Imagine you’re in a dinner jacket and need to go kayaking - it’s unlikely, I know, but that was the analogy from a engineer when talking about the new Ford Transit Custom Active variant.
You’re already smartly dressed so naturally you’ll want to get into a smart vehicle, but ultimately, you’re heading into the wilderness where things will get a bit mucky. Now transpose that scenario to your working life, where maybe you’re a site manager or head up a team of engineers. Work overalls probably won’t be your day-to-day wear as you might have to meet clients, but when you need to speak with the team or visit a site who knows what you could be up against – probably some mud and gravel. You’ll therefore need something capable of getting you a bit further off the beaten track.
That’s what the Ford Transit Custom Active has been designed for, and it’s available on the Transit Custom, Tourneo Custom and the smaller Transit Connect and Tourneo Connect.
The Transit Custom Active is a trim level within the regular Ford Transit Custom range that gives you an enhance part-leather interior, alloy wheels and the option of a limited slip differential.
Now forget the dinner jacket and imagine you’re already pretty dirty, you don’t want to get your nice Active Transit dirty but you do want something suitably rugged for getting you not only off road, but right to the water’s edge. That’s what the new Ford Transit Custom Trail version is for and you can get it as either the large two-tonne Ford Transit van or the mid-size Ford Transit Custom and Tourneo Custom people mover.
In essence, Ford has added two new trim levels to the range, models which not only look like they can go anywhere but that will deliver on that promise.
Transit Custom Active models are a little less off-road biased and instead take their cue from SUVs with new 17-inch alloy wheels and roof rails but crucially the option (£550) of the same mechanical limited slip differential.
Both vans get new, individual styling to make them really stand out, but most people seem to be drawn to the more macho looking Trail. Like the Ranger Raptor it gets the bold F-O-R-D matte black grille which sets the tone for the rest of the van which has black plastic cladding on the lower bumpers front and back as well as the side panels. There’s also running boards, roof rails and of course some Trail graphics on the front doors. The end result has to be the smartest and toughest looking van on the market.
The story is similar inside, as the Trail has a more sophisticated interior with full leather seats to help improve your chances of cleaning the mud off the insides and has high-spec standard equipment including air-conditioning and electric mirrors and automatic headlights.
Power comes from the usual 2-litre EcoBlue engine range with 128hp, 167hp and182hp variants. But while there’s nothing special about the power options, the differential is an astonishingly capable safety net that will either help get you to your destination or act as a secondary form of traction control should you hit ice, water or mud which would otherwise affect your steering or braking. The effectiveness of the diff and the harmony its mechanical elements have with the electronics won’t even register with most drivers, but they work in an inconspicuous and intelligent manner to keep the wheels moving by mechanically allowing different speeds at each of the driven wheels. It transforms the Trail (and the Active) into a van with potential to go over some quite treacherous ground.
The two-tonne Transit can of course be specified with an all-wheel-drive system as a Transit Trail, taking the rear-wheel drive van (for increased ground clearance) and diverting up to 50% of the torque to the front axle. Two additional driving modes called Slippery and Mud/Rut can be selected on a menu which better manage the traction control system to deal with loose surfaces, while the AWD Lock function creates permanent four-wheel-drive with an even 50:50 torque split for better performance off-road. All the systems work effortlessly and enabled us to take a 3.5-tonne van up and down steep mud hills in the same easy manner a Ford Ranger might.
The Ford Transit Custom Active is every bit as capable as the Trail but arguable more sophisticated – hence the tuxedo analogy. It’s more of a gentleman's van, compared to the brash and bold Trail. Whereas people will notice you in the Trail, we think they’ll appreciate the more elegant looks of the Active which tries to separate itself out from being just another van with a revised mesh grille, better alloys and some more subtle modifications to the wheel arches, sides and rear bumper than those of the boisterous Trail.
On the inside there’s part-leather seats and Tourneo vans get a blue instrument panel accent colour. Even the smaller Transit Connect gets the Active treatment, keeping the same range of engines, transmission options and body lengths.
If you’re not roughing it over some uneven ground or over surfaces where the limited slip differential is going to be used, you’d barely notice the difference of either Trail or Active van when on the road. As Transit or Transit Custom they feel just as comfortable and responsive to drive as standard vans, which is you might say the point of them. While you’ve been able to take all-wheel-drive versions of Ford’s vans to far-flung places for many years, you can now do it in something which really stands out, and more importantly while wearing overalls or evening wear.
An Ford Transit Custom Active model will cost you £30,000 which is around £2,000 over a Limited specification van, while a Transit Custom Trail is £29,250 the equivalent to just under £4,000 more than the Trend model upon which it is based. Large Transit Trail vans will set you back £35,685.
Assuming your next black-tie event is deep in the countryside the Trail or Active is surely the right way to arrive and make the best possible impression.