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Ford Transit Custom 2020 review: Sport GVM test

As its name suggests, this is a more athletic version of Ford’s mid-sized commercial van.

Daily driver score

4.5/5

Tradies score

4.5/5

Ford is a making a habit of providing answers to questions that have not been asked. First there was the Baja-inspired Ranger Raptor, a unique version of Australia’s favourite Ford ute with pumped-out guards, a tougher frame and sublime long-travel suspension inspired by ‘pre-runner’ pick-ups used by US off-road race teams.

Although we weren’t aware of any pent-up public demand for such a vehicle, regular sightings of Raptors these days suggest Ford’s ‘build it and they will come’ approach was the right one. Now just about every ute manufacturer is offering (or working on) a more specialised premium-priced variant of its top-shelf model in trying to match it.

The blue oval is using this bold strategy again with the Transit Custom Sport. As its name suggests, this is a more athletic version of Ford’s mid-sized commercial van, which among numerous industry gongs claimed CarsGuide's 2019 Tradie Car of the Year award.

Most folks think of vans as little more than shipping containers on wheels but, like the Raptor, Ford is again challenging the consumer to think outside the square (or rectangle in the case of a shipping container).

After spending a week in Ford’s latest automotive thought-bubble, we have to admit it may be onto something here, too. From go-kart and motorcycle racers to surfers, scuba divers and personal trainers, the Transit Custom Sport may well have widespread appeal for those that need the practicality and load-carrying capacity of a van with a sportier image to go with it.

Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?

Our test vehicle is, to use its full name, the Transit Custom Sport 320S SWB. The 320 denotes a  3200kg GVM, even though it’s actually 3100kg, but 320 sounds better than 310 right? And the S denotes the short wheelbase. It’s available only with a six-speed automatic and a choice of two sporty colours - Orange Glow, or Blue Metallic like ours.

With a manufacturer list price of $48,490, the Transit Custom Sport lives up to its name with more engine performance thanks to slight increases in power and torque (which we reckon the Raptor should have done too).

There’s also a body styling kit with unique front and rear bumpers, wheel arch flares and side skirts, racing-inspired matt black stripes and side decals, plus body-coloured mirrors and a gloss black grille. There’s also Bi-Xenon HID head lights with static bending and LED daytime running lights, plus 17-inch black machined alloy wheels with 215/65 R17 Michelin Pilot tyres and a full-size steel spare.

Interior upgrades include chrome air vent surrounds with contrasting piano black fascia highlights, leather-appointed seat and steering wheel plus a 10-way power adjustable driver’s seat. The rear load area features new LED lighting for greater visibility.

Our test vehicle is also fitted with the standard single sliding LH side-door and optional single-lift tailgate in preference to the standard twin-barn doors.

Is there anything interesting about its design?

Looks are subjective of course but we reckon the Transit Custom is the best looking mid-sized van on the market. Its distinctive trapezoidal grille, slender swept-back headlights and wedge-shaped character lines flowing all the way to the tail give it a forceful and purposeful look.

It's the ideal basis for a van with a sporting edge and the overall visual effect with the Sport’s unique body kit and decals works well, although some might find the twin racing stripes which adorn the nose and tail a bit too ‘boy racer’ particularly in contrast to the Orange Glow paint.

Apart from the unique Sport enhancements, it retains all the standard features that make the Transit Custom such a formidable contender in the mid-sized commercial van market. (image: Mark Oastler) Apart from the unique Sport enhancements, it retains all the standard features that make the Transit Custom such a formidable contender in the mid-sized commercial van market. (image: Mark Oastler)

Apart from the unique Sport enhancements, it retains all the standard features that make the Transit Custom such a formidable contender in the mid-sized commercial van market, with its sophisticated Sync3 infotainment system and signature steel bulkhead that serves as both an effective cargo barrier and insulates the cabin from cargo bay noise.

The Transit rides on a compact front wheel drive 2933mm wheelbase and impressively tight 11.8-metre turning circle, MacPherson strut front suspension, simple and rugged single-leaf-spring rear suspension, four-wheel disc brakes and power-assisted rack and pinion steering. There’s seating for three adults up front.

Looks are subjective of course but we reckon the Transit Custom is the best looking mid-sized van on the market. (image: Mark Oastler) Looks are subjective of course but we reckon the Transit Custom is the best looking mid-sized van on the market. (image: Mark Oastler)

What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?

The Transit Custom’s quiet and refined 2.0 litre EcoBlue, which meets the toughest Euro 6 emissions standards using AdBlue with SCR (Selective Catalytic Reduction), is one of the strongest performing turbo-diesels in this segment. However, it still has the annoying auto stop-start function which has to be manually switched off after every start.

The Transit Custom’s quiet and refined 2.0 litre EcoBlue is one of the strongest performing turbo-diesels in this segment. The Transit Custom’s quiet and refined 2.0 litre EcoBlue is one of the strongest performing turbo-diesels in this segment.

Ford has turned up the wick to make its performance even stronger in the Sport variant. Its 136kW at 3500rpm is an 11kW increase over the standard unit, while 405Nm tapped at 1500-2000rpm is a 15Nm boost in torque. These higher power and torque figures peak at the same rpm as the standard engine, so there’s no need to rev it harder to tap the extra grunt. And there’s the option of Normal or Eco drive modes. This is still a working van after all.

 The Sport’s six-speed torque converter automatic is unchanged from the sweet-shifting standard unit, with the option of sequential manual shifting using a small toggle switch on the side of the gearshift. However, this sophisticated transmission which is designed and built by Ford in the US has intelligent features that make manual shifting redundant, as it constantly monitors and adapts to different driving styles, loads and gradients to maximise engine performance.

How much fuel does it consume?

Ford’s official combined figure is 7.3L/100km and the dash readout was showing 8.4 at the end of our 276km test, almost half of which was carrying its maximum payload. We also did some what you might call ‘spirited’ driving, in assessing the extra performance on tap.

This might partly explain the higher than expected 11.4 figure we got from combining fuel bowser and trip meter readings. Fact is, more power means more fuel, so we’d expect the Sport to drink a bit more. Even so, based on our figures, you could expect a decent driving range of around 630km from its 72-litre tank. Or theoretically more, if you select the tamer Eco mode.

How practical is the space inside?

The Sport’s 2054kg kerb weight and 3100kg GVM results in an excellent 1046kg payload rating, so she’s still a genuine one-tonner. And you can carry up to 130kg of that on the trio of roof racks, which lie flat against the roof when not in use but can be quickly rotated through 90 degrees and locked into vertical positions. This is smart thinking.

 The Sport is also rated to tow up to 1800kg of braked trailer, which looks great until you measure it against the 4100kg GCM or how much you can legally carry and tow at the same time. If you deduct the Sport’s 2054kg kerb weight and 1800kg of trailer from the 4100kg GVM, you’re left with a puny 246kg of payload capacity. That would be easily used up by just two big blokes and their lunch boxes.

The Sport, like the standard ‘low roof’ Transit Custom on which it’s based, offers an excellent 6.0 cubic metres of load volume in its deceptively large cargo bay. (image: Mark Oastler) The Sport, like the standard ‘low roof’ Transit Custom on which it’s based, offers an excellent 6.0 cubic metres of load volume in its deceptively large cargo bay. (image: Mark Oastler)

Fact is, towing figures look good in brochures but are often impractical in the real world. Therefore, it’s usually best to base towing limits on GVMs. In this case 3100kg, which would drop the towing limit by a whopping 800kg to 1000kg, but give you back the full one-tonne plus payload capacity.

The Sport, like the standard ‘low roof’ Transit Custom on which it’s based, offers an excellent 6.0 cubic metres of load volume in its deceptively large cargo bay. And with 1390mm between the rear wheel housings and an expansive 2555mm load floor, it can accommodate two 1165mm-square standard Aussie pallets or three 1200 x 800mm Euro pallets.

However, the former would only be possible with the standard rear twin-barn doors, as the single-lift tailgate blocks forklift access from the rear and the side sliding door’s 1030mm opening would not allow enough room for an Aussie pallet to pass through.

The Sport’s 2054kg kerb weight and 3100kg GVM results in an excellent 1046kg payload rating. (image: Mark Oastler) The Sport’s 2054kg kerb weight and 3100kg GVM results in an excellent 1046kg payload rating. (image: Mark Oastler)

The load floor can stretch even further via a hatch in the base of the cabin bulkhead, which accesses the vacant space beneath the front passenger seats to allow for extra-long items like timber, copper or PVC pipe, carpet rolls etc to be carried. This is another handy and clever use of space. The cargo bay also features neat hardboard-lined walls, tough vinyl floor protection, a total of eight tie-down points and a handy 12-volt outlet. Illumination has also been improved with LED lighting.

 The driver’s cabin offers three storage levels and a big bottle holder in each door, plus there’s upper and lower bottle holders on both sides of the dash and a pop-out cup holder beneath the gearshift. There’s also three open storage bins set into the top of the dash, plus a fourth smaller bin in the centre and a large A4-sized glovebox.

The driver’s cabin offers a big bottle holder in each door. The driver’s cabin offers a big bottle holder in each door.

There’s another storage cubby overhead for smaller items and beneath the passenger seats lurks a huge hidden storage area (when the cargo bay’s load-through hatch is closed of course) which is accessed from above by rotating the front-hinged base cushions forward through 90 degrees.

For those needing mobile office facilities, the centre seat’s backrest folds down to reveal a handy work desk with a pen holder, elastic strap for securing documents and two more cup holders. It’s remarkable how much stuff can be stored in this cabin.

What’s it like as a daily driver?

The extra 11kW of power and 15Nm of torque make a noticeable difference in engine response, which you’d have a right to expect given its ‘sporty’ claim. It accelerates with more punch than the standard version (it can even make the front tyres chirp from a standing start!) and the overall driving experience is livelier and more engaging.

While it’s no sports car, its handling dynamics are surprisingly agile and surefooted for such a tall vehicle with little weight over the rear wheels. However, its quartet of powerful disc brakes designed to cope with one tonne-plus payloads can really bite hard if you’re too aggressive with the brake pedal.

The leather-wrapped steering wheel is a delight to use and the bolstered seat back provides adequate upper-body lateral support for the driver, but a longer base cushion would provide better under-thigh support and greater comfort on longer drives. Highway gearing allows for low-stress cruising with only 1900rpm at 100km/h and 2100rpm at 110km/h.

It comes with 17-inch black machined alloy wheels with 215/65 R17 Michelin Pilot tyres and a full-size steel spare. (image: Mark Oastler) It comes with 17-inch black machined alloy wheels with 215/65 R17 Michelin Pilot tyres and a full-size steel spare. (image: Mark Oastler)

The big door mirrors, with the bottom third being a wide-angle lens, provide excellent views down each side of the van. Combined with an unobstructed view through the rear-view mirror and tailgate window, plus the reversing camera and other active sensors, the driver has a pretty commanding 360-degree view and awareness of his or her surroundings.

Overall refinement is very good, with low engine, tyre and wind noise and a high standard of build quality that’s free of the rattles, squeaks and creaks we sometimes associate with commercial vans. As a daily driver, the Sport would be easy to live with.

What’s it like for tradie use?

As we’ve come to expect from Ford’s Transit Custom, this compact mid-sizer is a consummate carrier of one-tonne-plus payloads. We forklifted 650kg into the cargo hold through the side door and hand-loaded another 180kg through the rear door. Combined with our crew of two this equalled a payload of 1030kg, which was less than 20kg under its maximum allowance.

Not that you’d know it was carrying such a big load. There was only 40mm of compression in the single-leaf rear suspension and the nose dropped 15mm. The Sport felt even more firmly planted on the road and smoother riding, with no significant effect on engine, steering or braking response.

On bumpy roads the suspension soaked up the bumps with great composure and the engine just laughed at our 2.0km 13 per cent gradient set climb at 60km/h, easily holding fourth gear (we expected third) at 2250rpm all the way to the top with minimal throttle. Given its small cubic capacity and the near-maximum load it was restraining, its engine braking impressed on the way down too. This is a very capable work vehicle.

What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?

Maximum five-star ANCAP rating, albeit achieved back in 2012. Even so, Ford has stayed at the cutting edge of commercial van safety since then, to ensure the Transit Custom is equipped with the latest in driver assistance technologies as they become available.

Needless to say, this vehicle (along with Toyota’s new HiAce) sets the benchmark for mid-sized van safety, headlined by AEB with pedestrian detection plus a suite of active safety features including adaptive cruise control, traffic sign recognition, lane keeping assist with driver alert, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, rear-view camera, front and rear parking sensors, side-wind stabilisation, trailer sway control etc, the list is as long as the load floor. Plus there’s six airbags.

What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered?

Five years/unlimited km warranty. Scheduled service intervals of 12 months/30,000km (!) which ever occurs first. Capped price servicing of $349 (including GST) for the first four years/120,000km whichever occurs first when serviced at Ford dealerships.

We’ve gotta hand it to Ford for daring to dangle a line in another stream where no one’s been fishing to see how many bites it might get. Fact is, there are many jobs and recreational pursuits for which vans are ideally suited, but they are often overlooked simply because of their daggy whitegoods-on-wheels image. The Transit Custom Sport could well change that perception, as it’s a very competent all-rounder with extra performance and unique sporty style to go with it.

$48,490

Based on new car retail price

VIEW PRICING & SPECS

Daily driver score

4.5/5

Tradies score

4.5/5
Price Guide

$48,490

Based on new car retail price