Transitory Lines

Ford’s 2015 Transit is a staggeringly competent piece of kit, but what’s with the creases?

Other van rental companies are available
Other van rental companies are available

One of my most memorable journeys of recent memory was a trip from Leatherhead in Surrey to Newcastle in a fully laden rented Ford Transit. Memorable for the staggering competence of the vehicle and the relative ease in which the 300 mile journey was dispatched. I handed back that van with an almost audible sob. It was that impressive.

I rented another Transit earlier this week, which again served to remind me what an a formidable piece of kit they are and just how enjoyable they are to drive. Comfortable too, with a six-apeed gearbox, power steering, one touch electric windows, an adjustable steering column, and even a built-in ipod dock, the latter-day Transit driver wants for nothing. There’s an honesty, a sheer fitness for purpose to these vehicles which is deeply impressive. Every aspect has been thought through, developed and honed to near-perfection. The Transit truly is the ACME of commercial vehicles.

The diagonal crease just above the sill line is intentional. One word: why?
The diagonal crease just above the sill line is not a shadow. Someone drew that, someone else approved it and someone else again production engineered it. One word: why?

One troubling aspect I did notice however is a creeping trend towards styling. While carrying out the usual pre-rental bodywork check, I observed an odd diagonal crease on the lower rear quarter panel, just above the sill-line. It serves no visual or panel strengthening purpose, merely serving to confuse rental companies and renters alike, who mistake it for accident damage until they realise it’s exactly the same on the other side. It’s hard to avoid the suspicion Ford stylists simply got bored, or heaven help us, decided to imbue the Transit with sportier lines, because that’s of course what the average tradesman wants in his commercial vehicle nowadays.

They’ll be fitting low-profile tyres next.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Co-Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

33 thoughts on “Transitory Lines”

  1. “They’ll be fitting low-profile tyres next.”

    Actually one thing I’ve noticed about the latest Transit is that Ford appears to have switched from 15″ to 14″ rims, which isn’t great for visual appeal.
    I wonder whether it is a cost-saving decision or one that’s justified by practical considerations.

    1. While a smaller wheel diameter may allow less wheel-arch intrusion, the cynic in me suspects it’s more about the dreaded Visual appeal. Is it possible we could be witnessing a creeping Wegenerisation of vans? Oh dear lord…

  2. While the new Transit may be a very competent vehicle, its design is really awful. This goes for the smaller “Custom” variety (the one you apparently have driven) with its 3 (!) radiator grilles and countless creases as well as for the pig-snouted “big” Transit. Espescially smaller vans tend to get a more and more wannabe-sporty design language today. It’s something you can also se at Renault/Opel/Nissan with their newest evolution of the Trafic theme. This was introduced around 2000 and I found it quite convincing then. The insect-head-shaped front cabin was a welcome deviation from boxy van design without being too aggressive or sporty. The newest version seems to be a completely new bodyshell, but still built on the same design theme. Alas, it has been judged necessary to adorn it with grilles, headlights and bedges of exaggerated shape and dimensions.

    It’s interesting that you mention the 14″ wheels, Laurent. These seem to be nearly extinct, as even small cars often come with 15″ or more today. A practical consideration for this could be saving space for cargo. On the cost saving side, I’m not sure, as I imagine the tyre format to be rather unusual today.

    To come back on our monthly theme: the Transit Custom is also a serious “Shutcrime” contender:

    1. Ah, that A-pillar. Gruesome. Had they followed the spirit of Skt. Dieter they would or could have avoided this. I *expect* a van to be functional first. That said, the mini-Transits seem to be fine vehicles overall. Personally the last Transit Connect was perfect industrial design: dead plain.

    2. The Custom doesn’t have a direct predecessor, being aimed to fit into the VW Transporter / Renault Trafic niche between the full-sized Transit and the Connect. But I agree that the current styling is too ornate on all Transit models for my taste. Of course, the industry doesn’t agree. Fleet mags land on my work desk from time to time and occasionally I read them. The new Connect got particular praise in What Van? for its styling, they thought it far better than its dowdy predecessor. I agree with Richard that the old Connect, especially in its original form, was an excellent piece of industrial design. But people just don’t want pure industrial design any more do they?

      I generally feel vans should look like vans. Highly functional – although it won’t be in practice, that A pillar above looks insubstantial. What is more reasonable is that, as Eoin reports, modern vans pay far more attention to their driver’s comfort. In a way this really does reflect better social attitudes – a professional driver no longer expects their workplace to be a noisy, un-ergonomic steel box.

    3. “The Custom doesn’t have a direct predecessor, being aimed to fit into the VW Transporter / Renault Trafic niche between the full-sized Transit and the Connect.”

      Is that so? It seems to me there’s always been a basic Transit in direct competition with the Transporter, Trafic etc.
      Did I miss something about the ‘Custom’ that makes it different from prior iterations?

    4. I feel the bigger, rear drive ‘Transit Van’ is more the direct spiritual successor to the old Transit and the ‘Transit Custom’ has a closer direct relationship to the T5 Transporter type of ’boutique van’. The old Transit tried to cover both markets in shorter and longer wheelbase form but not entirely successfully.

    5. Really Sam? Sean may be right, he may not, but do you really believe he’s talking nonsense?

      If I’d had more time, I might have taken the time to absorb the entire vista of the Custom’s shutline horrors, but the rental was a bit of a blur and a lot of heavy lifting, so I fell some way short of DTW’s normal standards – for which Simon has berated me for in no uncertain fashion.

      Richard is right in suggesting it’s only the likes of us who bemoan the up-styling of vans like this Transit. Tradespeople who spend their own money on them tend to see things differently.

    6. Berating was by no means my intention, Eóin. On the contrary, I very much appreciate posts like yours that report a real driving experience, as these are rather rare here on DTW – we can’t drive them all, can we. It doesn’t always have to be a master thesis focusing on design (flaws).

      Regarding Seans “nonsense” – I don’t think it is. Most manufacturers today have three sizes of vans: Kangoo/Trafic/Master, Caddy/T5/LT, etc. PSA and Fiat even have four, with their small Nemo/Fiorino (oddly, all of them have FWD). So far, Ford only had two bodyshells – the Connect which was similar to the Berlingo class, and the Transit. The latter had to spread over the two upper segments, now covered by two different bodyshells (although German Wikipedia suggests that there are common components like engines, dashboard, and some more, I suspect). If Ford’s former approach was unsuccessful remains debatable, but obviously they found it worthwhile to spend money for two different vehicles.

    7. Nonsense? Oh Laurent, I despair of modern youth. Where is the respect for the accumulated knowledge of age these days? Listen Sonny, I was driving Transits when you were still at Ecole Maternelle being fed 5 course meals and learning to spell “Existentialisme” with play bricks. True, as part of the One Ford strategy, Transit has now become a range, spreading in all sizes and directions, and the Custom has filled the role previously served by the shorter Transits. But the bigger Transit is the proper load mover. Still, if you won’t believe me, I shall cite Ford’s own brochures which show clearly that the pig-nosed thing on the right is the actual successor to the un-appended Transit name.

    8. Indeed, and I was writing (partly) in jest even though I realised you had backtracked on your earlier ‘factual’ statement 😉
      It just seems ludicrous to me that one could claim that the ‘real’ Transit is not the ubiquitous SWB van (let alone that it wasn’t present all those years in the ‘niche’ occupied by the Trafic and Transporter). And that picture doesn’t prove anything – other than an arbitrary decision on the part of Ford to create a disctinct identity for the compact version, which is actually interesting as they are obviously different beasts based on completely different platforms (FWD and RWD respecitvely if my understanding is correct). I’d argue that they could just as easily have gone the other way around and come up with a another (new or old) appended moniker for the bigger model, and it would have made just as much sense.

    9. Laurent. I’m hoping I don’t need to get Simon A Kearne in to arbitrate on this. I am a reasonable man, and I am sure you are taking this eccentric stance for the most honourable reasons, However I will cite that most esteemed body “The Ford Transit Forum”, who obviously regard the big one as the true Transit, not the effete poseur that calls itself ‘Custom’..

    10. Since Sean has insisted on evoking my name, I will step in, but I fear that he will be disappointed. Although Ford might be branding their largest vehicle ‘Transit’, pure and simple, it seems to me that the friendly workhorse beloved of the small trader and van rental companies everywhere is best exemplified in the new short wheelbase ‘Custom’. This, of course, is all a result of Fords current desire to attend to all the World’s markets with the same products. Thus, the Transit range has had to expand to provide the slightly larger vans that the US market require, as well as providing a more direct competitor to the likes of the Volkswagen Transporter. Possible Sean feels that the ‘Custom’ lacks the everyman classlessness of the traditional Transit but this is the way the World is going. At over 5.5m long in its shortest iteration, the largest Transit is too big for many people’s requirements (in the UK at least) which will mostly be served by the two lengths on ‘Custom’ available. My decision is final.

    11. I feel duty bound to point out Simon that I was not referring to your comments, but those of our esteemed editor, the estimable Simon A Kearne. He holds our feet to the fire somewhat and can be a little waspish after a couple of sherries.

      Laurent and Sean: I feel that at this point the only satisfactory means of settling this is by duelling pistols. At a date and venue chosen by your good selves.

    12. What I don’t understand (and that was my initial point) is all that talk of offering a (more) direct competitor to the likes of the Transporter or Trafic, as if the Transit hadn’t been going head-to-head with those for the last 30 years. Someone please explain.

    13. I think the old Transit had a more utilitarian image – and, in truth – in some of its earlier incarnations this image was borne out by its character. The last version was fine and civilised, but Ford still lost out to VW, Mercedes (Vito) and even Renault (Trafic) to the sort of people who wanted a van that could double as a car – the old Transit looked too big and boxy. And also to those people who thought image important – think of an antique dealer maybe. The Custom seems to have been created to address that.

      If it does end up being a duel, can I suggest my Transit against yours?

    14. No preference as to the choice of weapon. In any case it will be easy to organise, as we’re almost neighbours (in other words: I know where you live 😉 ).

    15. Laurent. Since I became a giant in internet publishing, I have been well aware of the threat I might experience from stalkers. I have, therefore, taken the precaution of having our engineering laboratories, who are usually involved in using the huge profits from Driven To Write to develop an electric car that will also go into orbit, to create 27 3D printed replicas of my car which I have positioned in selected streets across South London. It’s unlikely you have come across the right one, particularly since I relocated to a private island 18 months ago, where I live surrounded by my private zoo and collection of classic Transit vans.

    16. Very impressive, but they still have some work to do on the inflatable Cube.
      And there was me thinking that you lived in the camper van across the road…

    17. Laurent. My agents have been looking for you. So far they have been unsuccessful, there is a rather embarrassing trail of wrecked silver Boras around South London. But it’s only a matter of time.

    18. I have it disguised as a Transit Connect. Sheets of cardboard and corrugated steel did the trick in no time.

    19. Eóin. I should have been warned. Sharing my first name not only with our Senior Editor, but also with a coworker in my department, I should know I have to check carefully if something is really addressed to me.

  3. There has always been something very honest about the Transit. It goes about its business with minimum fuss and rewards the owner with a remarkably good drive. But whereas the humble Transit used to have the British market pretty much sewn up, Ford are now under pressure as never before. The VW Transporter has become popular amongst user choosers, whilst Mercedes has made huge inroads into the long wheelbase / high roof segment, to the point where most online deliveries are now Sprinter-borne. The latest round of Transits fight back by offering car-like design details in a van shaped package. Whilst the visual honesty has diminished, place the new Transit next to the old one, or indeed an offering from the opposition, and it appears very much newer and more expensive. In that respect, the current Transit is more in line with the thought processes that begat the ritzy mark 1 than the visually austere subsequent generations.

  4. Last year I drove the previous version of the Transit. It impressed me enormously. If the current one is a good then I can tolerate the pretension. What looks like good, honest industrial design to some looks Spartan to others. Oddly, it´s polo-neck wearing design spods who will miss the basic style of older Transits. The actual expected user will be pleased not to be in what they feel is an inferior interior.

  5. I own a 2012 (facelifted first-gen) Transit Connect van with windows all ’round (a plainer version of what you got in Europe as the Tourneo Connect). I’ve enjoyed its capacity for helping move house, taking things to the tip, and so on, but I’ll be honest and say I purchased the vehicle primarily for its appearance.

    Here in California I could have purchased an equivalent minivan with almost as much capacity for thousands less, but I coveted the Connect’s ruler-styled beltline, general honest design, and headroom that is surely unrivaled. The great ability to see out of the thing, painted metal on various interior surfaces, and complete lack of pretentiousness all have me convinced that it’s a classic, whatever anyone else might think. (The scratch-prone plastics in the interior are pretty unspeakable, though.)

    I had seen photos of the second-generation Connect, with its slanty beltline, contrived window shapes, and other “styling” touches, and these convinced me that if I wanted to purchase a simply designed vehicle (I’m 59, and it was the first one I ever bought new) I needed to act quickly. The funny thing is, while both generations of Connect have sold well in the States, they’re almost exclusively panel vans and blend into the woodwork. My window van, on the other hand, has gotten regular positive comments and “what is that” questions from onlookers!!

    1. Jonathan. When the previous Connect was new I was greatly taken by the Tourneo version. But unfortunately it never seemed good value in the UK and, although one sees many (considerably cheaper) Renault Kangoos and Citroen Berlingos, sightings of the windowed Connect are few. So cost meant that Kangoos and Berlingos are the cars we’ve chosen as all purpose work runarounds rather than the Ford, which I always felt was a pity. It’s a useful bit bigger and, to me, far better looking.

    2. At some point a Transit Connect with windows was my work car. It did a very good job of carrying my things and was comfortable to drive and easy to get in and out of. Ford might have overdone the functionalism though. I don´t mind it but many said it was too boxy. Which is like saying a knife is too sharp. That was the whole point. The passenger version with all the whistles and bells make for a fine family car with one caveat: The three rear seats preclude the fitting of a centre arm-rest. I don´t think anyone in this class offers this, assuming that the occupants won´t mind. I noticed the Renault Espace has the same problem but unlike the Connect, it will perhaps have to serve as a ministerial car in France.

    3. I’m told the current-gen Ford Transit Connect “wagon” has become somewhat luxurious, and is even offered with leather. Not so the earlier version. As sold in the States at least, it has an upright, cramped rear bench that makes a church pew seem cushy, and would be suitable only for ferrying workmates to a nearby building site, provided they are paid well.

      Since I am an anti-social old curmedgeon, I don’t mind. (In defence of self, however, I did omit to say in my previous post that I have not worn a polo-neck shirt for at least thirty years.)

      As many readers will already be aware, the Transit Connect was (and is) imported to the States with rear seats and windows all around in order to avoid the infamous, nonsensical “chicken tax” — most of them then get the seats removed and windows blanked out once they have arrived to be sold as plain cargo vans. Those of us who actually *wanted* the windows and seats should have received a discount from Ford for the trouble we saved them, but alas, we did not …

    4. Jonathan. The ‘Chicken Tax’, I wasn’t aware of. I’ve just read up. The exact opposite is the case in the UK. A proper van (without seats or side windows behind the driver) can be bought by a VAT (Tax) registered person or company, who can then reclaim the VAT. However, if fitted with windows and rear seats they can’t reclaim it. At one point Ford put little quarter windows behind the driver’s line in an Escort van (the Connect’s predecessor) as a safety/visibility aid. They were apparently reprimanded by the tax authorities and told not to repeat it with its successor. I often wonder if that cost any lives.

  6. Transit Connects are still pricey. I had a look and 2006 cars are running at €5000 which is a lot more than you´d pay for a Mondeo of the same year. They are available from just over €nothing and an “expensive” one is €2500.

  7. Regarding overdone functionalism: even for a lover of rational and purist design like me, the Connect seemed almost too brittle at the beginning. I have to say that I have grown fond of it over time. And after well over 10 years, I’ve still not become tired of it, which can’t be said of a lot of designs.

    1. At the time it seemed very flat but that was the conceit. I think they wanted something with simple radii and very straight lines. Quite possibly it was paradoxically too “arty” a concept for the target market.

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