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This new version is the UK’s best-selling vehicle, but is there joy to be found in a van?

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Autocar doesn’t dip into the world of light commercial vehicles very often, but when a staple of British roads like the Ford Transit Custom gets renewed for a new generation, we must take note.

Don’t worry: we shall leave bin lorries and London buses to the odd Christmas road test. However, for the past few years, the best-selling vehicle in the UK hasn’t been the Vauxhall Corsa or Nissan Qashqai but the Ford Transit Custom.

They are everywhere, not just as a work van but also as a leisure vehicle that effortlessly swallows bikes, camping equipment or – in the right specification – up to nine people. So it’s more than worth an extended look by way of a full road test.

Our test van was very much a van: a long-wheelbase, high-load-capacity panel van with a single row of seats and a fixed bulkhead. And while it is possible to kit out a modern Transit with most of the luxuries and features available on passenger cars, this one was relatively sparse, so it should give us a good idea of what all those people are really getting.

The range at a glance

Models Power From
2.0 EcoBlue 108-169bhp £40,968
2.0 EcoBlue AWD 134-168bhp £48,504
2.5 PHEV 229bhp £47,904
E-Transit Custom 134bhp £53,869
Tourneo Custom 108-229bhp £45,994
*Price are OTR, inc VAT    

Van model ranges are very different from those of cars, and will set even a Porsche 911 devotee’s head spinning.

The 2.0-litre EcoBlue diesel engine is available with four different power outputs, and there’s a plug-in hybrid and an electric version too.

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There’s a choice of weight ratings, two wheelbase lengths and four bodystyles: the standard panel van, the ‘double cab in van’ (two rows of seats and a bulkhead), the Kombi (three rows of seats and windows all round) and the multicab (an L-shaped bulkhead that allows for both two rear seats and a full-length load space behind the driver).

Finally, the Tourneo is the passenger version of the Transit and as such is quite a lot like the Kombi but with a nicer interior. It is available with all the same powertrains.


ford transit custon review 2024 02 side panning

The Ford Transit started as a single model back in the 1960s, but over the course of many decades it has developed into a full product line-up. You could even argue it’s a fully fledged sub-brand.

Right now, there are four Transit lines, each with their Tourneo twins. Where the Transit is always the working vehicle, the Tourneo is the more luxurious passenger version.

The Courier is the smallest, using the Ford Puma’s platform. The Connect is one size up, being based on the Volkswagen Caddy. Then there’s what we have here: the Custom. Often referred to as a medium or one-tonne (referring to the approximate payload capacity) van, it’s the most popular category because it’s large enough for most businesses, while remaining wieldy enough in cities and down tight country lanes. Standard-height versions are also under two metres, which means they can fit below the barriers of most car parks.

This is only the second generation of the Transit Custom. The first was launched in 2012 to more clearly differentiate the medium-van version from the full-size Transit (which has no suffix in its name). That one is also available with rear-wheel drive and dual rear wheels.

With that brief primer on the world of vans over, let’s return to the new Transit Custom. Not even light commercials can resist the demand for electrification, so the Custom’s platform has been extensively re-engineered to accommodate a fully electric version in addition to the existing plug-in hybrid and diesel variants. The E-Transit Custom arrives later in 2024 with a range of 209 miles from a 64kWh battery, which is similar to the 217 miles and 68kWh offered by the updated range of Stellantis vans arriving soon.

Diesel still reigns supreme in commercial vehicles, however, and as a result most Transit Customs will be powered by a 2.0-litre four-cylinder. That engine has largely been carried over from the previous generation and comes in a choice of four power outputs: 108, 134, 148 and 168bhp. A new Ford-built eight-speed torque-converter automatic gearbox is available on some versions, and the range-topper can be specified with four-wheel drive.

The new platform pushes the wheels further to the corners of the van, which means that a long-wheelbase van like ours is 110mm longer than before and 200mm longer in the wheelbase. That was probably done more to maximise load volume and length rather than to achieve Mini Cooper-like handling, but Ford has made some updates to the chassis as well.

The Custom trades its long-standing rear leaf springs for a pair of coil-sprung semi-trailing arms. On the versions with a higher gross vehicle weight (and therefore a larger carrying capacity), those coil springs are progressive. In other words, they are softer at the start of the suspension travel, to maximise ride comfort when the van is unladen, but as you add more load in the back (and thus take up travel), they become stiffer to ensure the van still handles safely when fully laden.


ford transit custon review 2024 11 dash

If you’re not used to driving vans, it takes a moment to acclimatise to just how high you sit, and how perched over the front of the vehicle you feel.

That’s not helped by how sharply the bonnet falls away – you can’t see the edges very easily. Once accustomed, you do start to appreciate your towering viewpoint.

The Custom has received quite the digital makeover, with every version including the entry-level Leader trim featuring a 13in central touchscreen and 12in digital gauge cluster. If that seems remarkably generous, it has also allowed Ford to move a large number of functions away from physical buttons and onto the touchscreen.

Only a volume knob and a panel with four buttons remain. The latter control the drive modes, vehicle settings, parking sensors and windscreen demist.

Theoretically this is quite a compromised set-up, but as in Ford passenger cars, all the important controls are only one or two taps away, so it works quite well.

The rest of the cabin offers a good amount of storage but lacks a useful bin within easy reach for disposing of various odds and ends. The large tray behind the gauge cluster leaves items out of sight, the twin gloveboxes are useful but a bit of a stretch and the multi-tiered trays in the doors are slightly too shallow to commit items of any value to. The tray that folds out of the middle seat could have been made much more useful with an anti-slip coating and a stronger elastic band. There’s some additional storage on the options list but our test van didn’t have any of it fitted.

As is to be expected in a van, there is little in the way of soft-touch materials, but everything looks modern and attractively designed. The cloth seats in our test van felt hard-wearing, and the gearlever and steering wheel were covered in Sensico artificial leather.

However, opinions among testers were divided about the quartic steering wheel, with some finding it uncomfortable to hold on longer drives. The shape is functional, or at least it can be if you have specced the £500 Cab as Office Pack, which allows it to flip up and turn into a table. Unfortunately our test van didn’t have the option, because it does sound like a must-have feature for the busy driver on a lunch break. 

Ford is proud of the various new features, like the steering wheel desk, that serve to make drivers more ‘productive’. Again, our demo sadly didn’t have any of them. The gear selector in automatic versions moves to a stalk on the steering wheel to free up knee space.

Aftermarket additions (like additional lights and cabinets) can be plugged in to the van’s electrical system and be controlled through the infotainment screen. It’s also possible to programme a routine for deliveries, so that, for example, the sliding doors will open and the hazards will turn on automatically.

Multimedia system

Every Transit Custom gets the same 13in touchscreen with Sync 4, the latest version of Ford’s multimedia system. As standard, navigation isn’t included, but many drivers will use their phone anyway.

Both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are wireless and integrated neatly into the native system. Phone mirroring is displayed large but the shortcut buttons andclimate controls remain on screen.

Perhaps somewhat surprisingly for a commercial vehicle, the Custom also gets a digital gauge cluster as standard. It contains a digital speedo, a customisable panel and a bar tacho, which would have been clearer as a round dial.

The standard audio system is fairly decent, and can be upgraded to a Bang & Olufsen system with six speakers for £750. That does delete the load-through bulkhead to make space for the subwoofer.


ford transit custon review 2024 02 side panning

Perhaps it’s a measure of how needlessly fast even normal cars have become, but compared with one of those, you still sacrifice a good deal of performance in a van. Our van was the mid-spec 148bhp version, but even so, the Transit took 12.9sec to reach 62mph, when a typical family crossover can do it in under 10sec. Even 30-70mph in fourth gear takes almost 3.0sec longer than a Seat Ateca 1.5 TSI DSG.

Of course, all of this is simply a given with almost every van, short of outliers like the atypically indulgent Volkswagen Transporter Sportline we tested in 2022.The choice of gear ratios in the manual gearbox is rather interesting. We mainly drove the van unladen and, as such, first gear seems ridiculously short – to the point that, with a bit of clutch slip, it is possible to skip first and treat the gearbox like a dog-leg five speed. This strategy is what also produced our fastest acceleration run.

But then you have to realise that our particular test van is rated to carry 1283kg and tow 2500kg. A gross train weight of 5725kg means it stops just short of being able to do both of those things at the same time. Suddenly the short gearing makes a lot of sense.

On the road, the gearbox actually proves to be a delight – not an unexpected one, given Ford is generally pretty good at manual gearchanges. The throws are not super-short, but the gates are well defined and there’s just enough of a detent to tell you that you have successfully slotted the gear home. The clutch, too, is reassuringly weighted and easy to dose.

The engine runs surprisingly quietly at low revs and it has enough torque to allow you to keep it there most of the time. Of course, it does become vocal when you push it. The brakes feel nicely progressive on the road.

However, the Custom took 72.3m to stop from 70mph, admittedly on a damp track and on van-specific all-season tyres. Again, we don’t believe this is unusual for a van, but it does give you something to think about when there’s one sitting five inches from your rear bumper in the outside lane of the motorway on a rainy day.


ford transit custon review 2024 30 rear cornering

Sharp handling is hardly a top priority for a van, but Transits of all sizes have gained a bit of a reputation for being the dressage horses among mechanical mules. Still, this latest Custom feels above all like a van with no pervading sense that it shrinks around you.

It’s absolutely competent enough. The all-season tyres generate very decent grip in all conditions and it steers with a reasonable amount of precision. However, the steering is very light, and the wheel’s oblong shape can make your initial inputs quite snatchy, despite the relatively slow (by car standards) rack.

A lap of the Millbrook Hill Route showed that without any assistance systems the light rear end could easily become a problem. So rather sensibly the stability control quickly puts a stop to any developing slides.

The Transit always feels like a large vehicle and narrow country lanes need some care. Manoeuvring is less of an issue thanks to generous steering angle and standard rear parking sensors. Limited trim adds front sensors (which were rather too conservative) and a decently clear reversing camera.

Motorway driving is equally unproblematic thanks to the enormous side mirrors, with separate blindspot mirrors making the £1140 optional digital rear-view mirror largely redundant.

Like any modern vehicle, the Custom has a number of mandatory driver assistance features including lane keeping assistance and an overspeed warning. Both work reasonably well as these things go but do still frustrate. They can be easily disabled by holding down the relevant steering wheel button.

Comfort & Isolation

Because vans are designed to carry heavy loads, they can have a very different character when you drive them empty. Usually, heavy-duty rear springs mean that the unladen ride is rather bouncy.

We mainly drove our test van empty, and while the rear axle wasn’t immune to some thumping through potholes, the progressive springs meant the ride remained civilised for a van. The front clearly felt softer than the rear, and thanks to relatively small wheels with tall tyres, it handled bumps well. Noise isolation is not quite on the level of passenger cars, with both wind and road noise contributing to a reading of 70dBA at 70mph.

The driver’s seat is remarkably comfortable – in the mid-spec Limited trim of our test van, at least. It gets manually adjustable lumbar support and seat heating as standard. It gives a normal driving position (just high up), with the steering wheel at a natural – and not at all bus-like – angle. The range of adjustment in this panel van is ultimately limited by the bulkhead and tall drivers will find themselves having to compromise between leg room and backrest angle.


ford transit custon review 2024 01 front panning

As a commercial vehicle, the Transit Custom’s prices are usually quoted without VAT, since the businesses that buy them can claim that back. A plain white panel van with steel wheels, unpainted bumpers and the least powerful engine will set you back at least £34,205 (or £40,968 if you’re buying it privately).

You probably want something closer to our test van, which has more equipment, the long wheelbase and higher load rating, and a more powerful engine. It costs £40,900/£49,000. Go wild with the options list and you can spend close to £60,000 excluding VAT. And that’s before you get to the racing-inspired MS-RT catalogue.

A Citroën Dispatch in a similar spec to our test van costs closer to £40,000 – including VAT, that is. The Volkswagen Transporter (which is now only available from stock in anticipation of the new Ford-based seventh generation) is pricier but still undercuts the Transit Custom.

Ford quotes an economy figure of 38.7mpg, which is on a par with what you might expect from rival vans. In practice, it gets close. In our 70mph touring test, it did 38.8mpg, and even the performance testing only dented our average to 36.2mpg. During gentler motorway usage, we saw 40mpg, which is impressive for a two-tonne vehicle with the kind of drag coefficient not commonly seen on cars since the 1980s.


ford transit custon review 2024 31 static

UK businesses love the Ford Transit Custom, and judging by the vast number of new examples we spotted in the wild during the course of our road test, that’s unlikely to change any time soon.

To a point, it’s easy to see why. Ford kept the old one updated throughout its long life, but the new platform allows another step forward, with significant improvements in its vital carrying-capacity specifications.

It looks more modern, and its cabin features all the glitzy tech a delivery driver in 2024 might desire. And if you don’t care for it, it doesn’t grate either.

At the same time, it’s easy to drive and mostly civilised, even if we must throw cold water over the popular opinion that a Transit is overwhelmingly car-like to drive. It isn’t – it’s mainly van-like. Apart from the manual gearchange, there’s nothing especially joyful about how it goes down the road. But for a van, that’s hardly a debilitating point of criticism.

This new Transit Custom is expensive, but that might prove a worthwhile business expense if you’re after a very accomplished van.

Illya Verpraet

Illya Verpraet Road Tester Autocar
Title: Road Tester

As part of Autocar’s road test team, Illya drives everything from superminis to supercars, and writes reviews, comparison tests, as well as the odd feature and news story. 

Much of his time is spent wrangling the data logger and wielding the tape measure to gather the data for Autocar’s eight-page road tests, which are the most rigorous in the business thanks to independent performance, fuel consumption and noise figures.