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Critical divide

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The wait is finally over, Ford’s new medium sized Transit van has arrived in the UK, and thankfully it is everything we hoped it would be. From the funky Ford family grille, to the curvaceous rear doors, and into the tactile, ergonomic cab that has almost been lifted straight from the production line of the latest Ford Focus, the Transit Custom has it all.

Underneath, the chassis, driveline and engine have all come from the outgoing Transit range, revamped last year, so rather than an all-new van, the Transit Custom is a two-stage development, with the stylish new body fitted onto these tried-and-tested mechanicals that haven’t strayed too far away from the core principals of Transits of old.

It is still a new van, this is certainly not a case of the Emperor’s new clothes, but the focus of the Transit Custom has shifted to the design, and rightly so. Real steps have been made to make it a more appealing vehicle to markets other than the traditional white-van driver. The rounded edges help create a presence on the road while narrowing the perceived dimensions ensuring that when the Transit Custom is parked next to a current Transit van, the newer model looks significantly more svelte. The changes will almost certainly help Ford compete against the Volkswagen Transporter and the Mercedes-Benz Vito, the latter of which enjoys a healthy share in the combo van or people carrier market. Tourneo versions of the Custom look every bit the upmarket airport taxi, and the interior is now more closely matched to a family saloon than a commercial vehicle.

Simpler interiors will be available, but our test vehicle came with the Limited trim, that included optional part-leather seats, navigation, rear view camera and Ford’s SYNC multimedia connectivity package. Small things like the rubberised coin/key pocket that won’t cause rattling, and an uninterrupted window sill that functions capable as an armrest are practical touches that demonstrate careful, considered thought. This is also the first time a Transit van has had a fully adjustable steering wheel, and when coupled with Ford’s previous solution – the multi-directional adjustable seat, which is electric in this model – getting comfortable in a Transit van has never been easier.

The Transit’s driving dynamics are largely unchanged; it still feels agile, eager to be driven hard and responsive to steering, throttle and brake inputs. It is also equally at home in urban and motorway environments as its predecessor. But where the new interior and exterior design should be viewed as a triumphant success, the only gripes (as small and nitpicking as they are) are largely unrelated to the makeover.

Chief among the complaints is the pedal positioning; clutch, brake and accelerator pedals are like an Olympic medals podium, and mounted at differing heights. It’s something you overcome quickly, but the extra effort of lifting your foot higher than expected from accelerator to brake can become tiring over the course of a long journey. Noise levels are also higher than expected for such a smart new vehicle. Without conducting a proper test between old and new, it is hard to discern whether the new Transit is noisier, but given that the Stage V Transit was such an improvement over Euro-4 models we expected more from the Custom on this front. Lastly, when you bury your right foot towards the front bulkhead, we found the Custom responding with a surprising amount of torque-steer. The dimensions and a wealth of torque undoubtedly help make the Custom an engaging drive, but the kick from the wheel goes some way to counteract the potential enjoyment.

Overall, the new Transit Custom is a triumph of design – we’ve not even mentioned the flap in the partition bulkhead that allows longer lengths to be carried, or the fold-up roof rack option – underpinned by a solid chassis and engine combination. It’s also the first non-car-derived van that the words ‘car-like’ can actually be attributed too without cliché. For those that regularly drive cars (particularly Ford ones) as well as vans, the Transit Custom makes a very decent attempt at a more driver-focused comfortable cab, but if you’re strictly a LCV driver, and pilot anything other than a fully equipped Mercedes Vito, the Transit Custom is by far the best interior you’ll have ever seen in a van, and for that Ford must be commended.

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