Fleet News

First drive: Ford Transit 135

FORD has joined the high horsepower market with the introduction of a 135 bhp diesel version of its rear- wheel drive 2.4-litre Transit. Or rather it hasn't, for instead of power, Ford prefers to talk about torque.

In the grand scheme of things, where other manufacturers are regularly offering more than 150bhp in their 3.5-tonne vans, Ford's move from 125bhp to 135bhp might seem somewhat too little, too late for a range-topping engine. But that's not the case. The max-bhp figure is not going to set the world alight, but the torque, all 275lb-ft of it, is going to be rippling Tarmac.

Take, for example, Mercedes-Benz's 156bhp Sprinter. A headline-grabbing power figure, but only 243lb-ft of torque. Ford's 135bhp engine has a full 66lb-ft more than the 125bhp diesel it replaces.

Part of the reason why manufacturers have gone the route of power over torque is that they haven't had the gearboxes available to handle the extra turning effort. The same has been true for Ford, until now. Along with the 135bhp engine, Ford is introducing the first fruits of its joint venture with transmission firm Getrag, in the shape of a new six-speed MT82 gearbox.

With a central bearing to prevent flexing of the internal shafts, the MT82 can handle up to 80% more torque than the firm's trusty MT75, which is retained for lesser engines.

To cope with the additional torque, the company is also offering two new rear axles, one aimed at heavyweight urban use, the other at economical high-speed travel.

Ford has achieved the 135bhp through the adoption of high pressure common rail fuel injection for its top 2.4-litre motor. The TDCi engine uses the same technology as the Focus and Mondeo TDCi engines already in use, with a Delphi fuel pump providing up to 1,600 bar of injection pressure.

To provide enough air for that fuel to burn in, Ford has adopted a variable geometry turbocharger, jointly developed with Mitsubishi.

The engine is the first rear- wheel drive Transit motor to come with hydromounts, which can be fine tuned to reduce noise and vibration. It also gets a dual-mass flywheel to further lower vibration in the driveline.

The 135bhp engine signals the start of a complete revision of Ford's van engine range. The 125bhp motor is replaced by a further new diesel, offering 115bhp, though it is retained in the Durashift automated manual gearshift van.

Though the 115bhp TDdi obviously has 10bhp less than the engine it replaces, it has the same 209lb-ft of torque, so there should be little change in driving feel. Ford's commercial vehicle marketing manager Jon Fisher says the new line-up will see a broader spread of sales.

Traditionally, 75% of rear- wheel drive Transits have been fitted with the base model 90bhp engine, the other 25% buying the higher-powered 125bhp engine. Fisher expects a greater migration up the power scale with the new motors, settling at 40% of rear- wheel drives using the 90bhp engine, 40% in the 115bhp and 20% opting for the 135bhp.

However he eventually sees the 115bhp engine taking on the mantle of the most popular. He said: 'We see this becoming the engine of choice at 3.5 tonnes.'

The 115bhp engine carries a £600 premium over the 90bhp, while the 135bhp, complete with its new six-speed gearbox, costs £1,350 more than the 90bhp base model. Fleet managers will have to closely examine the needs of their companies to decide where to spend their money. One thing to be aware of though, come resale time the higher horsepower models do tend to retain much of the additional entry cost in terms of residual values.

Behind the wheel

We took the 135bhp Transit out on the autobahn and up into the hills around Munich for a day-long drive. The first impression was instantly how quiet and refined the new engine was. From tick-over right up to the higher reaches of the rev range, the motor was smooth and the noise subdued.

In the past, when Transit engines have become more refined, the focus of attention has turned to the somewhat rattly gear-lever. But this was not the case with the Getrag six-speeder. It was fingertip light and very direct, slipping easily across the double gate.

Reverse gear is forward and to the left of the first-second plane. This wasn't a problem though as you have to push quite hard to get the lever across enough to drop into reverse, so there should be few cases of inadvertently choosing the wrong direction. If this did happen though, Ford has fitted the box with an audible alarm that bleeps at you when you select reverse.

On the motorway, the Transit is a flyer. Fleet managers concerned about speeding tickets should take note, the 135bhp van, even with a 70% load, simply picked up and went from any speed. Even well beyond our domestic speed limit, the van was happy to pull out and accelerate further.

The real joy of the engine though was, as Ford suggests, in its torque. Despite having one more ratio to play with, it was easy to become lazy and just let that engine pull from virtually any revs. On the hillier sections of the route it was a real pleasure to just surge up steep grades, with little need to change down at all.

The 135bhp engine, along with its six-speed box, finally puts Ford on a par with some of the more highly-powered vans on the market, in terms of torque at least. The engine is smooth, quiet and refined, offering perhaps the most car-like driving experience yet available in a Transit.

Driving verdict

You'll have to see if the sums add up for your operation, but if you need to haul at full load, or want to have the ability to pound the motorways, there are few better ways to go about it.

Jumbo models brought in-house

Ford will introduce a new version of its Jumbo Transit in June this year. The Jumbo will finally become a production model, rather than having its high roof fitted out of the factory. With gross vehicle weights of 3.5 tonnes and 4.25 tonnes, Ford expects to see higher available payloads, as the new roof will require less internal structure.

With a 4.1-metre load length the Jumbo should carry at least 2,010kg payload, which has to be confirmed during testing prior to the on-sale date. CV marketing manager Jon Fisher said: 'With the 135bhp engine we've now got an ideal urban and cruising vehicle. We've got an unbeatable package for couriers.'

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