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(The Gear Loop) - The ability to pull up at a favoured camping spot, pop the roof and bed down for a comfortable night’s sleep is not to be underestimated. A well equipped camper van is essentially a home-from-home... on wheels. It offers a level of luxury that no tent - regardless of its size - can replicate.

The market is arguably led by Volkswagen and its recognised California range, which now comprises the standard California (based on the Transporter), the smaller Caddy California and the enormous California XL, which is based on the Crafter.

Also there for your consideration is the luxurious Mercedes-Benz Marco Polo, as well las things like the Toyota Proace and the numerous aftermarket conversions that are offered by established companies specialising in the matter.

The Gear LoopFord Transit Custom Nugget review photo 2

But Ford has arguably struck gold with the Transit Nugget (see what we did there?), as it offers a genuine alternative to the VW California thanks to a partnership with established camper converters Westfalia, with a clever layout, genuinely useful equipment and generous space to sleep and house four adults inside. 

We grabbed the keys to Ford’s canny camper and subjected it to the ultimate test: powering through France on an extremely tight schedule. Stopping off to sleep where possible. A comfortable drive and the ability to set up camp quickly would prove essential.

Our quick take

The Ford Transit Custom Nugget offers a great alternative to the industry-leading Volkswagen California, with a living quarters that actually feels more spacious than Vee Dub's and generous equipment that includes a shower and gargantuan fridge. It’s just a shame the price is so incredibly eye-watering and the finish not quite as lavish as VW or Mercedes-Benz.

Ford Transit Custom Nugget review: a clever camper if you can get over the name… and the price

Ford Transit Custom Nugget

4.0 stars
For
  • Well thought-out living area
  • Well appointed with kit
  • A smooth and easy drive
Against
  • Finish could be more premium
  • Engine lacks punch
  • It’s very expensive

In the Loop

Everything you need to know about the Ford Transit Custom Nugget in brief:

  • Price as tested OTR: £84,081
  • Engine: 2.0L EcoBlue Diesel
  • Performance: 185PS
  • Transmission: 6-speed auto
  • Top speed: 111mph
  • Fuel economy: 32mpg 
  • Infotainment: Ford Sync3 app-compatible touchscreen
  • Camping kit: two double beds, pop-up roof, kitchen, dual burner, fridge, shower

Design and features

From the outside, the new Nugget doesn’t look too dissimilar to Ford’s ubiquitous Transit Custom model, with only a side awning and the telltale lines of a pop-up roof giving the game away.

The Gear LoopFord Transit Custom Nugget review photo 11

Look a little closer and you’ll see additional flaps on the side for an electrical hook up and an input for fresh water, which allows its inhabitants to make use of a fully functioning sink, complete with taps, and an electric shower that runs off one of the rear units.

Inside, it all looks fairly familiar, too. With two sumptuous "captain’s chairs" at the front that swivel around to face the rear, three-seat bench when you want to do some van-based dining, or initiate an impromptu Texas Hold ‘Em session.

There’s a hole in the smart wood-effect laminate floor where the base for a table attaches, while that rear bench slides forward on rails to create the first of two double beds.

FordFord Transit Custom Nugget review photo 22

It’s not until you open the large (and heavy) rear tailgate that you are really greeted to the full camper van experience. Here, in front of you, you’ll find a full kitchen layout that includes a sink, a deep 40 litre fridge (no need for a cool box) and a twin burner gas stove.

The layout is very clever, with a narrow walkway separating the "living area" up front with this little kitchenette. Pop the manual roof, which operates a little clumsily on gas struts, and users are able to stand up to cook or clean.

This clever configuration also maximises cupboard space, with a large pantry to the right that is also able to double-up as a wardrobe for hanging clothes. There are numerous drawers, as well as various nooks and crannies to stow everything from cutlery and crockery to larger camping essentials, such as pillows and sleeping bags.

The Gear LoopFord Transit Custom Nugget review photo 8

There’s also a cavernous storage hole behind the sliding rear bench that houses the previously mentioned table, as well as foldable chairs for outside. The tailgate ingeniously houses a folding table for a full-on eu naturel picnic experience.

Our test model also came fitted with a side awning that wound in and out via a rod that was stashed under the rear bench. In here, we were also treated to an extra long electrical hook-up cable and hoses for pumping freshwater into the onboard tank.

Infotainment and technology

This is all fairly standard fare, with Ford’s long-serving Sync3 system providing the main infotainment to driver and front passenger. It boasts nav, although you’re more likely to plug your phone in to one of the numerous USB ports and make use of Android Auto or CarPlay.

The Gear LoopFord Transit Custom Nugget review photo 18

The sound system is good for a van, but this runs off the main electrical system, so too much reliance on this could lead to a flat battery. Thankfully, Ford and Westfalia have also installed a comprehensive leisure battery system.

A small module above the front occupant’s heads deals with the fridge, a diesel heating system and the electrics in general. Like most leisure battery systems, this will charge as you drive, but it also allows the owner to hook up to a campsite power source and run everything this way.

That includes a fridge, a hot water system, the numerous power outlets (including 12V and three-pin), interior lighting and the shower.

The Gear LoopFord Transit Custom Nugget review photo 16

This is operated by first attaching the provided shower head, ensuring the fresh water tank is brimmed and then activated with a switch. It works surprisingly well, as the water heats quickly and the pressure from an onboard pump is impressive. 

Driving

This is where the Transit custom Nugget falls a little way behind its main rival, because it feels more “van-like” to drive than the California, which is based on the fantastic Transporter platform.

Ford’s 2.0-litre EcoBlue diesel engine lacks a little punch, especially if you are also towing, while the van itself feels every bit as heavy as it is. That said, it’s comfortable and quiet at motorway speeds, with plenty of niceties (double armrests anyone?) to ensure everyone can get settled in for the long haul.

The Gear LoopFord Transit Custom Nugget review photo 15

We found the fuel economy to be impressive too, especially given the mass we were hauling vowel one distances. Officially pegged at around 36mpg combined, we found we could eke out more when cruising along empty French toll roads.

A home-from-home

Life with the Ford Transit Custom Nugget is surprisingly breezy. It takes no time at all to transform it from a full loaded van to a luxurious living quarters, which is great if campsite hopping.

The pop-up roof is a little laboured and heavy, especially when retracting it. You have to be careful not to slam the thing on your head, but at least it’s fast and effective.

The Gear LoopFord Transit Custom Nugget review photo 5

Upstairs, Ford has incorporated a comfortable mattress and plenty of ventilation for when things get warm. Plus, there are a pair of reading lights, so all dwelling in the upstairs quarters can see what they are doing.

Accessing this area is slightly trickier, as you effectively have to climb over the kitchen to get up there. But Ford provides a small ladder that clips to one of the many cupboards to make this a little easier.

Manoeuvring the rear bench seat is slightly harder, as we found it didn’t run on its rails particularly smoothly and was far easier with two people to slide its heft forward and backwards. The double bed it creates is arguably not as comfortable as the one upstairs, but it’s less exposed when the weather turns sour.

The Gear LoopFord Transit Custom Nugget review photo 6

Above all, the kitchen is fantastically useable, with the dual burner able to prep more lavish meals, wile the running hot water saves trips to the campsite sinks. There’s even a waster water container that can be dumped whenever convenient.

Profligate buyers can opt for a long wheel-base version (L2) that comes complete with an onboard loo, but we’re not 100 per cent sold on the idea. It’s a bit cramped for that and most campsites have good facilities anyway. 

The shower, on the other hand, is a clever addition and we used it more than we initially thought. Perfect for washing down surfboards and wetsuits, it can also be genuinely used for personal hygiene duties. 

FordFord Transit Custom Nugget review photo 21

A shower head clamp suckers to glass of tailgate to hold it in place when in use and the water heats surprisingly quickly thanks to the onboard immersion system. The only downside is that you will be showering outside, so it could be a good idea to stand in a bucket to save from mucky feet and to capture waste water.

To recap

We thoroughly enjoyed our time with the Nugget, as it offers a clever layout that makes it feel more spacious and practical inside than the Volkswagen California. The Westfalia equipment boasts fantastic build quality and everything works as it should. As a luxurious home-from-home, it’s a brilliant and convenient camping option. It’s just a shame it’s so expensive, because we feel the driving experience and the overall finish can’t quite compete with its Germanic rivals.

Writing by Leon Poultney.