Going wild: Ford Transit Custom M-Sport review

  • Wild-looking Ford Transit Custom M-Sport tested
  • Rally car bodykit, full leather interior, lowered suspension
  • Could the distinctive appearance boost your business?

UPDATE – we’ve now driven the new version of this van, the Ford Transit Custom MS-RT. Click here to read that review, or click here to read about the 2018 model based on the latest Ford Transit Custom facelift.

Ford sells its own visually souped-up variant of the Transit Custom called the Sport Van. You get racing stripes, 18-inch alloy wheels and a mildly reworked set of bumpers and side skirts – and probably a whole lot of thumbs-up from other van drivers. But what if you really want to make an impression? This Transit Custom M-Sport makes the regular Sport look about as butch as Kylie Minogue.

It’s not an official Ford product as such – but M-Sport models are sold through a select number of Ford dealers in the UK, and around 500 have already found homes since the Transit Custom was launched in 2015. They’re created by a company called Van-Sport, and named in honour of an association with the motorsport firm M-Sport that builds all of Ford’s rally cars.

The result is a very distinctive van, with aggressive looks, lowered suspension, a fully re-trimmed leather interior and – at the time of writing – a price tag starting at £28,995 (plus VAT and road tax) for the latest Euro 6 2.0-litre EcoBlue engine with 170hp.

That’s some £4,000 more than the Transit Custom Limited specification the M-Sport is based on. But that difference doesn’t include the Ford factory options Van-Sport also uses, and having spent a short time driving one at M-Sport’s base in Cumbria, we can tell you the premium isn’t difficult to justify.

>> Click here for a Ford M-Sport overview and to read reviews of the rest of the range

What do you get for your money?

A hell of a lot of attention, for starters. No-one is going to miss one of these coming down the road – which potentially means a great deal more exposure for your business as well.

Ford Transit Custom M-Sport review - rear view

Starting with the outside, the bodykit – which includes front and rear bumpers, chunky side skirts, wheelarch extensions and roof-mounted spoiler – is inspired by the looks of the Ford Fiesta WRC rally car, and turns the mild-mannered Transit Custom into one of the most extrovert vehicles on the road.

Topping this off are a set of 18-inch OZ Racing wheels with Michelin Primacy 3 tyres and a custom dual exhaust that exits through either side of the rear bumper, plus the whole thing is lowered on Eibach suspension springs (the same brand that the Ford rally cars use).

On the inside there’s intricate Nappa leather upholstery, custom made for the M-Sport by Carlex Design, a company better known for re-trimming supercars and private jets. This includes the bespoke steering wheel and even the floor mats. The quality of this really is very good indeed.

The factory options fitted include dual side load doors, window-less liftgate single tailgate, LED loadspace lighting, sat-nav and rear-view camera, 230V/150W power converter, twin batteries and metallic paint. So it’s equipped to be a practical machine as well as a fancy looker.

Ford Transit Custom M-Sport review - cab interior

Optional extras include even more “Extreme” body parts and a choice of Rally sticker packs. Plus the dual front passenger seat, which is apparently very popular.

What versions of the Transit Custom are available with the M-Sport treatment?

You can choose between short- (L1) and long-wheelbase (L2) panel vans and double cab-in-vans (DCIVs – Ford’s term for a van with a second row of seats, and windows in the sliding side doors), all with the standard roof height.

This means the following loadspace dimensions (you do still care how much you can cram in, right?):

  • L1 panel van: 2,443-2,555mm loadspace length (depending on height of load), 6.0 cubic metre capacity
  • L2 panel van: 2,810-2,922mm loadspace length, 6.8 cubic metre capacity
  • L1 DCIV: 1,505-1,577mm loadspace length, 3.5 cubic metre capacity
  • L2 DCIV: 1,872-1,944mm loadspace length, 4.4 cubic metre capacity

Maximum load width is 1,775mm on all versions, with 1,390mm between the wheelarches, and there’s 1,406mm from the load floor to roof. Van-Sport has so far always based its models on the top-spec engine, which in latest Euro 6 guise means the 170hp 2.0-litre EcoBlue turbodiesel motor with 405Nm of torque.

The payload rating for the standard versions of these 170hp Transit Customs varies from 1,007kg for the long-wheelbase DCIV to 1,474kg for the short-wheelbase panel van. But though the M-Sport’s uprated suspension is still rated to cope with such loads, the amount you’re legally allowed to carry will be slightly reduced by the additional weight of all the extra equipment Van-Sport has fitted.

Ford Transit Custom M-Sport DCIV L2 tested with 155hp 2.2-litre Euro 5 engine

Up until September 2016, however, all M-Sport Transit Customs were fitted with the tried-and-tested 2.2-litre turbodiesel with 155hp and 385Nm. You can still buy an M-Sport with this engine while stocks last; prices start at £26,995 for the panel van, rising to £29,695 for the long-wheelbase DCIV, which is what we’ve got on test here.

This is the same variant that M-Sport uses to transport its World Rally Championship drivers and co-drivers during events, and according to one insider the van usually attracts more attention from spectators than the rally cars when they’re travelling in convoy. With the van sticking out like a particularly attractive sore thumb in the Cumbrian countryside, we can well believe it.

Does the lowered suspension ruin the ride?

While the aggressive exterior won’t be for everyone, there’s no doubting the quality of the work that’s gone into both this and the refinished interior. Gladly, nothing that Van-Sport has done here undermines the fundamental excellence of the Transit Custom driving experience – visibility is good, the gearlever is close at hand and the instrumentation is clear, even with the fancy M-Sport dial faces that add a further reminder that you’re driving something a bit special.

Better still, the lower, stiffer Eibach suspension springs – which also contribute to the M-Sport’s focused appearance – work remarkably well with the standard shock absorbers. The ride is marginally more choppy front-to-rear, particularly on rippled surfaces, but it’s certainly not back-breakingly hard and remains unfazed by nasty bumps and potholes. And by way of compensation, the Custom leans less through the corners, in a manner that gels very nicely with Ford’s already well-sorted steering.

Ford Transit Custom M-Sport review - with Fiesta WRC rally car

As a result you can punt along country lanes quickly and confidently; paired with the more powerful 2.0-litre Euro 6 engine it will certainly have a decent turn of speed. Our only real worry about the conversion is the possibility of catching the extended bodywork on speed bumps and the like, since the upgrades bring all of the van’s lower extremities closer to the ground.

What’s the verdict on the Transit Custom M-Sport?

This is a nicely judged set of upgrades for a van that is already amongst the very best in its class – and given the Transit Custom is also the best-selling LCV in the UK, we’ve no doubt Van-Sport will continue to find plenty of willing customers for its M-Sport conversions, among both business users and lifestyle buyers.After all, if you’re going to spend money on a brand new van to transport you and your mates to mountain-biking trails or watersports venues, you might as well get one that’s comfortable, surprisingly luxurious and offers plenty of visual impact in the car park.

As for using an M-Sport as a working van, while the add-ons will slightly reduce your maximum payload rating, the distinctive appearance should act as a form of advertising, and much of the additional cost is offset by higher resale values – meaning that if you buy using commercial vehicle finance, as most M-Sport customers apparently do, you may find your monthly payments are little different to a more ordinary alternative.

Also read:

>> Ford M-Sport overview and reviews of the rest of the range

>> Ford Transit Custom full review on Parkers Vans

>> Find a deal on a Ford Transit Custom near you in the Parkers Vans for sale section