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A van to get passionate about


So can you become enthusiastic about something as seemingly boring and subdued as a van?

Well, yes, when it happens to come with the sort of heritage, character and cast iron reputation of the Ford Transit.

Disregard the fact that vans are extremely useful – and no one should – and you’re left with a vehicle that is also impressive to drive in its latest form.

The Transit is an institution, and as British as they come. It’s unlikely that any other British-sourced motor vehicle sold new in New Zealand is as English.

The roomy Ford was designed at Dunton in Essex; the engines are made at Dagenham where the old Zephyrs and Consuls originated; the gearboxes are manufactured in Hailwood near Liverpool (home of the old Escort and Capri); and the whole machine comes together in Southampton, where Transit is assembled.

Transit is not all Blighty, however, because Ford is a multi-national company and shares its successes around.

The Transit is also built in Portugal, Turkey, Vietnam, Malaysia and China. My test example came with Korean tyres.

Now in its seventh generation, it’s been the best-selling commercial vehicle in Britain since it was launched 42 years ago, capturing 30 per cent of the medium commercial vehicle market and outselling its competitors three to one.

Ford sold 93,000 Transits in Britain last year, and offers them in three wheelbases, three roof heights, four body length choices and four engine alternatives.
I’m not finished. Apparently in Britain buyers have 500 Transit model choices and 160 colours. Can that second bit be right?

In New Zealand the choice is clearly not as comprehensive, but we can choose from 15 Transits, ranging from the $42,790 330S low roof to the $62,390 12-seater bus.
Last year’s new model Transit was much more than a facelift.

The same ingenious platform allows either front or rear-wheel drive, and a four-wheel drive version is available in Europe.

The 2.2-litre common rail diesel engine was developed in conjunction with the French PSA Group and is fitted to front-wheel drive variants.

In New Zealand the range has been rationalised to the 2.4-litre turbodiesel, rear-wheel drive models, and a choice of five or six-speed manual transmissions.

More recently, Ford in Europe has announced a 3.2-litre, five-cylinder inline diesel producing a cracking 148kW and 470Nm of torque.

Our 2.4-litre diesel, which complies with Euro 4 regulations, develops 103kW and 375Nm – a useful increase on the 2.2-litre diesel’s 74kW and 285Nm.

The high top, long wheelbase T350 test vehicle was massive.
A Jumbo Transit is 6403mm long, compared to 5680mm for a mid model and a mere 4863mm for a short-wheelbase.

Though Japanese vans all tend to be similar, the Transit has its own character, not only in looks, but the way it drives.

Vertically-oriented headlights, a strong two-bar grille and huge double door mirrors dominate the bold, macho cab styling.

In its latest guise the Transit has a new dashboard, revised steering and improved pedal positioning. There’s a six-way adjustable driver’s seat, and gloveboxes and large pockets galore.

The cockpit is great, with heaps of neat features like rails in the large main glovebox on which A4 files can be hung.

Entry and exit is hampered slightly by the lack of a door grab handle but, once aboard, cab occupants feel as though they’ve truly arrived.

Windows are non-electric but that doesn’t matter since air-conditioning is standard. Central door locking, a CD player and headlight levelling are standard.

There’s no sign of an ashtray but a 12-volt power socket is there to charge the mobile phone.

Despite its immense size, the Transit feels remarkably nimble and controllable. The gearbox is slick and the 16-valve turbocharged diesel is responsive.

Cruising along at 100kmh in sixth gear, the TDCi diesel spins at a modest 2400rpm, and typical urban fuel consumption of 11.6 litres/100km (24.3mpg) is impressive. An 80-litre fuel tank guarantees a good range.

Suspension is conventional enough, with front MacPherson struts and leaf springs at the rear. Sixteen-inch diameter steel wheels are standard with a choice of 215/75 or 185/75 size tyres.

Handling is well sorted, and there are no complaints about the van’s stability, or the feel of the assisted steering. Add highly supportive seating – three across the front – and you have an extremely comfortable van.
Four years ago ABS with EBD became standard on all Transits, which now have four-wheel disc brakes.

Ford talks of an in-service life of 240,000km.
When it comes to load carrying, the world is your oyster, especially with those large sliding doors.  

That much used word icon is surely applicable to the Transit.

Many of us have Transit memories. I drove one around Europe and to the north of a snowy Scotland in the early 1970s, and it never missed a beat.
They reckon if you haven’t driven one, you’ve been driven mad by one.

Auto Trader New Zealand