Ford has pioneered PHEV technology in the van market with this plug-in hybrid Transit Custom. Jonathan Crouch drives it.
Ten Second Review
Full hybrid electrification has been slow to reach the van market but Ford offers it in plug-in form on its Transit Custom. There's a usable 35 mile all-electric range, decent load-carrying practicality and proper green credibility for your business on offer here.
Pollution in our cities won't be fully solved until vans as well as cars fully embrace electrification. But that won't happen until electrified LCV offerings become really credible. At the moment, there are a handful of full-electric vans available, but their operating ranges are generally poor and their asking prices often unreasonably high.
So what can a city-based business working to reduce its carbon footprint do right here, right now to make a difference? Perhaps consider this, the Ford Transit Custom PHEV model. It's not full-electric but it can, unlike the mild hybrid version of the full-sized Transit, be run solely on electric power.
A PHEV Transit Custom isn't very different to drive from a combustion-powered one, though if the battery's charged, you'll find it surprisingly quick away from rest, thanks to the instant torque of the electric motors. Enough to wear your front tyres quite quickly if you're not careful with your right foot. This PHEV variant comes only with Ford's 124hp 1.0-litre EcoBoost three cylinder petrol engine, which usually you'd think would be a bit feeble to power an LCV of this size but which in this case, gets a little extra help. As part of the Plug-in hybrid set-up, it's paired with a 92.9kW electric motor powered by a 13.8kWh lithium-ion battery pack that's capable of providing for a 35 mile all-electric driving range. Overall range once the petrol engine kicks in is around 310 miles.
At the wheel, there are four drive modes to choose from. Most of the time, you'll use 'EV Auto' (which combines the engine and battery to best effect). If you're in town and want to use battery-only motion, you'll select 'EV Now'. There's also 'EV Later' (which stores up battery charge for later in your trip); and 'EV Charge' (which uses the petrol engine both to power the van and top up the battery, though that's not very economic).
Design and Build
There are no visual differences marking out the PHEV Transit Custom variant, so unless your customers happen to spot the unique badging or the charging flap, your company's green-minded LCV choice will go unnoticed. A van needs to look smart, modern and professional. This one does, with signature kinetic design features that bring quite a sporty stance and bold rising shoulder line, clearly marking out this design as a cargo carrier very much of its time.
Inside, the cabin design on better-specced models features Ford's sophisticated 'SYNC 3' 8-inch infotainment touchscreen. This offers 'Apple CarPlay' and 'Android Auto' smartphone-mirroring, Bluetooth, audio and, if specified, navigational functions and delivers intuitive voice control too. The seats have been designed for decent support, materials quality is vastly better than you might expect and there's plenty of interior stowage around the cabin, primarily through the provision of three dash-top open stowage areas. As usual on a Transit Custom, there's a three-person seating layout and the centre backrest folds down to create a desk-top area. In addition, the seat base lifts to reveal extra storage capacity.
Market and Model
This Plug-in hybrid comes only in a single L1 H1 body style, the most compact in the range. For this PHEV version of the Transit Custom, the ex-VAT pricing starts at just over £35,000 exc. VAT, which gets you base 'Leader' spec. There are also plusher 'Trend' and 'Limited' specifications available for those wanting to spend a bit more - owner drivers perhaps. To give you some cost perspective, a mild hybrid mHEV version of this van with much the same power output and exactly the same spec would save you around £8,000, so you've really got to want the plug-in tech.
With 'Leader' spec, you get only the basics in terms of it, though the price does include auto headlamps and power door deadlocks. Mid-range 'Trend'-spec adds a bit more - a Quickclear front windscreen, body colour for the mirrors and front bumper, front and rear parking sensors, speed control, front fog lamps, auto wipers, power-folding mirrors and an 8-inch SYNC 3 centre touchscreen with 'Apple CarPlay'/'Android Auto' smartphone-mirroring. Top 'Limited' spec adds nicer seats, a passenger airbag, a chromed front grille and an LED rear compartment light, amongst other things.
Practicalities and Costs
The Transit PHEV comes only in the Transit Custom range's smallest size - L1 H1. But at least the way that Ford has packaged up the battery pack below the floor, the payload of up to 1,130kg (in 'Leader' spec) and the load volume of 6.0m3 are the same as for the equivalent diesel-powered version of this van. The cargo area load length is 2,555mm and the load width is 1,775mm, narrowing to 1,390mm between the wheel arches. The load bay height is 1,406mm.
What about running costs? Well a domestic 240V 10A power supply would charge this LCV in 4.3 hours; you could reduce that to 2.7 hours with a commercial type-2AC charger. The battery pack is covered by an eight year, 100,000 mile warranty. Ford claims that the total cost of ownership is 'comparable to or better than a diesel'. This PHEV variant's CO2 emissions are rated at 60g/km, compared to 144g/km for the mHEV mild hybrid diesel version.
We don't really understand why it's taking LCV makers so long to embrace the advantages of plug-in hybrid tech, but that's all good for Ford, who are being given a free run with that technology at the van segment with this Transit Custom PHEV.
Our biggest concern with this product is price - at around £35,000 ex VAT, it's hardly inexpensive. But if you can balance that outlay against lower running costs, it could add up as a proposition. Certainly, it goes without saying that unless you really take advantage of its all-electric savings, that outlay won't make sense. But if you can and you use this Ford properly, its hybrid attributes might really benefit your business. Plus there are all the usual advantages of Transit Custom ownership - practicality that's unimpeded by the PHEV tech and great driving dynamics.