Ford has re-invented its strong selling Transit Custom mid-sized van in second generation form. Jonathan Crouch takes a look.
The Transit Custom isn't only Ford's best-selling van, out-selling its nearest rival three-to-one. It isn't only the nation's best-selling van of any kind. It's also the UK's best-selling vehicle full-stop, currently out-selling Britain's best-selling car, the Vauxhall Corsa, by about 25%. So this, our review on the all-new second generation Transit Custom, is a big deal because this LCV is hugely significant. What it now isn't in this second generation form is purely a Ford. The so-called 'Project Cyclone' agreement between Ford and Volkswagen provides for all future Volkswagen commercials to use Ford underpinnings (in return for Ford gaining access to Volkswagen's MEB platform for passenger EVs). Which is why most of what matters with this MK2 Transit Custom is shared with the new generation Volkswagen Transporter, which will be built alongside it at Ford's Otosan plant in Turkey. The headlines predictably lie with electrification - a bigger-capacity PHEV powertrain and an all-new EV model. But the previous diesel powerplant continues too. The Transit Custom model line dates back to 2012 - prior to which 'Custom' was merely a Transit trim level. An update in 2018 coincided with a huge surge in sales as home delivery took off, subsequently fuelled by the pandemic. That'll help this MK2 Transit Custom as well. But just how good is it?
So vigorously is Ford promoting the full-battery E-Transit Custom version of this model that you might wonder whether conventional diesel drive is still even offered. The reality though, is that the majority of customers in the short term are still going to want an ordinary Transit Custom fuelled from the black pump. Given that this state of affairs won't have a very long shelf life, Ford hasn't bothered doing much to the diesel that powered the previous generation version of this model. There's a choice of four power outputs for the black pump-fuelled 2.0-litre EcoBlue models - 110PS, 136PS, 150PS and 170PS; and a choice of 6-speed manual or 8-speed automatic gearboxes. The 136PS and 170PS models can also be had with All-Wheel Drive in auto form; and manual gearbox 136PS and 150PS can alternatively be ordered with a mechanical limit-slip differential for extra winter traction. Diesel towing capacity is 2,500kgs. Ford would also like combustion engine customers to consider the petrol Plug-in Hybrid option. Surprisingly, this PHEV powertrain isn't a borrowed Volkswagen unit but a development of the set-up that a handful of customers chose in the previous generation version of this model. This sees a 2.5-litre petrol engine replace the old 1.0-litre EcoBoost unit, with an electric motor powered by a larger 11.8kWh battery which, when fully charged, is expected supposed to be able to take this LCV up to 31 miles without troubling fossil fuel. As for the aforementioned all-electric E-Transit Custom, well that gets 74kWh battery offering a range of up to 236 miles. It's paired to your choice of electric motors, putting out either 135PS or 217PS, each offering a class-leading 415Nm of torque. Either way, the motor drives the front wheels and there's a brake regeneration system that promises 'one pedal' driving so that you'll hardly ever need to use the brake when you come off the throttle. The E-Transit Custom can tow up to 2.0-tonnes as well, considerably more than direct rivals.
This second generation model's smarter front end look brings it into line with the latest versions of Ford's other LCVs. A prominent hexagonal front grille panel is flanked by angular, slim LED headlamps which are topped by wrap-around daytime running lights. Ford talks about the 'rebalanced proportions' and 'confident stance' of this MK2 design, which become more obvious as you walk around it. There's increased visual width both front and rear. As before, there's a lengthier long wheelbase body shape option too. And the E-Transit Custom gets its own unique front grille. Inside, the key change lies with the freshly installed 13-inch 'SYNC 4' centre touchscreen. It's angled towards the driver for ease of use and is powered by a 5G modem for superfast connectivity to the Ford Pro tech stack. The brand's designers went to such lengths when considering how owners would use this Transit Custom that even the grains on materials used in the cabin and load area are designed to use textures that avoid trapping dirt and water, giving the best balance between offering a firm footing for wet or muddy boots and enabling heavy items to be slid in and out easily. As van drivers often occupy the cabin alone, the heating and ventilation system has a new 'Driver Focus Mode' option that uses sensors to direct airflow only to occupied seats. An intelligent windscreen monitors temperature and humidity, and automatically makes small heat and airflow changes to proactively keep the windscreen clear for improved efficiency and ease of use.
Expect a slight rise in pricing compared to the previous generation model. Which means pricing starting from around £33,000 excluding VAT, with most models in the £35,000-£40,000 bracket excluding VAT. Panel van customers will primarily be choosing between three trim levels - 'Leader', 'Trend' and 'Limited', but (aimed at owner drivers) Ford are also offering lifestyle-orientated 'Trail', 'Active' and 'Sport' variants. The vehicle is being sold by 'Ford Pro', the Blue Oval brand's commercial vehicle division and there's a choice of short or long wheelbase body shapes. You'll need to budget for a premium with the diesel models if you want the optional 8-speed automatic gearbox: auto transmission is standard with the PHEV drivetrain. Even entry-level 'Leader' versions are pretty well equipped, with automatic headlamps, tinted glass and a 13-inch 'SYNC 4' centre touchscreen with a 5G embedded modem. Mid-level 'Trend' models add air conditioning, body-coloured bumpers and wheel covers. And plush 'Limited' variants get 16-inch alloy wheels, keyless entry, a 'Sensico' leather-covered steering wheel and an alarm. Choose an electric or a PHEV version and your Transit Custom can also feature vehicle-to-load power sockets up-front, allowing you to tap into the vehicle's battery in order to power devices up to 2.3kW, like lap tops or kettles.
Let's get down to the practicalities. There are two wheelbase lengths, L1 and L2, measuring in respectively at 5,050 and 5,450mm. And two roof heights, H1 and H2. That means a cargo volume that can be anywhere between 5.8m3 and 9.0m3 depending on your body shape of choice. On all models, the cargo area width is 1,777mm, narrowing to 1,392mm between the wheel arches. The door aperture height is 1,314mm on H1 versions and 1,814mm on H2 variants. Maximum gross payload is 1,327kg. Obviously, the cleanest and most efficient version of this model is the E-Transit Custom, which as we told you in our 'Driving' section has a 74kWh battery with a driving range of up to 230 miles. Charging takes just under 8 hours from an 11kW source, while DC public charging can take the battery from 15 to 80% capacity in 41 minutes. Ford has designed the charge profile to 'frontload' the energy, which allows a 125kW fast charge to add 23 miles of range in just 5 minutes for quick top-ups. Better still, the 'one pedal' brake regen driving system can keep the battery topped up as you journey on. In our 'Driving' section, we also told you about the PHEV petrol/electric version which has an 11.8kWh battery offering 31 miles of EV range. Even the EcoBlue diesel variants have some degree of electrification, Ford's mild hybrid system, which uses a belt-driven integrated starter/generator (BISG) to replaces the usual alternator, enabling recovery and storage of energy during vehicle decelerations, and charging a 48-volt lithium-ion air-cooled battery pack. The BISG also acts as a motor, using the stored energy to provide torque assistance to the engine under normal driving and acceleration, as well as running the vehicle's electrical ancillaries. The EcoBlue diesel's Auto Start-Stop technology operates in many situations, including when the vehicle is stationary in gear, and when the vehicle is coasting to a stop. The driver can adjust the coasting speed at which Auto Start-Stop operates, between 7mph and 12mph.
Sales success for this second generation Transit Custom is hardly in doubt. After all, the previous model was still selling as fast as Ford's Turkish factory could make it after more than a decade on sale. And the current consumer appetite for home delivery, with the resultant demand for vans of this size, seems insatiable. It'll be interesting though, to see whether being able to buy essentially the same vehicle with a Volkswagen badge will have much effect on this Transit Custom's market share. Probably not. Ford, better than any other brand, has an effective handle on what business customers need in this segment. And what they're going to need going forward is more sophisticated electrification, which this second generation model provides very effectively. We can't help thinking that in the here and now, with the current state of public charging, the PHEV version might be a more sensible choice than the EV though. For the time being, most folk will probably avoid that decision altogether and stay with a conventional diesel variant - which they'll find will meet their needs better than ever before, though at a noticeably increased price. But you might expect to have to pay that for a class benchmark. Currently, that's what this van is.
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