Battle of the Vans: Ford Transit Custom vs Vauxhall Vivaro

There’s no question about it, getting stuff from A to B is easier with a medium-sized van - all that space and easy loading, yet still a manageable size for negotiating busy streets. And whether you need one for business or leisure, there are plenty of used vans around that’ll do the job. But which are the best?

With different requirements, we know that there’s an ideal van to suit everyone. Let’s take a look at a couple of the used van market’s finest medium vans - the Ford Transit Custom and the Vauxhall Vivaro - to discover which one is the best to meet your needs. Step this way…

Ford Transit Custom

Grey Ford Transit Custom parked facing right

The Ford Transit has been one of the most common vans on the UK roads for decades, and for good reason. Its smaller brother, the Ford Transit Custom panel van boasts the same popularity in a comfortable and easy-to-drive model. It’s a sleek-looking practical van which, as well as having excellent load space, doesn’t skimp on handy cabin features, such as cup holders and stowage compartments to make driving more of a pleasure. 

Short or Long wheel base (SWB or LWB) options, a choice of low or high roof (H1 or H2), as well as single or double cab alternatives ensure a variety of sizes to match your passenger and load space requirements. 

Four trim levels - Space, Trend, Limited and Sport - mean that you can pick your own degree of convenience and specification to make your drive just as you want it. You’ll find the 2.2-litre or 2.0-litre diesel engines are available with a variety of power options to provide the right amount of oomph to get you, your team, their tools and supplies to the right destination.

It’s easy to see why the Ford Transit Custom was awarded What Van? Medium Van of the Year 2019.

Vauxhall Vivaro

Red Vauxhall Vivaro parked in front of office unit, facing right

The chunky, medium-sized Vauxhall Vivaro panel van provides all the road presence you need, along with excellent practicality with a choice of lengths, two height levels and single or double cab. A platform cab option, and Combi SWB and LWB versions make a total of nine variants on the list… for now! 

Having just two trim levels - standard and Sportive, with Elite due to be introduced as a variant of  the new model in 2019 - makes your choice a little easier. Cool storage features, such as the phone and tablet cradles on the dashboard, a good level of connectivity and a flip down centre seat that can be used as a desk provides the Vauxhall Vivaro with all you need for a convenient portable office when you’re on site. 

The 1.6-litre diesel engine might sound small but with 90, 115, 120 or 140PS options, it’s plenty big enough to get the job done while keeping fuel costs down.

Winning What Van? Used Van of the Year 2017 and being highly commended in 2019, the Vauxhall Vivaro is certainly a mid-sized van you can rely on.

Which Van Handles Best?

With neither the Vauxhall Vivaro or Ford Transit Custom offering an automatic option, the manual transmission on both gives the driver excellent control over the van. 

The Vivaro has a firm suspension which helps keep the van under control on corners - especially impressive in the taller options. The steering is firm but responsive so you don’t need to have a strong arm to keep in control and the 11.8m turning circle is impressive too.

With a slightly lower riding position in the Ford Transit Custom, you’ll perhaps find it a little easier to control, especially on winding roads. A tight turning circle of just 11.6m (L1), which is smaller than some cars, makes it especially manoeuvrable around town.

A smaller turning circle and more controlled drive, edges the Ford Transit Custom into pole position when it comes to handling.

Which Van is Best for Space?

Rear shot of red Vauxhall Vivaro with both doors open

Both the Vauxhall Vivaro and the Ford Transit Custom have cleverly made use of all available space to maximise the load volume. As with any make or model of van, there’s obviously more space in the LWB (L2) and extra height (H2) options, so for each of our super mid-sized panel vans, we’ll compare the smallest space L1H1 and largest L2H2 versions, both single cab.

H2 variations offer full standing height in both the Vauxhall and the Ford, with the Transit Custom offering the widest side door opening of any van in this class. The Vivaro has a trick  up its sleeve, however with a two-stage load through to the passenger footwell, enabling a load as long as 4.15 m to be carried without fuss.

The Vivaro tips the scales, however, when it comes to load capacity, with a maximum of 8.6 cubic metres, compared to the Transit Custom’s 8.3 cubic metres. Both have a clever load-through feature that allows goods to pass through into the passenger foot well, creating a load length of up to 4.15 m on the Vivaro and 3.45m on the Transit Custom. 

For us, the Vivaro takes the crown when it comes to space.

Which Van is Best on Cost?

Fuel efficiency will depend on the weight of the load being transported, but the best economy can be found in the Vauxhall Vivaro 1.6 CDTi BiTurbo at 47.9mpg (unloaded) while the Ford Transit Custom 2.0 TDCi manages 44.1 mpg (unloaded). Annual road tax is £260 for both vans.

All vans registered after September 2016 have been legally required to adhere to the Euro 6 emission standards, the same standards required for entry to the new Ultra-Low Emissions Zone recently introduced in London and soon to be rolled out in cities nationwide. Choose either model of this age or newer and you won’t have to pay the additional charges.

As for the purchase price, the Ford Transit Custom and Vauxhall Vivaro are evenly costed, with bargains to be had from less than £10k. 

So, with slightly better economy, we’re going with the Vauxhall Vivaro on cost.

Which Van is Best on Looks?

Interior of Ford Transit Custom Sport

Looks aren’t always a consideration when choosing a van for practical purposes, so we’ll keep this short and sweet. The full package will depend to some degree on which trim you choose, with the Ford Transit Custom Sport and the Vauxhall Vivaro Sportive providing the top specifications.

The Transit Custom Sport features racing stripes, lowered suspension, upgraded alloy wheels and bodykit, including wheel arch extensions, roof-mounted spoiler and chunky side skirts. 

As top spec in the Vauxhall, the Vivaro Sportive offers a body-coloured finish for the bumpers, side moldings, door mirrors and rear light surrounds with metallic paint. But it’s tough to beat the slightly curvier, Ford Transit Custom, especially  when an alloy wheel upgrade is only available as an extra on the Vivaro’s highest trim level. 

So, the Ford Transit Custom noses ahead on the style stakes.

It’s got to be said, the Ford Transit Custom and Vauxhall Vivaro are two of a kind and so evenly matched that we can’t really call it! Pop into the Motor Range showroom to book a test drive in both to discover which one suits your business or leisure needs, or check out our new vans page to see what's available.