There’s an old saying that if you want to become really good at something, then just keep doing it. That certainly applies to Ford and its iconic Transit van, which following its launch in 1965 has evolved through four generations, an expanded choice of variants and total production of around 10 million units.
During those 55 years Ford has also benefited from customer feedback in helping to shape future model development. The latest VO Transit range, which competes in the LD (light duty) 3501-8000kg GVM category, embodies everything Ford has learned in that time. And we must say, after a busy week of testing, it’s impressively hard to fault.
Price and Features – Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?
Our test vehicle is the 350L LWB FWD Mid Roof Van which translates to 350 (3550kg GVM), L and LWB (long wheelbase), FWD (front-wheel drive) and Mid Roof (the lower of two roof heights).
It’s available only with a 2.0 litre EcoBlue four-cylinder turbo-diesel engine, six-speed torque converter automatic transmission and 16-inch steel wheels with quality Michelin 235/65R16C tyres and matching spare, for a list price of $51,990.
The Transit comes with 16-inch steel wheels with quality Michelin 235/65R16C tyres and matching spare.
Highlights of the extensive standard equipment list include height-and-reach adjustable leather-wrapped steering wheel, 10-way adjustable driver’s seat, dual front passenger seats (all heated), two USB ports, three 12-volt outlets and one 230V (400w) power invertor with universal socket, along with a 4.2-inch driver’s information display to name a few.
There’s also a comprehensive four-speaker infotainment system with 8.0-inch touchscreen, steering wheel controls and SYNC3 connectivity with Applink, plus DAB+ digital radio. Options include sat-nav, Prestige or SVO paint choices and dual side-loading doors.
Design – is there anything interesting about its design?
It has an expansive 3750mm wheelbase, which helps to explain its large 13.3-metre turning circle. It’s also 5981mm long and 2112mm wide but its 2541mm height (the High Roof version is 2780mm) means it can’t access shopping centre and underground car parks.
The robust front-wheel drive chassis features simple and rugged MacPherson strut front suspension, power-assisted rack and pinion steering and four-wheel disc brakes. The rear suspension is a proven load-carrying design, comprising single-element leaf springs and a thick hollow-section steel beam axle. Large rubber cones mounted on the underfloor above the axle on each side can provide a second stage of springing if needed to support heavy loads.
There’s hard-wearing black plastic where bumps and scrapes are most likely.
There’s hard-wearing black plastic where bumps and scrapes are most likely, including the grille, front and rear bumpers, sills and side body mouldings, plus big truck-sized door mirrors with the bottom thirds fitted with wide-angle lenses. The cabin is separated from the cargo bay by a steel bulkhead to eliminate cargo bay noise and double as a stout cargo barrier.
The cabin itself is classy for a commercial van, from the leather-wrapped steering wheel to the clean and functional dash lay-out with splashes of satin chrome. Black and grey seat fabrics also contrast tastefully with light beige windscreen pillars and roof/ bulkhead linings.
The cabin itself is classy for a commercial van.
The cargo bay’s twin rear barn-doors display on-the-job smarts, as they not only open a full 270 degrees but when in that position engage solidly with large magnets mounted on each side of the van. If you’ve ever battled in high winds to stop unsecured 270-degree barn-doors trying to slam shut with fearful force when loading or unloading, you’ll appreciate this feature.
Engine and transmission – What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?
The 2.0 litre EcoBlue four-cylinder turbo-diesel is the same as that used in the smaller Transit Custom, with matching power and torque outputs. However, it feels just as energetic and capable in this heavy-duty role despite a higher kerb weight.
The 2.0 litre EcoBlue four-cylinder turbo-diesel is the same as that used in the smaller Transit Custom.
It produces 125kW at 3500rpm and 390Nm across a 700rpm-wide torque band between 1600-2300rpm. Interestingly, although the 350L’s peak torque figure is the same as the Transit Custom’s, it’s available across a slightly broader band and tapped a little further up the rev range. The 350L’s version also meets the latest Euro 6.2 emissions standard using AdBlue fuel additive.
The sweet-shifting and adaptive six-speed torque converter automatic has overdrive on top gear for economical highway driving and a sequential manual-shift option if required.
Ford does not publish an official average combined figure, as it’s not mandatory in this GVM class. Even so, the dash readout was claiming 9.1L/100km at the end of our 306km test, which included about a third of that distance hauling its maximum payload. Our figure, calculated from actual fuel bowser and tripmeter readings, was close to the Transit’s at 9.5L/100km and we had the engine’s annoying auto-stop/start function switched off the whole time.
Needless to say, that’s outstanding fuel efficiency for a kerb weight that exceeds 2.2 tonnes. So based on our figures, you could expect a lengthy realistic driving range of around 760km.
The Transit’s 2255kg kerb weight and 3550kg GVM results in a big 1295kg payload rating. It’s also rated to tow up to 1700kg of braked trailer, which sounds impressive until you drill down further into those numbers.
If you deduct the Transit’s kerb weight and trailer weight from the 4250kg GCM (or how much you can legally carry and tow at the same time), that leaves only 295kg of legal payload capacity, which could easily be used up by a crew of three without equipment. So, if you need to tow (and not many Transit owners do), perhaps a self-imposed trailer limit of 1000kg would be more practical, to give you back 700kg of much-needed payload.
The cargo bay has a huge 11.5-cubic metre load volume.
The cargo bay, with its huge 11.5-cubic metre load volume, is accessed through the rear barn-doors, which are slightly asymmetric to improve rear-view mirror vision and provide 1565mm-wide access. Or the single kerb-side sliding door, with big 1300mm opening that allows side-loading of Euro and Aussie pallets.
The cargo bay, with its huge 11.5-cubic metre load volume, is accessed through the rear barn-doors.
From the rear, the expansive 3494mm load floor appears long enough for 10-pin bowling. It’s also 1784mm at its widest point with 1392mm between the rear wheel housings, meaning it can easily swallow up to four 1200 x 800mm Euro pallets or – at a pinch - three 1165mm-square Aussie pallets.
The load floor has a tough protective lining, all internal walls are lined and there’s 10 sturdy load anchorage points (five per side). With the Mid-Roof option like our test vehicle, which provides 1886mm of internal height, even tall adults can walk around inside without stooping.
A multitude of smart cabin storage options start with a full-size bottle holder and large storage bin in the driver’s door (passenger door has large storage bin only) plus pairs of large bottle holders on each side of the dash. The dash-pad incorporates three open storage bins plus there’s another storage bin on the lower centre dash and a large single glovebox.
A multitude of smart cabin storage options start with a full-size bottle holder and large storage bin in the driver’s door.
The centre passenger seat’s backrest also folds forward to reveal a handy work desk with an elastic strap to keep documents in place, two cup holders and a pen holder. And finally, the passenger seat base-cushions can lift and rotate forward through 90 degrees to reveal another large hidden storage area beneath. Very smart use of space.
The comfortable driving position feels more like an SUV than a van, as you sit lower and more behind the dash than over it. And with the cabin sealed off from the cargo bay, it’s as quiet as an SUV too. The ample driver’s seat adjustment, combined with a big left footrest, height-and-reach adjustable steering column and fold-down inboard armrest, are sympathetic to long shifts behind the wheel.
The big door mirrors provide clear vision down both sides, which combined with the panoramic view from the high-mounted reversing camera, parking sensors and cross-traffic alert remove all blind-spots and give confidence when reversing, particularly onto busy roads.
Our only criticism here is the poor vision through the central rear-view mirror which, like all large vans we’ve tested, is cluttered by an amalgam of centre headrest, protective wire mesh on the bulkhead window and rear barn-door joins that block-out most of what’s behind you.
The ride quality is excellent whether empty or full. And for such a large van it has impressive agility in city and suburban traffic, where the 2.0 litre EcoBlue engine provides zippy performance in the typical 40-80km/h speed range. Between 1600-2300rpm, where torque is at its strongest and where you spend most of your driving time, its response is so immediate and punchy it feels like a much larger engine.
The six-speed auto’s ability to adapt its shift protocols to suit different driving styles and loads feels like it’s getting the best out of this engine at all times. The over-driven sixth gear provides excellent efficiency and economy at highway speeds, with 1900rpm at 100km/h and 2000rpm at 110km/h also being bang in the middle of its peak torque band. It’s efficiency-plus and easy to live with on a daily basis.
We loaded 1155kg into the cargo hold which with driver equalled a payload of 1260kg. That was only 35kg less than its maximum rating, yet the rear suspension compressed a mere 45mm with more than 30mm of bump-stop clearance in reserve, while the front dropped 23mm.
We should point out that the recommended 65psi rear tyre pressures recommended to carry these loads are beyond the usual 50psi capacity of tyre inflators provided on most petrol station forecourts, so you’ll need access to a decent compressor elsewhere to achieve these higher pressures.
We loaded 1155kg into the cargo hold which with driver equalled a payload of 1260kg.
The ride quality with this one-tonne-plus loading was excellent and highlighted the negligible difference between empty and full. This is excellent chassis engineering on Ford’s behalf, because the ride remains consistent regardless of what load you’re carrying.
The engine and transmission weren’t fazed by this payload either on our 13 per cent gradient, 2.0km-long set climb at 60km/h. Apart from a quick shift down to third at 2750rpm to clear the steepest pinch, it held 2250rpm in fourth gear all the way to the top with minimal throttle. Easy as.
Engine braking on the way down though, in a manually-selected second gear, wasn’t so impressive as the engine spun freely on overrun towards its 4800rpm redline before the four-wheel disc brakes were called on.
So, not a lot of engine braking, which from experience was not unexpected given its small cubic capacity and the big payload it was trying to restrain. Like most four-cylinder turbo-diesels, they’re great at climbing, not so great at descending. Even so, this is an outstanding workhorse.
Safety – What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?
There’s no ANCAP requirement for this vehicle segment but the Transit would probably score five stars if there was, with driver and passenger front, side-seat and side-curtain airbags plus AEB with pedestrian detection and a multitude of active features to rival most passenger cars and SUVs.
These include lane-keeping assist with lane departure warning, load adaptive control, roll-over mitigation, side-wind stabilisation, trailer sway control and traffic sign recognition. There’s also that panoramic reversing camera plus front and rear parking sensors and BLIS (Blind Spot Information System) with rear cross-traffic alert to take the stress out of driving backwards, which vans often have to do.
Ownership – What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered?
The Transit comes with five years/unlimited km warranty. Scheduled service intervals of 12 months/30,000km whichever occurs first. Capped-price servicing varies between $445 and $590 per service for the first five years/150,000km, when serviced at Ford dealerships.
Clearly Ford has learned a lot after five and a half decades of making Transit vans. Put simply, this is the most comfortable, best designed, best equipped, safest and most competent van in the LD 3501-8000kg GVM class that we’ve tested. It really is that good.