What Car? says...
A new version of the UK’s best-selling vehicle is always a big deal – and when the new model is the Ford Transit Custom it’s arguably even more important.
The Transit Custom has been the best-selling van since its launch, and is part of more than half a century of Ford Transit dominance at the top of the commercial vehicle best sellers list. A new Transit Custom is, then, really a very big deal.
Ford has built this latest-generation Custom on a new, lighter platform, with a longer wheelbase (the distance between the front and back wheels), to make more space for batteries in the electric van version – the Ford E-Transit Custom. The revised front end is said to be 13% more aerodynamic than the previous version's, to aid efficiency.
The range includes a panel van in two lengths (L1 and L2), a double cab-in-van version and a new derivative called MultiCab that allows you to transport up to five people but still move larger items in a self-contained loadspace.
Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
The entire Ford van range is known for its great driveability and the latest Transit Custom is no exception. The steering feels faster, more precise and slightly lighter than before, which contributes to a more car-like driving experience.
Power comes from a 2-litre EcoBlue diesel engine with the option of 110PS, 136PS, 150PS or 170PS (108bhp, 134bhp, 148bhp or 168bhp) power outputs. It’s the same engine as the previous model, but Ford says changes have improved fuel efficiency with savings of up to 6%.
There’s a choice of a six-speed manual gearbox, standard on all vans, but a new eight-speed automatic gearbox built in-house by Ford seriously ups the refinement levels, making it a really smooth and flexible driveline for a van.
There's also a plug-in hybrid (PHEV) version – we'll tell you how we rate that once we've had a chance to drive it.
Ride comfort is improved thanks to new independent rear suspension which makes the back of the van feel more planted on the road, with less bounce. Also noticeable is the lack of any major noise intrusion into the cab from the engine (or, indeed, road and wind noise).
Ford has lowered the roof slightly, allowing all variants of the van to better fit in underground car parks, and the front wheels have been moved forwards slightly, making the van feel more car-like in terms of driving dynamics.
The interior layout, fit and finish
Square steering wheels should probably have stayed in the Seventies with the Austin Allegro, but they’ve been making a comeback of late, and the Ford Transit Custom is the latest model to fall victim to the “hip to be square” trend.
The “squircle”, as it has been dubbed, is just part of the story of change inside the model. Another innovation is the steering wheel's ability to double a folding table. The idea is that hard-working van drivers can use it to eat lunch at the wheel or as a laptop stand.
Fortunately, it doesn’t affect your ability to palm the steering wheel around, and the lighter steering makes that slightly easier.
Another notable change is the flat floor, and in combination with the placement of the gearshift on the instrument panel, this frees up space around the central seat’s knee area. A middle-seat occupant can now sit in far greater comfort, and it's also easier for the driver to slide across and get out through the passenger door.
Standard equipment across the range now includes a 13in infotainment touchscreen in the centre of the dash and an 8in driver's display in the instrument cluster.
All versions get a new 5G modem as standard to enable connectivity. There’s also a SYNC 4 infotainment system that now includes Amazon Alexa voice assistance and large strips of piano-black surround to smarten up the textured grey plastics.
Overall it’s an attractive cab that feels modern and spacious, although the transition from the large 13in infotainment screen to a much smaller 8in cluster looks a bit odd, and the positioning of the engine start button between the two doesn’t help.
The parking brake is now electronic, removing the physical lever from between the seats and further improving access, but the button placement in the central console between the air vents is another slightly unusual choice.
Passenger & boot space
How it copes with people and clutter
A new platform often means all-round improvements in the load area capacity, but the Ford Transit Custom isn’t quite so generous.
Although 200mm have been added to the wheelbase, the length of the loadspace area has decreased by 160mm. The width is the same, but there’s more space between the wheelarches. There’s also a small increase in the usable height of the loadspace.
Overall, that means the storage space has decreased from 6m3 to 5.8m3 for the short-wheelbase Transit Custom L1, and remains at 6.8m3 for the longer L2 model. Those are the same volumes as the Renault Trafic offers.
Despite that small drop in size, the rear is actually more useable for a number of reasons. The increased length of the load-through hatch allows L2 vans to transport lengths of up to 3.45m.
The model also has a lower floor height for loading, and there's a new side step through the rear sliding door to improve access. Ford says the Transit Custom has a class-leading side load aperture of 1030mm x 1301mm.
Payload is now up to 1327kg for the 3.2-tonne gross vehicle weight van, and towing capacity is 2.5-tonnes.
Up front, there have been more storage gains – the most obvious being the cavernous compartment above the regular glovebox. The door pockets are larger than before, there are cupholders at each of the A-pillars, and you'll find small storage spaces in the central part of the dashboard.
Buying & owning
Everyday costs, plus how reliable and safe it is
Standard equipment levels in the Ford Transit Custom are among the best in the medium van class.
For example, the entry-level van gets pre-collision assist, lane-keeping, traffic-sign recognition, intelligent speed assist, auto high beam, front and rear parking sensors and a rear view camera. Additional systems include intelligent adaptive cruise control, cross-traffic alert, reverse brake assist, exit warning, active park assist and a 360-degree view camera.
There's also a system called Delivery Assist, which is designed to speed up deliveries by automating actions like switching on its hazard lights, closing windows and locking the doors when the driver leaves the van.
All those features come at a cost, though. Prices have increased over the previous generation, with a hike of around 10%, which has pushed the Transit Custom – which is available in Base, Trend, Limited and Sport trims – into a more premium price bracket.
That said, there are so many standard features – including the big touchscreen that the Mercedes Vito would have as a premium option – that it feels as though the price increase is in many ways justified.
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About the author
George Barrow is one of the leading van and truck reviewers, and is the UK’s only representative on the prestigious International Van of the Year jury. He has written about vans and commercial vehicles for the past 15 years, and can be found in titles including The Sun and What Van?, alongside What Car?.
Barrow is well regarded in the commercial vehicle industry, securing access to the latest models – and the people who made them – long before other titles.
The Transit Custom is sold from new with a three-year/60,000-mile warranty, giving an indication of how long Ford thinks it should be ultra-reliable for. We’d expect a well-maintained van to provide reliable service for much longer.