Ford Transit Custom MS-RT 2018 review - £33k lifestyle sport van gets even better

  • Facelifted Ford MS-RT driven – new rally car inspired looks add real impact
  • Increased production capability at factory in Wales promises even better quality
  • Includes sat-nav, 170hp and lowered suspension as standard, fun to drive

Seems only moments since the Ford Transit Custom was given an extensive ‘MCA’ facelift for 2018 – but already serial Ford van modifier MS-RT has responded with its version. This is the 2018 Ford Transit Custom MS-RT – and the people behind it really have raised their game this time.

Keep reading for the full Parkers Vans Ford Transit Custom MS-RT review

So what’s new for the Ford Transit Custom MS-RT in 2018?

There’s the van itself, of course, which features a completely new rally car-influenced design – to our eyes the most successful MS-RT makeover yet, and one that benefits from all the refinements Ford has made to the standard model during the so-called Mid-Cycle Action.

2018 Ford Transit Custom MS-RT - what's new

But there’s also the fact that, for this new Transit Custom MS-RT, the firm held a proper media launch event like a regular van manufacturer. In the past it’s always been a case of dropping the factory an email, as and when.

You might think: so what?

The point is that this is yet another move towards ‘normalising’ the MS-RT brand as an extension of the regular Ford Transit Custom range – going a further step beyond other companies that specialise in adding styling accessories to vans.

More than this, MS-RT has now officially applied for Ford Qualified Vehicle Modifier (QVM) status, which would make it one of the company’s accredited converters in the UK – just like the select number of firms that build body conversions and so forth.

2018 Ford Transit Custom MS-RT - panel van and DCiV

And finally, on top of all that, MS-RT has now brought even more of the production process in-house to its factory in Wales – so you not only get a van designed and assembled by MS-RT but one with parts largely produced by its small but dedicated workforce as well.

A move that should reinforce the firm’s commitment to quality control.

Tell us more about the design of the 2018 Ford Transit Custom MS-RT

If you’ve been following MS-RT since its beginnings, you’ll probably already know that the RT stands for Road Technology and the MS stands for M-Sport – which is not only the original branding for these vans but also the name of the British company that builds all of Ford’s rally cars.

The two are partners behind the scenes, and as such, MS-RT has always designed its vans with styling influenced by the latest Ford rally cars.

2018 Ford Transit Custom MS-RT with Fiesta WRC

Obviously, there’s a bit of a difference between a working van and a purpose-built racing machine based on a hatchback, but as if to prove the point, MS-RT had one of the latest World Rally Championship Ford Fiestas on display – and this latest Transit Custom really does wear its influences well.

The clearest crossover between the two is in the wildly flared outer edges of the van’s front bumper, which echo the aerodynamic flics and tricks of the WRC Fiesta and give the Transit Custom an aggressive but somehow still OEM appearance – which is a credit to the designer.

2018 Ford Transit Custom MS-RT - wild, wide front bumper

As you can probably guess, this is the widest MS-RT body kit yet, the bumper flowing straight into a chunky set of wheelarch extensions at the front.

These are followed by a new design of side skirt, more arch extensions at the rear and a new rear bumper that now features protruding oval exhaust tailpipes, rather than the angular, integrated items of the previous version.

Who produces the parts for the 2018 MS-RT Transit Custom?

The whole bodykit is now produced at the MS-RT factory, rather than outsourced, and is made using a reaction injection molding (RIM) process that creates flexible plastic parts with precision and impressive complexity.

Hence the front bumper is a single piece that re-integrates the original Ford foglights; all of the grilles are unique to the MS-RT, however, and also produced on-site using the RIM process.

2018 Ford Transit Custom MS-RT - side view

The attention to details shouldn’t be underestimated. The main grille, for example, is 2% larger than the Ford item, and created in such a way that it doesn’t require any horizontal supports in its structure, giving the MS-RT a cleaner look.

Meanwhile, the open mesh elements of the lower grilles were given greater depth after MS-RT discovered leaving them too thin let too much water through behind into the engine compartment.

You might have noticed there are no additional driving lights in the new front-end design; this is because Ford itself has significantly improved the Transit Custom’s headlights during the facelift, and all MS-RT models come with projector lamps and LED daytime running lights.

2018 Ford Transit Custom MS-RT - new exhaust and rear bumper

That new exhaust is done completely in-house now as well. As with the bodywork, this was always designed by MS-RT but bought in as a kit – now the factory produces the whole thing on a specialist machine.

The body elements undergo a nine-stage paint process followed by a six-stage prep and polish of the entire van, so you can and should expect your 2018 MS-RT Transit Custom to arrive looking absolutely just so.

What’s the cab interior like in the 2018 Ford Transit Custom MS-RT?

The 2018 model already benefits from all the changes Ford has made to the cab interior – improvements that considerably lift the immediate impression of quality, which helps with MS-RT’s ambition to make the Transit Custom into a properly premium product.

2018 Ford Transit Custom MS-RT - steering wheel and cab interior

As such, MS-RT modifications on the inside are limited to a bespoke, flat-bottomed steering wheel with carbonfibre inlays and new part-leather seat covers finished with suede-like centres and MS-RT branding.

It’s a comfortable, stylish environment, and although the steering wheel looks a bit wacky, it’s actually very nice to hold, with neat cut-outs in the grip to encourage you hold it at the racing driver’s preferred quarter-to-three position.

2018 Ford Transit Custom MS-RT - seats

MS-RT does also include a number of items Ford leaves on the options list for the Limited model this upgrade is based on. These include sat-nav for the Sync 3 infotainment system, which now appears on much larger standalone screen, a reversing camera and twin sliding side doors.

This is in addition to things like front and rear parking sensors, air-conditioning and heated front seats, which are all fitted as standard.

Are there any chassis changes for the 2018 Ford Transit Custom MS-RT?

The steering wheel and seat covers are two of the few remaining things MS-RT doesn’t yet make itself – similarly, and probably sensibly, it also leaves the suspension upgrades and alloy wheels to specialists, too.

As before, the wheels are by OZ Racing, though made to spec for MS-RT. You get 18-inchers as standard, with 20s available as an extra (in addition to the 18-inch wheels, rather than as a replacement).

2018 Ford Transit Custom MS-RT - OZ Racing wheel

Ditto, the rear lowering springs continue to be made by Eibach. These take a whole load (sorry) of unladen height out of the back of the van, while retaining the standard payload capacity.

A corner-weighting procedure after the new springs are fitted ensures that the van remains capable of hauling to the maximum safely after all the MS-RT add-ons are completed.

What’s the 2018 Ford Transit Custom MS-RT like to drive?

There are no power upgrades for this model – so you’ll have to make do with the standard 170hp and 405Nm. Which is easily as much as most people will ever need in a van. It is not slow.

Power delivery is smooth, and characterised by a keen rush of torque from low rpm, which really helps to get the Custom moving (and sometimes leaves you wishing it had a longer first gear, but that’s hardly MS-RT’s fault).

2018 Ford Transit Custom MS-RT - driving experience

We tested an MS-RT fitted with the six-speed manual gearbox on this occasion, though the six-speed automatic remains a popular option. The manual gearbox has a short, positive action that feels anything but truck-like, however, and arguably allows you to get more involved with the driving experience.

Swift changes are a breeze, especially with the lever placed so close to the steering wheel, giving this van surprisingly nifty performance – something that’s only enhanced by the MS-RT suspension.

Ford already serves up a sharp-handling van, even in the Custom’s most basic configuration; the MS-RT’s lowered rump reduces the bodyroll in corners, making it easier to push just that bit harder if you’re in a hurry.

2018 Ford Transit Custom MS-RT - handling

The transformation isn’t quite as pronounced as it is with the limited edition MS-RT R-Spec based on the pre-facelift model, with its fancy rear shock absorbers. But the impressive cornering composure comes without ruining the ride comfort – if anything, this actually improves, as the back of the van is less prone to bouncing around.

This time we did think that the big OZ Racing wheels made the steering feel a little heavier than the standard van. But this is only really noticeable at low speeds, and the added heft isn’t an issue to the extent that you’ll be wanting to skip arm day at the gym.

How much does the 2018 Ford Transit Custom MS-RT cost?

The 2018 Transit Custom MS-RT comes in both panel van and Double Cab in Van (DCiV) bodystyles, with each available in SWB (short-wheelbase L1) and LWB (long-wheelbase L2) configurations.

All are based on Ford’s Limited specification, and all are fitted with Ford’s most powerful 2.0-litre TDCi turbodiesel engine – meaning 170hp and 405Nm of torque. The automatic gearbox is an option on every version, and MS-RT now gives you a choice between tailgate and barndoors, as well as offering twin sliding side doors as standard.

2018 Ford Transit Custom MS-RT - cost and price

Think we’re beating about the bush here? We are a bit, because there is no ignoring that the price has gone up verses the pre-facelift model, and now starts at £32,995 for a SWB panel van. In 2017, the entry-level model cost £28,995.

It’s £1,500 extra if you want a DCiV, £995 extra for an LWB model, and £1,000 for the automatic transmission.

Why so much more than it was? The added sophistication of the production process, we’re told. And having witnessed what’s involved at the factory in Wales, we can believe it.

The MS-RT is also about £5,500 more than an equivalent standard Transit Custom Limited, but that figure doesn’t account for the Ford options you get included in the price of the MS-RT – and the satellite-navigation alone retails at £705.

2018 Ford Transit Custom MS-RT - warranty, servicing and running costs

On the plus side, MS-RT mirrors the standard Transit Custom warranty, meaning you’re covered for three years or 100,000 miles, whichever comes sooner.

MS-RT vans do typically hold their value very well, which means competitive finance and lease rates. You can go to MS-RT direct for terms, or buy via from one of 15 official Ford Transit Centres situated across the UK that act as authorised retailers (the full list is on the MS-RT website).

The Parkers Vans verdict on the 2018 Ford Transit Custom MS-RT

So, it’s not cheap and, as ever, the styling won’t be for everyone. But with this latest Ford Transit Custom, MS-RT has taken an already appealing product and made it even better.

From the quality of the finish to the increased sophistication of the design, if you’re after a van to help your business stand out from the crowd, it’s surely tough to beat. Well-equipped and good to drive, it promises to be affordable to run, too.

What’s really heartening about this, however, is the clear evolution of the company itself, which continues to sensibly evaluate everything it does in order to keep on improving the vehicles it produces. We can’t wait to see what it comes up with next.

Also read:

>> Ford Transit Custom full review on Parkers Vans

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