What is it: All-new version of dominant LCV
Key features: More capability, more efficiency, more technology
Our view: Few vehicles dominate their market as does the Ford Transit. The versatile van has topped the UK LCV sector from the moment it was launched – and that was in 1965…
Type of review: First drive
Today one in four LCVs sold is a Transit, it shifts more than the second and third best-selling vans combined, and it’s the sixth best-seller on the UK market – bigger than BMW’s 3 Series, not far behind the VW Golf.
Now Ford has completely reinvented the Transit, and the result is something to depress all its rivals and destroy their faint hopes of chipping away at Ford’s dominance.
The new Transit is simply better in all areas. Ford claims, too, that it is still British – a bold statement considering the furore that resulted from the closure of the Transit plant in Southampton last year.
The new version is designed and engineered at Ford’s technical centre in Dunton, Essex, and it is powered by 2.2-litre Duratorq diesel engines designed and manufactured at Dagenham, also in Essex. But it will be built in Turkey.
On the launch event in Spain it was difficult to know which Transit to drive, as there will eventually be some 450 different versions. There are van, chassis cab and minibus varieties, and the vans alone encompass two wheelbases, three body lengths and two roof heights. Gross vehicle weights are wide-ranging too, from 2.9 to 4.7 tonnes.
Vans are about carrying as much as possible and Ford says Transit load volumes have been improved by on average by 10 per cent – so in the medium van, for example, four Europallets can be accommodated compared to the outgoing model’s three, and cargo can stretch to three metres in length. The biggest Jumbo van accommodates up to 15 cubic metres.
People-carrying ability varies immensely too – two or three seats in the van, a Kombi version offers five to nine, or there is even a combination double-cab and van format with six or seven seats.
Just as notably, Ford has made significant efforts to improve on the basics. A load step is built into the rear bumper and claimed to be the lowest on the market. The loadspace includes a plastic covering extending up the interior walls, easing cleaning, while there are tie-down mounting points on those walls to carry flat items mounted vertically.
Propulsion for the new Transit comes from a 2.2 Duratorq diesel engine, in three different power varieties – 99, 124 or 153bhp. They are existing units, but they have been improved, particularly those with fuel and emissions-saving ECOnetic technology. Fuel consumption is better by up to six per cent, taking the best combined cycle figure to 44mpg, along with CO2 emissions of 169g/km.
To someone who doesn’t drive vans nearly as often as they drive cars, a typical Transit van, even in medium format, looks very big – until you climb into the cab. Here is a clear demonstration of how the van driver’s lot has changed – the cab looks just like it has been lifted from a Focus or Mondeo – quality surfaces, well put together, and brimming with tech.
Every single Transit, for example, comes fitted with Bluetooth phone connectivity as standard. Driver aids not so long ago new in upmarket cars, such as rear-view cameras and warnings if the van drifts out of its road lane, are now offered on Transit.
There’s also a van-specific aid called Curve Control, which helps keep what can be a top-heavy vehicle firmly planted when cornering. And of course Transit is included as Ford rolls out its Sync connectivity system, a wide-ranging piece of tech that encompasses apps worked just like on a Smartphone, includes a safety feature that calls the emergency services after an accident, and is voice-activated so the driver can keep their hands on the wheel.
On the road the Transit is very easy to drive. Without the sit-up-and-beg seat angle, the big mirrors and the view within them of straight sides stretching away behind, one could be convinced of being in control of a large car. The Transit accelerates crisply, rides smoothly and stays upright in corners.
The turning circle is tight, the power steering light, and with the aid of those mirrors and the rear camera three-point turns are easy – something that will tick several boxes with the average delivery driver. In short, this is a capable companion on the daily grind.
So the new Transit is a significant step forward, despite the existing one already dominating its market. And aside from all the advances in the new model, Ford is keen to point out significant cost savings – £2,000 or more over four years due to the more efficient engines, SMR (Service Maintenance & Repair) costs more than £100 better than rivals, longer service intervals and a remarkable £2,575 hike in residual values.
While the van market has seen some significant new arrivals in recent years, they still haven’t found the answer to beating Ford’s Transit. And with the new models, the question just got a whole lot harder.
Model Tested: Ford Transit MWB van
On Sale: March 2014
Engines: 2.2 diesel, FDW, RWD, AWD
Power (bhp): 99, 124 or 153bhp
Torque (lb/ft): 229, 250, 284
Fuel economy (combined, mpg): 35, 36, 36
CO2 emissions (g/km): 210, 204, 2o4*
Test date: February 2014
* = EcoNetic models can return 169g/km