Ever since we first spotted a Transit Custom on the road a few years ago, we’ve been in love. For years the Volkswagen T4 and T5 were the van of choice for the outdoor enthusiast. In the surfing world these vehicles are practically uniform, sometimes arriving in the car park can make you feel rather sheepish as you look around and realise you’ve subscribed to a lifestyle that is far from unique.
Kitesurfing and vans have gone together hand in hand since the sport’s inception, a “hand-me-down” of the windsurfing era when a larger vehicle was suitable for all the gear you had. They could also provide a place to comfortably sleep for the night should you disappear into the wilderness on the sniff of a good forecast. Indeed, some people live in them all summer; vans are a mobile home without the hassle if you will. For years the T4’s and T5’s had been a rock, a sound investment that held it’s value, even increased if you put a conversion in. However, let’s be honest they were not without their pitfalls, and we seemed to spend an unreasonable amount of time sat by the side of the road. Oh and we looked the same too.
The Ford Transit was always a workhorse of a van, a sound bet for bank robbers in the 70’s it had turned into the White Van Man’s essential tool for any job. Reliable, trustworthy and usually white, they were built with practicality rather than looks in mind. The Ford Transit Custom changed all that though, with a radical redesign aimed at appealing to the very core audience who had become so addicted to the T4’s and T5’s that litter beach car parks.
Everywhere we go the Ford Transit Custom turns heads, the first year we had endless questions about it, people hadn’t seen them around very much. These days the questions are less, as the knowledge base has spread, but it’s still a head turner whichever way you look at it. The sleek front end with stylish lights detracts from the boxy format of old. The angular lines on the body arch up to the dramatic rear end with the distinctive light panels on either side.
For us though, while we enjoy going against the flow of the usual choice of surfers vans the looks come secondary, in reality, the real beauty of the vehicle is all in the drive. I’ve driven Vauxhall’s, Renault’s and Volkswagen vans for years and none of them even come close to the majesty of the Transit Custom on the road. We regularly make long drives across the European continent. Only the other week we drove from the southwestern tip of Ireland all the way to the southeastern tip of England. A 650-mile journey we undertook in one hit, some 16 hours of travelling if you include the ferry crossing.
Not once did I feel uncomfortable, my back wasn’t sore, and the automated features on the vehicle helped to make the journey as simple as possible. I’m always amazed when you get out of the van at the end of the trip, and you just don’t feel like you’ve driven for 16 hours.
Last summer we went on a road trip driving from the UK to the southern tip of Spain to a town called Tarifa, from there we headed up the Spanish coast to Barcelona, taking on the narrow streets and parking it in perhaps the tightest parking spot I have ever had to manoeuvre into or out of. We then went to Andorra and drove the mountain passes before heading on to Montpellier in France, on up to Dijon and finally heading to Amersfoort in the Netherlands. It was here that a user error in the Sat Nav had us driving to the very centre of the city, through medieval archways and over small bridges suitable only for pedestrians. The Ford Transit Custom took all of this in its stride.
It’s also the vehicle that holds the record for the longest traffic jam of my life, an 8 hour trip to Morzine in the French Alps this winter turned into a 36-hour slugfest as avalanches closed the roads. The van became our home for the start of the trip, and while we regretted the fact we had forgotten the sleeping bags we’d diligently placed by the door on the advice of the AA website, we survived a cold night at the bottom of the mountain in relative comfort.
The next morning, eager to get on the road we passed numerous motorists struggling with the conditions as the van gingerly carried us up the snow covered roads never missing a beat. Even at the top when we considered breaking out the snow chains we just decided to let the van do the hard work seeing as it had done so well so far. We reached the summit of Tignes with no dramas at all.
What’s the secret to this driving excellence? It’s more apparent when you take a short trip down some country lanes, the handling of the Ford Transit Custom is superb, it corners like a car rather than a van thanks to a new chassis that keeps everything stiff and taught and minimises roll. It’s quite possibly the most fun van we’ve ever driven. There is plenty of power at your disposal too, on the German autobahns it just keeps on pulling away, even uphill. In the UK you’ll be glad of the optional speed limiter to keep things in check.
The Torque Vectoring Control system reacts to the road surface over 100 times per second. Using the information it then adjusts the power to the two front wheels accordingly to ensure you get the maximum drive and grip no matter what the road conditions are at any given time.
We’ve been driving the 125ps engine which has been exceptionally economical for a vehicle of this type, averaging about 35mpg and we’ve not exactly been driving conservatively. There is always plenty of torque and power available, and the new EcoBlue 2.0L TDCi engines offer slightly more power with 130ps and 170ps options respectively.
Underneath that reverent exterior is a genuinely capable engine, a rather brilliant chassis and some smart driving tech that works in harmony to keep everything smooth, responsive and fun.
There are loads of options available to make your journey more comfortable; the Limited version features plenty of extras that would soon rack up a massive bill on other forecourts. Ours is fully loaded with a European Sat Nav which has never missed a beat, it pulls in traffic data and does a good job of getting you around any incidents too. The heated seats are an absolute godsend for the kiters and surfers out there looking to ride the whole winter through. Automatic headlights and windscreen wipers ensure clear vision at all times and the fog lights and turning lights improve visibility on dark nights.
The Double Cab In Van we use also features a row of comfortable rear seats, you can twin this with a double front passenger seat to comfortably fit six people. Perfect for those surf trips where you want to share the cost of the fuel. It comes as standard with a bulkhead installed, we unbolted half of ours though so we have the added convenience of putting 9ft SUP boards in the back. If it wasn’t for the Stand Up Paddle gear though there is plenty of space in the back of the DCiV with the full bulkhead to get surfboards and enough kites to keep all the passengers happy!
One of our favourite features is the Bluetooth Sync which allows you to stream music from your iPhone through the very respectable sound system. Up front, you will also find plenty of USB points, places to charge things and a lovely captains seat for the driver. Perhaps the ultimate accessory though is the fold flat roof rack. It barely adds to the height of the vehicle when folded down, and it is easily flipped up and locked into place.
We’ve driven thousands of miles with boards on the roof and not only is it stunningly secure it is also soundless; you don’t notice any wind noise even when it is loaded up. It’s so handy to be able to put extra gear on the roof in a matter of seconds; we did a huge trip to Ireland with three kiters and all the gear plus three SUP Boards, two of which went on the roof freeing up much-needed space in the van.
It’s cheap to run too, with service intervals at 30,000 miles and 24 months this is a vehicle you can jump in and forget about, of course, we recommend you check the oil and keep an eye on things, but we’ve driven over 50’000 miles over the last three years and the van has never missed a beat!
For us, the Ford Transit Custom is the perfect vehicle for kitesurfing, it’s stylish, reliable and able to carry you, your gear and your buddies to any location on a given forecast in real comfort. Having the right gear makes a big difference to any situation, and having the #fordtransitcustom in our quiver makes a huge difference to our lives!
For more information check out the Ford website!
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Rou has been kiting since the sports inception and has been working as an editor and tester for magazines since 2004. He started IKSURFMAG with his brother in 2006 and has tested hundreds of different kites and travelled all over the world to kitesurf. He's a walking encyclopedia of all things kite and is just as passionate about the sport today as he was when he first started!