Eight seats and a hankering for adventure mark the Tourneo Custom. Picture: DENIS DROPPA
Eight seats and a hankering for adventure mark the Tourneo Custom. Picture: DENIS DROPPA

The Tourneo Custom is no spring chicken, having been launched in 2013 as Ford’s contender in the midsize people-carrier segment, but it’s been kept fresh with a few updates along the way.

The most recent one is the addition of two new six-speed automatic models powered by a latest-generation 2.0l single-turbo engine.

They’re available as either a long-wheelbase (LWB) in mid-level Trend guise, or a short-wheelbase (SWB) in top-of-the-range Limited specification. Both are eight-seaters, but the LWB provides more luggage space while the SWB is more luxuriously appointed.

As part of the upgrade, these two buses gain more plush-looking interiors with soft-touch plastic on the dash, and more modern-looking instrument clusters. It’s a pleasing improvement and the cabin now has a less plasticky feel.

The Limited also gets Ford’s upper-end Sync3 infotainment system with a large 20cm touchscreen and improved smartphone functionality including Apple Carplay and Android Auto, allowing the use of phone apps such as music players and navigation. The Trend has a more basic Sync1 system with a smaller 10cm screen and Bluetooth.

Both models are well stocked with the all-important USB charging ports, with eight of them throughout the cabin, as well as three 12V power sockets. For the work-on-the-move contingent, there’s also an optional 230V socket to power devices such as laptops.

We experienced Ford’s Tourneo Custom 2.0 TDCI SWB Limited in the holiday lane when we snuck off on a pre-Christmas road trip to the Drakensberg. It seemed quite a waste to have just two of us on board with six seats empty, but it meant there was no need to play Tetris with the luggage. The standard boot fits a reasonable stack of suitcases, but by folding the third row forward it opened up a sizeable cargo hold that fitted not only our bags but also a mountain bike.

The Tourneo Custom is designed to spend its weekday commutes carting around mini soccer teams, and family road trips at weekends. It’s well suited to both activities with a versatile interior that’s akin to a giant Lego set, with two rear rows of seats that can be folded into multiple configurations or removed to turn the bus into a panel van.

Unlike some SUVs that have a cramped third row suited only to children, there’s enough room in the Ford’s large cabin for eight adults to stretch out, and all the seats can be tuned for personal comfort with adjustable backrests.

There are sliding doors on both sides, and it’s an easy one-touch process to fold the middle seats forward to gain access to the third row.

The Lego-like interior can be configured for holidays and hobbies. Picture: DENIS DROPPA
The Lego-like interior can be configured for holidays and hobbies. Picture: DENIS DROPPA

There’s enough oddments storage space in the doors, though I would have liked a storage bin between the front seats too; instead Ford has provided walk-through room to the rear.

The 2.0 turbo diesel engine delivers 96kW/360Nm in the Trend version and 136kW/415Nm in the Limited. Both run on low-sulphur 50ppm diesel and use AdBlue, a urea/water-based solution that converts nitrogen oxide (NOx) exhaust emissions into eco-friendly nitrogen and water.

It was the more powerful Limited version we tested and it whisked to the Berg with an easy-cruising nature, good refinement and fairly impressive economy.

With just two people aboard the bus felt gutsy, climbing hills without fuss and delivering strong midrange acceleration to whip past long trucks with confidence. The gear ratios are spaced for low-revving cruising that helped the big vehicle sip a reasonably economical 8.4l per 100km on the mostly open-road trip.

It’s a fairly quiet ride and Ford has improved the refinement with more sound reduction in the cabin. Rear-seat passengers have also been given a more effective air-conditioning system.

With speed traps peppering the Joburg-Drakensberg route, we spent most of the drive using the active cruise control, an optional feature that keeps you from feeding the municipal coffers while also autonomously maintaining a safe following distance.

A lane-keeping aid and trailer-sway control are other extra-cost items that can be ticked, but the Tourneo Custom comes standard with safety fare such as stability control, ABS brakes, six airbags and tyre-pressure monitoring, and has a five-star Euro NCAP crash rating.

The front-wheel-drive bus isn’t designed for off-roading but its sensible high-profile tyres and useful ground clearance tackled sections of rough gravel with a comfortable ride.

The big Ford might feel quite intimidating to someone not used to the size, but for its bulk it’s quite easy to manoeuvre and visibility is excellent, assisted by extra-large side windows and big exterior mirrors with built-in blind-spot lenses. A reversing camera helps to guide this heffalump in parking lots.

Like a giant Rubik’s Cube on wheels, the Tourneo Custom is a shape-shifting, all-season family vehicle.

FORD TOURNEO CUSTOM VS THE COMPETITION

Ford Tourneo Custom 2.0 SiT SWB Limited, 136kW/415Nm — R763,200

Volkswagen Kombi 2.0 BiTDi SWB Comfortline, 132kW/400Nm — R855,300

Hyundai H1 2.5 VGTi Bus Elite, 125kW/441Nm — R718,500

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