The Auto Trader expert verdict: ★★★★★ ★★★★★ 4.1
The Transit is so far ahead of the competition in the sales charts, it outsells the second biggest seller by 50%. It’s all the more impressive when you consider that number two is Ford’s bigger model, the Transit: the closest contender in the Transit Custom’s class doesn’t muster more than half the sales in a year.
There is good reason for the Transit Custom’s domination, though, as the model is a fantastic blend of practicality, durability and value.
Reasons to buy
- Excellent driving experience
- Impressive payload
At a glance
Cargo & practicality
The Transit Custom doesn’t go above and beyond when it comes to offering a range of different sizes – just the standard two lengths and two heights that you would hope for – but there is a decent amount of space available from the variants on sale. The four different options offer internal space ranging from 6.0 cubic metres to 8.3 cubic metres on the high roof medium wheelbase model.
The panel van is capable of taking three Euro pallets, even in the shorter version. The longer version of the double-cab-in-van model – which has five seats and a separate loading bay separated by a full-height steel bulkhead – is capable of taking two pallets, while the shorter one takes just the one.
That steel bulkhead comes as standard on all models, even on the very basic version, and a load-through hatch under the passenger seat will help add a little more practicality without the need to dip into the options list.
If payload is all, the Transit Custom will take up to 1,530kg in the panel van version.
Ford has really improved the cabin, which is crucial when a driver spends hours behind the wheel.
The quality of materials is excellent, and conveys a feeling of durability without taking on a completely workmanlike air. There is still plenty of room for tools and trinkets, though, with what Ford says is 25 litres of space around the cabin. This space presents itself in a series of useful cubbies that can tuck items out of sight, and a decent array of cupholders.
What is particularly good, though, is the driving position. The seats are excellent, with enough adjustability and support to get comfortable without resorting to odd tricks. The position of the gear lever, set up on the dash board, feels well thought through, too.
The level of technology is brilliant, with an 8.0-inch screen and Ford’s Sync3 infotainment on the higher trim models, while lower models get a 4.0-inch version. Given that around 40% of Transit Customs are the base model, though, Ford offers another clever touch in the form of a holder to safely display a tablet so that can be used as a sat-nav or business centre.
The three diesel options are all based around the same 2.0-litre engine, so official fuel economy ratings are all much in the same ballpark regardless of which power output you go for.
It’s no major surprise the lowest powered model is the most economical, but it still doesn’t muster up more than 46mpg on the official tests. This is a match for the majority of its rivals rather than being outstanding – competitors from VW and Vauxhall are much the same, while the Peugeot/Citroen pair are marginally more efficient.
The service intervals are impressively far apart on the Transit Custom, at 36,000 miles or two years, which should help keep costs down and build reassurance. Other little elements to help keep the van running smoothly include sensors on the brakes and oil to warn when they degrade in between services, and lights that are deliberately positioned to keep them away from areas that are easily hit, so panels can be replaced for less in the case of a crash.
Ford also offers Transit24 – a servicing facility that aims to get your van serviced and back to you within 24 hours.
The heart of the Transit Custom engine range consists of a 2.0-litre diesel engine in a choice of three power outputs: 105, 130 and 170 horsepower.
None of them are exactly slow, but the pick of the range is the 130 horsepower version. The added pulling power over the entry-level model is welcome when it comes to hauling bigger loads and performing occasional overtakes. The more powerful model adds even more, but not so much as to make the difference between the two wildly notable: the mid-range model will cope with the vast majority of jobs.
Ride and handling
In some ways, this is the Transit Custom’s forte. The steering wheel is chunky and feels like something out of a car rather than a van, and is connected to a wonderfully accurate steering rack.
Although it isn’t comparable to a car, this gives a real feeling of connection to the road at higher speeds that makes the Transit Custom relatively entertaining to drive. It also means it is simple to move around in town at lower speeds.
Unusually for a van, there is a choice of two different suspension setups. The majority of models will get the standard one, which provides a compliant ride that is well suited to the UK’s messy road surfaces. Speed bumps are traversed without much in the way of lurching or crashes through the cabin.
The Sport models get slightly stiffer suspension and roll bars that reduce lean through the corners, and this inevitably has an impact on the otherwise plush ride comfort. Not so much as to ruin it, but enough to be noticeable, which could add up and become wearing over a long day.
The Transit Custom has always done well on the safety front, scoring a maximum five stars in the Euro NCAP crash test back in 2012, which is significantly better than some rivals. This is due to the high level of safety kit included as standard. Even the base model gets roll stability control – which helps when the van is carrying a load with a high centre of gravity – and a system to deal with crosswinds.
Other available systems include one to help control trailer sway when towing, and the usual electronic stability control and emergency brake assist – the latter system will even identify pedestrians.
The Transit Custom also brings something different to the class, with a cross traffic alert, that warns drivers of passing traffic when they are reversing out of a space.
Ford says almost as many buyers (around 40%) go for the basic Transit Custom model as go for the top of the range versions, with big fleets snapping up the no-frills vans.
They aren’t totally without kit, though, with safety features the biggest draw. On top of that there are basics such as a radio (not digital), Bluetooth, under-seat storage, electric windows and a driver’s seat armrest. A side sliding door and two 12V power sockets are welcome, too.
Trend is where the kit really starts to arrive. You get powered and heated door mirrors, halogen headlights with LED daytime running lights, body colour front bumpers and mirror housings, auto lights and wipers, front and rear parking sensors, cruise control, a heated windscreen and an easy clean loading bay floor.
Step up to Limited and you get the Sync3 infotainment system and DAB digital radio, air conditioning, alloy wheels, heated driver and front passenger seats, an alarm, a front passenger airbag and more body coloured details on places such as the rear bumper and door handles.
If you want a more lifestyle van, Sport adds a bespoke styling kit, which includes bumper skirts, wheel-arch extensions and two-tone stripes over the top of the van. It also gets stiffer suspension, a rear parking camera, lane keep assist with a driver alert, and bigger alloy wheels.
Frankly if you are considering a van, the Transit warrants consideration for its heritage alone. That said, the modern version is an excellent vehicle in its own right. Not only is it smart to look at, it offers a great level of kit and a fantastic driving experience. It’s the UK’s favourite van for a reason.