The typical minibus you may have had the displeasure to travel in at one time or another is nothing more than a converted cargo van with retrofitted bench seats. They are unsafe, loud and uncomfortable if your journey lasts anything more than 10 minutes. However, while the top names in the people-moving business have been the Toyota Hiace and the Hyundai H1 so far, Ford has now thrown their hat in the ring with their Tourneo Custom for the first time in the Middle East. Already a best-selling name in Europe for decades, the Tourneo Custom minibus is ready to make its mark here, and we pitched it against the Hiace and the H1 to see how well it stacks up.
Let’s start with the body of these minibuses. The Toyota Hiace GL follows the usual Japanese box format, where the driver and front passenger sit on top of the engine, using their legs as a potential crumple zone. The tall roof allows for a bit more standing room, but makes it unable to enter most underground parking lots with a typical 2.1-metre height limit. This long-wheelbase model claims to offer 13 seats thanks to a very tight 4-seat bench in the back, but at the expense of legroom, making it a very cramped place to be in.
Meanwhile, the Hyundai H1 has a more modern body style, with its engine in front of the driver and front passenger. It also has the shortest height, requiring passengers to crouch more than the other vans when getting in. It is also the shortest in terms of length, yet somehow, they have managed to optionally cram in four rows to make up between 9 and 12 seats depending on the setup, making it very tight on legroom, even when the fourth row is not optioned.
In contrast, the Ford Tourneo Custom is longer and taller than the H1, yet still small enough to fit into parking garages. With the engine in front of the cabin, angled window-line along the sides and slim tail lamps, it even has car-like styling elements. Inside, comfort is prioritised over capacity, with seating for nine and tons of legroom, while leaving a massive cargo space in the back.
Inside, none of the three have particularly utilitarian dashboards any more, but the Ford’s layout is the most car-like, taking design elements straight out of the Focus sedan, while adding amazingly useful features such as the hidden storage cubby above the gauge-cluster that also has a USB charging port, as well as an upright phone-holder so you can use your smartphone’s navigation.
In terms of seating, the Toyota Hiace GL has flat individual seats with headrests and three-point belts. The seats are narrow to leave a walkthrough aisle to the rear-most rows.
Only the front seats are proper buckets with three-point seatbelts, and a front middle seat on top of the engine is optional, with a lap belt.
The Hyundai H1 offers individual seats and headrests for all window-seat passengers, with lap belts.
Only the driver and one front passenger get three-point seatbelts. The aisle along the middle can be optionally filled with unsafe jump seats.
The Ford Tourneo Custom gets 9 proper bucket seats with headrests and full three-point seatbelts, with a foldaway second-row seat to gain access to the last row. It also offers the most legroom, even for the front middle passenger.
Each of the rear seats can even be folded or removed without using tools, thus allowing substantial flexibility. It is also the only one with an external side-step for rear passengers and sliding doors on both sides, easily making it the most convenient and comfortable.
All three minibuses come with rear a/c vents and a single set of rear controls, with the Ford offering a vent for each individual passenger as standard. Other standard features unique to Ford include side window blinds integrated into the rear sliding doors, front under-seat storage, power door mirrors with indicators, power windows with one-shot up/down for the driver, keyless entry and Ford’s SYNC® connectivity system.
In terms of safety, the latest versions of the Hiace GL and the H1 as well as the Tourneo Custom all come with two front airbags, ESP, ABS with Brake Assist and a tyre-pressure monitor. The Ford goes further with side and curtain airbags for the driver and front passenger, as well as offering 3 rear seats with ISOFIX child-seat latches. The Ford is also the only one with a 5-star EuroNCAP crash test rating.
The Toyota can be had with a 2.7-litre petrol making 151 PS and 241 Nm of torque, or a 2.5-litre turbodiesel making 102 PS and 260 Nm, both mated to a 5-speed manual. The Hyundai can be had with a 2.4-litre petrol engine making 176 PS and 228 Nm of torque, mated to a 5-speed manual or a 4-speed auto. The Ford comes with a choice of two 2.2-litre turbodiesel engines, making either 100 PS and 310 Nm in base form, or 125 PS and 350 Nm optionally, both mated to a 6-speed manual.
Both the Ford engines beat the Toyota and the Hyundai in terms of all-important torque, while being the most economical with a rated fuel-consumption figure of 15 km/litre.
Comfort and Handling
While all three minibuses ride reasonably well, the Hiace lets in much more noise in the cabin, while the Ford offers the quietest cabin, with very little engine noise while cruising. The Tourneo Custom also offers the smoothest highway ride, while also being the best handler. In fact, it can be driven like a car, with limited body roll and responsive steering, and a roll-over mitigation system making sure the vehicle is never driven over its limits.
The New Leader in Minibuses
The long-running Hiace and H1 are dinosaurs in terms of automotive product life-cycles. It is about time the minibus segment in the Middle East entered the modern era, and the Ford Tourneo Custom is leading the way with its car-like cabin, comfortable drive and flexible seating.