Van Review: New TRANSITions, powertrains & high-spec models keep Ford LCVs to the fore

Staying ahead of the posse when you’re number 1 is never easy. That’s an on-going challenge for Ford in the light commercial vehicle market, but one it has proved successful at time and again.

The firm favourite of van drivers all over Ireland, the UK and Europe, the current Transit family is hardly old – in fact the oldest model, the Transit Custom, was launched only in 2012. However, with rival manufacturers churning out new models at a rate of knots, Ford has launched a number of significant enhancements across the Transit range at this year’s Commercial Vehicle Show in Birmingham.  Ahead of the event, Fleet Van & Utility went to the nearby famous Belfry Golf Club to test them out.

Automatic Transmission

Most significant is the availability of a six-speed automatic transmission for the Transit and Transit Custom. Engineered specially for the Transit, and available with the 130PS and 170OPS versions of the EcoBlue diesel engine, Ford says the SelectShift gearbox has a new torque converter and external casing to improve refinement, with a torque capacity of more than 415Nm. In the UK, it’s priced at approximately £1,200 ex-VAT more than equivalent manual models.

As well as being of benefit to passenger van versions – expect it to sell well with Tourneo Custom customers – an automatic transmission will also appeal the increasing number of fleets operating in the delivery and distribution sectors.

Taking it for a run, the transmission impressed in both the Transit Custom and larger Transit. Because it’s a torque converter type gearbox rather than the dual-clutch Powershift unit used in the Tourneo Connect amongst others, we had reservations that it might be rather clunky and easy to catch out clambering for the right gear. That concern proved to be unfounded, with the SelectShift system doing a good job of predicting the next gear needed, while offering seamless shifts that are almost imperceptible to driver and passenger. It’s certainly a useful addition to the Transit family.

Enhanced AWD

Also making its debut is an improved four-wheel drive system for the Transit designed to work with the latest EcoBlue engines. This fourth-generation unit boasts a new design that combines the front differential and AWD coupling into a single, compact unit. Weight has been reduced by 10kg.

The electronically controlled AWD coupling allows power to be automatically distributed to front and rear wheels, and can vary between 0:100 and 50:50.

We didn’t get to take the AWD Transit on to any off-road or challenging terrain, but certainly its on-road manners are every bit as good as regular RWD Transits. With optimised calibration of the Electronic Stability Control system providing improved traction and stability, the AWD Transit will tick the boxes for those needing a van to operate in challenging environments.

Transit Custom Sport & Transit Courier Sport Vans

For those looking for a little panache in their vans, the arrival of the latest Transit Custom Sport Van will be eagerly anticipated. Offered as an L2 van or L1 or L2 Double Cab in Van variants, features include a fully colour-coded exterior with body-side mouldings and wheel arch extensions. Add in 17” wheels and twin bonnet stripes and you have a very distinctive looking van. The interior is also specified to a standard beyond that in many passenger cars, with leather trim, reversing camera and lane-keeping technology fitted as standard.

Offered with the 170PS EcoBlue engine, performance is unsurprisingly lively, while handling is also at a level above regular Transit Customs, thanks to a new thicker front anti-roll bar and the addition of a rear anti-roll bar, combined with softer rear springs and unique damper tuning. It’s also available with the new SelectShift automatic transmission.

Meanwhile appearing for the first time is a Transit Courier Sport Van. The focus here is on exterior styling so you get skid plates, twin body contrast stripes and black painted power heated door mirrors. It is available with either the 100PS 1.0-litre EcoBoost petrol engine or the 95PS 1.5-litre TDCi diesel engine.

With a Luton-bodied Transit also available in front wheel drive for the first time, all in all, plenty for Blue Oval aficionados to get enthused about.