Ford Tourneo Custom: The van that is better* than a BMW 7 Series or a Bentley (*sort of...)
A Transit van with windows and seats where plumbers and electricians normally put their tools doesn't sound like the most thrilling proposition, writes William Scholes
A Transit van with windows and seats where plumbers and electricians normally put their tools doesn't sound like the most thrilling proposition, writes William Scholes.
And yet... a week with just such a vehicle was far more fun than you might imagine.
Ford doesn't call this gentrified Transit an, erm, Transit, however. Instead they call it a 'Tourneo Custom', whatever that means; everyone else just calls it a Transit.
I am not sure why they are reluctant to use the Transit nameplate, when it is one of the best-known in the entire automotive business and synonymous with vans.
The Transit is to vans what the Porsche 911 is to sports cars or the Volkswagen Golf is to the family hatchback.
Ford has been building Transits for more than half a century, so when you use one you are benefiting from all those decades' experience distilled into one tough, practical, easy-to-drive package.
If you have never driven a van before, or it's been a while since you last borrowed one to help a friend move house, then you may be surprised at just how car-like a modern Transit feels.
Sure, it's wider than most passenger cars - though not outrageously so - and in any case, its loftier-than-a-Range Rover driving position, slab sides and stubby bonnet helps you out here, by making it easy to position on the road.
If you are coming to the Tourneo Custom from a family hatchback or MPV, its length might be what takes most getting used to - especially in the long wheelbase guise as tested.
Ticking the LWB option means you get an enormous boot as well as up to nine seats.
Three are in the front, with one slotted between the driver and passenger, and six are in the back, arranged in the case of 'my' Tourneo in two banks of three individual pews which faced each other, though an almost endless number of other configurations are available. Access to all those back seats is via sliding doors.
On a vehicle already so long and tall, the top-hinged tailgate can be a bit of a nuisance because of the amount of space required to open it fully - barn door-style side-hinged doors would be handy, though one imagines Ford knew what it was doing when it specified the Tourneo Custom.
If it was out to impress primary school children, then it was mission accomplished.
After much discussion, my nine-year-old son and his friends reckoned the Transit had usurped a number of more glamorous vehicles to take the 'best car' crown from a number of other favourites in recent memory, including a BMW 7 Series with a £3,000 sound system and remote control parking and a Bentley that made the earth shake at full throttle.
The Ford had an adequate sound system, no magic key fob to help you drive it without leaving the house and a 2.0-litre diesel engine.
The Transit is to vans what the Porsche 911 is to sports cars or the Volkswagen Golf is to the family hatchback
So what was its appeal? Consulting the notes he wrote for me, the nine-year-old loved that the Tourneo Custom had: lots - and lots - of seats; that they could be folded down to make tables; that you could stand up inside it; that the boot was enormous; there was definitely space for "at least 32" cups and bottles; that three people could sit in the front, or even two people plus lots and lots of teddy bears, as we discovered; sliding doors are amazing; there were a great many compartments in which to hide things, including more teddy bears and Daddy's phone; you sit really high up; and it's an actual, true van, only with lots of windows and seats.
That's a pretty comprehensive list, I am sure you will agree. And if you don't, then have a word with an under-10.
As already mentioned, the Tourneo Custom is easy to drive. The test car had a 128bhp diesel engine which propelled it along remarkably adeptly for a vehicle of its size.
Heavier throttle applications - in first and second gear in particular, such as pulling out of junctions - reveal an edge to the engine noise and refinement that you would never get in a family hatchback.
Once at a cruise, particularly on the motorway, the Ford feels like it would sit at 70mph all day, every day with a complete lack of fuss.
Its sheer size and suspension which has been set up to cope with heavy loads rather than scything through corners means the Tourneo Custom isn't the last word in driver enjoyment on A- and B-roads, but I guarantee it is far better than you might imagine.
Indeed, sat in your penthouse driving position, there's a certain fun to be had in maintaining momentum through corners as well as through them.
The brakes are strong and easy to modulate, and the gearchange is sweeter than many regular family cars. The steering is light but accurate, and there is plenty of grip - there's none of the white knuckle feeling you can get when you pitch, say, a pick-up into a corner at speed.
All that being said, the Tourneo Custom is still a van; but because it is a Ford Transit it also happens to be an excellent van, with far more car-like qualities than it really has a right to.
AT A GLANCE
Ford Tourneo Custom Zetec LWB
Price: £40,116. As tested £41,004, with metallic paint £480, heated front seats £12 and upgraded audio system £396
Engine and transmission: 2.0-litre four-cylinder diesel turbo, six-speed manual gearbox, front-wheel-drive; 128bhp, 284lb.ft
Performance: Top speed 102mph
Fuel consumption and CO2: 44.8mpg (combined), 36.4mpg (real world), 178g/km
Car tax: £1,240 in first year, then £140 annually
Benefit in kind: 37 per cent
Euro Ncap safety rating: Five stars (84/90/48/71), 2012