you work it all out, the features make life easier. There is cruise control, Bluetooth phone connectivity, voice control and the ability for the van to use your phone to automatically call emergency services in the event of a serious crash.
There are some cool touches around the cabin such as a lid on the dashboard, in front of the steering wheel that pops up to reveal a USB, 3.5mm and 9v power plug as well as room for a wallet and phone. Hidey holes and hooks on the bulkhead for your high-vis jacket are also handy. Heated seats are even standard – jeez, what kind of van is this?
There is one option pack available for $1500, which includes front and rear parking sensors, a rear camera (the footage of which is displayed on the rear-view mirror), and front fog-lights.
The bulkhead features a kind of ski-port that opens up a small section below the passenger seat. This provides an extra (about 30cm or so) which could be useful for moving long items.
The Transit has one sliding door (there is no option of a second at this stage) and barn doors at the back that can lock at 90 degrees.
There are eight tie-down points in the back.
The short wheelbase Custom has 5.95 cubic metres of load space, while the long wheelbase version has 6.83 cubic metres.
Maximum load lengths stand at 2555mm and 2922mm respectively.
You can store more items on a roof rack system that can be installed quickly and easily.
Ford is offering a five year or 200,000km warranty as a launch offer for the Transit Custom.
That sounds good, but some rivals are offering even better deals.
The Ford Transit Custom has electric power steering, which is pleasantly light.
It rides well, even without a load in the back and feels agile zipping around city streets. No one is going to rally one, but the Transit actually handles just fine.
Visibility is excellent thanks large side windows and relatively narrow A-pillars.
All up, the Ford Transit is the new class leader, raising the bar when it comes to both safety and refinement, while also representing great value for money.
Unless you need an automatic transmission, the Ford Transit is the van you should check out first.