Road Test: Ford Transit Auto
Six-speed automatic transmission should open up market sectors for Ford’s Transit, says Dan Gilkes.
There is a growing appetite in the van market, particularly at the heavier end, for automatic transmissions. This has been led most noticeably by supermarket home delivery companies, while automatics have been the driveline of choice for blue light fleets for many years. Ford had an automated manual gearbox in Transit some years ago, but for the last few years has only been able to offer UK customers a manual gearbox and three pedals.
That has now changed, with the launch of the SelectShift six-speed auto that is being offered in front-wheel drive versions of the full-sized Transit and in Transit Custom. Designed to work with the new 2.0-litre EcoBlue diesel engine that is now standard in both models, the SelectShift box can be ordered with the 130hp and 170hp models on 3.1-tonne and 3.5-tonne Transits.
Auto-Start-Stop is part of the standard specification with the automatic, cutting the engine while the van is stationary and re-starting as you begin to release the footbrake to pull away again. This should help to minimize the effect on fuel consumption, while the automatic vans produce 190-197g/km of CO2, around 8g/km higher than the same engine with a manual gearbox and stop/start.
You have to press the brake pedal before starting the engine and once running the lever slides back through reverse and neutral to drive. Pull the lever fully back and you engage a manual mode, with gear changes made using a thumb switch on the top of the lever. The transmission will remain in the chosen gear until you opt for an up or downshift.
You can also make manual changes while in Drive, but the transmission will revert to automatic on its own as required. This is useful if you want a bit of engine braking when approaching a roundabout or junction, as you can change down the box, but then when you pull away the transmission will be back into automatic mode, leaving you free to steer and concentrate on the road ahead.
Which is for many the point really. In busy urban delivery traffic, not having to push the clutch and change gear makes it easier for the driver to concentrate on other traffic and finding the destination, while reducing the chance of any abuse of the clutch or gearbox.
The SelectShift transmission is very smooth, even when changing ratios yourself. We tried the gearbox with the 130hp engine, admittedly in an unladen van, and it worked really well with the auto. Acceleration is rapid with barely perceptible upshifts keeping the engine in the middle of its broad torque band.
The automatic transmission adds £1,200 to the base price of the Transit, though as mentioned that includes Auto-Start-Stop as part of the deal. No doubt there are fleets that will consider that a small price to pay against the possible vehicle off the road time associated with a clutch change.
Given Ford’s dominant position in the UK van market, it seems odd to think that there may have been some sectors in which the company simply couldn’t compete. With the addition of SelectShift, on front-wheel drive Transit at least, the company now has the transmission that it needs to start those discussions.
What we think
The SelectShift six-speed automatic transmission brings a welcome new driving dimension to Ford’s ever-popular Transit.