12 Feb: All-New Ford Transit

First Drive … All-New Ford Transit …

First seen in the metal at the CV Show in Birmingham 10 months ago, Ford launched its all-new Ford Transit to the European press last week in Spain.

Later this month and next, Ford’s commercial vehicle dealers from all across the continent will get their chance to drive a vehicle which has a tough act to follow. At the present time in the UK, one in every four vans, is a Ford Transit.

This brand new van represents a huge change for Ford. In the past there was one Ford Transit, then came the smaller Connect and next month comes the even smaller Courier van. But the biggest change came last year when Ford introduced a radically new model, the Custom, which has been designed to compete in the standard panel van market directly against the likes of Vauxhall Vivaro/Renault Trafic, Volkswagen Transporter and Mercedes-Benz Vito.

That allowed the company to come up with a new bigger Transit designed to compete against the Iveco Daily, Vauxhall Movano/Renault Master, Volkswagen Crafter/Mercedes-Benz Sprinter and the Fiat Ducato/Citroen Relay/Peugeot Boxer large van range.

At first glance this doesn’t seem much of a change, but the first time a Transit fan steps into the new Transit cab, he or she will immediately notice a huge difference – more headroom, shoulder room and a much taller windscreen.

In the past all Transit models were based on the standard panel van which was low enough to be able to drive into underground car parks, on AA/RAC duty for instance, and was therefore height restricted. That meant that the medium and high roof vans, which were based on the same model, retained the same cab dimensions and windscreen. Of course, the load box could be made taller and longer, but the cab remained constant.

That was a big problem for Ford. The market for big vans is not huge, so in order ‘to go it alone’ they had to make one van fit a larger market. Whereas Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen shared design and development costs with Sprinter and Crafter, Renault and Vauxhall with Movano and Master, and Fiat, Citroen and Peugeot shared the costs on their Ducato, Relay and Boxer range, Ford had no such option. Hence the need for a ‘global product’.

In fact this will be the first van with a standard spec. and ‘look’ to go on sale across six continents, and that includes the USA where they intend to replace the ageing E-series vans with the new Transit.

If Ford can persuade the Americans that this is a step in the right direction, then they are assured of success. As for the Europeans, will they take to the new van?

On first acquaintance, it received a genuine thumbs-up from the European press. First of all, it is comfortable and roomy, and secondly it drives well, as any Ford should.

The taller windscreen and taller side door windows provide a much clearer view ahead and around and also generates a more light and airy feeling inside the cab. The seats are very similar to those in the Custom but with one crucial difference, they are slightly wider, because the van is bigger. That makes seating for three in the front an altogether less intimate experience, and allows the use of a four seater rear bench in dual cab Transits for the first time

The bigger cab also allows the introduction of an over-windscreen, full width shelf for the first time too, and it has enabled the designers to come up with even more inventive solutions for storing flasks, bottles, sandwiches, order books and clipboards. Larger doors also mean larger storage pockets – but the handy flip-down, dash-top shelf has gone!

That’s down to the introduction of an altogether more stylish dashboard layout. Similar to the Custom and to Ford’s current range of saloon cars, the dashboard now has a ‘family’ look to the display, dials and buttons.

At each end of the dashboard is a 1 litre bottle ‘holster’ with cupholder recess above it, while the door pockets have another shaped slot for flasks or bottles plus A4 clipboards. There is a lidded compartment on top of the dash ahead of the driver with a 12v charging socket inside it – ideal for keeping the phone out of sight while charging. Another lidded compartment at knee height on the passenger side will store more books and documents with a smaller dash top recess above it.

And there’s more. There is a storage box underneath the passenger seats for the first time. A couple of hooks on the cab wall behind the seats provide somewhere to hang jackets and since the seats don’t need to be pushed so far back to accommodate taller drivers, there is room for them to hang.

And for those who need somewhere to work while out and about, the centre seat back panel folds down to provide a little desktop.

As for driving the vehicle, it’s what you’d expect from Ford. The van sits well on the road, the ride is firm, but compliant, and with a 500 kg load on board, pot holes and speed bumps can be treated with contemptuous ease.

Just one more thing, the new Transit has an adjustable steering column for the first time. Coupled with the height adjustable and moveable seat, the proximity of the six speed gearbox shift and the improved all round visibility, this is a big van that will be hard to beat.

For the moment there are 4 engines, all based on the Ford 2.2 litre Duratorq TDCi unit. There are three basic power options, 100 PS (99 bhp), 125 PS (123 bhp) and 155 PS (153 bhp) but there is a fourth version of the 125 PS unit which has been designed to meet current mandatory Euro-6 emissions legislation for minibus use.

Body wise there are two wheelbase options at 3300 and 3750 mm at present, and two roof heights at 2550 and 2781 mm. Also at launch there are four chassis cab wheelbase offerings at 3137, 3504, 3954 and 4522 mm, with more to follow. The variations to follow include shorter wheelbase and longer wheelbase ‘jumbo’ extra-long vans plus ‘double cab in van’ and crew cab chassis cab options. These won’t be available till later this year.

Prices start from £20,795.00 (£24,954.00 incl VAT) for the L2 H2 base model van with the 100 PS, 2.2 litre Duratorq which emits just 190 g/km of CO2 emissions.

So the new vans won’t be cheap, but then no new van can be considered cheap these days. They all have to meet ever more stringent crash protection regulations and CO2 emissions restrictions, while offering better fuel economy.

On the positive side of things, the van is a cracker to drive and a great place to work. And it’s still the only big van that you can specify with either front or rear wheel drive, or even four wheel drive.