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Saturday 25 March 2017

Ford Transit EcoBlue - Test Drive Review

Ford Transit EcoBlueThe latest Euro 6 kids on the block are the Ford Transit and Transit Custom, thanks to the new range of 2.0-litre EcoBlue diesels.

There may not have been a great number of new van launches so far this year (if you don't count 4x4 pick-ups as vans), but under the bonnet where you can't see it, 2016 is proving to be a very big year indeed. After 1 September, all light commercial vehicles sold must comply with Euro 6 emissions standards; and that means changes ahead for all LCV buyers.

To be honest, it would take a real expert to tell the difference between driving a Euro 5 van and a Euro 6 one. But any user will soon come across some rather obvious alterations. The first change will be a hike in front-end prices to pay for the new technology under the bonnet, which won't go down at all well. Then, for the vast majority of Euro 6 vans, there is the addition of an extra filler hole, into which will have to be poured about 20 litres of AdBlue every 6,000 miles or so (which again the user will have to pay for).

Ford Transit EcoBlueBut it's not all bad news. Most Euro 6 vans have much better fuel economy figures than the old Euro 5 ones, which will largely offset the price hike; and they pump out significantly fewer harmful gases into the atmosphere, which must be a good thing. In 2016, like it or not, everyone has to accept that they must do their bit to help our polluted planet.

The various van manufacturers have been busy rolling out their new engine ranges in the past few months and already many are selling both Euro 5 and Euro 6 models.

Ford is the latest one to the party with the Transit and Transit Custom and it shipped us over to Munich recently to see how the blue oval is dealing with the brave new Euro 6 world that will be ours this autumn.

But with the UK's best selling vans it isn't just a case of slotting in a new engine. Ford has also taken the opportunity to upgrade the vans' ride and handling, safety technology and connectivity too, making them just about unbeatable packages in our book. Prices, by the way, rise by around £1,100 on average.

EcoBlue Diesels
Looking at the engines first, Ford has junked the old 2.2-litre powerplant which graced both van ranges and has replaced it with a 2.0-litre unit which was part-developed at the Dunton technical Centre and will be built at the Dagenham engine plant. Ford might not build any vans in the UK nowadays, but at least the engines are British-built.

To get under the Euro 6 restrictions, this engine carries a 21-litre AdBlue tank. But on the plus side, it is up to 13 per cent more fuel-efficient. For example, Transit now returns up to 42.2mpg on the combined cycle while Transit Custom manages up to 46.3mpg.

The AdBlue tank weighs 40kg, so all gross vehicle weights except those at 3.5 tonnes have been raised by that amount to make sure payloads will not be affected. 


Miles Cleaner
Ford Transit EcoBlueThe engine also pumps out less CO2 — down from a minimum of 163g/km to 157g/km — and there's a 55 per cent reduction in NOx emissions. Ford reckons that these new engines will save users £1,250 in fuel over 80,000 miles, helping to alleviate the rise in front-end price. Meanwhile, service intervals have been extended too, up to two years/36,000 miles.

Three power outputs will be on offer — 105hp, 130hp and 170hp — and they offer up to 20 per cent more torque at lower revs, improving low-end pulling power no end.

All-wheel drive versions will be available later in the year and for the first time Ford will be offering a six-speed auto ’box on Transit and Transit Custom. There will also be an air-suspension option for kombi versions.

The automatic gearbox versions are likely to cost around £1,000 extra but Ford reckons that if you factor in less wear and tear, they should pay for themselves over the life of the vehicle. They are, of course, much more relaxing to drive too and here at VansA2Z we reckon they will become de rigueur in within 10 years or so. We love them.

More Refinement & Safety
Ford Transit EcoBlueDetail changes now mean that the Transit and Transit Custom are quieter in the cab by 1.2dB while there's a revised steering set-up for sharper handling and a new rear damper design for better comfort and control.

On the safety front there are some big changes too. A sidewind assist system that stops the vehicle being blown across the road now comes as standard, while there's an optional pre-collision assist and pedestrian detection system that automatically applies the brakes if the vehicle decides that the driver has not noticed an emergency situation ahead.

Adaptive cruise control uses the front-facing radar system to enable the driver to maintain a set distance from the vehicle ahead, while a traffic sign recognition system provides drivers with the latest detected speed limits. Ford's SYNC2 voice-activated connectivity system has also been upgraded with a high-res 6in colour screen in Transit and a 4in screen in Transit Custom.

Regular visitors to VansA2Z will already know how highly we rate these two vans. The Transit Custom won our Van of the Year title in its launch year 2013 and has been named Small Panel Van of the Year in 2014 and 2015. The Transit, meanwhile, won Van of the Year when it was launched in 2014 and was named Large Panel Van of the Year in 2015. With these awards, plus a host of others under its belt, it's no surprise that we were mightily impressed with what's on offer in Euro 6 guise on our sojourn to Germany.

On the Road
Ford Transit Custom EcoBlueThat 1.2dB might not sound a lot (no pun intended), but both these vans are whisper quiet even at autobahn speeds and both Transit and Transit Custom are just about as car-like as you can get with a commercial vehicle. If anything, it’s the 2-tonne that really messes in this department.

We always reckoned these vans were as sharp as any in the handling department, but the upgrades give the driver even more confidence on the corners. Our test drives, both on the country byways around Munich and on the autobahn, saw both vehicles tackling the bends with the utmost aplomb.

First drive saw us trying the Custom in 170hp guise and as expected, there was certainly no shortage of power, even with a half load on board. It's a cracking van for the owner-driver, while fleet buyers would probably be best to consider the lower powered variants as it's all too easy to get carried away and push things too far with all that oomph on tap.

Our second drive saw us climbing aboard the long wheelbase hi-roof 3.5-tonne Transit with the lowest powered 105hp engine and again half-loaded. What a surprise it turned out to be.

We weren't exactly expecting scorched Tarmac and screeching tyres but with all that torque at low revs —  360Nm at 1,375 – 2,000rpm to be precise — this Transit was sweet as a nut, with lively acceleration and, as with the Custom we drove earlier in the day, the ability to pull lustily in just about any gear.

We don't exactly know how the Ford engineers managed to dial in so much useful and enjoyable power into this engine, but we've got to take our hats off to them.

Verdict
Ford’s engineers have once again done a great job taking Transit and its smaller relative, the Custom, to the next level. The new EcoBlue diesels are up there with the best of them, and the detail revisions to the handling and improved refinement levels are the icing on the Blue Oval cake.

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Ford Transit EcoBlue

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