TEST DRIVE: 2017 FORD TRANSIT VAN

Every now and again, I like to get my hands on a commercial vehicle. After all, these rigs are the lifelines of our delivery systems for all kinds of goods and produce and without them, it would be a very different world. We know that many readers of this website own businesses and for them, the choice of hauling vehicle is even more important than deciding which sports car to buy.

I always like to think that people who really love vehicles of all kinds enjoy driving different ones the way I do. I’ve been lucky over the years and have gotten behind the wheel of everything from Hayes log trucks to 1930s Bentleys and from fork lifts to a LAV III armoured personnel carrier. It’s all part of motoring’s rich tapestry!

In recent times, there’s been a lot of action in the large van field with several makers launching new products. As a result, there are lots of choices out there but the most popular product now in North America is the Ford Transit, which comes in various configurations. My tester was the one with the tall bodywork and thus a huge amount of cargo space inside. It arrived at a good time because I was moving storage units and there was some serious hauling to be tackled.

The Transit comes in many guises, most aimed at commercial users, but there are some variants set up more like extra large minivans with multiple seats. Others are aimed at the passenger segment for duties like airport shuttles. When I first drove the Transit I thought it would make a great RV and expectedly, several manufacturers have been building motorhome versions. Most are based on the tall van, but Ford also supplies cab/chassis units to accept larger RV modules.

The big van is easy to climb into, with a large step and running board plus grab handles in just the right places to help. Once behind the wheel, the driver and passenger (mine was a two-seater) have an outstanding view of the road ahead which must be a joy for people with the RV versions. The big side mirrors, which have two magnification facets, make driving very safe and greatly aid reversing, even when maneuvering into tight spaces and busy loading docks. My rig came with a backup camera and a loud reversing beep – features that added even more safety. The huge interior with its 81.5 inches of cargo height is accessed using a curbside sliding door and big rear doors that fold back almost flat with the sides of the van for easier access. The high roof, extended body, version of the Transit boasts 487.2 cubic feet of capacity.

Gasoline and diesel engines are available and mine was fitted with a 3.2-litre 185-horsepower Power Stroke five-cylinder turbo diesel, which is a state-of-the-art power unit meeting stringent diesel emission standards. It produces an impressive 350 lb-ft of torque, which is what really matters in this class. The transmission is a six-speed automatic with a button on the shift knob to switch to manual gear selection. It really hauls a big load with ease and I was nothing short of amazed with the fuel economy delivered by this configuration, even on longish runs featuring demanding climbs. On the highway, it’s surprisingly quiet and smooth, driving much like a car, a point agreed on by several experienced van drivers who tried my test Transit.

Obviously this is a specialized vehicle with specific roles in mind, but it doesn’t feel “commercial” when behind the wheel and the seats are comfortable and supportive. The controls are easy to reach and you can opt for Ford’s excellent 6.5-inch touch-screen display with SYNC 3 Bluetooth plus navigation system.

That’ll be all from the commercial vehicle world for a while and next week, I promise I’ll bring you a Ferrari!

IN SUMMARY…

BODY STYLE: Commercial van with extended body and tall roof configuration

ENGINE: 3.2-litre 5-cylinder 185-horsepower Power Stroke diesel

TORQUE: 350 lb-ft

TRANSMISSION: 6-speed automatic with manual option

FUEL ECONOMY: Not yet listed by Transport Canada

PRICE: As tested, $53,834

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