CUSTOM MADE

Fords Transit Custom makes a quiet entrance onto the Australian market

In what some might describe almost as a Clayton’s launch, the Transit Custom has slipped into the Australian marketplace. Available in short and long-wheelbase variants, it’s initially only the shortie that’s on sale. Buyers wanting greater length and cargo capacity will have to wait until mid-year for more length.

By linking the Transit name to Custom there’s an obvious expectation that this new Ford is a replacement for the boxy van that was first introduced back in 1965, seven million of which have been sold in 78 countries. Not so.

The replacement for the traditional Transit is on the way, but it is going to be at least mid-year and probably fourth quarter before it turns a wheel on Australian soil. The Transit Custom is a medium-sized panel van with aspirations of eating into the market share of VW’s Transporter, the Mercedes-Benz Vito, Hyundai’s iLoad, Renault’s Trafic, Toyota’s HiAce and Fiat with the Scudo.

The greatest feature possessed by the Transit Custom is that it comes to OZ already certified with five stars under the EuroNCAP crash safety assessment programme. This rating differs from that applicable to the Vito, currently the only other five-star rated medium van, in that the classification applies right through the range, rather than only to a top spec’ model.

We will start with pricing, which Ford has released for both the shorter 290S as well as the longer 330L, despite the laFord-Transit_Custom_4tter not being available until June.

At $37,490 and $39,490 it’s right in the ballpark for this segment and it comes with an extended warranty of five-years/200,000 km. This warranty period is longer than Ford’s standard issue but only applies at this stage on sales up to the end of the June. It’s better than the norm, but still no match for the unlimited/five years of the South Koreans such as Hyundai. Buyers do gain 24/7 breakdown assist.

In general terms, the Transit Custom is a semi-bonneted design with a transverse front engine that drives the front wheels through a six-speed manual gearbox. It follows current practice of keeping the wheels towards the extremities of the rectangular box shape and it comes only with rear barn doors and a sliding side load door on the kerbside.

The cargo area has a standard floor liner that protects the paintwork and there are plenty of tie down points for lashing cargo. Interior panels are protected by plywood inserts. Because of the front-wheel-drive set-up the cargo deck is lower, meaning a lower step height of 508 mm and easier access for the driver.

The cargo area itself is encapsulated between the full width and full height all-steel bulkhead and the rear barn doors. Interior dimensions provide 1,390 mm between wheel arches, a floor to roof height of 1,406 mm, width of 1,775 mm and a load length of 2,555 mm for the 290S and 2,772 mm for the 330L, to provide a cargo volume 5.95 or 6.83 cubic metres respectively. With an overall height of 2,002 mm it will fit into underground garages, but might require the unscrewing of the roof-mounted antenna. This is mounted offset on the roof towards the passenger side and within arm’s reach of the nearside door.

09_Transit_CustomAlthough the overall length difference between the short and long-wheelbase versions is just 367 mm, the corresponding difference in turning circles is an additional 1,300 mm, with the 290S turning in 10.9 metres and the 330L in 12.2 metres.

The European manufacturers all favour fitting a full bulkhead within the cargo area to make theft of the load more difficult and to protect the driver or passenger from injury if the load is thrown forwards during an accident. This has its advantages as it means the cabin is easier to heat or cool. It does have the disadvantage that the driver cannot reach behind to grab a handy parcel, but, correspondingly, the bulkhead does cut down noise intrusion into the cabin.

Whereas some bulkheads are removable, this one is very permanent, as the cabin trim extends down the bulkhead from the roof headlining. There is also an access flap that hinges upwards to a magnetic catch, which enables the under-seat area to be used for extra storage from the cargo area such as for pipe storage or long lengths of timber.

The dual passenger seat backrest is actually bolted to the bulkhead, but there is a small flap-down tray that flops forwards out of the centre seat backrest, providing a table of sorts for writing. It looks a bit flimsy and is not a patch on the fold down seat back inclusion in the Renault Master.

The passenger seat bases flip forwards to give access to very usable storage space underneath the left-hand and centre seats. The space under the driver’s seat is already occupied by a twin heavy-duty battery set-up, but in the event of the need for a jump-start, terminals are provided under the bonnet.

Ford designers showed with the Ranger ute that it had grasped the idea of interior cabin storage and used available space very well. The same applies to the interior storage options for the Transit Custom.

Big door pockets, cup holders for coffee and a lift-up locker for electrical connections to phones, chargers, crash cams and radios are all within easy reach. There is an iPhone slot as well on the dashboard in front of the driver, and a single DIN slot in the header rail for a CB or two-way radio.

What is surprising is that, for a relatively recent design, there is no area on the dashboard capable of accepting an integral SAT/NAV unit. It’s back to the suction cup windscreen mounts and an aftermarket unit if you run in unknown territory.37_Transit_Custom

What the dashboard does do is to talk to the driver. Ford SYNC is a voice-activated, in-vehicle, connectivity system that means you can ask the van to do things for you, from an audio and phone link perspective. It will also ring the emergency services on OOO if something bad happens, such as an impact that triggers the airbags and shuts off the fuel supply.

A unique feature for the Transit Custom is a flip-up ladder rack on the roof. When not is use the cross members fold flat into panel recesses, a great idea for reducing wind resistance that damages fuel economy.

The Transit Custom comes with a swag of technology with hill start assist, cruise control, an upper speed limiter, dynamic stability control, antilock braking, electronic brake force distribution and emergency brake assist. There’s also an electronic trailer sway control system incorporated in the braking system.

These are all standard features, but in typical Ford fashion there are some additional value packs that include front and rear parking sensors, a rear reverse camera that shows a display in the corner of the rear vision mirror, and front fog lamps. That collection is called the City Pack and will add a further $1,500 to the invoice.

The engine comes from Ford’s Puma family and is a four-cylinder, in-line, and turbocharged diesel of 2.2 litres that is already in Australia under the bonnet of the four-cylinder versions of the 4×2 Ranger ute. Maximum power is 92 kW with peak torque of 350 Nm. The subtle difference here, though, is that the 2.2-litre in the Ranger produces 110kW at 3,700 rpm and peak torque of 375 Nm from 1,500 to 2,500 rpm.

Fuel economy is impressive, and at 7.1 l/100 km for the combined figure and as low as 6.5 l/100 km for the extra urban consumption, this is going to cut operating costs for many van users. Emissions levels are also relatively low at 186 g/km of CO2 for the short-wheelbase rising to 191 g/km of CO2 for the 330L model.

The initial first impressions were gained on a relatively short drive opportunity through Melbourne city streets in two versions of the van, one unladen, and the other carrying 400 kg, just under half the maximum 1,032 kg payload of the 290. The 330 L when introduced in June will offer a 1,360 kg payload.

With tight tolerances on engines that had not completed sufficient kilometres to free up the engine, it didn’t really start to show what it could do until around the 2,000 rpm mark when the turbocharger kicked in. Around the 1,600 rpm mark it was just on the cusp of finding the necessary low-down torque.38_Transit_Custom

Interestingly, the New Zealand market gets a better power and torque package with the 2.2-litre diesel producing 114kW at 3,500 rpm and a peak torque rating of 385 Nm from 1,600 to 2,300 rpm.

The Kiwi version gets an auto start/stop system and improved fuel economy of 6.6 and 6.9 l/100 km for the combined figure and lower emissions of 174-182 g/km of C02. There’s also a slight payload increase to 1,170 kg and 1,448 kg, with the NZ long-wheelbase version having a high roof as standard.

Delivery Magazine would like to see a bit more flexibility in the options list, such as a right-hand-side sliding door and a rear tailgate option, as the driver has to walk around the van to the nearside to access the front section of the cargo area.

Our initial favourable impressions are centred on the low interior noise levels, fuel economy, high safety levels and five-star crash safety rating. It’s a pity the dashboard will not accept an integral SAT/Nav unit, but it will put Ford back in the game.

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