Ford Transit Driving, Engines & Performance | Top Gear
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Wednesday 6th December


What is it like to drive?

You’d think a van wouldn’t need to do much to appease its driver, beyond having enough power to haul around big loads without fuss. Try telling Ford. There’s genuine delight for car nerds in the Transit, especially those increasingly frustrated and befuddled by needless technology.

A crisp manual gearchange sits inches away from the steering wheel, so you can change gear nearly as efficiently as in a racing car with an elongated sequential stick. The wheel itself is a perfect size, your view out of the windscreen is vast and even the brake pedal feels fantastic and set up with far more care than any dozy crossover you care to name. All of the touchpoints have clearly been set up by people who give a damn.

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The most striking – and relevant – thing about how the Transit drives is how effortlessly its power is delivered. As sports car makers have moved into an almost entirely turbocharged era, they’ve talked at great length of the things they’ve done to eliminate turbo lag. Their solutions are complex, expensive and sometimes call in mild-hybrid technology.

If only they’d given Ford’s commercial vehicle engineers a ring. We sampled one of the biggest Transits you can buy – a long-wheelbase, high-roofed 350 – with a seemingly very modest 128bhp turbodiesel powering its rear wheels.

Even when filled with an entire flat’s worth of belongings, it was charging forward with the keenness (if not quite the speed) of a Ferrari 488 Pista on a warm trackday. You’d be very dim-witted indeed to stall a Transit. It feels like there’s 500lb ft of torque everywhere in its rev range, and you end up pulling away from lights and dicing through traffic with the confidence of a motorcyclist, such is the urgency of its powertrain.

Speed is a balancing act, though. A Transit feels fast because it doesn't look or feel like it should be. The sweet spot of the range as far as driving goes is probably the 170bhp motor in a Transit Custom. Brisker still, but with a chassis that copes even better.   

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As mentioned, the Transit configurator probably uses around half of the world’s internet storage, such are the myriad ways you can combine sizes, engines and the like. So you could have a bigger engine in a smaller van and quite possibly invert the time-space continuum as you accelerate down a slip road.

Alright, we’re being a little silly, but the point is there’s fun to be had in here. Rather a lot of it. Ever read some road-testing geekery about weight distribution and glazed over? Well, using a massive Transit to take things to the tip serves up a very tangible demonstration of how it all works: its leaning into corners when full and its flickering traction control when empty give a very practical demonstration of how that sort of stuff works.

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