First Drive: Ford Transit Custom Trail Review

Sometimes a pickup truck just isn’t enough, even after adding a hard top canopy, which is where the Ford Transit Custom Trail comes in. It’s a tough, off-road capable Transit with pickup style and a load area that’ll take more than you’ll squeeze into a Ranger.

Aimed squarely at owner-drivers and small firms wanting to stand out from the crowd, as well as those that need something to stand up to tough working conditions, the Trail is bold and audacious.

However, there’s little change under the skin beyond a limited-slip differential. Is style alone enough of a draw to get customers to pay the extra, or does the benefit of improved traction and off-road ability provide enough to justify splashing the cash?

Driving the Ford Transit Custom Trail

Ford Transit Custom Trail: Exterior

Who wouldn’t want a Transit that looks like a Ranger Raptor? Ok, that’s possibly stretching things a little far, but there’s no doubt that that Custom Trail has got a tough look that makes it stand out in the van world.

The oversized FORD lettering sets things off and might be enough on its own to attract some buyers. Extra black cladding around bumpers and side panels looks tough and offers some protection for the bodywork from rough surfaces. Some unique 16-inch black alloy wheels and Trail logos finish off the design tweaks, unless you opt to specify the roof rails and running boards.

It’s certainly rugged and suggests that there’s a whole heap of new off-road capability underneath the sleek exterior. That may not be entirely accurate, though…

Available in L1 and L2 wheelbase lengths, that translates to a total length of either 4,973 or 5,340mm. There’s no change in ride height or overall height, making it the same size as any comparable regular Transit Custom model.

Beefy trim on the Ford Transit Custom Trail

Ford Transit Custom Trail: Interior

There’s not much wrong with the cabin of the Ford Transit Custom, which is a good job as there’s been little done in the Trail to improve it. You will find air-conditioning is fitted, along with Ford’s excellent Quickclear windscreen (ideal for the imminent winter months) and electric folding mirrors added to the specification. Wipe-clean leather seating is also included, bringing a blend of practicality and luxury to the van.

The luxury isn’t too far out of place, either, as the Transit Custom has a distinctly car-like cabin. Yes, everything is a little more upright than you’d find in a Fiesta, but the basic layout will be familiar to everybody.

Behind the wheel of the Ford Transit Custom Trail

As with most modern cars, there’s a prominent infotainment screen laced high up on the dashboard. This 8.0-inch touchscreen houses the DAB radio, controls for USB and Bluetooth connectivity, and both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. Navigation is an extra cost option but, if you’ve got a reasonably up to date smart phone, it’s not something you’ll need.

It also encompasses FordPass Connect, which enables owners and fleet managers to monitor their vehicles through an associated app. While it may smack of big brother watching you, there are serious benefits; users can be alerted immediately to any break-in that’s happening, while the van can be booked in for servicing when required. You can also check to see if you’ve actually locked the rear doors and if not, lock them remotely, amongst many other features.

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Those leather seats include lumbar support, an armrest and eight-way adjustment. There are two passenger seats in a rather compact bench, but the middle seat can fold to create a handy tray table that’s good for a spot of lunch or as an impromptu desk for a laptop.

Just like every other Transit we’ve tested, build quality feels good, lending the van a pleasingly solid feel that will hopefully last you many years.

Leather interior in the Ford Transit Custom Trail

Ford Transit Custom Trail: On the Road

If you’ve driven a Transit Custom on the road, you’ll know exactly what to expect. It’s impressive, with sharp steering making it feel rather zestier than you might have hoped for, and impressive body control.

As there’s no raised suspension, and therefore the suspension remains the same as previously, there’s no higher body working with centrifugal forces to interfere with your driving. Should conditions force you to turn more abruptly than is ideal, Ford’s roll-rate sensors will alert the Roll Stability Control programme which will cleverly work the brakes and power to keep the van the right way up.

The same happens in side winds, with the stability control system keeping the Custom Trail on the straight and narrow no matter how strong a gust comes across the road.

There’s a 2.0-litre mild-hybrid diesel engine at the front of this test model, which produces a healthy 170hp and a useful 390Nm of torque. That’s enough to make for performance that’s just the right side of entertaining, even when loaded – we had 400kg of cargo in the back, to make for a fair test. The same engine tuned to a lower output of 130hp and 360Nm is also available.

The engine is smooth, with a slick gearshift, but you won’t find an automatic option as that’s not compatible with the limited-slip differential. High-speed cruising is comfortable and quiet enough, while the small but useful boost given by the tiny hybrid system makes urban work a cinch.

What you won’t notice under most conditions is the effect of the limited-slip differential. Only if you’re driving hard in wet conditions will it really come into play. There’s more to it when driving in more demanding conditions…

Ford Transit Custom Trail: Off-Road

Despite the rugged exterior, there’s one thing missing from the Transit Custom Trail, and that’s all-wheel-drive. While its bigger brother, the Transit Trail, has that option, the smaller Custom model has to make do without.

What it does gain is a mechanical limited-slip differential developed by specialists at Quaife. This significantly reduces wheelspin on low-friction surfaces, directing power to whichever wheel has most grip available.

Yes, it’s not as capable as a full-blown all-wheel-drive system, and won’t see you taking the Darien Gap, but it’s capable enough to get you out of trouble. Trying it out on a special split-grip surface, with one side simulating ice and the other regular tarmac, the Trail pulled away quickly, smoothly and without issue.

Regardless of how hamfisted we were, it remained straight and true, unlike electronic equivalents that can see a vehicle being pulled to the side before straightening up.

Add all-season tyres to the mix and, in anything but the most demanding of terrain, you’re likely to make it home without worry. Gravel covered sites, muddy yards and damp grassy fields should all certainly be tackled without fear.

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Outright off-road ability is, of course, limited. With no raised ride height, no chunky tyres, and no four-wheel-drive system, this is definitely for occasional jaunts off the tarmac rather than being used as a farm vehicle.

Ford Transit Custom Trail: Payload and Towing

The Transit Custom Trail is available in two wheelbase lengths and two roof heights, as well as a double-cab in van variant, which obviously affects its abilities.

Our test model, a medium-length (L2) wheelbase van with a low (H1) roof, can accommodate 1,223kg of goods in the back, in an area with a load volume of 6.8m3 with the full bulkhead in place.

That’s enough space to carry three Euro pallets and is a little more than the space you’ll find in a Vauxhall Vivaro. The total payload in the Transit Custom is a little lower, however.

Loads of 2,921mm long can be slotted in, expending to 3,404mm if using an extra little bit of space under the passenger seat. There’s 1,775mm of width available, but the gap reduces between the wheel arches to 1,351mm.

Up to 2.8-tonnes can be towed by the Transit Custom Trail, with the shorter wheelbase models limited to 2.5 tonnes. The gross vehicle weight is set at 5,365kg for this L2H1 model, which is less than the total payload and towing limit combined, so be careful when packing it to the gunwales.

Kerb weight (kg)2,102Load bay length (mm)2,921
Gross vehicle weight (kg)5,365Load bay width (mm)1,775
Payload (kg)1,223Load bay height (mm)1,406
Gross vehicle mass (kg)3,400Load bay capacity (cu.m)6.8
Towing capacity braked (kg)2,800Towing capacity unbraked (kg)N/A

Ford Transit Custom Trail: Verdict

The only real criticism to make of the Transit Custom Trail is that it’s not a proper off-road-capable van. However, once you’ve accepted that and realise what it’s limitations are, then it starts to add up surprisingly well.

The claimed fuel economy figure of 38.1mpg doesn’t seem to wildly out of place, with our testing (including high-speed runs on a closed circuit) returning economy in the low 30s. That means you should be able to predict your costs reasonably accurately, while residuals will remain strong enough to make leasing costs reasonable.

There’s a fair chunk of extra cash to find to pay for the Trail over a Trend specification; this test model costs £33,471 plus VAT, and that’s roughly £2,400 more than the Trend model. Yes, there’s a little more equipment (and those leather seats) but it’s a lot to pay for an LSD and a load of rugged-looking external trim.

But that trim does add something to the Transit Custom, and it’s something that may well appeal to owner drivers or small business. Road presence and the eyeballs from potential customers that it attracts, along with improved ability in tricky situations (just don’t forget to add some all-season tyres) might be enough to make the numbers add up.

Model Tested: Ford Transit Custom Trail 340 2.0 EcoBlue 170PS L2/H1

OTR price£40,101CV OTR price£33,471
Reclaimable VAT£6,630CV price range£23,961 – £50,751