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Driven: Ford Transit Custom Sportvan

When Ford launched the Transit Custom in 2012, it did so with the tried and tested 2.2-litre Duratorq engine from the established Transit van range – a sensible precaution for what was essentially a new product.

Since then, Euro-6 emission targets have come into force and these were met in the Transit Custom range in 2016 with a new 2-litre powertrain.

The Transit Custom has then been updated incrementally throughout the first generation, not just with engines, but some new software and safety features too. The 2018 version of the Transit Custom, however, is the first time the exterior and interior have both been revitalised and, as such, it represents an important milestone in the timeline of the van.

Those Euro-6 engine upgrades remain the powerplant for the new Custom, and with it the same transmission, suspension and steering. Mechanically then, the Transit Custom is the same as the version you could have bought this year.

That is not a bad thing though, as the Transit Custom has been improving and is still one of the best vans in the sector. The engine is far more efficient than the first generation and, with modifications made for the new Custom Econetic, it has a combined fuel efficiency of nearly 50mpg.

Find out what's changed in the Ford Transit Custom

While the 2-litre Panther unit is still not the most refined engine in the market, there is plenty of torque across a wide spread, which means it is a pleasurable van to drive both around town or on motorways. It is still, for your money, the best handling vehicle in its class too, with a pleasantly weighty steering rack that provides ample feedback without being tiresome to drive.

You are probably thinking there is no point in buying the new one if its underpinnings are the same, but Ford has made several changes to enhance the Custom in ways other than the driveline.
On the inside

Let’s start with the interior. The busy sloping dash of the current model has been replaced by a more upright design with a great deal more simplicity. We drove the top-of-the-range Ford Transit Custom Sportvan (which is being released at the same time as all other variants) and it, like other mid- to high-end models, gets a tablet-like 8in touchscreen. As navigation/infotainment units go, it is a good attempt at combining premium car equipment into a working vehicle. Controlled by the latest and third generation of Ford’s SYNC system, it is far simpler than the multi-menued SYNC 2. Yet, while testing it some weeks later more extensively in a Ford Edge passenger car, we found the system to be particularly buggy, often crashing and failing to execute commands.

Fortunately, SYNC 3 also supports Android Auto and Apple Car Play, which allows a smartphone to work more seamlessly with the vehicle. While this is not without its faults or limitations, it is often a more reliable system and a convenient way of keeping drivers connected, circumventing the Ford system.

Despite its issues, the new Custom has definitely been improved as a result of the technology that is now available at your fingertips. Whether or not you like the new interior styling will come down to personal preference, but it is certainly neater and less cluttered than the model of old. It is an exceptionally ergonomic cabin layout too, and is paired well with the combination of a rake and reach adjustable steering wheel and a seat that adjusts in more ways than you can really get used to without actually living with the vehicle for a long time.

There is plenty of extra storage, and while Ford said much of it is new, it does not seem like there is more usable space; rather just a lot more places to put things. The current model has a handy, albeit small, covered space directly in front of the steering wheel, while the new model has far more compartments all along the top of the dash. Whether that is progress, we are not sure, but it is certainly a compromise over stuffing papers and cups in the gaps between the windows and vents.

The door bins, however, are far more practical. Split levels of stowage allow more smaller items to be stored discreetly, and while we will miss the small coin/phone holder that was between the steering wheel and gear stick, there are still ample places in which to secrete valuables.

Design-wise, the interior is just part of the story, and as alluded to on page 10, the front is dramatically different. It is a look that will likely grow on you, much like the larger Transit van.

As lukewarm as we are about its looks, one thing that did catch our attention is the abundance of new safety features. Although some are hard to test without the risk of causing an accident, the technology certainly lets you know that it is working for you. Forward collision warning is one such system that seems to be, more so now than ever, willing to intervene on your behalf. It is far more sensitive than when we tested it in previous models, and although it can be tiresome, it is a welcome safety net to have.

The greatest safety advance has to be the rear blind spot system. Cross Traffic Assist 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 is a simple but brilliant advancement in safety that is much needed in vans. As parking sensors are becoming increasingly prevalent as standard fit items on private and fleet vans, Cross Traffic Assist or other systems like it must surely be added as part of the increasing duty of care for operators.

Cynics may look at the headlines and see that not much on the Ford Transit Custom has changed – a new interior, a new grille and some different technology – but
as a whole they complete a substantial and much-needed renovation of the model. Any updates were never going to be as revolutionary as when the Transit range was split in two, but the 2018 Transit Custom is certainly more than just a facelift.

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