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Ford Transit Custom MS-RT (2017) review - the ultimate lifestyle van?

  • Replacement for Transit Custom M-Sport driven
  • Tested in 170hp L1 DCiV configuration with auto ’box
  • Great to drive, even better to look at, high quality

UPDATE: click here for a review of the facelifted 2018 Ford Transit MS-RT 

Earlier in 2017, Van-Sport’s Ford M-Sport range of upgraded Transits and Rangers was renamed MS-RT – giving us the perfect excuse to have another go in the most popular model, the newly monikered Ford Transit Custom MS-RT.

And this time the review is of a 170hp 2.0-litre EcoBlue Double Cab-in-Van (DCiV), complete with optional six-speed automatic transmission – the ultimate lifestyle choice, perhaps.

Ford Transit Custom MS-RT review - rear

If you’re not sure who or what this Van-Sport MS-RT business is you can check out our factory visit by clicking here for more information. But simply put, this is a Transit Custom that looks like it should be banned under the Geneva Convention.

Visit to Van-Sport - builders of the MS-RT Ford Transits and Ranger pickup

Based on the Transit Custom Limited, rather than Ford’s own range-topping Sport model, the MS-RT undergoes a comprehensive transformation process to create what is arguably the most distinctively van available in the UK right now.

Certainly there is no rival equivalent that offers a customised product that effectively represents an additional trim level beyond the standard fare available from Ford. You can only buy a complete MS-RT van – so no kit of parts is sold for you to fit yourself – and they’re exclusively sold through the Hartwell Ford dealer group.

>> Going wild: Ford Transit Custom M-Sport review

>> 2018 Ford Transit Custom: first official info and pictures

What goes into creating a Transit Custom MS-RT?

Van-Sport starts with a carefully specified version of the Transit Custom Limited, with features including air-conditioning, heated front seats, 230v/150W power convertor and Ford’s Sync infotainment system – meaning sat-nav, DAB radio, USB connection, Bluetooth and rear-view camera are all fitted as standard on an MS-RT.

These brand new vans are then stripped of their original bumpers, wheels and rear suspension, and much of the interior is removed.

Ford Transit Custom MS-RT review - in build on factory floor

Bespoke MS-RT bumpers go on front and rear, together with sideskirts, wheelarch extensions, a roof spoiler and a special exhaust system that exits through the new rear bumper – creating the unmistakable MS-RT look, which is modelled after the Ford Fiesta WRC rally car.

Top quality Eibach springs are used to lower the rear of the Transit around 30mm for improved handling and a more aggressive visual appearance. The outside is polished off by 18-inch OZ Racing alloy wheels supplied exclusively to Van-Sport; these are wrapped in Michelin tyres.

Ford Transit Custom MS-RT review - steering wheel

In the cab, the seats are reupholstered in high-quality nappa leather with complex stitching and embroidered logos, a matching sports steering wheel is fitted and elements of the doors are also retrimmed in leather.

The end result is an extremely smart-looking van, inside and out, with an air of quality well beyond the basic product.

So it’s essentially the same as an M-Sport van only with new MS-RT branding?

Not quite. As part of the name change, Van-Sport has also taken the opportunity to make some improvements.

Bumpers that were previously fibreglass – a material that can become brittle and fragile over time, with a tendency to crack when knocked, which isn’t ideal for a van – are now flexible plastic, just like the original parts.

Ford Transit Custom MS-RT review - front bumper detail

This makes them stronger, more resilient and allows neat details, such as the crisply moulded MS-RT logos that appear front and rear. The additional grilles and vents are now separate items, too.

Creating these bumpers was an expensive process, but one Van-Sport feels was worth the cost as it improves the overall quality of the finished product.

Ford Transit Custom MS-RT review - wheelarch extensions

Other detail changes include refining the design of the wheelarch extensions, which are now more chamfered to avoid rubbing on the inside of the sliding door panels – a problem that only previously became apparent over time in instances where the standard door trim loosened with use.

The optional Rally sticker pack – the finishing touch to any MS-RT product – has also been redesigned using a new 3M material for greater longevity and ease of application.

And of course, all the MS-RT vans are Euro 6 compliant, whereas the earlier M-Sport Customs were built using the older (and less powerful) 2.2-litre Euro 5 engine.

How much does a Transit Custom MS-RT cost?

At the time of writing, prices start at £28,995 for an L1 panel van (all prices exclude VAT).

This goes up to £29,995 for a longer L2 model with more load space, while the DCiV option adds two rows of seating and windows in the sliding side doors for an extra £1k on either version.

It’s £1,400 for the six-speed automatic to replace the standard six-speed manual, while the Rally sticker pack is £595. Want your DCiV to be a six-seater? That’ll be £175.

Ford Transit Custom MS-RT review - side

Further MS-RT options include exclusive 20-inch OZ Racing alloy wheels, an Extreme front diffuser (probably best avoided if you’re surrounded by speed bumps), and an Enhanced interior pack.

This last includes a carpeted and ply-lined load space with 12v socket, in-van Wi-Fi (no, really) additional USB charging points, tailgate spotlights and in-cab LED mood lighting.

Pretty fancy.

Ford Transit Custom MS-RT review - logo

All told this means the van we’re testing – a five-seater L1 DCiV automatic with the Rally pack and diffuser – could be yours for £32,585, plus the VAT.

Considering the work that’s gone into creating the MS-RT, that’s not bad value at all, especially given an equivalent ordinary Transit Custom Limited is £29,545 basic without extras like the sat-nav.

What’s the Transit Custom MS-RT like to drive?

Since this is largely a visual makeover, you shouldn’t be surprised to learn that the MS-RT drives very much like a regular Transit Custom – hardly a bad thing, as this is already the best-handling van in its class.

However, you are probably wondering what the big wheels and the lowered suspension do to the ride comfort. Frankly, they improve it. Especially if you regularly travel without much weight in the back, as you might if your DCiV is the family wagon.

Ford Transit Custom MS-RT review - front bumper

Because the standard Custom has such a high payload rating (as much as 1,392kg, depending on variant), Ford has understandable fitted particularly beefy springs at the rear – it’s easy to spot an unladen one on the road because the back end will be stuck high in the air.

This tends to make the Transit Custom a rather bouncy experience unless you’ve got it rammed full of gear.

The MS-RT Eibach springs get rid of this additional height, bringing the back of the van under tighter control – not only smoothing out the ride but making it feel more stable in corners and on roundabouts as well, where the precise steering and high grip levels continue to impress as they do usually.

Ford Transit Custom MS-RT review - rear detail

Add the latest EcoBlue engine, which is quieter and much more responsive right out of the box, and then combine that with the slickly competent six-speed automatic, and you’ve got a van that’s almost as quick as it looks while also being easy and comfortable to drive.

How does it compare to Ford’s own Transit Custom Sport?

Now, that is an interesting question. We’d need to do a back-to-back comparison to be sure, but if you want the very Transit Custom chassis our instinct would be to go directly to Ford.

The reason for this is that Ford’s Sport model not only gets its own lowered suspension, Ford also fits a bigger front anti-roll bar as well as adding one to the rear. This makes an even greater difference to stability in the turns – albeit at the cost of some ride comfort.

Ford Transit Custom MS-RT review - side detail

However, we’d have to question how many operators really want to go racing along b-roads in their Transit – and when it comes to looks, there’s no contest: the MS-RT wins hands down.

Van-Sport is working on some other performance enhancements for the Transit Custom, however, including a big-brake kit and engine upgrades that will take the 2.0-litre EcoBlue over 200hp. At which point the Custom will finally represent a decent challenge to the 204hp VW Transporter Sportline

Does the MS-RT still work as a van?

Absolutely – none of the modifications Van-Sport makes result in significant changes to the load area.

Although if you do go for the Enhanced interior pack you’re less likely to want to chuck greasy tools in there, while the additional exterior bodywork means you’ll need to be even more careful than usual about accidental damage on site.

This L1 DCiV model has the following load area dimensions:

  • Load length: 1,505-1,577mm
  • Load height: 1,406mm
  • Load width: 1,775mm
  • Width between the wheelarches: 1,390mm
  • Load volume: 3.2 cubic metres

You will have to watch out for reduced payload, however. For while a standard Transit Custom Limited of this type would carry around 1,012kg, all the additional luxury of the MS-RT will eat into this slightly.

The suspension shouldn’t have any trouble, though, and with 405Nm of torque from the engine, the MS-RT should easily cope with the equivalent Limited’s 1,900kg maximum towing capacity.

Ford Transit Custom MS-RT review - rear bumper detail

Van-Sport confirms that its rear bumper is towbar compatible with the correct choice of accessory.

What about running costs?

The MS-RT will be a little heavier than a standard Transit Custom, and is fitted with bigger wheels – both of which will have a slight impact on Ford’s claimed fuel economy. So expect to put a touch more fuel in it.

Service intervals are the standard EcoBlue 36,000 miles or two years (whichever is sooner), the longest in the medium van sector, while the overall warranty remains three-years or 100,000 miles.

Ford Transit Custom MS-RT review - automatic gearbox

There has been some grumbling about early Euro 6 reliability on the Transit Custom (that's generally, not Van-Sport specific), but remember Ford sells far more of these than any other van in the UK – meaning there are more people to complain, even if the proportion of problems is no higher than elsewhere.

We’ll have a better understanding of this when the 2017 FN50 reliability survey comes out later in the year. (Check out the 2016 rankings by clicking here.)

Finally, residual values – the amount a van is worth used – are very high for M-Sport and MS-RT models. Meaning not only will your van be worth more when you come to sell it, evening out the costlier initial purchase price, but that finance pricing remains competitive.

So you may find an MS-RT is more affordable than you thought. Even the insurance is reasonable, with our typical sample quote* coming in at £504.56 for this example – which is actually cheaper than we were quoted for a Transit Custom Sport van earlier in the year.

*Insurance quotes are from mustard.co.uk and are based on a 46-year-old self-employed married male living in Hertfordshire with 9 years NCD and no claims or convictions. Insurance quotes will vary depending on individual circumstances.

Verdict

While it’s fair to say the lairy image won’t be for everyone, there are really very few other negatives here – and even this aspect will at least draw more attention to your business. The Transit Custom MS-RT does still function as a perfectly usable van, and this particular DCiV automatic combination has all-round appeal with plenty of space for passengers and gear.

Ford Transit Custom MS-RT review - verdict

The asking price is on the high side – even the 204hp Transporter Sportline kombi we tested earlier in 2017 was cheaper – but at no point does it feel like you’re getting poor value for money. In fact, given the quality of finish, it actually seems like a bit of bargain. If you’re thinking about pulling the trigger, don’t hesitate.

Rivals to consider:

>> Ford Transit Custom Sport automatic UK road test review

>> VW Transporter Sportline kombi UK road test review

>> Ford Transit Custom MS-RT review (newer model)

>> Ford Transit Custom M-Sport review (previous model)

Also read:

>> Best medium vans for payload

>> New vans coming soon

Sporty vans on sale in 2017

Ford Transit Custom MS-RT review