But they’ve always been brand spankers and almost surgically clean.
Rarely have we ever spent more than five minutes in the back, unless it’s been to move some furniture or take some crap to the tip.
So, when the opportunity came up to actually put Ford’s Transit Custom to work — for real — we seized it.
We spent three days behind the wheel of the Transit, now with 6-speed auto, delivering parcels for a national courier service and suddenly it was all about that big empty space in the back.
How much could the Transit carry, what were the dimensions of the load space and how easy it is to get stuff in and out.
BUT, a van that fits the requirements of one business, may not necessarily suit another, which explains why they come in such a variety of shapes and sizes, with diesel and petrol engines, manual and automatic transmissions, front or rear wheel drive, high and low roofs, plus short, medium and long wheelbases.
The Hiace for instance comes in 12 different models.
What’s it cost?
Our test vehicle, the short wheelbase, front-wheel drive Ford Transit Custom 290S is priced from $42,440 with a 2.0-litre diesel and 6-speed auto.
The auto is effectively a $2750 option.
Standard equipment includes aircon, one sliding side door, two barn-style rear doors, a solid cargo bulkhead and hard wearing floor liner made from the same material used in utes.
It’s safe too, with six airbags, electronic stability control and a five star rating.
Service intervals have been extended to 12 months/30,000km, which means less time off the road and it comes with an extended 3 year/200,000km warranty.
There’s options of course, but working out what was and wasn’t optional in our test vehicle, was no easy task.
Ford’s website configurator could not provide the information and trying to get the details from the company was like pulling teeth.
Satnav, a reverse camera, front and rear park sensors and Ford’s voice activated Sync system were all fitted, but all are part of the City Nav Pack which adds $2100 to the price.
It also had two sliding side doors, but only one is standard. Twin sliders are another $1000 and a lift gate instead of the barn doors is an extra $550.
That brings the cost to $46,090 before on roads.
But wait . . . how about some side windows to go with those sliders, to provide some over the shoulder vision?
Sorry. They’re not available with this model — full stop.
What’s it go like?
The Transit goes. I’ll give it that.
But so too does the Hyundai iLoad and VW Transporter. The Hiace isn’t bad either — and I’ve driven all of them on the job.
This Transit is front-wheel drive and I can just hear the purists grunting, but fellers front wheel drive is actually an advantage in the courier business.
With the weight over the front wheels it delivers better traction, while rear wheel drive, with nothing in the back, is ify at best, making it difficult to get out of steep driveways and private access roads.
Sometimes, embarrassingly, they get stuck.
The Transit has plenty of traction, with little or no wheel spin and an impressively tight 10.9m turning circle — way better than the Transporter’s.
The driver’s seat is fully adjustable, with lumbar adjustment thrown in and a steering wheel that is both height and reach adjustable.
The seat bottom is somewhat short and could be a fraction lower, but a decent-sized step is provided to help exit and entry.
If you time it just right you can slide straight in with plenty of room under the wheel — but no grab handle to help (there’s one either side in the back though).
The two person passenger seat has storage underneath, with a plastic fold down work table that has two cup holders and a piece of elastic tape to stop stuff sliding off — but it’s of limited use.
The seats by the way are heated.
The new 6-speed manual is excellent and allows you to change gears manually, using the transmission lever — but manual mode is of limited use.
The way the change is set up, however, it’s easy to miss Drive and go straight into manual mode when you jerk the lever back.
As a result the van gets stuck in first gear when you move off.
After a while you get used to moving the shift back one each time, but I’d love to know who signed off on that one?
Rear vision is extremely limited through the tiny bulkhead porthole and side windows would certainly be an advantage, especially when reversing blindly out of a driveway on to the road.
The rear view camera and two-tier exterior mirrors provide some assistance, with a wide angle view from the bottom.
The load area is competitive in size, with a 5.95 cubic metre capacity, 1035kg payload capacity and maximum load length of 2555mm.
Three standard roof racks fold flat when not in use, and the steel bulkhead features a load-through facility and load area protection kit.
The bed liner features eight tie down points and can fit three Euro-sized pallets, but it’s slippery as hell back there and the load slides around with the motion of the vehicle.
For courier work, we’d replace the twin barn style doors with a lift gate, because it offers protection from the weather.
The 2.0-litre turbo diesel produces 96kW of power and 385Nm of torque, with fuel consumption rated at 7.2L/100km from the 72-litre tank.
It’s fitted with auto stop-start, which can be switched off if you prefer, but is not intrusive.
We were getting 8.2L/100km in the daily grind which is outstanding.
The nav system provides a handy reminder of the current speed limit, whether it’s switched to map or not.
Our test vehicle was already starting to show some battle scars.
Make no mistake. These vans take a pounding. They get grimy, scraped and dented and eventually trim will get caught and pulled off.
The driver doesn’t care, it’s not his vehicle. And, when you’re on the job — shit happens.
The door hinges need to be super strong because they get flung open hundreds of times a day.
The rear sliders also need to slide, lock open and disengage easily.
Ice cold air conditioning is a must on 40 degree days and a separate cabin is safer and easier to cool.
Barn doors (liftgate offers protection from weather)
Needs lockout for manual mode
Slippery load liner
Poor vision without side windows
The bottom line?
The car we drove is up there with the best of them.
Plenty of grip, great turning circle, easy to drive and economical.
Too bad many of the features cost extra.
Transit has never had a look in before because until now there’s been no auto, but it’s all rather irrelevant when you can put a Chinese LDV G10 on the road with the features we want for for less than $30K!