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Road Test - Ford Tourneo Custom 300 LWB Limited 2.2 TDCi

In the private hire world, Ford’s MPVs are undoubtedly the king. Addison Lee’s 3,000-strong fleet of black Galaxys is as common a sight on the streets of London as a big red bus or a black cab. And with other big fleets such as Keen Group also adopting the Galaxy, Ford’s car-derived minivan is an undoubted winner.

But what if you want something bigger? Ford’s van-based MPVs have always seemed, well, a little utilitarian. The Transit-based Tourneo minibus has been around for some time – since 1995, in fact, which is three whole generations of Transit. But it’s never really presented itself as a challenger to those other German van-based passenger carriers, the Mercedes-Benz Viano and the Volkswagen Caravelle.

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That’s all about to change with the launch of the all-new Tourneo Custom. With the latest Transit range, Ford has made a serious re-evaluation of what its van range represents. The UK’s market leading car brand has decided that its vans are every bit as important as its cars. Remember, Transit is the longest-serving brand in the Ford of Europe line-up – it’s been a major part of the range since 1965.

What does the rethink mean in product terms? Gone is the fleet-oriented “box on wheels” look of the old Tranny, replaced by a much more elegant design, with a distinctive long nose featuring bold headlights and Ford’s new Aston Martinesque grille. The look is less aggressive and less functional than the old model, with car-like detailing along the side panels, highlighting the rear wheel arches.

Interior

And inside, the utilitarian dashboard with flat surfaces, shelves, storage pockets and clipboards has been replaced by, well, a scaled up version of the familiar Ford car dashboard, as found on everything from a Fiesta to a Galaxy. The storage compartments are still there, but they’re concealed within the car-like dashboard, bristling with the same sat-navs and parking aids as you’d find on a well-specified Ford car.

Really, once you’ve settled in to the commanding driving position, it’s just like driving a Focus. The sat-nav display does look a little small housed in a recess at the top of the dashboard. It’s basically the same system as that used in the Focus and other mid-range Fords. But it’s clear and readable, and we like the way you can switch from 2D to 3D “bird view” mode just by toggling one of the steering wheel buttons.

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DAB radio and Bluetooth are standard features, and the iPod connector is handily placed in the storage box on top of the driver’s side dashboard. Our test car also had an optional 230v power converter, complete with standard three-pin plug socket mounted down by the handbrake, Very useful if you want to run a full-sized vacuum cleaner or pressure washer when you need to freshen up the car.

The dashboard is rounded and finished in high-grade, soft-touch plastics, just like a car, in fact!  Indeed, the package should satisfy those private hire operators who have been calling out for a bigger Ford Galaxy – Tourneo Custom is a genuine seven-seater with ample luggage space.

Loadspace

The version we’re testing here is a long-wheelbase 2.2-litre TDCi Custom. Two wheelbases are available: a 2,933mm short wheelbase version (4.97m overall), and a 3,300mm LWB version, (5.34m overall). The long-wheelbase version is the one to go for, as the additional length translates into extra luggage space behind the third seat row. Our full-size red test suitcase case can be loaded lengthways – so there’s less chance of it falling out when you open the tailgate than if you had to stack it vertically.

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Indeed, cargo space with the third row of seats in use is a whopping 1,447 litres on the LWB Tourneo Custom, which costs £890 more than the SWB. However, even the SWB version has plenty of space - its 922 litre capacity is pretty impressive.

Passenger compartment

Our test car has Limited trim level, so it gets beige-fronted leather seats, which contrast well with the charcoal grey interior; full air conditioning front and rear, sat-nav, and some neat parking aids – of which more later. It’s been designed to be a flexible eight-seater people-carrier – in fact the test vehicle could seat nine, as it has a two-seater front passenger bench, which would put it outside the private hire rules. This is an optional extra though – a single passenger seat is standard.

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The rear cabin is configured with three rows of three – again, these are split seats, with a double unit and a single, giving a good degree of flexibility. Each of the three-seat rows is configured as single and dual seat sections that can each fold separately, and are light enough to be removed easily. The folding mechanism allows the seat backs to fold flat, creating a work area or picnic tray, and then tumble forward completely, so they can be stored vertically, thus releasing extra floor space for luggage.

In total, the two rear seat rows can be adjusted into over 30 different permutations, enabling the rear compartment to be configured for each journey to suit any combination of passengers and luggage. All seating positions provide integral 3-point lap and shoulder style seat belts.

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The seats are removable, turning Tourneo Custom into a substantial van. Access to the rear compartment is via twin sliding side doors as standard, and a hinged tailgate is fitted as standard at the rear, rather than side-hinged Transit doors. Carpeted floors and flush-fitted trim panels give the feel of a car-derived MPV. Other passenger car features, like side window blinds integrated into the door trim, are available as an option. 

This level of specification makes Tourneo ideal as a large private hire vehicle, well suited for taking families with luggage to the airport, or taking groups of people for a night out in town. But for all its virtues, Tourneo Custom isn’t quite ready to tackle the more up-market jobs that you might find handled by a Viano, or increasingly by a Caravelle.

That’s because the two German brands offer a more luxurious version of their vans, with individual captain’s chairs in the back that can swivel to conference position, with the addition of a removable table creating a mobile office for business clients.

Ford does have this in hand – and is promising to preview such a ‘Business’ derivative of the Tourneo at the forthcoming Commercial Vehicle Show in Birmingham next month.

On the road

Under the bonnet is a new version of Ford’s familiar 2.2-litre Duratorq TDCi diesel engine. This Euro V-compliant powertrain was fitted to the current Transit/Tourneo range a year or so ago, bringing about a significant improvement in smoothness and refinement, which carries over to the new model.

When we drove the Tourneo in Europe last year we were struck by the quiet nature of the powertrain. That impression hasn’t changed, with well-matched gear ratios of the six-speed manual gearbox – there’s no auto as yet - giving smooth acceleration up to the speed-limited 70mph motorway cruising speed without the revs needing to break the 2,000rpm barrier. Cruising speed is achieved at 1,500rpm. It feels stable at speed too, and being less slab-sided than its predecessor it’s seems untroubled by crosswinds.

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It’s manoeuvrable round town too, and although the nose is longer, the front corners are very much more rounded, making the Tourneo Custom easier to park. The test vehicle had both an audible and visual “park pilot” system on the sat-nav screen, which pops up as a window on the screen when you’re manoeuvring.

In addition, Tourneo Custom has a wonderful reversing camera display mounted in the rear-view mirror. This gives pin-sharp graphics and disappears completely when you move out of reverse gear.

The suspension struggled a little more with the potholes of Surrey compared to the smooth tarmac of Munich, but ride is still less bouncy than the old model, and steering is accurate and light around town.

Our test vehicle also has the most powerful of the three Duratorq 2.2 engine options – 155PS, with 285Nm of torque. This is a better bet than the 100PS or 125PS versions, as the combined fuel consumption of 45.6mpg and CO2 emissions of 172g/km are the same on all variants. The extra power is worth having, especially when you’re carrying six adult passengers and their bags.

Finally, the Tourneo Custom also comfortably complies with most car park height limits, as it is less than 2m high. This ability is retained when the vehicle is fitted with the innovative deployable integrated roof rack system, which can be lowered flush with the roof when not in use.

Verdict

The large MPV segment is dominated by vehicles at either ends of the spectrum – the up-market Mercedes Viano is the market leader for chauffeurs, but many private hire firms opt for the cheaper Korean minivans, notably the big and practical Hyundai i800 or the quirky-but0-cheap SsangYong Rodius.

Our test Tourneo Custom is a top-of-the-range model, priced at £33,495 but with an extra £3,300 or so of extras making it closer in price to a Viano than a Hyundai i800. But it’s versatile enough to handle both executive work and family holiday airport runs.

And with Ford promising a Viano-rivalling ‘Business Edition’ at the CV Show in April, complete with vital conference seating, Tourneo looks well placed to compete at both ends of the large MPV private hire and chauffeur sector.

It’s very well finished, with an extremely car-like cabin, and comfortable, flexible seats. The availability of a LWB version makes it a genuine seven-passengers-plus-luggage vehicle, increasingly important to have on your fleet.

It’s well specified too, and probably the most competent panel van-derived MPV we’ve driven in terms of ride and handling. It’s a shame there’s no automatic – we’d like to see the double-clutch auto transmission from the Galaxy on the Tourneo Custom.


 

DATA

Ford Tourneo Custom Limited 2.2 TDCi LWB
Price £33,495
Extras
Metallic Paint £480
ICE Feature Pack II £828
Front Seat Pack 37 £780
Visibility Pack Premium £1,182
Power Converter (230 volts) £36
Powertrain 2.2-litre turbodiesel, front-wheel drive
Max Power 155PS @ 3,500rpm
Max Torque 385Nm @ 1,600rpm
Max speed 98mph (limited to 70mph)
Combined fuel economy 45.6mpg
CO2 Emissions 172g/km
Boot capacity 1,447litres
Length 5,339mm
Width 1,986mm
Height 1,978mm
Wheelbase 3,300mm
Fuel tank 80 litres
Turning circle 12.8m
Service interval 2 years/30,000 miles

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