The Ford Transit is one of the most common vehicles on UK roads, with numerous generations of this workhorse van seeing service as post vans, couriers, long-wheelbase load luggers and transport for everyone from plumbers to school football teams. Just as Ford has the top spot in the UK car sales chart with the Fiesta supermini, the Transit tops the van sales chart.
And the secret to its success? This machine is available in a huge array of lengths, heights, and engine combinations, with front-wheel drive, rear-wheel drive and four-wheel drive. Chances are, if you need a van, there’s a Transit to suit your needs.
A number of other similarly-sized commercial vehicles are also available – from the popular Vauxhall Vivaro and Movano to the Renault Trafic and Master vans. However, none of these have caught the attention of the nation’s van drivers in the way that the Transit has.
What is it?
The Transit and Transit Custom make up part of Ford’s van line up, ranging from compact three seater vans with a large load space, to nine-seater people carrier versions with a small boot and even superized ‘hi-top’ models that offer an even greater loading capacity.
We got behind the wheel of the Transit 290 L2 H2 Trend – a medium-length model with three seats in the front, a large load bay and the ‘hi-top’ roof. Our test van used a 2.2-litre diesel engine powering the front wheels, making it a good option for those who need a spacious load bay – with added height over the standard Transit Custom.
Our test model was in Trend trim, which sits above entry-level Base form. Standard equipment on all cars includes oversized door mirrors with a large, blind-spot eliminating second mirror, a sliding load bay door and chunky plastic trim along the flanks and rear. Trend specification adds front fog lights, electric, heated wing mirrors, full hubcaps, front and rear parking sensors, a heated front windscreen and automatic headlights and wipers.
What is it like to drive?
Despite its large size – slotting above the standard people carrier-sized Transit Custom van – we found our test model surprisingly easy to manouevre. The oversized wing mirrors and parking sensors all around mean that parking is easy enough, while negotiating all but the tightest of corners is no more difficult than in a large car.
Gauging where the extremities of the van are in traffic is a little more tricky, though you quickly adjust to the size of this vehicle. Around town and on the open road the Transit is also unexpectedly enjoyable to drive, with direct steering giving you a good idea of the level of grip remaining, while the punchy engine proves more than strong enough when the load bay is empty. Load up to the Transit’s maximum carrying capacity and we’re sure it won’t prove as nippy, but even so, it feels muscular enough to cope with a reasonably hefty load.
Drive faster around corners and the rear can bob around without a load weighing it down, though the Transit is surprisingly adept around bends. Meanwhile, the gear change is quite slick – though the gear stick is a little further away than ideal for shorter drivers – the clutch is light and the brakes also prove unfazed by the Transit’s size and weight.
The ride is quite comfortable too, while refinement levels are mostly high; the engine is louder than in a typical medium car, though it is hardly intrusive for this kind of vehicle, with only a little vibration making its way through to the cabin.
What is it like inside?
The Transit’s cabin is a practical, workmanlike space, which feels like it should be able to survive heavy use over several decades. Unsurprisingly, this van doesn’t attempt to offer car-like levels of luxury, but it does feel sturdy and easy to use, with a large amount of space for driver and both passengers.
All three occupants have a number of cubby holes where they can store drinks, papers, tools etc. and there are even hangers for hi-vis vests behind the seats. The seating position is high but it’s easy enough to clamber aboard, with large windows making the interior feel bright.
There is a huge amount of headroom in all three seats, though the middle seat is smaller and less comfortable than the other chairs with less leg room. Reaching the simple rotary dashboard controls for the air conditioning can be a stretch for all three passengers, with the stereo controls being only slightly easier to reach.
Is it practical?
The Transit is immensely practical – both inside the load area and in the cabin. With three seats in the front, all manner of cup holders, storage bins, hangers and other handy features, the Transit truly lives up to its billing as an invaluable tool for drivers.
Meanwhile, the load area on the high-top, long-wheelbase Transit that we drove, is vast. With more than enough height for six-footers to stand up easily, rails on the floor and wooden sides, there are few loads that you will struggle to fit in this machine – especially as this version of the Transit can comfortably lug up to 940kg of loads.
Thanks to a large door on the left hand side and wide opening rear doors, loading items into the Transit is also simple. Our test van also had very bright lights along the whole load bay, making it easy to load and unload in darkness.
Should I buy one?
The Transit is a very capable, practical and spacious workhorse. In 290 L2 H2 form that we tested, there is a vast amount of room in the load bay, plus more than enough space for three passengers.
While the Transit does a very good job as a hardy workhorse that should put up with heavy use every day for year on end, it is how well it performs on the road that makes it stand out. With a 2.2-litre diesel engine under the bonnet it may not be the fastest vehicle on the road, but it handles corners very well and has more than enough muscle for most drivers.
As a result, those after a roomy, tough and decent handling van would be well served by the Transit. Our only real criticism was that air conditioning seemed very expensive as a £720 option.
Don’t want to buy new? You can browse for a used Ford Transit in our classifieds here.
Ford Transit 290 L2 H2 Trend 2.2 TDCI 125
List price: £23,476
Engine: 2.2-litre, four-cylinder turbocharged diesel
Top speed: N/A
Fuel economy: 37.7mpg (combined)
Emissions: 197g/km CO2
Euro NCAP rating: Not yet tested