Ford Transit Custom review – Vanzone - Vanzone
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Ford Transit Custom review – Vanzone

How do you make the UK’s best-selling van even better? That was the challenge for Ford when designing the replacement for the Transit Custom. Van Expert Tim Cattlin has spent a week with the van in its latest guise and got under the skin of this top contender in the medium van sector…

Back in the very early part of 2022, I saw some computer-generated images of the all-new Custom. My first reaction? ‘Isn’t that the old model?’ It wasn’t until I looked closer that I spotted the subtle changes to the van exterior – and, to be fair, these days it’s the same with most new models of car and van, there’s usually a strong resemblance to the outgoing model. But, in this case, don’t be fooled, the new Custom is pretty much all new, inside and out.

The exterior

Transit custom

The frontal aspect undoubtedly boasts the most striking change. The grill is an entirely new design, blending into the front panel with those large ‘scoops’ at either side. The headlights are much narrower than previously, and the daytime running light on some models continues across the lower edge of the bonnet line, connecting the left and right headlights. There are subtle changes to the lines along the side of the van, and the rear has been restyled including compact rear light clusters replacing the huge ones on the old van.

The range

There is an argument that if it isn’t broke, don’t change it and, mostly, Ford has opted for this strategy with the new Custom. As previously, there are two body lengths (L1 and L2) and the van can be ordered in double cab form together with the various Kombi and Tourneo passenger-carrying versions.

New for this model is the Multicab, a 5 seater but with the versatility provided by moveable seats and bulkheads which potentially means a full load length can be utilised whilst still safely accommodating four people. At the time of writing, there is only a single (H1) roof available but Ford has promised that the popular H2 option will return shortly.

Trim levels and power units are mostly unchanged, more on these aspects later.

Loadspace

Transit custom

The standard configuration is a single side loading door and twin rear doors although an additional side door and a tailgate are on the option list. It’s great to see that Ford has standardised LED loadspace lighting throughout the Custom range, something that manufacturers have continued to cut corners on, much to the frustration of anyone working in the rear of the van in poor daylight conditions.

Loadspace dimensions (standard panel van):

 Transit Custom L1Transit Custom L2
Length (max at floor)2602mm3002mm
Width1777mm1777mm
Width between wheelarches1392mm1392mm
Maximum height1405mm1405mm
Side door aperture width1030mm1030mm
Volume (standard)5.7cu/m6.6cu/m

Payloads:

Transit custom

The Custom is offered at three GVMs (Gross Vehicle Mass) providing a range of payload options that should suit all operators. The lowest is a respectable 848kgs but should you need your Custom to carry some serious weight, there’s up to 1416kg on offer – that’s more than many large, 3500kg GVM vans can cope with. If you’re needing to tow (always check tachograph regulations) most Customs can pull a 2800kg trailer.

Power units:

The diesel EcoBlue engines are carried over from the previous Custom, offered at outputs of 110PS, 136PS, 150PS and 170PS. An 8-speed automatic gearbox option is available, as is all-wheel-drive for those needing additional traction when working in more testing environments.

Although outside the scope of this article, now available to order is the all-electric E-Transit Custom, and also a hybrid-powered version. We’ll devote a future review to these very important additions to the range.

In the cab:

Transit custom

Ford has gone to town when designing the cab of the new Custom. The dash is dominated by an 8” digital instrument panel in front of the driver and a 13” touchscreen offering access to the latest version of Ford’s operating system, the SYNC4. Although navigation is an (expensive) option, the unit offers wireless Apple Carplay / Android Auto smartphone integration providing a clear Google Maps display. Storage is plentiful in supply with multiple areas in the door, two gloveboxes, a dashtop area and under-seat storage, too.

The steering wheel, a slightly odd, non-circular design can, with the mobile office option fold flat and transform itself into a mini desk, laptop tray or even somewhere to eat your lunch from. A great idea which will be appreciated by those who spend most of their working day in the van.

The cab floor is flat. This doesn’t sound like an earth-shattering development but in practical terms, it’s more comfortable for passengers and it allows the driver to store items on the floor. More evidence that Ford has designed the cab with ‘real world’ users in mind.

Trim levels and specification:

Although there are several trim levels on offer, we’ll just compare the mainstream models. Custom Leader, traditionally aimed at fleet customers is anything but basic with the likes of a Quickclear heated windscreen, cruise control, power mirrors and rear parking sensors all being fitted as standard. Safety and driver aid tech includes a lane-keeping aid and Intelligent Speed Assist.

Custom Trend doesn’t add a great deal, but you do get some body colour added to the front and rear bumpers, front parking sensors, a rearview camera and the all-important air conditioning. Finally, Limited spec will give you some 16” alloy wheels, full body coloured bumpers, a 4-way adjustable heated driver seat and a Thatcham alarm.

On the road:

Ford Transit Custom L2

The test van supplied to me by Ford was an L2 van in Limited spec, fitted with the 136PS diesel engine and 6-speed manual gearbox.

In the interests of transparency and disclosure, the Custom has been my favourite medium van ever since I drove a pre-production model at the Ford test track in Belgium a year before it originally went on sale so, the week I was to spend with this new van had been eagerly awaited.

Although appearances are subjective, most would agree that it’s a cracking looking van and those subtle changes from the old model have given the van a bang up-to-date profile. Jumping into the driver’s seat it doesn’t take long to adjust it so that you’re comfortable with the instrument panel in clear view. What’s great to see is that Ford has thought to angle the SYNC4 unit slightly toward the driver making viewing and operating it that much easier. However – there are a couple of areas of concern where I think backward steps may have been made. Firstly, Ford has opted to include heating and ventilation controls within the touchscreen. This is a pet hate of mine, I much prefer the simple, easy to reach physical controls and from a safety perspective I reckon it’s not ideal. Also, especially when wirelessly connected to my Android phone I found the interface very confusing. I couldn’t easily find the function I wanted, locating the radio control when the unit insisted on automatically playing Spotify was almost impossible and, as the van was fitted with the optional navigation system the SYNC4 unit couldn’t decide whether to display the output form that or from Google Maps, and seemed to randomly choose one or the other. There’s a caveat here – I didn’t consult any sort of manual and some of this could be operator error but, how many people would? It just seemed to be a bit too confusing.

Otherwise, on the road the van drove and handled well, the new independent rear suspension giving a much better unladen ride quality although, in comparison to some of the competition, the engine noise seemed a little intrusive at times. Visibility is truly excellent, the driving position is comfortable and passengers also commented on the comfortable seat and ride quality. Performance from the 136PS engine was OK, not earth-shattering but perfectly adequate.

Just one last little gripe – in common with many modern vehicles the number of alerts that the driver is bombarded with is really distracting. These commence when you get into the van before even the engine is started and continue, either visually or audibly. Go over the speed limit, you get three ‘bongs’ every time (granted, this is becoming a legal requirement) and on one occasion the Automated Emergency Braking kicked in as the van (mistakenly) thought I was about to have an accident. I wasn’t, but the combination of audio and visual alarms together with sudden, un-commanded braking was almost enough to make me have one…

The expert’s verdict

I still love the Custom. I always said that it ‘just feels right’ and Ford hasn’t lost that in this new model. I like how it has been designed with the customer in mind, something other manufacturers overlook from time to time.  It’s going to have a full range of power units on offer, the loadspace and payloads are more than competitive, and a comprehensive dealer network should keep that expensive downtime to a minimum. And from a safety perspective, the van has achieved the ultimate ‘Platinum’ award from NCAP and its ruthless assessment process.

But – whereas in 2012 when the original van was launched the competition was nowhere near, that’s not the case now. And with Volkswagen shortly to launch the Transporter T7, a van that bears more than a passing resemblance to the Custom (because, due to a commercial agreement it’s essentially the same van) Ford could see others challenging for that top spot in the sales league. I think Custom will stay there though, it deserves the position and there are many, many loyal customers who will continue to stick with the Blue Oval.

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