Long term road test
In the automotive world, there are said to be five levels of autonomy, or six if you include no automation at all. Level 1 is already with us, including things like adaptive cruise control, and parking assistance features.
Level 2 is when the vehicle can take care of all aspects of driving, such as steering, braking and accelerating. This is referred to as ‘hands off’ driving, though by law the driver must keep their hands on the wheel and be ready to take control. This is currently offered on some cars, like Teslas, but also on heavy trucks like the Mercedes-Benz Actros.
Level 3 is considered to be truly autonomous, allowing the driver to sit back and relax while the vehicle does the driving. The driver should still be able to take control, so sleeping is not an option. The technology for Level 3 exists in some high-end cars, though legislation has yet to catch up.
Level 4 won’t require any driver intervention at all within certain geofenced areas. Again, it is not yet legally possible to drive at Level 4 on the public road network. Level 5 vehicles will in effect be driverless, but we are still some way off this.
What does this have to do with our long-term Transit Custom? Well it’s no Tesla, but there are plenty of automated features on offer. Firstly of course, the van has a six-speed automatic transmission, that works perfectly with the 185hp EcoBlue diesel engine. It really is a smooth-changing box, that always seems to be in the perfect gear for any given situation. The van also has Auto Start-Stop, cutting the engine as soon as you come to a halt and instantly re-starting as you lift off the foot brake, to reduce fuel use and emissions.
The van has automatic wipers and lights, which function so well they rarely get touched. It also has automatic main beam. I’m not normally a fan of this, as you tend to get angry flashes from approaching vehicles before the lights dip. However, the Ford is almost spookily prescient, dropping the lights as soon as you spot an approaching vehicle, or when the forward-facing camera picks up the rear lights of a car in front of you. In common with most auto lights however, the system can’t distinguish fog from regular daylight, as it isn’t ‘dark’, so you still need to physically turn on headlights in misty conditions.
The auto main beam comes as part of a safety pack (£600) that includes Adaptive Cruise Control, Lane Keeping Aid, Lane Keeping Alert, Pre-Collision Assist with Pedestrian Detection and a Driver Impairment Monitor. The lane change systems are blessedly unobtrusive and thankfully we have yet to test the pre-collision system. All in all, a pretty comprehensive package though and one that certainly makes driving less stressful, and hopefully safer.
For more long-term road tests, read about the Isuzu D-Max.