The van of awesomeness

Road test: Ford Transit Custom DCiV 310 LWB Limited

Light is fading, the weather forecast is decidedly dodgy and it’s just the beginning of a 200 mile drive – on a Friday evening.  After almost an hour, we’re actually on the motorway and the sun is setting behind the longest brick viaduct in Europe, over the M60 in Stockport.

Actually, I have been looking forward to this drive all week: a decent opportunity to put some miles on Ford’s latest long-wheel-base Transit Custom. Until this point, it has just been used for pottering about locally; time to see how it behaves pounding our motorways.

Ford’s Transit van has been on our roads for (just) longer than I have been alive. During the 1970s, the first generation was a common site, examples gradually falling into decay through hard use. In those early days, there weren’t too many direct competitors (the Bedford CF being the main one) and the Transit name fell into general use, not only by the general public but also within the industry (as in “the Transit class”).

So, as some people Hoover their carpets, others see Transits.  Ford has, over the years, managed to keep its Transit at the front of the pack for driveability and ease of use. Certainly, when driving vans for various reasons in the past, I have always been pleased to see a blue oval on the nose.  Today, there are many competitors to the Transit, so just how good is the 2013 model?

Crawling along the motorway, there is ample opportunity to examine the interior. Our test vehicle is in the top Limited trim and comes with three options packs and a couple of other goodies too, so it is as well-kitted as any high-specification car.  Heated leather seats, full media interface with sat-nav, phone hook-up and DAB radio, folding electric mirrors and reversing camera all add to this Transit’s appeal.

With only my son for cargo and the higher output 155PS engine fitted, the van feels agile. Deselecting Eco mode (which limits speed to 70 mph) allows us to keep up with the rest of the traffic in the outside lane.

Feeling a little smug, I pull the van onto the M6 Toll road only to realise it will cost me twice the fee for a car.  Still, at least we can avoid some of the heavy traffic. Cruise control is a welcome feature, especially through road works and some of the variable-limit sections of the M42.

Transit feels stable and planted

Despite side-winds and lashing rain (plus an empty van), the Transit feels stable and planted. Clearly this hasn’t been the case for some other road users whose battered vehicles can be seen pointing the wrong way on the hard shoulder or are entirely absent from the carriageway, with a huddle of policemen peering down the embankment. I don’t think I have ever seen quite so many clusters of blue, flashing lights on one journey.  With the Transit’s elevated view and keeping a good distance, we keep out of trouble and settle into a steady pace on the M40.

For those carrying more than just a small passenger, they will find the first two gears are quite low, both aiding the steady crawl through traffic and helping when loaded or towing.  The rest of the gears are well-spaced and sixth is tall, bringing 80 mph in at about 2,000 rpm. Interestingly, there is a little road noise at this speed but wind noise is exceptionally low meaning civilised conversations are possible. The tall top gear means the van labours a little at 50 mph where there is an incline but otherwise, engine noise is kept to a minimum, too.

Puts many cars to shame

At last, we’re off the motorway and onto the Berkshire lanes, my lad happily asleep, slumped in his car seat. The rain has stopped and the clear roads highlight the crispness of the Transit’s steering; the weighting and accuracy really does put many cars to shame.

Visibility is excellent, helped in the double-cab version with its windows each side of the second row of seats: exiting junctions at oblique angles would otherwise necessitate squaring-up to the road you are joining. Images from the rear camera are displayed at the left of the driving mirror (which is otherwise redundant because of the solid rear doors and passenger/load area dividing panel). The camera plus the good external mirrors provide a clear rear view and should prevent scrapes/squashed people. The powered, folding mirrors are also useful to preserve their integrity on narrow roads.

At last, we reach our weekend retreat, relaxed and unruffled, due in no small part to the capabilities of the Transit.  As a work horse, there is little scope for criticism; low, uninterrupted load area and fabulous access mean the latest Transit ticks all the boxes for the daily graft. The media interface is a little fiddly and the lower buttons on the steering wheel are recessed too far but otherwise, it is hard to fault. The icing on the cake? Having strangers (both genders) comment that they love the van, especially in its Race Red paint.

Is the latest model still at the top of its game? Absolutely.

Ford Transit Custom DCiV 310 LWB Limited, £26,366* (from £17,495* for the Custom panel van).

*prices exclusive of VAT

Power: 155 PS, torque: 385 Nm, emissions: 183 g/km CO2, 0-62 mph: n/a.

Motor Writer rating: ●●●●●

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