The UK's Best-Selling Van 2019 Is The Ford Transit Custom

Don't buy a brand-new Ford Transit Custom

The Ford Transit Custom is a medium-sized van and it's Britain's most popular LCV by a country mile, but what makes it so special? Independent industry expert and all-round van guru Tim Cattlin gives us his view and weighs up whether you should buy used or lease new.

Here are a few statistics which rival van manufacturers can only dream of: what is Britain's best-selling van year-to-date? The Ford Transit Custom with sales of over 54,000. It's nearest direct competitor in the medium-sized van sector comes third. Not so bad at first glance, but, with 'just about' 22,000 registrations, the Volkswagen Transporter can only boast 40% of the Custom's current sales volume. But here's the biggie which puts these figures into context – if the van sales league table is amalgamated with cars, the Custom would come third, only beaten by the Ford Fiesta and Volkswagen Golf.

2011 – Birth Of An LCV Legend


Back in 2011, a year before its public unveiling, I was invited to Ford's private testing facility in Belgium to view the Custom for the first time AND drive a pre-production prototype. It was obvious that the new van bore no relation to its predecessor. The Transit itself was hugely popular but it was functional and its 'driveway appeal' was minimal.

With the Custom, here was a van that bore a closer resemblance to some of Ford's passenger cars (Galaxy, S-Max, etc) than to a commercial vehicle. Not only that, but the driving experience was exceptional. Prototype vehicles often have squeaks, rattles, knocks and bumps together with poor panel fit, but not this one which drove like it had just left a showroom.

Fords strategy at launch in 2012 was not to flood the market with heavily subsidised fleet deals or to overwhelm the rental sector with vehicles which would appear on the used market too early. This 'shortage' meant that initially used vehicles were extremely scarce, values therefore were very strong and many buyers were therefore tempted to go for a new van rather than second hand.

The Custom Over Others

So, what makes van operators choose the Custom over some very worthy competitors, and, ultimately, why should you? There's a saying that goes: "No one ever got fired for buying a Transit!" The Transit name is to vans like 'Hoover' is to vacuum cleaners, and 'Biro' is to a ballpoint pen. The Custom has gained an excellent reputation since its launch which undoubtedly helps matters, but from a practical perspective there's a lot to consider.

The model range is extensive. The latest Transit Custom is available in two body lengths, two heights, three engines (excluding the new Plug-in Hybrid which is at the point of launch), four trim levels, and the availability of a Double Cab version, the 9-seat Kombi and the 8-seat Tourneo models for those needing the flexibility to carry additional passengers. There is also the option to have 'SelectShift' 6-speed automatic transmission.

The Drive

How is it to drive? Very, very good! I had a facelifted model for a week recently and wasn't disappointed. Smooth, refined, quiet and the new Euro 6 engine has a huge amount of torque at low engine revs, which is great if you're driving around town heavily laden. My summary read: "It just feels right. A hard phrase to qualify, but appropriate for this truly outstanding van."

All good so far, but it must have a couple of weak links in its armour, right? Well, the Custom has had some bad press regarding security and Ford have come under criticism for being slow to address the issue, with owners having to resort to third-party locks and lock protection to deter criminals. For anyone considering a Custom, factoring in some additional security could be a wise move.

You Know It's Good When Customers Say Things Like This…

Our customers are full of praise for the way the Custom feels to drive, with many comparing it to a high-spec car. Customer David Dalby commented that it "drives like a car and is a nice place to be when driving", while John Booth added that it has "good pull", and Trevor Kelly said he'd "rather drive this van instead of a car".

Gavin Wilks echoed these comments with a succinct comment: "Fabulous van, with all the bells and whistles of a high-end car." Warran Godfrey even said: "I've only ever used Transits. Looked at the alternatives but the new model has everything I wanted from a van." And Grant Hinkley was also keen, saying: "Lovely van. More like a good quality car up front. With the practical use as a van too."

But perhaps my favourite comment came from Craig Higgins who described how it fits his business: "The perfect tool for the job our engineers require." Brilliant.

Buy Used Or LEASE New?

So, should you get one? Well, you should certainly seriously consider it if you're looking for a van in this sector. And, yes, I'm writing this piece for Vanarama…but if you're in the market for one I'd genuinely look at leasing a brand-new one.

Why? Well, used values remain strong which means that buying second hand isn't going to be cheap, and this high used value helps to keep the lease rates highly competitive.

And I've recently seen a glut of four and five-year-old Custom's being sold at auction that have been worked very hard and clearly seen better days. No doubt repaired prior to arriving on the dealer's forecourt but, would you want one?

After all, how can you really be sure what a used van has been used for?

Fordtransitcustomcostsnov2018-full (Figures correct as of November 2018 - used van figures from AutoTrader, leasing figures from, price comparison added by Vanarama)

Tim Cattlin has over 33 years' experience in the light commercial vehicle industry, latterly as editor of CAP-HPI Monitor (the leading guide to future residual values). Tim is a member of the Northern Group of Motoring Writers, a judge for the WhatVan? Van of the Year Awards, and freelance writer for a variety of top-flight industry publications.

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