What Car? says...
The Ford Transit Custom was a runaway success from the start, and has consistently been the UK's best-selling van, popular with owner-drivers as well as fleets.
That success is partly down to the fact that the Ford Transit name is synonymous with medium and large vans – so much so that in the UK many people simply call any van of this size a 'transit van'.
Like its larger two-tonne sibling, the Custom comes with a choice of four different versions of Ford’s 2.0-litre diesel engine. There’s a powerful 182bhp version (great if you want masses of pulling power) as well as 104bhp, 128bhp and 168bhp models. All versions meet the latest Euro 6d final emissions regulations and there’s a mild hybrid version of the 128bhp unit.
They all come with a six-speed manual gearbox as standard, but Ford also gives you the option of a six-speed automatic with all but the entry-level engine.
There’s also a plug-in hybrid (PHEV) version that uses a 1.0-litre EcoBoost petrol engine to charge a 13.6kWh battery, which then powers a 124bhp electric motor driving the wheels. It has an automatic gearbox and various driving modes, one of which – called EV Now – lets you drive it as an electric van with an official range of up to 35 miles.
A fully electric Ford E-Transit Custom model is in the pipeline too, and is expected to have an official range of up to 236 miles.
Buyers have the choice of four trim levels – Leader, Trend, Limited and Sport – and there's a huge range of options. There are also more specialised Ford Transit Custom Active and Ford Transit Custom Trail models. Those are the more lifestyle variants of the van range and are also available as a Ford Tourneo Custom passenger version.
If you’re in doubt as to which one suits your needs, the Active model is closer to an SUV in terms of its abilities and style, while the Trail is a more of a rugged off-roader, complete with macho pick-up truck styling and a bold F-O-R-D grille.
As well as its name recognition, the breadth of the Custom range is perhaps why it attracts so many customers. You can get short or long body versions of diesel variants, as well as a standard or high roof, making it almost as flexible as the larger Transit.
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Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
The most powerful 182bhp diesel engine transforms the Ford Transit Custom into a rocketship – in van terms anyway. However, no matter which of the four diesel options you choose, plenty of torque is available across a wide rev range, making this a good van to drive both around town and on motorways.
With the diesels, you get a standard six-speed manual gearbox, but if you avoid the lowest-powered engine you can have a six-speed SelectShift automatic. We prefer the manual, because it’s pleasant to use and has a sharp action, while the auto box isn't particularly fast-shifting and can be caught out.
The plug-in hybrid Transit Custom PHEV has a 1.0-litre EcoBoost petrol engine similar to the kind you might find in a Ford Puma. That generates electricity for a 124bhp electric motor, which is used to drive the wheels.
There are four driving modes. EV Auto lets the van decide whether to run the motor using the battery or the engine. EV Now, EV Later and EV Charge allow the driver to prioritise emissions-free, electric van style driving (for up to 35 miles officially), charge preservation or battery charging.
Power from the motor comes as an immediate surge from a standstill, so the PHEV feels fast off the line, but it lacks oomph for overtaking at higher speeds.
The motor can also draw power from the Custom PHEV’s 13.6kWh battery. The battery can be charged by the petrol engine and regenerative braking but the van should be plugged in regularly to charge it up for maximise efficiency.
The Custom is the best-handling medium van out there, with pleasantly weighty steering that provides you with good feedback without ever becoming tiring. In fact, everything about how it drives is pretty much spot on, and it strikes a great balance between comfort and body control.
For those that need to go off road – and are happy to steer clear of the PHEV – the Trail version (and the Active if you option the Quaife limited-slip differential) is as capable of tackling the slippery stuff as you’ll find in the mid-sized van.
While traction is improved, there’s no four-wheel-drive option as there is on the full-size Ford Transit so the Trail still spins its wheels up if you accelerate hard in damp or slippery conditions.
The interior layout, fit and finish
The busy, sloping dashboard of the previous-generation Ford Transit Custom has been replaced by a simpler, more upright design. All but entry-level vans get a tablet-like 8.0in touchscreen infotainment system as standard.
It uses the third generation of the Ford Sync system, which is far simpler than the multi-menu Sync 2 and a welcome upgrade from the 4.3in standard screen on Trend models or the standard AM/FM radio found on Leader vans.
There are a few differences that set the plug-in hybrid Custom PHEV interior apart from that of diesel-engined versions. The instrument cluster has gauges for battery charge and energy usage, and there's a button next to the steering wheel that lets you toggle between the various driving modes.
In all versions, the steering wheel can be adjusted in and out, and up and down, so it should be easy to find a comfortable driving position. There are lots of useful storage compartments along the top of the dashboard, and the door bins have split-level compartments that allow you to store small items discreetly.
Passenger & boot space
How it copes with people and clutter
It’s not surprising, given the choice in the range, that the Ford Transit Custom has one of the largest cubic volumes of any medium van. A short-wheelbase standard roof model has a capacity of six cubic metres, while the long-wheelbase high roof has 8.3 cubic metres, so it compete with large van rivals.
Its load-carrying capacity is among the best in class, with a gross vehicle weight range from 2.6 tonnes to 3.4 tonnes. Depending on the body length and height, the maximum payload is as much as 1459kg.
The high potential operating weight of up to 3.4 tonnes means the payload is significantly more than rivals'. It can carry 181kg more than the VW Transporter (up to 3.2 tonnes).
The maximum load length is up to 2554mm for the short-wheelbase version and 2921mm for the long wheelbase. Standard-height vans are 1406mm tall, and there’s an additional 372mm in high-roof models. Load width is 1775mm, with 1351mm between the wheel arches. Rear doors open to 180 degrees but can be locked out at 90 degrees using a special hinge.
The options for the plug-in hybrid Custom PHEV are rather more limited. It's only available in short-wheelbase, standard-height guise, and the weight of the hybrid system means its maximum payload is about 200kg less than that of an equivalent diesel version.
A protective lining is available for the load area on all versions, and we’d recommend it to protect the panels. However, the plywood protection is a little rudimentary – competitors have more sophisticated load-lining solutions.
A single side-loading door with an opening of just over a metre is standard on all Customs, and there’s the option of adding a second side door on the driver’s side.
If it’s people rather than stuff that you need to move, there are Kombi minibus variants capable of carrying up to nine passengers and Double Cab vans with a second row of seats.
Buying & owning
Everyday costs, plus how reliable and safe it is
According to official figures, the 104bhp Ford Transit Custom diesel returns up to 39.8mpg, while the top-of-the-range 182bhp version is almost as efficient, managing 39.2mpg. The most frugal diesel-powered variant is the mild hybrid which returns up to 40.9mpg on the combined cycle.
For the best fuel economy, there's the plug-in hybrid Custom PHEV, which managed up to 78.4mpg in official tests. To get close to that figure you’ll need to be able to charge the battery regularly, and if you’ll mostly be using your van for long stints on motorways, one of the diesels could still be cheaper overall – especially considering the PHEV’s high purchase price.
For overall performance, cost and capability, we’d recommend the regular 128bhp diesel engine, because it’s a good compromise and allows you the choice of all trim levels except Sport.
Sport is arguably the most luxurious trim level available on diesel variants. Active models get part-leather seats and what Ford calls SUV-inspired styling, with Active decals and 17in alloy wheels.
Trail vans get a much bigger overhaul, with full leather seats, moulded front and rear bumpers, side skirts and a matte-black grille with large F-O-R-D lettering.
Safety features on all versions include forward collision prevention and a rear blind-spot assistance system called Cross Traffic Assist. It uses the rear parking sensors to scan the roads to the sides of the vehicle while you back out of a parking space or driveway. It’s a simple but brilliant system that’s really useful in a van and one we would thoroughly recommend going for.
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The Transit Custom has an excellent reliability record compared to many of its rivals. However, buyers tempted by the 2.0-litre engine should be wary: it’s oil hungry and can experience problems relating to the injectors, which can be costly to replace. A software update at the dealers can lessen the problem. Also check recall work has been done – on older models that includes brake booster work, so is safety critical.
The Transit Custom is sold from new with a three-year or 60,000-mile warranty, whichever comes first, giving an indication of how long its maker thinks it should be ultra-reliable for. We’d expect a well-maintained van to provide reliable service for much longer. Ford has a lot of fleet customers, who typically study historic reliability data in great detail before committing to orders. The only weak spot regularly identified are the injectors on older 2.0-litre models.
If you want the best blend of performance, cost and capability we’d recommend the regular 128bhp engine for the Transit Custom. It does everything well, and is available on every variant of the van except Sport models. The top-powered 182bhp engine is only worth considering if you want very rapid performance, while there are also mild hybrid options which improve fuel economy marginally.
Yes, there will be soon. The electric van version – the Ford E-Transit Custom – is due in 2024, and is expected to offer up to 236 miles of range per charge officially. Using a 115kW charger it should be able to recharge from 15-80% in as little as 34 minutes. Full technical details are yet to be revealed.