Big vans are huge business in Europe, and the segment led by the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter is on the rise in Australia, too - and that’s why this new van has just arrived on the scene: it’s the Ford Transit.
No, not the Ford Transit Custom that won our mid-size van test in 2014 – this is the big bopper, the full-size (or Light Duty, as they’re known in commercial vehicle circles ... light duty compared with a truck, that is!) Ford Transit van that comes in several sizes: large, larger or Jumbo. Seriously.
We tested the entry-level 350L variant, which is priced from $47,680 plus on-road costs – though our van also had the high roof option, which adds $1500. Read the full pricing and specifications for the Ford Transit.
The range also includes the 350E Jumbo, longer 470E Jumbo with dual rear wheels, and a cab-chassis variant (also with dual rear wheels).
The 350L is the most diminutive offering, measuring 5.98 metres long, 2.09m wide and 2.54m tall (or 2.78m with the high roof), with a lengthy 3.75m wheelbase.
No matter the size, all Transit models are powered by a 2.2-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel engine mated exclusively to a six-speed manual gearbox.
The big Transit uses a tuned-up version of engine used in the smaller Transit Custom, with suitably larger outputs of 114kW at 3500rpm and 385Nm from 1600-2300rpm. The smaller van produces 92kW/350Nm.
All Transits have fuel-saving stop-start, which enables the big van to claim a European combined cycle consumption rating of 6.4 litres per 100 kilometres (there is no Australian combined cycle rating as local regulations don't require one for this size of vehicle). On test, we saw closer to 10L/100km.
In terms of carrying capacity, the 350L offers a very competitive payload of 1295 kilograms, while the cargo hold has 11.0 cubic metres of storage space (or 12.4m3
in the high-roof model) before you reach the standard bulkhead (with a small, meshed-over porthole window to keep an eye on your cargo).
There are 10 tie-down points in the cargo area mounted low to the load-floor, and Ford claims the Transit can fit four Euro pallets in. It has 3.49m of floor length available, while the gap between the wheel arches is 1.39m. The height of the cargo area from floor to ceiling is 1.78m in the standard 350L or 2.02m in the high-roof version.
Access to the cargo hold is generally quite good, with tall (up to 1.88m), wide barn rear doors with large glazed sections to aid outward vision. The doors can be opened to 90 degrees, or locked open at 180 degrees, making for easy loading if you’ve got the space.
There is one side door (kerb side) that isn’t glazed, and it can’t be optioned as such, either. Getting in and out of the back requires a bit of a lunge if the vehicle isn’t loaded up – the step-in height is 71cm.
We loaded up the cargo hold with a few dozen boxes, and while it didn’t put the Transit’s impressive payload to the test, we were impressed with the way the van coped with weight in the back.
The Transit’s suspension ably deals with big and small bumps, and the back end always feels well planted – something not all vans in this segment can claim.
With an empty cargo area, we were perhaps even more impressed, with the Transit displaying ride comfort that could force some luxury car makers to blush.
And despite the sheer size of the van, it never feels unwieldy from the driver’s seat, with quick steering that is light and direct making for simple overtaking manoeuvres on the open road, and easy parking when you’re in town.
The drivetrain can be a little fidgety during parking movements, with the engine taking a little bit of coaxing to get things moving – in short, clutch-riding is required.
The gearshift itself is clicky but not in a cheap way, and the clutch action is light enough so as to become tiresome after hours of commuting.
The engine arguably works at its best when the van is at speed – there’s enough punch to help it along on arterial roads, and it never feels short of puff on the freeway. Steep highway hills will require a shift from sixth to fifth, or even fourth with a load on board.
One thing that is particularly impressive in the Transit is its noise insulation. Aided, no doubt, by the bulkhead separating the booming cargo area from the cockpit, the cabin remains nicely quiet even with an empty back end. Coarse-chip surfaces will see some tyre roar intrusion, but never to a level that becomes annoying.
Aiding the day-to-day usability of the van we tested was the City Pack, including front and rear parking sensors and a reverse-view camera. This pack adds $1500 to the price, and really should be standard given the size and awkward nature of this big beast.
The camera displays through an auto-dimming rear-view mirror, while the pack also incorporates front fog lights.
Other niceties in the cabin include heated seats for the driver and outboard passenger (sorry, middle-seater – you miss out), and as you’d expect of an all-new van, there has been plenty of thought given to what is known as the office space.
Storage, for example, is excellent. There are heaps of small item stowage points across the dashboard, including big square ports for bottles or wallets.
The compulsory overhead shelf is enormous and clever, with big slide-in spaces for folders, tablets, laptops and the like.
Unlike some other vans in the class you can’t flip down the middle seat – the passenger seat upright is fixed together – but there is a flip-down section in the middle seat with a hard surface to work on. If you know you’ll never have three on-board, you can option a single bucket seat for the passenger for $150.
Huge door storage pockets add extra usefulness, as does an under-seat storage box on the passenger side. Drivers of different sizes will be impressed with the amount of adjustability of the driver’s seat, and the fact there is tilt and reach adjustment for the steering wheel.
Ford’s old-school small-screen media system is used on the Transit, instead of the brand’s more sophisticated SYNC touchscreen unit. The button layout is a bit confusing, but you do learn it eventually, and thankfully the big van comes with Bluetooth phone and audio streaming as well as USB connectivity.
The stereo also has digital radio (DAB), which is novel, and there are simple steering wheel-mounted audio controls.
Cabin safety is covered with dual front, front-side and curtain airbags as standard, and all passengers get three-point seat belts.
Stability control is standard, and the electronics can adjust the way the system works based on the amount of mass the van is carrying. It also has a torque-vectoring system to feed power more cleanly through corners, as well as a roll-over mitigation system.
If you’re planning on towing (the capacity for Transits with single rear wheels is 2750kg braked, while dual rear wheel versions have a 3.5-tonne capacity), the on-board control electronics are also able to counter trailer sway.
Big vans like this often cover big kilometres, and Ford offers a decent warranty spanning five years or 200,000km. That’s bang-on what you should expect of a large van. Ford also offers capped-price servicing for the Transit for life.
There’s plenty of new model activity in the large van segment outside of the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter, and based on our time in the Ford Transit, potential buyers should shop around before going with the best-seller because the Ford might just be better.
Click the Photos tab above for more images by Christian Barbeitos.