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Ford Transit Custom 290S SWB Van 2016 review


Daily driver score

4/5

Mark Oastler road tests and reviews the 2016 Ford Transit Custom 290S SWB Van with specs, fuel consumption and verdict.

Strong competition in today's LCV market is not restricted to utes. Commercial vans are also attracting the attention of major manufacturers in a segment which continues to push benchmarks in load-carrying performance, driver comfort and safety.

Ford's Transit is an enduring icon, with millions sold around the world since its inception in 1965. The latest fourth-generation short wheelbase (SWB) Transit Custom is a good-looking and competent one-tonner at the cutting edge of van design, although it could use a little sharpening here and there.

Price and features

Our test van was the Transit Custom 290S (290 for wheelbase, S for Short). Starting at a competitive $37,990, it's well equipped with USB/Bluetooth connectivity with SYNC voice command, leather-wrapped steering wheel, cruise control and adjustable speed limiter, three 12-volt sockets and heated driver/passenger seats for starters.

Our Transit also had the optional City Pack which for $1500 adds useful work features like a reversing camera, electro-chromatic rear view mirror with reversing camera display, front and rear parking sensors and front fog lamps.

Design

We reckon Ford has done a good job with the Transit's wedge-shaped aerodynamic styling, tailored around a compact 2933mm wheelbase with front wheel drive. It rides on MacPherson strut front suspension and a leaf-spring beam axle rear, with tapered rubber cones mounted above each spring that progressively engage under heavy loads to provide a second stage of damping and increased load stability. They also serve as bump rubbers at full compression.

The cabin, with separate driver seat and two-passenger bench seat, offers good comfort thanks largely to a steel bulkhead with small rear view window that seals off the cabin from the noisy cargo bay.

Four disc brakes provide good stopping power inside no-frills 15 x 6.5-inch steel wheels and 215-65R15 tyres. The cargo bay has eight load anchorage points and a hard-wearing sealed load floor liner. Good forklift access is provided by a kerbside sliding door and two windowed rear barn doors (each with its own washer/wiper) which can be opened to either 90 or 180 degrees.

The cabin, with separate driver seat and two-passenger bench seat, offers good comfort thanks largely to a steel bulkhead with small rear view window that seals off the cabin from the noisy cargo bay. There's also wide door openings, ample headroom, tilt-and-reach steering wheel adjustment, a fold-down inboard driver armrest and centre tray table plus adequate legroom around the gearshift. However, we'd like the seat base cushions to be longer for better thigh support and room for a footrest next to the clutch pedal.

Engine and transmission

The 2.2 litre TDCi Duratorq engine is a member of Ford's ‘Puma' engine family which is also found under the bonnet of Ford's Ranger ute. In this application the four cylinder intercooled turbo-diesel produces 92kW at 3500rpm but more importantly 350Nm of torque between 1450-2000rpm.

The Transit Custom is only available with a six-speed manual transmission. Although the lack of an auto option does not suit all fleet buyers, it's a light but precise-shifting gearbox with a set of ratios well matched to the engine's characteristics.

With a low 4.714:1 final drive ratio designed for hauling big loads, there's overdrive on fourth, fifth and sixth gear ratios to ensure low engine revs and maximum fuel economy at highway speeds.

Practicality

The Transit's GVM of 2900kg is only 20kg less than the popular Renault Trafic but the Ford's kerb weight of 1868kg is 185kg heavier. That results in a maximum payload of 1032kg which is 205kg less than its French rival. Considering the Transit and Trafic are of similar size and engine output, there is room for Ford to increase its GVM efficiency.

The Transit is also rated to legally tow up to 2500kg braked, but with a GCM of 5100kg (higher than Trafic's 4920kg) its maximum payload of 1032kg has to be reduced by a substantial 300kg to do it. That's something to think about if you need to regularly carry and tow big loads at the same time.

A unique and useful feature is the three hinged roof racks which lie flat when not in use but can be easily rotated through 90 degrees into an upright position and locked in place.

Even so, the cargo bay offers a competitive (SAE) 5.36 cubic metres of load volume. The load floor length of 2555mm can be extended 530mm by swinging up a large steel flap in the lower left corner of the cabin bulkhead, which allows longer items to slide through under the passenger seat. When closed this creates a huge hidden storage area accessed from above through pivoting seat cushions.

Combined with 1390mm between the wheel arches, the Transit's cargo bay will easily take two standard 1160 x 1160mm pallets and its spacious 1406mm between load floor and ceiling has a generous allowance for tall loads.

A unique and useful feature is the three hinged roof racks which lie flat when not in use but can be easily rotated through 90 degrees into an upright position and locked in place. With a combined load rating of 130kg, these racks when extended add only 94mm to the van's height and can be very handy at times for carrying extra-long items.

The driver's cabin has numerous storage options including a drink bottle holder and two deep pockets in each door, plus cup holders on either side of the dashboard. There's also a shallow storage unit with clamshell lid on the dash-pad with internal 12-volt and USB connections, plus a large glovebox (which can take A4 files) and an extra storage slot in the centre ceiling.

Fuel consumption

Ford claims an official combined figure of 7.1L/100km but our numbers crunched from real fuel bowser readings came in at 10.57L/100km. That's impressive fuel efficiency given our wide variety of testing, from city and suburban traffic with a light load to open highway and steep mountain roads with a heavy payload.

Driving

The Transit is a spirited and agile performer around town, although its stiff rear leaf springs provide a more noticeable kick in the back than coil-sprung rears over large bumps. However, it really came into its own when we loaded 650kg over the rear axle, which with a 92kg driver totalled just under 750kg (282kg short of maximum payload).

It displayed great flexibility in hilly country when climbing a long 12 per cent gradient, where the revs dropped as low as 1250rpm yet it still pulled fourth gear all the way to the top.

The nose rose 15mm and the tail dropped 28mm but the Transit held its composure on a variety of roads maintaining good steering feel, a solid footprint and reassuringly strong braking. We only noticed the heavy rearward weight bias on wet roads, where we felt the front tyres pawing for traction now and again when accelerating from low speeds.

The sealed cabin remained a quiet and refined workplace, with a light gearshift and clutch action, good all-round vision with the large truck-style mirrors and low wind noise at highway speeds.

The 2.2 litre turbo-diesel showed only 1600rpm at 100km/h and 1750rpm at 110km/h. It really shone in a wide 2000rpm band between 1500-3500rpm, where pulling power was at its peak and throttle response remained instant without a hint of turbo lag.

It displayed great flexibility in hilly country when climbing a long 12 per cent gradient, where the revs dropped as low as 1250rpm yet it still pulled fourth gear all the way to the top. Its small cubic capacity meant engine braking on steep descents in second gear wasn't as strong.

Safety

Five-star ANCAP crash safety rating and loaded with passive and active safety features including driver and passenger front/side thorax/curtain airbags plus electronically-assisted emergency braking and a full Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) menu. Add a reversing camera, front/rear sensors and fog lamps with the City Pack option.

Ownership

Three year/100,000km warranty with 24/7 Roadside Assistance for the first year. Capped price of $335 for each of the first three scheduled services every 15,000km or 12 months, whichever comes first.

The Ford Transit Custom SWB reflects strong competition in the commercial van segment, with numerous refinements that drivers could only dream about a few years ago. It combines sharp styling and good cabin comfort with a strong mechanical package, easy loading with numerous carrying options and efficient performance at or near full payload. Sure, the modern commercial van buyer is increasingly spoilt for choice, but the Transit remains a stand-out without a hint of complacency about it.

Would you consider making a Transit Custom your workhorse, or are you welded to your ute? Tell us what you think in the comments below.

Click here to see more 2016 Ford Transit pricing and spec info.

$27,999 - $29,965

Based on 3 car listings in the last 6 months

VIEW PRICING & SPECS

Daily driver score

4/5
Price Guide

$27,999 - $29,965

Based on 3 car listings in the last 6 months