Driven: Ford Transit Custom MS-RT

The best panel vans are usually all about carrying capacity, fuel economy and comfort. But the Ford Transit Custom MS-RT follows a different set of rules where rally-bred handling and style are fused into a spectacular sport van mix. 

MS-RT was born from a partnership between Van-Sport and motor racing legend Malcolm Wilson. The British firm provided rally-inspired upgrades for businesses who want a van that will turn heads and shout out from the crowd. The Ford Transit Custom is the latest vehicle to get the high octane treatment, with an aerodynamic body kit, OZ Racing alloy wheels and uprated running gear being applied by MS-RT at its factory in Gwent, South Wales.

The van is an impressive thing to look at in the metal. The new front bumper gives the whole design a much cleaner appearance, while the huge air intakes, flared wheelarches and redesigned grille and fog lights add an aggressive edge that’s usually the reserve for high performance hot hatches, like the Focus RS.

The van wouldn’t look amiss in the paddock of a World Rally Stage. However, thankfully, you don't have to go trudging through any muddy fields to find one. The Transit Custom MS-RT is sold via Ford's commercial vehicle dealer network. It’s also covered by its comprehensive three-year/100,000 mile warranty, which means you don’t have to head to South Wales to have any work or servicing done.

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Under the bonnet, Ford’s 170PS EcoBlue 2.0-litre TDCi diesel engine is identical to the factory-built van, with 405Nm of torque providing swift progress through either a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic gearbox. There are no official 0-62mph figures, but the handling is worlds away from the standard van.

We tested the MS-RT van in Wales on wet and twisty roads and the lowered suspension, uprated brakes and 18-inch OZ Racing wheels giving the Transit Custom a much sharper feel on the road, especially at speed. The Eibach performance springs provide much better stability too, while the larger wheels increase grip to car-rivalling levels in the corners. 

Things are a little more serene on the motorway, however, with the van feeling much like any other Ford Transit Custom. Ride quality is smooth and comfortable and both engine and road noise are well-suppressed, which means you can cover a long run along the motorway and feel fresh when you reach your destination.

The only slight worry for us is the OZ alloy wheels - sourced from Ford’s works-backed rally team M-Sport. All are clad in load-rated Hankook Ventus S1 Evo2s, which may not be as durable as standard commercial vehicle tyres. Push the van hard on a regular basis and you might be on first name terms with your local tyre fitter. 

The cabin has a notable step-up in quality though, with the seats being stripped down and reupholstered in handcrafted nappa leather and suede. Indeed, the cabin feels much plusher to anything you'll find in Volkswagen's Sportline range. And almost everything is trimmed in MS-RT blue stitching, while a flat-bottomed steering wheel completes the makeover. Specification levels are high too, with all getting Ford's latest Sync3 touchscreen infotainment system, navigation, a rearview camera and quick clear heated windscreen. 

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At the business end of things, the Transit Custom's payload ratings remain unchanged. There's no high roof option - MS-RT think it spoils the look of the van - but you do get the choice of three-seater panel vans or five-seater double cab bodystyles. Both are offed with short or long wheelbases and loadspaces span from 6.0 to 6.8 cubic metres. All versions get a useful 1.3 metres load width between the rear wheelarches. 

Boasting razor sharp handling and head turning looks, the MS-RT van will find lots of appeal with operators and sole traders who want something that'll make a statement about their business. And make no mistake, the Transit Custom MS-RT will attract attention wherever it goes. But there is a premium to pay. 

Prices for a short wheelbase panel van with a manual gearbox start at £32,995 before VAT, which is £10,000 more than an entry-level 170PS Transit Custom. However, while that sounds an awful lot, it's only a few thousand north of the Transit Custom Sport, which starts at £30,000 before VAT.

Compared to the factory-built Transit Custom Sport and Volkswagen Transporter Sportline, the MS-RT feels far superior in fit and finish. It also drives much better too. Indeed, it's fun to drive and engaging on twisty roads. Opt for the double cab five-seater bodystyle, and you'll have the ultimate work vehicle for the week and family car for the weekend.  

Essential stats 

Prices start from: £32,995, claimed economy: TBCmpg, CO2 emissions: TBC payload: 1320kg - 1393, towing capacity: N/A tonnes (braked), length: 4972mm, width: 1986mm, height: 2020mm, engine: 1995cc four-cylinder in-line turbodiesel, power output: 170PS.