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Controversial replacement

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Hoover, Sellotape and Google; these are just three brand names that have become synonymous with the products they represent, but in the automotive world one shines above them all – Transit.

Since its launch, it has been the UK’s best-selling CV – a position it looks set to keep into its 50th year. But the Transit has undergone quite a dramatic refresh that may upset the apple cart.

Since its launch, it has been the UK’s best-selling CV – a position it looks set to keep into its 50th year. But the Transit has undergone quite a dramatic refresh that may upset the apple cart.

Not only is it being replaced by this new Transit model (pictured), the US’s best-selling Econoline or E-Series is also being replaced by the arrival of this new big Transit van. There is then a lot riding on this next product, so what exactly has Ford done to it?

For starters, it has realigned the range by offering both a medium- and heavy-duty product. The Transit Custom covers the lower portion of the market with GVWs from 2,500kg to 3.3 tonnes, while the new Transit starts from 2.9-tonne GVW with seven body weights up to 4.7 tonnes. The new range is huge, and with more than 450 variants, including chassis cabs and minibuses, as well as approved conversions, the heavier-duty chassis should allow Ford to maintain its stranglehold.

From the front, the Transit’s redesign is obvious. In the rear, Ford has expanded the useable space, squaring off the roof and making it taller, creating 10% more load volume, as well as widening the door apertures for improved access. Load lengths range from 3,083mm to 4,256mm, and roof heights from 1,886mm to 2,025mm. As a result, load volumes max out at 15.1mі in the largest models. Payloads range from 898kg to 2,281kg on the heaviest chassis, with your average 3.5-tonner delivering a payload of between 1,100kg and 1,300kg.

On the inside, you’ll notice the improved visibility and spaciousness. The driver’s seat is still adjustable in every way imaginable, however, unlike previous Transits, the steering wheel is now both rake and reach adjustable. Build quality is high, as you would expect, but while the styling mimics that of the Ford passenger car range, the materials are much more utilitarian. The difference in feel even between a Custom and a large Transit is noticeable, which isn’t a bad thing, but feels more like a rugged working tool. Nevertheless, the cabin is still well appointed with ample storage from an overhead shelf and a hidden compartment in the passenger bench, along with Bluetooth, steering wheel audio controls, and electric windows fitted as standard across the range.

The 2.2-litre Duratorq is the only engine choice for Europe, but engineers at Ford’s technical centre in Dunton, where the new Transit was created, have tuned it to achieve three power ratings of 98hp, 123hp and 153hp, delivering 310Nm, 350Nm and 385Nm respectively. Econetic models will be made available, integrating start-stop technology, low rolling resistant tyres and gear shift indicators to lower consumption to 44.1mpg – marginally less than the claimed economy of Mercedes-Benz’s Sprinter BlueEfficiency model. Ford does, however, claim the fuel efficiency improvement equates to a 6% increase compared with the previous generation.

What’s it like to drive then? Well, first impressions are that the steering is heavier, making it feel like a large vehicle. The chassis has been lowered slightly, and is stiffer than before, which improves the vehicle’s dynamics and limits body roll in corners.

The 6-speed transmission is well judged for motorway speeds, but the action of getting between the gates could be slicker, as the Transit once again looks to underline that this is a proper workhorse, something that is certainly true of the engines. The 2.2-litre lump, whether tuned to low, middle or top horsepower is a refined and gutsy unit. Power and torque appear early, making fully laden standing starts easy, while also being a bonus for towing.

Although a dedicated heavy-duty chassis limits payload, the breadth of the Transit range and the overlap with Transit Custom make up for the compromise.

The interior has been improved with a more modern and useable feel, while on the road it retains the characteristics of a Transit van. At Ј20,795, the Transit carries a small cost increase, but by Ford’s calculations there is a total cost of ownership saving of more than Ј2,000 over the outgoing model on a four-year, 80,000-mile lifecycle. Its looks will undoubtedly take time to become accustomed to, but Ford’s place at the top of the light CV tree is not in jeopardy.

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