It took a while, but commercial vans are finally becoming more car-like in terms of features and drivability. One of the latest to cop the comfort treatment is the Ford Transit, which has been overhauled in terms of appearance, interior and ride comfort.
Pricing for the updated Transit Custom kicks off from $40,990 (plus on-road costs), and the entire range now comes with Ford's excellent Sync 3 infotainment system, along with the ability to option a Technology Package for $1600, which includes autonomous emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, lane-departure warning and auto high beam.
In addition to the extra technology, Ford allows customers to option a high roof (for extra load-carrying capacity) for an additional $1500, plus more than 100 exterior colours – there are some whacky colour choices in there!
Like most other vans in this segment, customers can also option the Transit Custom with side windows and dual sliding doors, amongst other things, during the ordering process.
Another bonus with this package is the height clearance, coming in at 2000mm thanks to retractable roof racks (2124mm with roof racks erect). This allows it to fit within most apartment buildings and low-clearance buildings in and around the city, where limits are often 2000mm or 2050mm.
Step inside the cabin and this is where Ford has really hit a six with the Transit Custom. As I mentioned earlier, Sync 3 is standard across the range, which means you get an 8.0-inch colour infotainment screen with inbuilt Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
This smartphone screen-mirroring technology allows you to project satellite navigation and music on to the screen. Additionally, the system natively features AM and FM radio, Bluetooth audio streaming and DAB+ digital radio. Buyers can option native satellite navigation for $600, which removes the need for a smartphone to access navigation.
There's stacks of storage in and around the cabin. On the instrument panel you'll find 25 litres of storage space in three compartments.
Ford says the glovebox is large enough to store hanging A4 files in the lower closed compartment, while the fold-out cup holder underneath the gear lever is new – adding to the cup holders and 2.0-litre bottle holders on each side of the instrument panel.
The driver's seat features an inbuilt armrest, while the centre seat has a section that pops out for extra storage, with three adults capable of fitting abreast across the front row.
When you hop on to the driver's seat, it still feels like you're at the helm of a van. It doesn't quite feel as car-like as something like the Renault Trafic, but it's simply a perception thing. Visibility out the front and sides is excellent, with reversing a piece of cake thanks to an excellent reverse-view camera that offers great vision both during the day and at night.
Cargo space will depend on how you fit out the rear of the Transit Custom, but the base figures are pretty decent with a load height (floor to ceiling) of 1406mm, a load width of 1775mm, and a load length of 2554mm (this extends to 3037mm if you include the storage hatch that opens beneath the passenger seat) at the floor and 2400mm at a 1200mm-high load height.
If you're loading a Euro-size pallet, you will be able to fit three in the rear. Finally, the maximum payload comes in at 1006kg for the six-speed manual and 958kg for the six-speed automatic.
Ford has slotted one of its Euro 6 diesel engines under the bonnet of the Transit Custom. Named the 'EcoBlue', the 2.0-litre turbocharged diesel engine produces 96kW of power and 385Nm of torque, pushing torque through a six-speed manual gearbox.
But, that's not the option you'd go with. The six-speed automatic transmission is a fantastic unit, and while the $2800 option is a sizeable investment, it offers a smooth ride and allows the vehicle to make the most of its narrow torque band, which stretches from 1500–2000rpm.
Kick the engine over and it has a noticeable diesel clatter at idle, but it's neither unpleasant nor intrusive. It's worth keeping in mind that with Euro 6 compliance comes the need for AdBlue. The 21-litre AdBlue tank will need to be filled at regular intervals. It's available at most major service stations and isn't an arduous process, but one worth keeping in mind.
In and around city limits, the steering is light and easy, while the throttle is responsive with enough pep to get in and out of traffic. The automatic gearbox we tested is also a winner when mated to this engine. It shifts smoothly and kicks down quickly if you need a prod of torque in a hurry.
Fuel consumption officially comes in at 7.2 litres of fuel per 100km for the six-speed automatic, and that wasn't too far off the figure we managed during a week with the Transit Custom. Our combined consumption after a week of highway and city driving was 8.5L/100km. There's also a big 100-litre fuel tank to make sure you won't need to continuously stop for fuel.
The thing that surprised us most about the Transit Custom was how well it drove out on the open road. While we didn't get a chance to drive the van with a considerable load in the back, we did load it with furniture and spent some time driving out in the country.
Beneath the skin, the Transit Custom uses independent MacPherson struts at the front with variable-rate coil springs, a stabiliser bar and gas-pressurised shock absorbers. The rear rides on single leaf springs and has pressurised shock absorbers.
While the rear can get a little bouncy without a load over the rear axle, the front end feels very well sorted and, more importantly, very planted. There's plenty of punch from the 2.0-litre diesel for overtaking and getting the van moving on the open road. It's a real gem when mated to this chassis and delivers a great driving experience in return.
If you opt for the six-speed manual, you'll be able to tow up to 2500kg with a braked trailer. Run with the six-speed automatic instead and you're stuck with just 1800kg of towing capacity, which isn't great when you consider just how capable the engine is.
Arguably, one of the Transit Custom's strongest points is its warranty. It's offered with a five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty, along with capped-price servicing. With service intervals every 12 months or 30,000km (whichever comes first), the Transit Custom will cost $2355 to service over a five-year period.
The hotly contested van segment is a serious battleground. The Transit Custom often dips in and out of the top three sellers for the segment, but this latest update to it, along with the longer warranty offering, is likely to see it chip away at the Korean, Japanese and German sales leaders in the Hyundai iLoad, Toyota HiAce and Volkswagen Transporter.
With more car-like features, an excellent drive and practicality in droves, the Transit Custom is well worth a test drive if you're eager to buy in this segment.