First Drive - Ford Tourneo Custom Limited 2.2 TDCi LWB - Tour de force
Ford’s Transit van is famously billed as “the Backbone of Britain”. In the 47 years since the first, utilitarian Transits were sold, it’s evolved into the unquestioned market leader for everyone needing to shift stuff around – from delivery drivers to builders to touring rock bands.
But the Ford Transit has evolved massively in that near-half-century. Along the way, Ford has quietly developed a passenger-carrying variant, called Tourneo. And with the new-generation Transit range being prepared for sale toward the end of the year, Ford Tourneo is about to raise its own game, and present a serious challenge to the leading up-market van-based MPVs, such as the Mercedes-Benz Viano and the Volkswagen Caravelle.
The latest generation of Transits form two distinct models. Smaller, front-drive vans are now called Ford Transit Custom – a revival of the original 1965 nameplate – while those above 2 tonnes and rear-wheel drive are simply called Ford Transit. Tourneo is part of the front-drive range – hence its official name, Ford Tourneo Custom.
Exterior and interior styling
The new-look ‘Custom’ models are a radical shift from the current, boxy Transit range. They’re much more curvaceous, with a longer, more rounded nose with bold headlights and 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.
If the outside looks different, wait until you see the cab. The old Ford Transit/Tourneo was designed like a workplace, with flat surfaces and plenty of shelves and storage pockets. The new model is, simply, designed like a car. The storage compartments are still there, but they’re concealed within a car-like dashboard. It’s like sitting at the wheel of a taller Ford Focus – indeed, even the instrument cluster and centre console look like they’ve been lifted straight from Ford’s best-selling hatchback and scaled up slightly to fit in a van.
The only downside is the sat-nav display, which is a little small, and housed in a dark recess at the top of the dashboard. A bigger screen wouldn’t go amiss.
The dashboard is rounded and finished in high-grade, soft-touch plastics. Just like a car, in fact, which will go down well with chauffeurs and private hire operators who love the Ford Galaxy, but are crying out for something bigger – a genuine seven-seater with ample luggage space.
The Ford Tourneo Custom has been designed to be a flexible people-carrier. Access to the rear compartment is via twin sliding side doors as standard, with running boards below the doors which provide improved low level step access. A hinged tailgate is fitted as standard at the rear.
The two rear seat rows in the Tourneo Custom use a new and innovative design that enables the seats to be folded into multiple configurations and removed, either in segments or completely.
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.
In the rear compartment, carpeted floors and stylish flush-fitted trim panels are similar to those typically found in a modern car-derived MPV. Other passenger car features, like side window blinds integrated into the door trim, are available as an option. Top-of-the-range models have optional full leather upholstery in dark grey or medium stone colours.
Two wheelbases are available: a 2,933mm short wheelbase version (4.97m overall length), and a 3,300mm LWB version, with 5.34m overall length. The long-wheelbase version is the one to go for, as the additional length translates into extra luggage space behind the third seat row. So deep that a full-size Samsonite case can be loaded lengthways – so less chance of it falling out when you open the tailgate.
The long wheelbase version, which costs £890 more than the SWB, increases the cargo space to 1,447 litres with the third row of seats in use. Even the SWB version has plenty of space - its 922-litre capacity is enough to cope with most passengers’ needs.
Importantly, 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.
On the road
Under the bonnet is a tweaked 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.
The installation is very quiet, and the well-matched ratios mean 70mph motorway cruising in sixth is achieved without the engine needing to rev above 1,500rpm. It feels stable at speed too, and being less slab-sided than its predecessor it’s seems untroubled by crosswinds.
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. Ride is excellent, much less bouncy than the old model, and while steering isn’t quite as pin-sharp as a Galaxy, it’s remarkable to consider that this is basically a van under the skin. It doesn’t drive like one.
The Duratorq 2.2 comes with three power ratings: 100PS, 125PS and 155PS, all powering the front wheels via a six-speed manual transmission and standard auto Start/Stop. The powertrain delivers class-leading claimed combined fuel consumption of 43.4mpg and 172g/km CO2 emissions.
For the new model, the engine has been further optimised to improve fuel economy, driveability and emissions. There is a completely new engine calibration to suit the unique characteristics of the vehicle, minimising fuel consumption and enhancing torque output and responsiveness. Service intervals have been extended to two years or 30,000 miles, which will help with total cost of ownership.
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 Koreans, notably the big and practical Hyundai i800.
The Tourneo Custom is available to order now, with prices starting at £28,285 and topping out at £33,495. It’s a lot more expensive than a Hyundai i800, but a fair bit cheaper than a Viano. And it’s versatile enough to handle both executive work and family holiday airport runs.
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 we can’t really fault the drive – it’s probably the most competent panel van-derived MPV we’ve driven in terms of ride and handling. Shame there’s no automatic – we’d like to see the super-smooth double-clutch auto transmission from the Galaxy on the Tourneo Custom.
Fuel economy and running costs are low, and Fords tend to have strong residuals, which might help with contract hire rates. Maybe the only obstacle this vehicle will face is the blue oval on the front – in all other respects it’s at least the match for its rivals.
Ford Tourneo Custom Limited 2.2 TDCi LWB
Powertrain2.2-litre turbodiesel, front-wheel drive
Max Power155PS @ 3,500rpm
Max Torque385Nm @ 1,600rpm
Combined fuel economy43.4mpg
Service interval2 years/30,000 miles