Tall Story - Ford Transit Cargo 350 LWB

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Words: NZ Autocar
13 Jul 2021

I’ve driven heaps of commercial vehicles but primarily utes. As for vans? Very little experience. But we had a load to move and this XXXOS Ford Transit 350 LWB ($75,290) was the vehicle for the job. Is it a monster or a BFG?

Initially, the loan form mentioned it was a Transit van but as to which of the quartet it would be I had no idea. The surprise was it turned out to be the biggest one, not only with an extended wheelbase but also with a taller roof. So tall, in fact, that I couldn’t drive it in off the street at home. That would require an attack on the foliage with a handsaw before heading down the driveway.

Back at work, the new Formentor was parked alongside the Transit 350 and the Ford was essentially twice the height of the Cupra. It’s also a longshanks, closing in on 7m in length. So it’s a giant among commercial vehicles you can drive without an HT licence.

The load we had for the Transit, the contents of a bach, it swallowed with ease. We could probably have packed twice as much stuff if we’d been better prepared with boxes and the like. Instead we relied on a heap of bean bags so that awkward things or those that don’t like to be jostled, we placed on top and they simply did not move. We can see why our pampered dogs like them.

After plying urban streets, we got better acquainted with the 350 on SH2 and SH25. It’s surprising how well this corners, thanks to torque vectoring by brake which reins things in if you get too enthusiastic, while the strong auto-dipping HID (xenon) headlights proverbially turn night into day. They are at least the equal of LEDs. There are static bending lights too, which illuminate the corners better.

On the return trip, loaded up, it was foggy but the lights seemed to penetrate the gloom well. Somehow, they seemed to know that visibility was poor and left themselves on dip until the haze cleared. Clever stuff. About the only oddity driving at night is a ghost image of cars approaching that reflects in the internal window. This can be disconcerting until you recognise it for what it is.

Helping on your journey are active cruise control (without stop and go but never mind), traffic sign recognition, and a reversing camera with sensors at each end, all godsends, lane keeping and blind spot monitoring, curve control (torque vectoring) and ESP, and load adaptive control. There’s also air con and power seat adjustment for the driver, including for lumbar support. The ride laden is little different from the ride when empty; both are most agreeably good, aided by a well padded seat. Even speed humps taken at the appropriate speed don’t seem to upset this vehicle. It may be a a long shanks but the lock is amazing, making it surprisingly manoeuvrable.

And the performance from the clean (AdBlue, Euro 6.2 emissions ready) 2.0L turbodiesel is just so gratifying. With a 10-speed auto the gaps between gears are small and it seems to get up to speed effortlessly, especially with 390Nm to tap into. That torque is available way down low too, peaking from 1600-2300rpm. There’s 125kW of power for added shove. This easily keeps up the traffic, though overtaking needs some patience (80-120 takes 12.4sec).

We did 320km in this before the fuel needle had fallen to half. That’s about 12L/100km but then it was loaded up for the return journey. Unladen on the flat at 100km/h where it’s lazily turning 1750rpm in tenth gear we saw instantaneous fuel use of 8.3L/100km, about 1.0L/100km more than the claimed average. Being so tall it no doubt pushes some wind, but that’s the only way you can engineer in 2.0m+ of vertical luggage space. By the by, it is just on 2.8m tall overall, which is why we had to some tree work to ensure access.

We never came near to loading it right up but then you’d need 15 cubic metres of gear for that. After unloading bach remains at home, we figured it might well be a good idea to take on board some of Marie Kondo’s decluttering advice so we decided to do a household cleanout. One load was for furniture that a long term guest had failed to deal with, mixed with other flotsam and jetsam. We gifted the furniture to the Red Cross in Avondale en route to the recycling centre. Another load was for miscellaneous junk I’d accumulated around the section and in ‘the woodshed’, along with boxes that seem to have reproduced in the attic. The biggest load was 350kg, mainly comprising furniture, mattresses and PVC storm water tubes (from unfinished subwoofer and speaker projects). It’s maximum rated payload is 1295kg.

Because of the nature of the stuff we carried, not once did we have to rope stuff in place. As mentioned, unwieldy items were placed on bean bags so they simply don’t move. Despite winding roads, things were exactly as we’d loaded them upon arrival. And providing you’ve got a full load of miscellaneous items, it’s easy enough to prevent tall things that might fall over by surrounding them with soft furnishings. Or you can just rope them in place with the various tie down points available.

Access is brilliant. There are sliding doors on both sides and barn doors at the rear that not only open and lock at 90 degrees but swing all the way around 270 degrees and hook up against the bodywork magnetically. There are also steps up to help with loading as the flat load space itself is about 600mm off the deck. The floor you can wash out afterwards, handy if you’ve had to visit the recycling centre when it’s raining. Not recommended.

There are other Transit options as mentioned, smaller like the medium roof version for $68k. And there’s an electric variant on its way, with a 67kWh battery pack and range of 350km. Ford says running costs are about 40 per cent lower compared with a diesel, it’s quieter in operation, and there’s the option of a ProPower onboard power supply for 230v tools you might be using.

So a van fan? I reckon. I’m an E-van-gelist. Vehicles that you can drive on a car licence don’t come any more practical than this.

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