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All eyes to the rear, in our Transit Custom Sport

What’s impressing and annoying us about the rear end of our long term Transit Custom Sport van?

There’s something fundamentally wrong about driving around in a van without any real weight in the back. When we previously tested the Ford Transit Custom as an entry-level fleet vehicle when it was first launched in 2012, we ran the van with around 500kg of payload secured in the back.

While this did nothing for our fuel consumption, it did give us a proper understanding of how the vehicle felt with a decent load in the back.

This time around we’ve opted to keep the fixed weights out of the Sport and load it up whenever the mood strikes us. The test weights are out for now, so we’ve been running with a largely empty van for the past few weeks and while the MPG continues to creep up (40.2mpg on a relaxed motorway run to the Midlands) a new menace has materialised… 

That is that without weight, the Transit Custom Sport’s rear suspension rides atrociously, and driving the Sport to a recent test with the new Mercedes-Benz Vito highlighted just how vast the difference is between a loaded van, an unloaded van, and the Sport.

The Vito is very similar to the Sport in many ways. It looks smart, has plenty of nifty features, handles brilliantly and can make a good fist of carrying well over a tonne. For my money the Transit beats it on nearly every level, but the Vito is a very good van, and particularly good when being driven without any weight in the back.

Aside from the performance difference, driving a laden and unladen Vito shows little difference in terms of ride quality. The vehicle is nicely balanced and the weight only slightly detracts from the feeling at the front wheels.

The LEDs are a shining light in the murk of mid-winter
Ford Transit Custom Sport

In the Transit Custom Sport, however, the ride without a load is poles apart from even riding with just a few hundred kilos. Small surface lumps can be felt and are transmitted through the chassis into the seat, while larger obstacles like speed bumps make you question if you even have any rear suspension. It’s a firm ride, and is amply illustrated by just how little the ride height changes when the vehicle is heavily laden or empty. The leaf springs are one tough nut, and it will either take some getting used to or we will have to just resort to riding around partly laden.

There is a redeeming feature of the back end of the Sport van, though. As these winter nights get darker and darker, and with all this unloading we have had to do, the enormous illuminating power of the LED lights in the rear loadspace has become apparent. They are a shining light in the murk of mid-winter, and a great accessory to have on the van.

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