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Ford Transit Custom 2023 review: Sport 320S SWB - GVM test

The Transit Custom Sport is a capable one-tonner and all-around workhorse. (Image: Mark Oastler)

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Most buyers of mid-sized (2.5- to 3.5-tonne GVM) vans want them purely as workhorses and often as part of hard-working fleets.

Although these cuboid-shaped commercials are usually available in a limited choice of colours (take your pick from fridge white or freezer white) they are well designed for such roles.

However, for van buyers wanting to project more of a sporty image than the usual whitegoods-on-wheels, there’s Ford’s Transit Custom Sport. It’s been around for a few years now, so we recently put one to the test for a week to see if it’s still worthy of its unique ‘Sport’ title.

Price and features – Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?

Our test vehicle is the Transit Custom Sport 320S SWB, which translates to 3200kg GVM (it’s actually 3100kg), S for Sport and SWB for Short Wheelbase.

It’s available only with Ford’s 2.0-litre 'EcoBlue', four-cylinder turbo-diesel and six-speed automatic for a list price of $50,390 plus on-road costs.

Our example is finished in 'Blue Metallic' which is one of six optional premium colours that cost an additional $700. Other standard equipment for Sport buyers includes Bi-Xenon HID headlights with static bending and LED daytime running lights, body-coloured side mirrors and unique Cobra-style matt black body stripes and side decals.

The Sport wears 17-inch machined alloys. (Image: Mark Oastler) The Sport wears 17-inch machined alloys. (Image: Mark Oastler)

There’s also a neat body kit with body-coloured front and rear bumpers, side skirts and wheel-arch flares; the latter neatly shrouds the black 17-inch machined alloys and grippy 215/65 R17 Michelin Agilis tyres. Stored underneath is a full-size steel spare.

The cabin can seat up to three on leather-appointed and heated seating, enhanced by a 10-way power-adjustable driver’s bucket seat with fold-down inboard armrest.

There's also a hard-wearing 'Sensico' (synthetic leather) steering wheel with height/reach adjustment and classy chrome air-vent surrounds with contrasting piano black fascia highlights on the dash.

Four-speaker multimedia includes an 8.0-inch touchscreen control and multiple connectivity including Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, Sync3, DAB+ digital radio, and more.

Design – Is there anything interesting about its design?

The Sport enhances the purposeful styling of the Transit Custom, which, with its wedge-shaped character lines, trapezoidal grille and swept-back headlights, is still arguably Australia’s best-looking commercial van after more than a decade in local showrooms.

Although some may find the twin racing stripes too in-ya-face, the overall effect of the Sport’s unique body enhancements and larger 17-inch alloys with lower profile tyres is one of cheeky rebellion against commercial van conservatism.

Only the Transit Custom’s handsome lines could get away with this. Can you imagine how a HiAce would respond to this treatment?

The Sport enhances the purposeful styling of the Transit Custom. (Image: Mark Oastler) The Sport enhances the purposeful styling of the Transit Custom. (Image: Mark Oastler)

Even so, the Sport retains the excellent design features that make it such a good workhorse, including the sealed steel bulkhead that separates the cargo bay and cabin. This not only serves as a robust cargo barrier but also insulates the cabin from cargo bay noise, which in some commercial vans without a bulkhead can be unbearable at highway speeds.

Its front-wheel drive chassis platform has MacPherson strut front suspension, leaf-spring beam axle rear suspension, four-wheel disc brakes, power-assisted rack and pinion steering and a compact 2933mm wheelbase that provides a competitive 11.8-metre turning circle.

Our test vehicle is fitted with the standard LHS sliding load-door and twin rear barn-doors, but optional body configurations include a window in the LHS sliding load-door, dual side load-doors with or without windows and a rear swing-up tailgate.

Under the bonnet – What are the key stats for its engine and transmission?

Originally the Sport’s 2.0-litre EcoBlue four-cylinder turbo-diesel engine was tweaked for more power (+11kW) and torque (+15Nm) than the standard engine, as you’d expect.

However, given that availability of that unique variant ended in June 2022, it now shares the same engine as the standard Transit Custom.

While not class-leading, it still provides an energetic 125kW at 3500rpm and ample 390Nm of torque between 1500-2000rpm.

Under the Sport's bonnet is a 2.0-litre 'EcoBlue', four-cylinder turbo-diesel engine. (Image: Mark Oastler) Under the Sport's bonnet is a 2.0-litre 'EcoBlue', four-cylinder turbo-diesel engine. (Image: Mark Oastler)

It also meets Euro emissions standards using AdBlue with SCR (Selective Catalytic Reduction) and offers a choice of Normal and Eco drive modes, plus an auto engine stop-start function which thankfully can be switched off.

The Sport also shares the same six-speed torque converter automatic used in the standard Transit Custom with ‘intelligent’ electronic protocols that monitor different driving styles, gradients and loads to optimise engine efficiency.

It also offers the choice of sequential manual shifting, but that’s done by flicking a small toggle switch on the side of the gearshift which doesn’t feel very sporty to use.

Efficiency – What is its fuel consumption? What is its driving range?

Ford claims an official combined average of 8.0L/100km and the Sport’s dash display was showing 8.4 at the end of our 200km test, which was conducted without a load in normal mode with the engine stop/start function switched off.

Our own figure calculated from actual fuel bowser and trip meter readings came in at a higher 10.2 which is within the usual 1.0-2.0L/100km discrepancy usually found between dash figures and our own.

So, based on our figures, you could expect a realistic driving range of around 680km from its 70-litre tank.

Practicality – How practical is its space and tech inside?

With its 2064kg kerb weight and 3100kg GVM, the Sport offers a one-tonne-plus payload rating of 1036kg.

Handily, up to 130kg of that can be carried on the smartest of roof storage systems, comprising a trio of sturdy hinged racks which lie flat against the roof when not in use but can be quickly swung up and locked into vertical positions for load carrying.

It’s also rated to tow up to 1600kg of braked trailer. However, to do that without exceeding the 4100kg GCM (or how much it can legally carry and tow at the same time) would require a sizeable and impractical 600kg reduction in payload from 1036kg to only 436kg.

More than half of that 436kg could be used up by the weight of three big crew members alone before you could think about loading anything in the cargo bay.

The Sport offers a one-tonne-plus payload rating of 1036kg. (Image: Mark Oastler) The Sport offers a one-tonne-plus payload rating of 1036kg. (Image: Mark Oastler)

So, from practical experience, we reckon it’s best to base tow ratings on a vehicle’s GVM. In this case, the maximum tow rating drops from 1600kg to 1000kg, but the payback is you get to keep the full 1036kg payload which is safer when towing and generally more useful.

The Sport’s cargo bay offers a competitive 6.0 cubic metres of load volume and with its 2555mm load floor length and 1351mm between the rear wheel housings, it can carry either two 1165mm-square standard Aussie pallets or up to the three 1200 x 800mm or 1200 x 1000mm Euro pallets.

Both types of pallets can be forklifted through the rear barn-doors with their 180-degree opening, but only the narrower Euro pallet could be loaded through the sliding side door with its 1030mm-wide opening.

The load floor length can be extended by almost half a metre via a swing-up hatch at the base of the cabin bulkhead, which accesses otherwise empty storage space beneath the front passenger seats. This useful feature allows extra-long items like lengths of timber, copper/PVC pipe, rolls of carpet, etc, to be carried.

Plentiful cabin storage includes a large-bottle holder in each front door. (Image: Mark Oastler) Plentiful cabin storage includes a large-bottle holder in each front door. (Image: Mark Oastler)

The cargo bay has eight load-anchorage points and the load floor is protected by a tough vinyl covering. The walls and doors are lined plus there’s a handy 12-volt power outlet and bright LED lighting.

Plentiful cabin storage includes three levels of bins and a large-bottle holder in each front door plus upper/lower bottle holders on each side of the dash and a pop-out cupholder beneath the gearshift. There’s also a single A4-sized glovebox and more bins set into the top of the dash.

 Overhead is another cubby for small items and hidden beneath the two passenger seats is a cavernous storage area (when the cargo bay’s load-through hatch is closed of course) which is accessed from above through the hinged base cushions.

The centre seat’s backrest also folds forward to reveal a handy ‘mobile office’ work desk with pen holder, elastic strap for securing documents and two more cupholders.

Driving – What's it like to drive?

For a one-tonne van it’s surprisingly engaging (dare we say sporty?) to drive with torquey engine response, communicative steering and a bolstered driving seat that provides good lateral support of the upper body.

The quartet of disc brakes provides ample stopping power and the well-planted chassis on its larger diameter and lower profile Michelins responds vigorously to steering input, which makes it enjoyable to drive either when zipping through traffic or cruising on the open road. Overall refinement is good with low engine, tyre and wind noise.

It’s a comfortable highway hauler, with gearing that keeps engine rpm capped at a leisurely 2100rpm at 110km/h.

The fold-down inboard armrest is much appreciated on long hauls, but driving comfort could be further improved with a longer base cushion for better under-thigh support.

 All-round vision is as good as you could ask for, given a huge blind-spot over the driver’s left shoulder created by the cabin bulkhead.

The door mirrors are large enough to provide good views down both side of the van, aided by the bottom third of each being fitted with a wide-angle view.

Driving comfort could be further improved with a longer base cushion for better under-thigh support. (Image: Mark Oastler) Driving comfort could be further improved with a longer base cushion for better under-thigh support. (Image: Mark Oastler)

Combined with other active driver aids like blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, parking sensors, reversing camera, etc, the working van’s traditional danger zones are well monitored which makes the Sport easy to live with if you drive it daily.

As the forklift was temporarily out of action, we didn’t conduct our usual GVM test with the Sport during this review. However, we have previously tested one with a 1030kg payload which was right on its maximum payload rating.

The rear suspension only compressed about 40mm which left plenty of bump-stop clearance and resulted in an even more planted feel on the road with no significant effect on engine, steering and braking response.

It also resulted in a smoother ride quality, which is to be expected given that the much heavier sprung weight ironed out bumps and other road irregularities.

Safety – What safety equipment is fitted? What is its safety rating?

Although its maximum five-star rating was achieved when the current Transit Custom generation was launched more than a decade ago, Ford to its credit has continually updated the van’s safety menu to ensure it has remained at the cutting edge of occupant protection, despite its impending demise.

Ownership – What warranty is offered? What are its service intervals? What are its running costs?

The Sport, like all Transit Customs we’ve tested, is a capable one-tonner and all-around workhorse even though it's not quite as sporty these days due to engine revisions. With an all-new Transit Custom range due later this year, we’re not sure if a Sport will be part of the model mix. So, if you like the look of this rebel, we’re sure run-out deals will soon be available.


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Disclaimer: The pricing information shown in the editorial content (Review Prices) is to be used as a guide only and is based on information provided to Carsguide Autotrader Media Solutions Pty Ltd (Carsguide) both by third party sources and the car manufacturer at the time of publication. The Review Prices were correct at the time of publication.  Carsguide does not warrant or represent that the information is accurate, reliable, complete, current or suitable for any particular purpose. You should not use or rely upon this information without conducting an independent assessment and valuation of the vehicle.