Ford Transit Custom Active review - SUV-looks for lifestyle buyers

  • New Custom with styling 'inspired' by SUVs and off-roaders tested
  • Available as a panel van and Tourneo Custom passenger vehicle
  • Eye-catching outside and in, optional mLSD for added traction

The Ford Transit Custom is already the bestselling van in the UK – now Ford is chasing new niches as it launches the 2020 Active and Trail specifications, targeting even more specific types of buyer. We’ve reviewed the Transit Custom Trail in a separate story, so here we're concentrating on the Active model.

The Transit Custom Active is unashamedly aimed at lifestyle buyers, a relatively new development for the mainstream medium van market. While it will still work perfectly well as a regular van, with an SUV-inspired styling makeover and upgraded interior, it's also designed to look good ferrying the kids to school or transporting all your mates to a mountain bike trail at the weekend.

As such, in addition to regular and Double Cab vans, you can also buy a Tourneo Custom Active with a fully people-friendly interior. The latter is where Ford UK expects most sales to go, in fact - though here we've tested both the Tourneo and the DCiV versions (that's Double-Cab-in-Van with a substantial separate load space).

Keep reading for our full Ford Transit Custom Active review.

Isn’t Active a Ford car trim level?

Correct – Active is the specification name Ford uses for cars that have been given an SUV-style makeover. So it should be no surprise that's exactly what Active means for these new vans, too.

Ford Transit Custom Active review, 2020, DCiV, white, front view, driving round corner

Intended to signal that the people inside are adventurous, outdoorsy types, the Transit Custom Active and the Tourneo Custom Active get extra cladding on the wheel arches, body sides, rear bumper and (weirdly) the door mirrors. As if they’re ready and willing to tackle some kind of off-road course – which isn’t quite the case, but can be improved with a significant optional extra (on which more below).

You also get a unique mesh grille treatment, 17-inch alloy wheels and roof rails as standard – the idea being that these vehicles will appeal to people who have a lot of kit to transport for their hobbies. Kit that won’t quite fit inside a regular Ford Focus Active, let alone the Fiesta version.

Active badges on the front wings and a blacked-out section at the rear complete the visual changes on the outside.

Can I go off-road in one of these?

We probably wouldn’t advise any serious green-laning – unlike the car versions, the vans don’t get any increase in suspension travel or ride height.

However, if you are likely to find yourself on slippery surfaces – be that a damp field or a lake shore or whatever – Active models with the standard six-speed manual gearbox can be upgraded with the same mLSD traction system that’s fitted to the Transit Custom Trail.

This mechanical Limited Slip Differential increases traction by directing power and torque to the wheel with the most grip, which will enable the Active to claw its way out of slippery stuff more easily than the regular van. As a consecquence, it will also be easier to drive in heavy rain and snow, too.

Ford Transit Custom Active review, 2020, DCiV, white, top view, driving

We've tested the system, and found it to be very effective, even when pulling away from a standstill in a really aggressive manner (much more so that you're ever likely to do in your own van) in situations where one wheel has a dry surface and the other has a slippery one.

In fact, even if the surfaces swap sides as you accelerate it continues to work very well. This particular mLSD is built by specialists Quaife, and it operates without any sudden shocks or bangs, and just the slightest of tugs on the steering wheel as it engages.

The mLSD is not compatible with the Custom’s optional six-speed automatic transmission - which is also available on the Active (unlike the Trail, which is manual only).

And what's it like to drive on the road?

Like all Transit Customs, the Active is one of the best medium vans around when it comes to the driving experience. The steering is well weighted to give you confidence, and it turns keenly into corners - though it will certainly begin to understeer at lower speeds than a conventional car, so if you really throw it into a corner don't be surprised if you plough straight on.

Similarly, while in van-terms it doesn't roll around too much in the bends, compared with a car - even a high-riding 4x4 - the Custom will lean over more, a situation that's only increased by the high, commanding driving position.

Ford Tourneo Custom Active review, 2020, orange, rear view, driving round corner

Still, the Ford 2.0-litre EcoBlue turbodiesel engines fitted in Transits have plenty of low down torque, so feel quite spirited even when fully loaded with gear and people. Refinement is decent, too. You can choose between 130hp and 170hp versions in the Active models, the latter available with the optional six-speed auto or fuel-saving mHEV mild-hybrid system (there's more info on this in our main Transit Custom review).

Official fuel economy examples are 39.7mpg for the Transit Custom Active and 36.6mpg for the Tourneo Custom Active, which has a higher kerbweight due to all the seats onboard. Those figures are measured according to WLTP standards so should be reasonably accurate, although you'll probably still struggle to match them in real life.

Are they equally Active on the inside?

Well, you get some funky part-leather trim, which sets the tone nicely. The Tourneo Custom Active also features some distinctive blue plastics on the dashboard as well, which are nicer than that probably sounds; the Transit Custom Active vans make do with more conventional satin nickel details.

Ford Transit Custom Active review, 2020, DCiV, cab interior, front seats

Trimming is good quality throughout - even in the Double Cab models, which is not always the case with some competitors - and the neat and attractive dashboard features car-grade infotainment systems that match the rest of the Ford range. You won't feel short-changed here.

How many different versions are there?

The Tourneo Custom Active comes as a short-wheelbase (SWB) model only, but the Transit Custom Active is available as short- and long-wheelbase (LWB) versions – and in both regular panel van and Double-Cab-in-Van (DCIV) bodystyles, the latter including a second row of seating separated from the load area by a full bulkhead.

Ford Tourneo Custom Active review, 2020, rear seats

The Tourneo seats up to eight people, but is open from front to back, so may be less suitable for really heavy gear – though if you take some of the seats out you can use their mounting points for an internal bike rack. Which some lifestyle buyers may find an appealing feature.

All models also come with a set of silver roof rails for further equipment carrying capability.

Is Ford planning Active versions of any other vans?

It is – smaller Transit Connect Active and Tourneo Connect Active models are also joining the Ford van range later in 2020.

Ford Transit Connect Active

As well as looking the part, these will also feature a ride-height increase for added bonus points (and ground clearance).

Cost and verdict

The Transit Custom Active is priced from £30,000, the Tourneo Custom Active from £37,950 – both excluding VAT. They're available to order now

This makes the van version slightly more expensive than the Trail, even though the Trail comes with the mLSD as standard. This is in part because the Active is based on the Limited trim level and the Trail is based on the Trend - meaning the Active has more creature comforts.

But the Trail is hardly poorly equipped, so if the diff is the most important element for how you plan to use the van it might be worth considering one of those instead.

Either way, this are fine additions to the Transit Custom and Tourneo Custom line-up, offering buyers a distinctive appearance in a way that no other medium van maker is yet to explore.

Also read

>> Our main Ford Transit Custom review

>> Ford Transit Custom Trail review

>> Sign-up for the Parkers Vans and Pickups newsletter