Fleet News

Long term test: Ford Transit 125 T350

For starters the vehicles are always new, with rarely more than delivery mileage on the clock, and also we never know quite what bits of secret tweakery have been perpetrated by the various manufacturers before the vans reach us.

I’m not suggesting that anything underhand goes on, but let’s just say our test vehicles have been very carefully inspected before we get them.

So, driving nothing but brand new vans week in, week out, I was shocked recently when I hired a 3.5-tonner from a local rental firm to find what a state it was in, even though it was only nine months old.

I won’t mention which particular model it was, but it shook, it rattled, it squeaked – and using the gearstick was a bit like stirring a Christmas pudding.

Time, I thought, for a long-term test model. By keeping a vehicle for six months and subjecting it to some of the rigours of a normal fleet life, we would really get to see what was what.

And what better vehicle to start with than the undisputed king of panel vans, the Ford Transit.

Ford was happy to help out and within a week of the request, we were furnished with a shiny new 3.5-tonner with just 400 miles on the clock.

This Transit is a medium wheelbase, medium-roof version tipping the scales at 3.5-tonnes gross vehicle weight, which is the top end of the Transit scale. Under the bonnet is Ford’s 2.0-litre common-rail TDCi powerplant offering a meaty 125bhp and torque of 210lb-ft. It isn’t the most powerful Transit on the road – there is a new 135bhp version now – but it will be plenty fast enough for our testers.

Step aboard and it soon becomes clear that this is no ordinary Transit. It comes with all the extras you can think of, including metallic paint, full steel bulkhead, reversing alarm, electric windows and mirrors, air conditioning, foglights and a CD player – many items that would have been restricted to cars not long ago.

This van is so well specced that I’m seriously considering putting in an offer for it when it is time for it to go back to its maker next January – I doubt there is another like it on the roads.

Not only will the vehicle be driven by the Fleet Van staff, but some of the testers from sister title Fleet News will be taking a turn behind the wheel, many of whom have driven nothing bigger in their lives than a Volkswagen Passat. So I was relieved to see that the van had a reversing alarm.

I also laid down some firm ground rules about what the vehicle could be used for. I don’t mind the odd bit of furniture removal and even taking an old gas cooker to the city dump but the transportation of horse manure and suchlike has been strictly banned.

This might seem strange but several of the Fleet News staff are keen gardeners and I wouldn’t put it past them to try and snaffle a ton or so of the old merde du chevaux aboard when I wasn’t looking.

I shall also be keeping a strict log of who had the van on which day, in the event that a speeding ticket comes winging its way in my direction. Gosh, it’s almost like being a real fleet manager!

So how has the Transit performed in its first few weeks? Admirably well. Hardly a day goes by without someone wanting to borrow it and, to a man and woman, they have all praised its car-like driving qualities.

The van has a full bulkhead so there is no chance of using the rear door windows while manoeuvring. Nevertheless, none of the testers have been fazed by that. ‘It’s just like driving a big car,’ they said.

As various people use the van, it is fast becoming full of those little bits and pieces that prove invaluable to an operator. One tester left a road atlas in the cab, another left some large cardboard panels which are handy for slotting in between pieces of furniture to stop them rubbing together and I finished things off with a couple of blankets and a few pieces of stout rope for covering and tying-in loads.

When the cardboard isn’t being used for protection, it makes a nice covering for the floor to stop it getting scuffed.

Just two weeks after its arrival at Fleet Towers, I put the Transit to its first big test. This involved driving from my home in Peterborough to Brighton, picking up some furniture and boxes from my cousin’s house and taking them to her daughter’s new home in Bournemouth – then home again.

This round trip of 500 miles would not only help loosen up the engine but would show up any shortcomings in the ergonomics department. Let’s first talk about all the little ‘extras’ on our Transit. How many operators would choose them, for example, and how many are really necessary?

At the risk of being accused of advocating unnecessary expenditure, I would rate most of the ‘extras’ as not extra at all, but all features that a modern van driver should be entitled to have.

Who could baulk at providing a CD player? Air conditioning will make the driver not only cooler but safer too and that Quickclear windscreen will really come into its own in winter. How many van drivers do you see hammering down the road with just a little island of clear space in their screens amid a sea of frost? That can’t be safe, can it?

Sadly, many vans will be bought by fleets in their bog standard format so it is full marks to Ford for at least offering as standard a driver’s airbag and ABS brakes.

One item I am not too impressed with is the driver’s seat, which is the six-way adjustable variety with an arm on the left. The squab isn’t long enough for my spindly legs and the rear section pushes into my shoulder blades, while there is no lumbar support at all. I felt no back twinges at all after my 500-mile sojourn but I tended to sit hunched over the wheel rather than with my back straight and that can’t be a good position to be in day in, day out.

This problem apart, the Transit has performed like a star.

You might expect the engine to be tight as a drum with so few miles under its belt, but it already feels wonderfully free-revving and offers huge amounts of grunt right up the rev range. Several times while flying down the A1M toward the Dartford Tunnel, I had to check my speed as it crept up towards the: ‘Who do you think you are, sonny – Stirling Moss?’ zone.

To tell the truth, I believe I came a cropper on the A23 just outside Brighton when I thrashed past a mobile speed camera at 70mph. I was forgetting that vans over 2.0 tonnes can only legally drive 10mph lower than the car speed limit except on motorways, so I am half expecting to hear from East Sussex police.

Once at my cousin’s house, the loading proved a doddle. The van has a rubber floor (an optional extra at £150), which means the six load-lashing eyes are sunk into the floor. This means items of furniture can be slid in and out without catching on the lugs.

My bits of carboard, rope and blanket all came in useful to protect the larger pieces of furniture, while my cousin’s boxes of detritus were wedged all round to make a secure load. I’d say the van was well over half loaded for the final 100-mile leg of the journey to Bournemouth but it made not a jot of difference to the handling.

Despite its size, the Transit happily threw itself into corners with gusto and even some high winds on the coast road didn’t worry it unduly.

The following day, it was a relatively quick blast up the M3, round the M25, up the A1 and I was home again.

A quick check on the fuel economy figures showed that so far the Transit is returning a creditable 28.61 miles per gallon, which is not at all bad considering most of the miles so far have been fast motorway ones.

We’ll be reporting how the Transit is faring in each issue of Fleet Van. So far, we are more than impressed.

Gross vehicle weight (kg): 3,500
Payload (kg): 1,652
Load volume (cubic metres): 13.9
Max power (bhp): 125/3,800
Max torque (lb-ft/rpm): 210/1,500-2,200
Prices (excluding VAT): £19,100
Optional extras: executive pack (CD player, power windows, power/heated mirrors, front foglights, Quickclear screen, second keyfob) £550; Security pack (perimeter alarm, full width unglazed bulkhead, rear parking sensor) £350; load area protection kit (full length bonded rubber mat, heavy duty trim boards) £150; passenger airbag £150; air conditioning £800
Total price (excluding VAT): £21,100

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  • drew strange - 14/10/2015 21:29

    what "s the gross train weight of this van

  • dave - 15/10/2015 00:26

    The inner dimensions are a must - length, width and height would have made so much sense and improved the article.

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