Although the 2020 Ford Transit Custom Sport looks like it was made in jest, Ford is the one that’s laughing. If a van is the ‘face’ of your business, then why not make it at least a little exciting?
For a $3500 premium, you can give the $44,990 Transit Custom short wheelbase (SWB) with automatic transmission the flick in exchange for the $48,490 Transit Custom Sport. You can pay another $5000 for the same spec with a long-wheelbase (LWB) chassis and body.
Extras include stripes and decals, 17-inch black wheels wrapped in Michelin tyres, skirts and wheel arch flares, Bi-xenon HID headlights flanking a blacked-out grille, circular LED daytime running lights, and two extra paint choices called Orange Glow and Blue Metallic.
Inside, you get part-leather heated seats with 10-way power adjustment on the driver’s side, a ‘textured leather’ steering wheel, glossy black and chrome-coloured plastic bits, and LED lighting for the loading area.
Befitting the design, the 2.0-litre diesel engine has been given a tune, stoking outputs by 11kW/15Nm over the regular versions. It’s not going to pin you to your seat, but the Sport isn’t just a style package either. So, what’s it all like?
For starters, it offers a well-considered cabin with a wide breadth of seat and steering wheel adjustment, high driving position, big side windows, thin A-pillars, tall side mirrors with regular and wide-angle view sections, a digital trip computer with speedo, and idiot-proof buttons.
You get a million-and-one large storage cubbies along the dash, in the doors, and under the side and centre passenger seat bases, and a portion of the middle seat flips down to become a work desk/paper file. There are two USB points, three 12V sockets, and one 230V power socket.
The 8.0-inch centre touchscreen displays a reversing camera, digital radio, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and satellite navigation with traffic-sign readouts. It’s all simple to interface with, though the tacked-on head unit is angled slightly downwards and away from you in right-hand-drive models.
There’s not much else to whinge about, though the fit-and-finish could be better. The fact my left knee could move the plastic surrounding the high-mounted gear shifter a good few centimetres from side to side, for example, doesn’t fill one with confidence.
A real ace up the Transit Custom’s sleeve is its plethora of safety equipment, which offsets the fact that even the base models are a few grand pricier than competitors such as the Renault Trafic plus the Volkswagen Transporter.
Van owners spend more time behind the wheel than most, so it’s high time they were looked after, right? Standard fare includes a five-star ANCAP crash rating (albeit one from 2012), and six airbags that protect the front and side of occupants.
You also get autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection, forward-collision alert, rear cross-traffic alert, blind-spot monitoring (particularly useful since the rear vision is compromised), automatic high-beam, adaptive radar-guided cruise control, and vibrating lane-departure alert.
Plus, there's also trailer-sway control programmed into the stability-control system, and if you pair your phone via Bluetooth, the Sync Emergency Assist system automatically sends your GPS coordinates to the ambulance service once the airbags deploy, unless you’re conscious enough to override it.
If you’re going to smack into something in a van, the Ford isn’t a bad one to do it in.
The cargo area includes a single sliding side door on the passenger side, 180-degree barn doors, eight tie-down points, factory-fitted plastic floor cover, and wood-lined walls. Cabin occupants are protected by a metal bulkhead with a glass window.
This is another reason why the premium price tag is misleading, since often you need to drop a few grand equipping the cargo area of a white box on wheels in such a way.
The cargo area’s dimensions are 1406mm high, 2554mm long at floor level, and 1392mm between the wheel arches. It’ll store up to 6.0 cubic-metres of volume. The maximum payload including occupants is 1046kg, calculated by subtracting kerb weight from the GVM.
One area where the Transit Custom Sport traditionally fares well is dynamics.
While the regular model’s firm ride quality when unladen irritates, it somehow feels appropriate to the ‘sporty’ model. There’s no doubt it’s more tied-down in corners than is typical. The steering is very light in terms of resistance, and the turning circle a very reasonable 11.8m.
The standard metal cabin divider improves refinement hugely, and the dampened engine and road noise even at highway speeds is downright car-like, provided the 100kg roof racks are folded down into the roof when not in use.
It’s also hard not to like the 2.0-litre turbo-diesel engine, especially in this tune. Its 136kW of power at 3500rpm and 405Nm of torque between 1500 and 2000rpm is above average, and allowed a 0–100km/h ‘sprint’ in 11.4 seconds. Rapid? Not exactly. But this is a box on wheels…
The only transmission choice is a six-speed torque-converter automatic with a manual mode controlled by silly buttons on the shifter instead of paddles. I found the odd moment of indecision, and some mild shunting when slowing down, but it was smooth and fuss-free in traffic.
It’s worth noting the maximum tow rating with an auto is 1800kg, compared to 2.8t for the non-Sport grades with a six-speed manual gearbox. Given many van owners tow, keep this in mind.
The Transit Custom’s idle-stop system is far more tolerable than older systems on less-refined diesel engines. This system helps preserve diesel, and my 400km mixed-cycle route without a load saw a return of 7.9L/100km, which coupled with a 72L tank would give a range above 900km.
Because the Ford’s engine meets strict Euro 6.2 emissions standards, it also has a 21L AdBlue tank.
In terms of ownership, you get a five-year warranty with no kilometre limit, and excellent servicing intervals of 12 months or 30,000km (whichever comes first). The first four dealer visits are capped at $349 a pop, according to Ford.
To sum up the Ford Transit Custom Sport, it pays to mention that the regular model is an excellent, albeit premium-priced, commercial van. The Sport version is to be commended mostly because it’s not a mere sticker-and-spec pack, but gets mechanical tweaks as well.
No, it won’t dominate traffic light drag races or carve corners like a hot hatch, but it’s a refined, punchy load-carrier with excellent ergonomics, every piece of safety equipment you could rightly demand, above-average handling, and frankly cool design.
None of us are strangers to seeing vans with aftermarket alloy wheels and stickers, and if you want a box on wheels with a bit of edge straight from the factory, look no further than the Ford.