Day one: Shortly to become as ubiquitous on British streets as lampposts and dog logs, it’s the new Ford Transit. Sort of. Somewhere in Ford they clearly had a very long meeting and decided that Transit is a sub-brand or some such bollocks so this one, which is front-wheel-drive and can shift up to a tonne, is technically called the Transit Custom and sits above the Fiesta-based Transit Courier and Focus-based Transit Connect. There’s an even bigger two tonne van coming next year which will be just plain Transit, although in pictures it appears massive enough to be called the Transit Muthafucker. Anyway, this new Custom looks quite good. They’ve given it a more snouty front end and the back lights look like they could be detached and used as futuristic laser guns but neither of these is a bad thing. The dashboard design is straight out of the Focus or Fiesta. For the full car-like effect you can even drop the driver’s seat but where’s the fun in that? If you’re driving a van you want to look down on other drivers. You might also want to frighten them out of the way. The effect is slightly spoilt in this particular press demonstrator because it’s metallic blue rather than no-nonsense white. People get out of the way of white vans because they assume the driver isn’t mucking around and really doesn’t give a shit. Driving a blue van might cause people to assume that your business is in flower arranging or haberdashery and if they don’t get out of your way, you’re too sensitive to shout ‘faaaaaaaackin caaaaaaant’ at them.Day two: I have an unexpected need to be in Cheshire. You might think a Transit wouldn’t be the ideal thing in which to tackle the north face of the M6 but vans are built to do this stuff and the Tranny seems to be a particularly civilised van. It has heated seats and Bluetooth. The heated seats are great. The Bluetooth is useless and makes you sound like you’re standing on the deck of an oil rig. Anyway, I’m not worried about this trip. At least, I wasn’t until the A40 opened out into the M40 and I put my foot down for the first time. This particular Transit has 153 horsepower and nothing weighing it down except me and an overnight bag. It flies… up to 70 and then stops dead. This is quite frustrating. It’s only when you’re capped at the speed limit that you realise no one else on the motorway is doing it. I manage a few more miles before I pull in and call a bloke I know at Ford. He’s a resourceful chap and I’m hoping he can give me a trick involving a hidden fusebox and a paperclip that will kill the limiter. When he’s finished laughing at the palpable despair in my voice he’s got an easier fix. There’s a button marked ‘eco’ to the right of the instruments. I thought it just disabled the start-stop but no, it also eliminates the 70mph strangler. I make it to Cheshire in very good time.
Nothing to do this evening. Since I’m a bit bored and I’m in Wilmslow I briefly consider writing OPERATION YEWTREE down the side of the Transit and terrifying local celebrities by driving it slowly past their houses.
Day three: The Transit is remarkable fun to sling around the lanes of Cheshire. It’s got plenty of grunt, the gearchange is excellent and the steering gives a pretty strong impression of being connected to the front wheels. On the downside, the back end sometimes feels a bit skittish, the brakes don’t bite immediately and the ride can be a bit bumpy. I suspect all of these problems would be solved by chucking half a tonne of stuff in the back. Overall, the handling is quite amusing. Later I discover the Transit still has rear leaf springs. This doesn’t seem to be a problem. You can still barrel into a left hand corner and find the seat cushion struggling to stop you falling into the door. Which is more of a problem. If they did one with a sliding door you could leave open like an old Commer van it would be downright terrifying.
Day four: Back to London. Make good time again and get out feeling no more achey or arsey than if I’d done the trip in a car. The only annoying bit was realising I’d been stung for ELEVEN QUID to use the M6 toll road. That’s what they charge vans. At least it is at the time or writing. It being the M6 toll road, it’s probably gone up again in the last hour. I wish I’d accosted a member of staff and argued that this was unfair because my van is and always has been empty. At the same time I could have shown them the groovy LED lights in the roof of the Transit’s load bay. Which are, as it turns out, a £96 option. I’d have them. Mind you, I’m not a vannist. Thumbing through the Transit brochure makes my head swim. There are massive tables to detail all the tech specs and capacities of all the various wheelbase, engine and load weight combinations along with options tables for stuff you don’t get in cars like roof ladders, heavy duty alternator and a ‘beacon preparation pack’. I fear if I was ordering a Transit I’d get carried away and order the lot just because it sounds cool.
Goodbye: I’ve realised I don’t really know about vans in the way I know about cars. I suspect vans are judged mainly on load capacity and cost of maintenance. Even so, van drivers must also care about comfort and cruising ability and how nice their van is to drive. On which grounds, I’d say this van is a particularly good one.
The van talked about here is a Ford Transit Custom 290 SWB Limited. It has a 2.2-litre turbo diesel engine which produces 153 horsepower. Ford doesn’t quote performance figures but I believe it can do about 100mph as long as you remember to disengage eco mode. In this spec it costs £27,774 although £4629 of that is VAT which if you’re buying a van you’d probably claim back.