The last few years of travel chaos have changed how many people go on holiday.
As people looked for a way to escape the everyday without getting on a plane, there was a massive jump in interest in how to take a break closer to home. While some people embraced luxury hotel life and others ventured into the woods with nothing but a two-man tent and a stove, savvy holidaymakers turned to the world of campervans.
Even as travel returns to normal, the idea of being able to tour the continent on your own timetable with the luxuries of home at your back remains a strong one. Which puts Ford in a rather strong position with the Transit Custom Nugget.
Say campervan and many people’s immediate thought is Volkswagen but in recent years Ford has also been putting out official converted versions of its market-leading one-tonne van. The Transit Custom Nugget is a tie-up with German brand Westfalia and sees the bare-bones van outfitted with everything from beds and cupboards to sinks and - in the long-wheelbase Nugget Plus - even a shower and toilet. The idea is to blend the comforts of home with the ability to head out on an adventure on your own terms.
Right up front you have the usual Transit cockpit with an eight-inch Synch 3 screen and enough cupholders, USB ports and 12V sockets to satisfy most needs. But you also have neat captain’s chairs which swivel round to face the rear three-seat bench to create a cosy little seating area. You can then quickly pop up the free standing table to create a proper little dining area for five. It means you’ve got a pleasant, usable social space inside the van should the weather go against you. If the weather’s with you, you can roll out the massive side-mounted awning and break out the table stowed on the tailgate and the branded camping chairs to create a more al fresco atmosphere.
The Nugget has the dining side of things covered too, with a two-burner gas hob, 240V 40-litre fridge and sink with hot and cold running water fed from the van’s internal tank and boiler. Unlike its VW rival which puts the kitchen in the centre of the van, the Ford’s is set behind the rear bench. Not only does this create a neat dedicated kitchen space but it also means the Nugget features sliding doors on either side to make access easier. In the long-wheelbase Nugget Plus, there’s also a fixed toilet and extra fold-down sink at the rear of the van, plus a privacy screen and extra wardrobe space.
Sleeping arrangements are taken care of with a fold-down bed created from the rear bench seats and a low-profile pop-up roof which hides a surprisingly comfortable 2m x 1.38m bed. The fold-down bench is best suited to shorter occupants and Ford says the Nugget will sleep four adults but we managed a few nights away as a family of five without being driven to thoughts of violence.
Around all that are a host of neat cupboards and storage solutions. Westfalia has been converting commercial vehicles into campervans ever since the original VW T1 back in 1951 and its expertise is plain to see in the quality of the cabinets and smart use of the limited space. Everything is well laid out and accessible and there’s still space to move around and from front to back.
So, the Transit hits all the basics of a campervan - seating, sleeping and eating but it’s the smaller touches that make the Nugget Plus feel like a home away from home. An on-board 400W heater, plethora of 240V, 12V and USB sockets, high- and low-level lighting, on-board wifi for 10 devices and even an alarm clock all controlled via a simple central unit, make it a pleasant place to spend a few nights.
Under all that, the Nugget Plus is still a Transit Custom, so don’t expect car-like (or even VW-like) levels or refinement or drivability but get used to the length and height and it’s an easy big thing to pilot. Our Nugget was built just before Ford changed the model’s engine line-up (helpfully), so the impressively punchy 182bhp/306lb ft EcoBlue engine and auto transmission has been replaced by a slightly less punchy but still capable 148bhp version with a six-speed manual.
The Nugget doesn’t have the badge cachet or style of the VW California or the posh factor of the Mercedes-Benz Marco Polo but does cram in a massively practical, usable package into its manageable footprint and offer a world of exploration without leaving the comforts of home behind.
Ford Transit Custom Nugget Plus
Price: £82,329 (£84,741 as tested);
Engine: 2.0-litre, four-cylinder, diesel; Power: 182bhp; Torque: 306lb ft; Transmission: Six-speed automatic; Top speed: n/a; 0-62mph: n/a; Economy: 36.2mpg; CO2 emissions: 204g/km