Mention the word “transit” and most folk will think “lounge” and start telling stories about lengthy waits at airports around the world. The English – ex-pats and those still on that small and chilly island will think “Ford...”Why? Because the Ford Transit van is as much an icon to an Englishman as an F250 is to an American. They grew up with them in the 1960’s; some turned them into “passion wagons” and campers, plumbers and builders couldn’t exist without one and, strangely, to bank robbers and other miscreants, they were (are?) the getaway vehicle of choice.FAST ON THE ’RINGMillions have been built, 700 000 are still running in the British Isles, and they’ve evolved over 47 years through more metamorphoses than mankind itself – and in way more colours. One has even done a sub-10 minute lap of the Nurburgring, courtesy of ‘Top Gear’.Ford Transit Tourneo Custom image galleryThey were built in South Africa until 1974, but then disappeared from South African roads. Now, however, they’re back with a vengeance – launched this week in Johannesburg in nine variants designed to carry people or goods – the Tourneo Custom bus and the Transit custom van.Wheels24 was there to welcome them and to drive the luxury version, the eight-seat Tourneo, around that city and into its sister metropolis, Soweto. We’ll tell you more about the Transit Custom tomorrow...'STYLISH PEOPLE-MOVER'For now, though, here are the details of the Tourneo, arguable the most adjustable minibus in the world with 30 variations possible from the rear two rows of three seats each – though all variants share the same 2.2-litre Ford Duratorq diesel engines in three states of tune – one of them, incongruously, a Sport model.Ford SA describes the Tourneo as “a stylish people-mover that offers car-like comfort and driving dynamics”. “With its tasteful appearance, smart technologies and outstanding fuel economy, the Ford Tourneo Custom is expected to attract families, lifestyle people and executive shuttle customers.”“It’s a spacious and versatile vehicle,” Ford marketing manager Gavin Golightly asserts. “It’s a fantastic-looking people mover – inside and out – and offers outstanding day-to-day practicality while still being great to drive.”It has, the automaker says, the same dynamic character as Ford’s kinetic design cars, “generating a strong sense of movement, even when the vehicle is standing still”.Golightly again: “With its sporty stance, bold rising shoulder line and flush glazing, the Tourneo Custom brings something fresh and exciting to this class of people mover.”SWING OR SLIDE...There might be one engine but the Tourneo comes in two sizes, a short-wheelbase marginally less than five metres long and a long-wheelbase with extra luggage space behind the third row of seats that come in at a parking-space challenging 5.35m.Long they might be but, at around two metres high, they’ll still be able to access a normal parking garage – even with the optional roof rack still attached (but sans luggage).The two front doors swing open, side/rear access is through two huge sliding doors and a handy step. The tail door is huge, lifts vertically, and can accommodate a motor-cycle, should you wish to take one on holiday.I found the driver’s seat particularly comfortable and spacious, the view of the road ahead commanding, the controls – particularly the gear-shifter that sprouts from the fascia – car-like and the fully adjustable steering-wheel fashionably small and studded with satellite controls for various functions.IDEAL FOR TOUR OPERATORSInstrumentation is big and readable, there’s as small screen to display additional journey information and a vast panel of buttons for a multitude of functions, including a Bluetooth phone connection.The Tourneo will undoubtedly become popular with hotels, tour companies and shuttle services; it’s a bit over-equipped for anything except a large family; all six rear seats (in two rows of three individual units with their own seat belts) can fold, tumble and slide fore-and-aft singly or altogether to accommodate a huge variety of luggage or cargo.Or be removed completely to turn the tour bus into a cargo van with a bay 3.4m long – just like the original Transit panel van of nearly half-a-century ago, though I think the original was shorter.Front aircon is standard; a separate unit for the rear is an option. Ford’s SYNC voice-activated, in-car connectivity system (on Trend models) allows simultaneous connection of several cellphones and audio sources.Ambiente models are the base units, for more luxury there’s the Trend – a nomenclature common across the Ford model range.FIVE-STAR PROTECTIONHandling is also excellent: the Tourneo comes, as does the latest Ford Focus, with electronic stability control and “torque vectoring” – braking on various wheels – to help with traction (all Transits are front-wheel drive) and cornering stability.The Tourneo Custom is the first new vehicle in its class to achieve a maximum EuroNCAP five-star crash protection rating: normal and curtain airbags up front along with seat-mounted side thorax bags.‘Luxury’ items include power windows and external mirrors, break-in alarm, immobiliser, audio, remote locking, key-operated bonnet opening (a long-standing real feature on Ford products) and auto locking.The Trend units add front fog lights, cornering lights, 16” alloy rims, cruise control reclining rear seats and SYNC.Though Ford’s latest 2.2-litre Duratorq TDCi turbodiesel engine is standard across the range, it comes in two power ratings: 74kW/310Nm on Ambiente models and 92kW/350Nm on Trend units, each driving through a six-speed manual gearbox. Ford says both (Euro standard testing) swallow 6.5 litres/100km with 172g/km of CO2 emissions.FOUR-YEAR WARRANTYSafety features include anti-lock brakes and emergency pressure assistance, vehicle and trailer stability control, hill-start assistance, IsoFix child-seat anchors and a lane-departure warning.The Tourneo Custom comes with a four-year of 120 000km warranty, a five-year or 90 000km service plan and three years of free roadside assistance.Service intervals are 15 000km.TRANSIT TOURNEO CUSTOM PRICESTourneo Custom (6spd manual transmission)2.2 TDCi Ambiente swb – R385 2002.2 TDCi Trend swb – R407 8002.2 TDCi Ambiente lwb – R392 2002.2 TDCi Trend lwb – R414 700OptionsMetallic paint – R1150Rear aircon and parking sensors – R8420Rear seat aircon – R5000Entertainment pack with parking sensors and cruise control – R8470Prices for the Transit Custom vans with the full story tomorrow.