The Ford Transit two-tonne large van has evolved. Jonathan Crouch takes a look at what you can expect from the brand's biggest van in terms of this improved sixth-generation model.
The sixth-generation Ford Transit two-tonne large van has proved to be a big step forward, but Ford has continued its efforts to try and improve this Turkish-built model. Payloads are up, there's a fresh EcoBlue Hybrid mild diesel engine, there's extra media connectivity and a fresh 10-speed auto transmission. It looks a strong package.
If the Ford Transit was a watch, you know it would be a Timex. That old strapline 'Takes a Licking But Keeps on Ticking' is just as appropriate to Ford's hardy perennial, a vehicle that has carved itself a massive share of the UK commercial vehicle market. This sixth generation version has been well received around the world as a global product - it's even sold in the US. Perhaps its one weakness though, lay with the relatively inefficient 2.2-litre diesel engines provided beneath the bonnet. No longer. New EcoBlue diesel technology (which can now even be had in 48-volt mild hybrid form) gets Ford back on the pace when it comes to efficiency returns in the large van segment - and not before time.
This design is the biggest version of the Transit breed, there to cover off large van rivals like Mercedes' Sprinter and the Renault Master. The Blue Oval brand these days has a separate smaller Transit Custom model to cover off Vivaro, Trafic and Transporter competitors in the medium-shaped van sector - a product we'll deal with separately. Here though, we'll super-size our Transit testing. More than 4,600 upgraded components alongside advanced powertrain and driver assistance technologies contribute to a two-tonne Transit that can carry more, uses less fuel and is easier to drive and operate.
Under the bonnet, the 2.0-litre Ford EcoBlue engine is offered in 105PS, 130PS, 170PS and 185PS power ratings, each of which offers increased power and torque compared to before. Improved low-end pulling power - with 20 per cent more torque at 1,250rpm - delivers more flexible and responsive performance in everyday driving. EcoBlue Hybrid 48-volt mild-hybrid diesel powertrain technology is now offered as an additional option for front-wheel-drive and rear-wheel-drive Transit models. in addition to the six-speed automatic gearbox already available on front-wheel drive models, rear-wheel drive Transits are now available with a new 10-speed automatic transmission featuring Adaptive Shift Scheduling, which can assess individual driving styles to optimise gearshift timings.
As it was previously, the Transit is available in front-wheel drive, rear-wheel drive and all-wheel drive versions and as ever, this Ford has been engineered to keep coming back after the worst abuse imaginable. Its body construction features high-strength and ultra-high-strength boron steels and in development, has covered the equivalent of nearly 3.4 million miles in testing in Europe and North America, with more than 250,000 miles of that total covered by actual Transit customers. Safety tests have been undertaken to ensure the van would behave in a safe and predictable manner when subjected to the worst kinds of impacts experienced in real-world use, one test involving striking a 150mm kerb at 30mph. Ford didn't say how much damage the inevitable Pot Noodle in the cup holder did to the vehicle's interior.
Bold, uncluttered and designed to be easy to clean, this revised Ford Transit's exterior features a taller, more assertive three-bar grille and a redesigned lower front end, with front panels and bumper re-profiled for improved aerodynamics. High-series models feature powerful bi-xenon headlights and smarter LED daytime running lights with a distinctive Transit family signature.
The cabin's been updated too. The instrument panel now features further practical touches for drivers who use the cabin as a mobile office, including significantly improved stowage with three open-topped bins on the top of the dashboard. A new device dock on lower series models enables drivers to mount both mobile phones and larger tablets. Hard-wearing new seat fabrics have been subjected to Ford's toughest-ever abrasion tests, and comfort is further enhanced by smarter seat designs featuring revised foam padding and geometry for optimised support.
Otherwise, it's as you were. The quality looks strong and there's been some budget devoted to actually making the dash look stylish rather than merely functional. The multi-adjustable steering wheel allows a decent driving position and the gear lever is located close at hand. There's a console that's loaded with buttons to control the various stereo and phone controls, helping you to take calls safely on the move. In fact, the biggest compliment you can pay is that it feels resolutely car-like.
The permutations of body styles are huge. As well as the normal van body, Ford will sell you a double cab-in-van, a Kombi, a chassis cab and a minibus. Overall, Transit customers continue to be able to select from a range of more than 450 core variants, including front-wheel drive, rear-wheel drive and all-wheel drive drivelines, plus a low-height Skeletal chassis.
We'll stick with just the panel van body here to save getting too complex. Here, you get a choice of three different wheelbases; L2 (Medium), L3 (Long), and L4 (Long Extended). There are also two roof heights on offer; H2 (Medium Roof) and H3 (High Roof). Ford offers three different trim levels: Leader, Trend and Limited. Ex-vat pricing starts at around £27,000. Across the range, extra camera safety kit is now available and the brand is also offering its latest FordPass Connect on-board modem technology so that the cab of this van can fully function as a mobile office.
The Transit's relatively car-like driving character is enhanced with the introduction of EPAS technology that helps reduce driver fatigue by adding more assistance while parking and manoeuvring, and enables technologies including Active Park Assist and Lane-Keeping Aid. For the first time, Transit drivers are now able to choose from Selectable Drive Modes to match driving performance to conditions: all drivetrains feature Normal and Eco Mode. In addition, rear-wheel drive and all-wheel drive models benefit from Slippery Mode to aid traction on surfaces including ice and snow, and all-wheel drive variants feature Mud/Rut Mode. Rear-wheel drive models fitted with an automatic transmission offer Tow/Haul Mode for smooth power delivery when towing large trailers.
In this revised form, the two-tonne Transit model's payload has been improved by up to 80kg. A 7,000kg gross train mass enables up to 3,500kg of towing capability.
When Ford designed the cargo bay of this MK6 model, it revised the side-wall angles to make them more upright and raised the roof slightly to maximise useful space. Plus the brand made sure that all versions of this van would be around 300mm longer to ensure for a load length that would suit all standard-length pipes, boards, rolls of carpet, and ladders. A wide, high-grip step is integrated into the rear bumper making it easy to step into the cargo area and more convenient when loading by-hand. Side wall-mounted tie-down points help keep the load floor clear and are both DIN and ISO compliant, as is the full steel bulkhead that's fitted as standard. When you've got this much load space, side doors are vital and because they're often used a lot, the whole mechanism is built to maximise ease of use and durability. A double action release handle makes for smooth opening and closing, a 'positive check' latch secures the door when open and a warning beep sounds if the side door isn't shut or locked correctly.
On to cost of ownership, an area where this model's latest EcoBlue diesel engines really score. Ford claims that fuel efficiency has improved by 13% in comparison to the older 2.2-litre TDCi unit, and it talks of CO2 emissions starting from as little as 157g/km. This engine also delivers extended 2-year/37,000 mile service intervals. You'll do better still of course, if you opt for the version of this engine with 48-volt mild hybrid technology.
There's also a clever Acceleration Control system that helps to control the van's rate of acceleration according to whether it's unladen or part-laden. As a result, you can expect to lower your fuel consumption by up to 15 per cent, depending on your driving style. There's also a shift indicator for fuel-efficient gear changes.
In years gone by, the Transit in its largest sizes often relied heavily on its market positioning to maintain its Number One position amongst UK businesses. That's no longer valid - and Ford has long known it. Hence the effort that was put into improving this sixth generation two-tonne version, with a programme of improvements now completed by the addition of the EcoBlue diesel engines that power this revised model. Now that these units are in place, with mild hybrid technology and higher payloads, it's hard to see much of a chink in this Ford's armoury: it's certainly the large LCV you simply have to consider if you're buying in this segment.
The amount of work that Ford has put in to improve efficiency betrays an almost obsessive attention to detail, zeroing in not only on the things that matter to fleet operators, but also devoting equal attention to what counts for those who will drive this vehicle. Yes, you can buy cheaper vans in this sector, but at what cost? The Transit formula has been calculated to the nth degree and it works. Don't expect that to change anytime soon.