The term minibus means different things to different people. For some, it could be a taxi, for others family transport. And in the literal sense, a minibus is a just that: small bus, designed to carry people. Ford has become the latest player in the South African minibus segment, but there’s nothing mini about its new contender: the long-wheelbase Tourneo Custom 2.2 TDCi Trend. By DEON SCHOEMAN.
Ford has a history of bringing affordable, enjoyable and even pioneering motoring to the people, going all the way back to the Model T, which was, after all, the world’s first accessible, mass-produced passenger car.
More than a century later, the Ford Tourneo is the kind of vehicle that acknowledges the need for people carriers – not only in a family vehicle role, but also in the corporate transport environment.
Introduced last year, the Tourneo competes against some well-established players, including the Mercedes-Benz Vito, the Volkswagen T5, and Hyundai’s H1. All three are popular in both private and corporate roles, and also offer commercial, van-type versions.
The Ford is aimed head-on at this trio, and also comes in both passenger and van configurations (the van is badged Transit), as well as in normal and long-wheelbase versions.
The model under scrutiny here is the Tourneo Custom 2.2 TDCi Trend Long Wheelbase – quite a mouthful, I know, but then this package promises a lot of motoring. The LWB version has a 3.3m wheelbase, and an overall length of 5.34m, but although it looks tall, the Tourneo is actually less than two metres high, which means it won’t get stuck in underground parking garages.
There’s not a lot of scope for creative styling when it comes to a minibus. After all, in the interests of space, the most efficient formula is to create a box on wheels. But in that context, the Tourneo at least features a modern and approachable front end that features the same distinctive design language as Ford’s current Focus and Fiesta passenger car ranges.
Thus, the Tourneo’s shape is refreshingly attractive and contemporary in a chunky, no-nonsense kind of way, while the wedged waistline, sculpted wheel arches, slim extended tail light clusters and the raked windscreen add visual appeal.
But since it shares its underpinnings and basic shape with the Transit van, the Tourneo’s silhouette is more utilitarian than leisure-orientated.
On the move, the Ford looks muscular and purposeful, thanks to a powerful stance and relatively short overhangs. Those functional proportions also mean that there’s a lot of space inside, which is the whole point of a vehicle in this category.
Because this is the long-wheelbase version of the Tourneo, the interior is truly massive. There are three rows of seats, accommodating up to eight passengers, including the driver, in stretch-out comfort. And there’s loads of cargo space for luggage, too.
This Trend model adds extra luxury to the Tourneo’s talents, with a long list of the kind of features usually associated with fancy passengers cars – not people carriers.
Apart from the elevated seating, the cockpit is certainly more car than bus. The individual seats feel as comfortably sculpted as they look, and the dashboard layout is modern and inviting, with a comprehensive spread of controls and features that includes a multifunction steering wheel and a dashboard-mounted gearshift lever.
Analogue primary dials are augmented by two digital displays, the first offering trip computer data, while the other provides a visual interface for the multimedia system. The centre console switchgear remains too cluttered for intuitive use, though.
Comprehensive standard equipment levels embrace everything from climate control, electric front windows and remote central locking to smart cloth upholstery. And there’s stretch-out space for all eight occupants.
The inviting interior is a precursor to a ride that’s surprisingly car-like, given the Tourneo’s generous dimensions. Its stiff and rigid body structure, linked to a suspension offering a good compromise between tautness and damping, allows decent refinement, even over less than ideal surfaces.
The Trend version of the long-wheelbase Tourneo gets a 2.2-litre turbodiesel engine rated at 92kW of maximum power, and a healthy 350Nm of torque. Those figures sound adequate at best, given that this vehicle weighs just more than two tons. The engine drives the rear wheels via a six-speed manual gearbox.
It’s a willing drivetrain, with gear ratios selected to provide good low-down response and decent open-road cruising. Combined cycle fuel consumption is rated at 6.5 litres/100 km, although you’d be hard-pressed to achieve that in real-world conditions, and especially with a full load on board. We managed no better than 8 litres per 100 kays, and averaged well over ten.
But piloting the Tourneo is much more engaging than expected. While utility is arguably more important than performance in a people carrier like this, the Tourneo is a lot livelier than you’d expect – even with a family and luggage on board.
All that torque makes initial pull-away a brisk affair, and while some of the gear ratios feel on the tall side, the Ford will cruise comfortably at the legal limit. Top speed is an adequate 157km/h, and for what it’s worth, the 0-100 km/h sprint takes about 15sec. But most of all, the big Ford feels sprightly and responsive.
Given its primary role as people carrier, safety is another important aspect, and one that’s comprehensively addressed via inertia reel seat belts for each seating position, the optimised body structure already mentioned, and front, side and curtain airbags. ABS brakes and stability control are also included, vindicating the Tourneo’s five-star Euro NCAP safety rating.
The Ford Tourneo adds a welcome slice of variety to the people mover market. It combines space and utility with versatility and a thoroughly equipped cabin. The long-wheelbase version is a bit ungainly in tighter spaces, and won’t win any sprinting prizes, but it shines on the open road, while the turbodiesel engine is fairly economical, too.
Most of all, the generously proportioned Ford offers an enjoyable motoring experience, proving that big, boxy and practical can equate to driving fun, too. DM
Ford Tourneo 2.2 TDCi Trend
Bladerunner (1980s version) is a visual feast due in large part to the Hollywood Actors Strike. This allowed the designers an extra three months to refine the sets and props.