If you need occasional all-terrain traction, Ford’s Transit Custom Trail could be the answer, says Dan Gilkes.
There have been plenty of all-wheel drive vans over the years. Several manufacturers have also offered two-wheel drive vans, with some form of additional traction capability.
Ford has been present with the Transit AWD, but has never catered for customers that wanted something a bit smaller. Until now, that is. By searching through its extensive options list and employing a Quaife mechanical Limited Slip Differential (mLSD), the Transit Custom Trail delivers a best of both worlds on and off-road capability.
The Trail model is available with either the 130hp or the 170hp version of Ford’s EcoBlue 2.0-litre diesel engine. You can also have the 130hp with the mild hybrid mHEV driveline, if you are seeking a few extra mpg.
In all cases the transmission choice is a six-speed manual, with the drive going to the front wheels. The mLSD requires no service or driver input, simply directing torque to the wheel with the most traction when things get slippery.
Having tried the system on wet split grip surfaces at the Millbrook Proving Ground, I can confirm that the mLSD works well, allowing the van to pull rapidly away without excessive torque steer and keeping the wheels working in variable road conditions.
Load carrying capacity
The Custom Trail is offered with a choice of two wheelbases and two roof heights as a panel van. You can also have the Trail specification on the L1 or L2 Double Cab-in-Van models, as we have here.
In terms of load volume, there is no loss compared to the standard vans, so 6.0m3 through to 6.8m3 for the vans and 3.5m3 to 4.4m3 for the DCiV models. The additional weight of the mLSD is not a major concern, however as this is the double-cab, it has a payload limited to around 850kg. With windows behind the driver, that means that it will not be possible to reclaim the VAT on this particular model, though you can of course on the vans.
In the cab
As mentioned, the Trail series came about through some selective box ticking within Ford’s extensive options catalogue. One of the more unexpected items that got the go-ahead was the fitting of leather trim as standard. While this makes perfect sense for those drivers that are going to be venturing onto the rough now and then, as leather is certainly easier to keep clean than cloth, it might make a few fleet managers think twice.
The Trail model sits between Trend and Limited in Ford’s Custom line-up, so it comes with the Quickclear windscreen, power fold mirrors, auto headlights and wipers, front fog lights, front and rear parking sensors and various body-coloured bits of trim.
To that, Trail adds that bold FORD grille, two-tone front bumper, 16” 10-spoke alloy wheels, contrast cladding on the lower bodywork, manual air conditioning, that leather trim and the mLSD.
You also get the Trend model’s 8” touchscreen in the cab, with smartphone compatibility and Ford’s SYNC 3 infotainment with Ford Pass Connect embedded modem. It’s a great place to spend the day.
On the road
The whole point of an occasional mLSD is that it shouldn’t make any difference to the way the van drives when the roads are dry and the terrain grippy. Indeed, the Trail model handles much like any other Transit Custom, which is to say very well. By the time you realise that the differential has intervened, it should have pulled you out of any potential trouble.
We tried a little gentle green-laning with the van, though it isn’t intended as a real mud-plugger. Suffice to say, it handled the odd slippery mud section and woodland puddle without problems. As a way of transporting people and materials or tools to a less accessible site though, the Custom Trail seems to offer a very comfortable alternative to the established players.
The Trail specification is an interesting one, offering comfort and practicality, in what I personally think is the best-looking Custom trim to date. If you regularly require a little bit of extra traction, but don’t want to lose the excellent road manners and fuel economy of the standard Custom van, there is much to recommend the Trail option.
Van User Rating: 4.5
Ford Transit Custom Trail D/Cab 300LWB
Basic price £37,971 (incl VAT) Engine 4 cyl, 1995cc Power 170hp @ 3,500rpm Torque 390Nm @ 1,500rpm
GVW 3,000 Kerb weight 2,150 Payload 850
Load space length 1,944 Load space width 1,775 Width between wheel arches 1,351 Load space height 1,406 Load volume (m3) 44
Fuel consumption 35.8mpg Fuel tank capacity 70 litres CO2 206g/100km Service interval 2 year/36,000 miles Warranty 3 years/100,000 miles