FORD Transit – The Automatic Choice | Van Review

Ford takes a new look at its commercial vehicle range with the addition of an automatic transmission to the Transit – Words by Chris Mullett

Back in 1965, over half a century ago, Ford Motor Company in England revolutionised the light commercial vehicle industry. By launching the Ford Transit range this signalled to other vehicle manufacturers that van drivers could be comfortable, they could expect car-like levels of ride and handling, and they could combine these expectations in a vehicle that had a much improved level of performance.

From a design-low base of light commercials that were prone to spinning wheels and lurching around corners, Ford engineers found they had an absolute winner on their hands. So much so, in fact, that not only did the public quickly appreciate the benefits of the Transit, so too did the villains of society, with Transit quickly becoming the vehicle of choice for bank robberies and getaway vehicles. According to reports from the British police, the 70’s saw thieves preferring to use the Transit in 95 percent of all robberies.

Over eight million vans wearing the Transit badge have been sold globally and it has held the title of best-selling light commercial vehicle in Europe for something like 40 years.

The Transit was introduced to replace the Ford Thames 400E, a small mid-engined forward control van noted for its narrow track, which was in competition with similar-looking but larger vehicles from the BMC J4 and J2 vans and Rootes Group’s Commer PB ranges.

The Transit was a departure from the European commercial vehicles of the day with its American-inspired styling – its broad track gave it a huge advantage in carrying capacity over comparable vehicles of the day. Most of the Transit’s mechanical components were adapted from Ford’s car range of the time. Another key to the Transit’s success was the sheer number of different body styles: panel vans in long and short wheelbase forms, pick-up trucks, minibuses and crew-cabs.

Through the years there have been a series of upgrades, facelifts and improvements in styling, as well as with engine and driveline choices. For the Australian market, Transit was available with the 4.1-litre, Falcon engine, accommodating the additional length of the straight six-cylinder engine versus the European V4 by adding a nose cone, similar to that used with diesel versions.

The Transit we know currently in the Australian market is the fourth generation and hails from Ford’s manufacturing plant in Turkey. Other global markets are supplied from factories in Valencia, Spain, and Kansas City in Missouri, United States.

For the Australian buyer the purchase choice is actually between two totally different models, one being the traditional sized medium to large van or cab/chassis variant, obviously called Transit, and the other being a slightly smaller model more resembling the size of a Mercedes-Benz Vito or Renault Trafic that’s confusingly called Transit Custom.

Ford lost momentum in Australian sales with a 14-year absence of Transit from our market until the third-generation model was reintroduced in 1994. Unfortunately, due to the European preference for manual gearboxes, sales have suffered until now through the lack of an automatic transmission, considered essential to specifications required for many of the Australian major fleets.

Although Ford has taken its time to remedy that omission, 2017 sees the return of the Ford Transit, complete with automatic transmission, and with a renewed vigour when it comes to marketing the Transit and placing it under a more powerful spotlight.

Whereas previously the Transit range in Australia could only compete in 34 percent of the medium van segment, the 2017 upgrades and the introduction once again of automatic transmission alters the equation substantially, enabling the new Transit to be on the shopping list for 85 percent of the medium van segment.

“The arrival of an automatic variant for Transit and Transit Custom widens our small business opportunities and expands consideration to include large fleet and government buyers,” said Graeme Whickman, president and CEO, Ford Australia.

“We’re enabling customers to make a real go of things with a broader range and even stronger offering with a vehicle that’s recognised globally as the benchmark. On top of this, longer service intervals mean less time off the road, while a longer warranty brings peace of mind so owners can focus on their business success”.

In addition to the automatic transmission, the 2017 Transit range will feature the next generation of high-performance 2.0-litre EcoBlue engines, which offer more power and torque whilst also providing better fuel economy and lowered exhaust emissions.

“The all-new 2.0-litre turbo EcoBlue engine in the Transit and Transit Custom offer better performance and better fuel economy, and coupled with the six-speed automatic transmission, combine to provide customers with a technology-packed option in the van segment to help them get their work done more efficiently,” added Whickman.

In terms of lowered exhaust emissions, the new-generation 2.0-litre EcoBlue engines available in the updated Transit and Transit Custom are class leading, conforming to the latest Euro 6 emissions standards when most of the competition selling into Australia are still relying on Euro 5 compliance.

The move to incorporate the latest 2.0-litre front-wheel-drive EcoBlue engine with Euro 6 emissions standards in the Transit models brings a 10 percent improvement in power (from 114 kW to 125 kW) and a 5 percent rise in torque output (from 385 Nm to 405 Nm) when compared to the current 2.2-litre, Euro 5 emissions compliant engine.

For the Transit Custom those variances change with the latest 2.0-litre EcoBlue engine with Euro 6 emissions standards bringing a 4 percent improvement in power (from 92 kW to 96 kW) and a 10 percent rise in torque output (from 350 Nm to 385 Nm). Fuel economy improves by 11 percent to a new low of 6.6 l/100 km and CO2 emissions reduce by 14 percent for the 290S and 12 percent for the 340L van, to a minimum reading of 165 g/km.

There are also benefits in terms of lowered total cost of operation (TCO) due to the new 2.0-litre EcoBlue in Transit Custom and Transit 350L front-wheel-drive versions featuring the increase of recommended standard service intervals to 12 months/30,000 km, whichever occurs first. This represents an additional 15,000 km over the current Transit and Transit Custom range, and there’s more good news in the form of an additional 100,000 km warranty extension to three-years/200,000 km, (whichever occurs first).

With an array of over 100 colours available for Transit and Transit Custom, Ford’s marketing team are aiming at targeting the more entrepreneurial type of buyer that’s looking for a multipurpose vehicle that fits both work and leisure requirements.

Whereas the Ranger ute will happily handle the off-road adventure and trips to the beach, Ford is looking to attract tradies that need a van for load security and weather protection but still want to use its versatility at weekends.

“It’s another thing we’re doing to help consumers buy, not just a van, but a vehicle that works for their brand and really stands out,” said Graeme Whickman. “It’s not just a van, but a part of your life, and a vehicle to actually want and desire”.

Ford buyers have become used to choosing between a comprehensive list of option packs on many of the models in the company range, and Transit is no exception.

The new Transit 350L FWD automatic can be optioned with a City Nav Pack that includes SYNC® 3 for the first time. This is Ford’s new in-vehicle communications and entertainment platform that features Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, faster performance, more conversational voice recognition, intuitive smartphone-like touchscreen and an improved graphic user interface.

There’s a new ‘Home’ screen with clearer layout and large icons for quicker access to functions including audio system, climate control, smartphone (including compatible apps) and satellite navigation (where fitted).

A new 6.0-inch touchscreen with capacitive touch technology allows ‘pinch and swipe’ capability on select features (similar to a smartphone or tablet). Meanwhile Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration includes ability to access Apple Siri and Google Now. Those that spend most of their time in their vehicle will also be able to access compatible apps such as Spotify, Pandora and Google Maps. Those that spend their time getting lost on our road network will also benefit from more customisable and easier-to-navigate settings and user preferences.

In addition to the City Nav Pack, all Transit Custom and Transit models benefit from a larger reversing camera display that’s now located on the audio system screen rather than in the rear-view mirror. This is a welcome upgrade as the displays in rear-vision mirrors never seem to have the same impact as a full sized screen display on the dashboard.

For the Transit Custom, new options include dual side load doors, which mean the Transit Custom’s cargo is always kerbside accessible no matter which way it’s loaded, while a rear liftgate door offers flexibility of full access to the load area for those who need it, unless you happen to be a forklift driver.

While the original Generation-One Transit heralded the inclusion of car-like comfort, as opposed to van-like discomfort, the latest generation returns to this premise of blending in car-like features.

The standard multifunction display screen size of the Transit and Transit Custom featuring the new 2.0-litre EcoBlue engine will be upgraded to a 4.0-inch TFT (Thin-Film Transistor) colour screen. Transit carryover models with the existing 2.2-litre engine will remain unchanged with the 3.4-inch LCD dot matrix screen. Transit Custom vehicles will now come standard with full wheel covers, replacing the hub caps of the prior model, while a new chrome insert has been added to the front grille of Transit Custom and Transit (FWD) to visually signal the new 2.0-litre EcoBlue engines and differentiate against prior and carryover 2.2-litre models

It took Mercedes-Benz and its well renowned attitude to safety to introduce cross-wind assistance technology to its suite of safety features, and Ford has matched this technology upgrade with the 2.0-litre EcoBlue Ford Transit and Transit Custom vehicles being fitted as standard with side wind stabilisation (SWS). When the vehicle is being influenced by a strong side wind or cross wind, the SWS technology carefully applies the brakes on one side of the vehicle to reduce the effect of a side wind gust on the vehicle’s path.

At vehicle speeds of more than 80 km/h, the side wind stabilisation system sensors monitor stability 100 times per second. If a sudden gust is detected, the feature is designed to become active within less than 200 milliseconds.

The side wind stabilisation feature is also designed to help combat fatigue by reducing the driver’s workload. “This new technology will help make highway driving less stressful for Transit drivers,” said Marc Suermann, chassis controls supervisor, Ford of Europe.

The new Ford Transit and Transit Custom models are being distributed to Australian dealerships through June, and the latest automatic versions will take part in the annual Delivery Magazine Light Commercial Vehicle of the Year Awards testing for 2017, the details of which will be announced in the August issue.

Pricing for the Transit Custom starts at $39,690, rising to $44,440, with the larger Transit vans starting from $47,680 and rising to $57,580.

 

Separate boxed item.

2017.25MY Transit

Model Name
MLP*
Transit 350L
RWD, 2.2-litre diesel 6-spd manual
$47,680
Transit 350L
FWD, 2.0-litre EcoBlue 6-spd auto
$51,380
Transit 350E
RWD, 2.2-litre diesel 6-spd manual
$51,180
Transit 470E
RWD, 2.2-litre diesel 6-spd manual
$54,180
Transit Single Cab Chassis 470E
RWD, 2.2-litre diesel 6-spd manual
$49,180
Transit Double Cab Chassis 470E RWD, 2.2-litre diesel 6-spd manual $52,680
Transit Bus 410L
RWD, 2.2-litre diesel 6-spd manual
$57,680

 

2017.25MY Transit Custom

Model Name  

MLP*

Transit Custom 290S
FWD, 2.0-litre EcoBlue 6-spd manual
$39,690
Transit Custom 290S
FWD, 2.0-litre EcoBlue 6-spd auto
$42,440
Transit Custom 340L
FWD, 2.0-litre EcoBlue 6-spd manual
$41,690
Transit Custom 340L
FWD, 2.0-litre EcoBlue 6-spd auto
$44,440

 

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