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By Charl Bosch

Motoring Journalist


Load-lugging new Ford Transit Custom a van with a clear plan

Latest generation of the Blue Oval's commercial icon gets to business quickly with little in the flaws.


The discrepancies between the South African and United Kingdom automotive landscapes might be vast, yet both share a noteworthy similarity; the best-selling vehicle competes in the commercial and not passenger vehicle segment.

Whereas the Toyota Hilux reigns supreme on local soil, the Ford Transit has been the UK’s best-selling vehicle for years even during the reign of the now discontinued Fiesta, the Vauxhall (Opel) Corsa and more recently, Ford’s own Puma.

Small but tough crowd

While one-ton vans are to Europe what bakkies are to South Africa, the local market is anything but anti-van as just under 2 000 units were moved last year.

ALSO READ: Work gloves on as Ford prices cargo hauling new Transit Custom

Of this, the Transit ranked second behind the Toyota Quantum, but ahead of among others, the Hyundai Staria, Mercedes-Benz Vito and the vehicle it will soon provide the base for, the new Volkswagen Transporter.

Although guaranteed to play second fiddle to the Ranger, the Transit remains an important model for the Blue Oval’s commercial division as evident by its confirmation in both Custom panel van and people carrying Tourneo Custom guises at its 100th anniversary celebration last year.

Change of launch

Shown to the public for the first time at the Nampo Agricultural Expo in Bothaville in the Free State in May, the Turkish-made Transit Custom’s launch last week didn’t involve the usual map-based route leading to the launch stop with a driver change in-between.

New Ford Transit Custom debuts
In long wheelbase guise, the Transit Custom measures 5 450 mm long overall.

Instead, the route, which started at the Silver Star Casino in Krugerdorp, stretched as far as Soweto and Mamelodi as a result of Ford, through its Ford Foundation, having teamed-up with Gift of the Givers to distribute sanitary and food items to two institutions in said areas.

As this would involve the Transit Custom being loaded, criss-crossing Gauteng would provide a feel of what drivers would expect perched behind the new almost quartic-looking steering wheel.

Geared to haul

Debuting as a single model with more planned, the long wheelbase-only Transit Custom debuts a ground-up new platform weighing 100 kg less than the old model, complete with a new semi-trailing arm rear suspension.

Its loading area dropped by a further 100 mm, the Transit measures 5 450 mm long and 2 275 mm wide with an overall height of 1 961 mm.

New Ford Transit Custom debuts
Barn-style rear doors are standard.

More crucially are the dimensions inside the loading bay Ford claims can accommodate three Euro palette and an all out payload of 1 269 kg.

These comprise a load volume of 5.8 m3, 1 433 mm of space between the floor and roof, a loading height of between 531 mm and 585 mm, and a floor length of 2 602 mm.

As an option, the steel bulkhead behind the cab features a loading channel for longer cargo, resulting in enough floor space for items measuring 3 050 mm.

New Ford Transit Custom debuts
Transit Custom can be specified with dual-sliding side doors, though a single is standard from the get-go.

It doesn’t stop there as apart from eight tie-down hooks, the sliding side door, an LED light meant to aid visibility at night, and a partially rubberised floor, the dual barn-style rear doors open up to 180-degrees thanks to a mechanism that “unlocks” the struts when opened carefully.

A secondary side door can be specified from the options list, along with a long range fuel tank of 70-litres – the standard being 55-litres – a heavy-duty battery and a tow bar that allows the Custom to pull a braked trailer up to 2 500 kg.

Not lacking in spec

Despite being a van, specification in the Transit Custom is anything but sparse despite the options list being extensive with items such as LED headlights, a reverse camera, front parking sensors, dual-zone climate control, integrated satellite navigation, a wireless smartphone charger and Park Assist to name but a few.

As standard, the Transit Custom boasts keyless entry and push-button start, one-touch electric windows, manual air-conditioning, electric mirrors, height-adjustable seats, a rake-and-reach multi-function steering wheel, rain sense wipers and auto on/off headlights.

On the tech front, a SYNC 4A-enabled 13-inch touchscreen infotainment system with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto comes standard, flanked by a 12-inch digital instrument cluster with an eight-inch configurable display.

Ford debuts new Transit Custom in South Africa
Dual displays comprise an eight-inch configurable instrument cluster and a 13-inch SYNC 4A infotainment system.

Adding to the number of type-A and type-C USB ports, Ford has not left storage to chance as apart from four cupholders, a split glovebox sits on the passenger’s side while the raised centre console houses a slot as its base for a single smartphone.

A double-tier door pocket arraignment provides more storage, along with a pair of trays on the top section of the dash and a hold underneath the passenger’s seat.

Taking care of safety are six airbags – the main cushion on the passenger’s side dropping down from the roof – cruise control, a tyre pressure monitor, rear parking sensors, Driver Attention Alert, Lane Keep Assist, Hill Start Assist, Traffic Sign Recognition, Collision Mitigation Braking and all-round deadlocks.

The drive

With drive going to the front wheels as before, motivation comes way of the same single turbo 2.0-litre Panther diesel engine as in the Ranger, albeit with power and torque lowered from 125kW/405Nm, to 100kW/360Nm.

Aided by the AdBlue solution sprayed into the exhaust system from a 20-litre tank to reduce nitrous gas, the powerplant is mated to a six-speed manual gearbox that will be joined at a later stage by the same eight-speed automatic used on the Tourneo Custom.

Unlike in Europe, the all-wheel-drive system has been ruled-out as a result of less than satisfactory demand during the planning phase.

Ford debuts new Transit Custom in South Africa
Load volume behind the metal bulkhead of 5.8 m3, the claimed payload 1 269 kg and floor space from bulkhead to tailgate including the load through hatch, 3 050 mm.

Standard though, in a first for the Custom, is a drive mode selector with three settings; Eco, Normal and Slippery.

On the move, it didn’t take long for the Transit Custom to exhibit an almost car-like ride.

Admittedly not heavy laden following our pick-up at Gift of Giver’s depo on the outskirts of Roodepoort, the suspension absorbs imperfections with ease, while on the highway, the almost cosseting feel had this writer nearly dose off in the passenger seat for feeling anything van-like.

Despite its modest outputs, the engine pulls with sheer verve higher-up the rev-range. However, while stronger than what the figures say, a notable dead-stop resides at the lower-end of the range rev.

Ford debuts new Transit Custom in South Africa
Pushing the doors slightly ‘unlocks’ the mechanism that allows for a 180-degree opening.

While this will require some rowing of the six-speed ‘box, a reward awaits as the ‘box shifts with precision and slickly both up and down.

In fact, while the abundance of hard plastics in the cab didn’t come as a surprise, the biggest gripe involves the touch-sensitive buttons for the air-conditioning.

Integrated at the base of the infotainment system, the icons are intuitive and the SYNC 4A system easy to use, however, given a van’s focus on ease-of-use and requirement of being as easy and fuss-free to operate, a return to conventional buttons or dials would be better.

Spacious up front and with the driving position being anything but similar to that of a forward control truck, the Transit Custom belies its workhorse focus as it felt sorted, sturdy and refined for a commercial van.

Conclusion

As much as vans are destined to remain in the minority compared to bakkies on a commercial side, they continue to have their merits from both a loading and safety side as nothing lays exposed in the rear.

It is a situation that Ford has exploited over almost six decades of Transit to the point where the latest generation does everything with such ease that faulting it without knit-picking becomes difficult.

In fact, the main caveat remains the option of a service or maintenance plan as per Ford’s adherence to the Right to Repair fundamentals.

New Ford Transit Custom debuts
Europe’s best-selling van currently ranks second in South Africa.

Priced at R24 589 and R39 715 respectively, both span six-year/90 000 km and can be added to the standard four-year/120 000 km warranty that forms part of the Transit Custom’s R692 200 asking price.

With either included, the Custom finds itself at the premium-end of the segment above the Staria, but significantly less than an exactly specced Transporter and close-on R100 000 cheaper than the base Vito.

It could therefore be described as a value proposition and package done right without little fanfare, which it ultimately deserves for a job more than well done. 

NOW READ: Ford says 2024 yes to all-new Transit Custom and Tourneo Custom

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