The Ford Transit Custom Plug-in Hybrid has a 3-cylinder, 1-litre petrol engine and an electric motor powered by a battery, with an electric driving range of 26 miles and a range of 310 miles using the petrol range extender.
Ford Transits have generally been diesel-powered over recent years, but now there’s a version with a 3-cylinder, 1-litre petrol engine and an electric motor powered by a battery – can that really work in a van?
The wheels of the Ford Transit Custom Plug-in Hybrid van are driven exclusively by an electric motor rather than by the combustion engine. The Ford EcoBoost 1-litre petrol engine acts as a range extender and charges the on-board batteries when longer trips are required. So the Transit Plug-in Hybrid powertrain is actually a range extender.
The Transit Custom Plug-in Hybrid van has a kerb weight of 2,195 kg, a net payload of up to 1,130kg and 6.0m3 load volume. It’s 4,973mm in length, 2,000mm in height, and 2,272mm in width including mirrors. Up front there are three seats.
We imagine that many van drivers won’t be looking forward to the driving experience from a 3-cylinder, 1-litre petrol engine but actually it’s perfectly fine, and it’s also more refined than a diesel Transit, thanks to the range extender powertrain. That’s true around town, and also on the motorway. With a single-speed automatic transmission, it’s also easy to drive (helped by a good turning circle).
There are four EV drive modes: EV Auto, EV Now, EV Later and EV Charge. These are accessed by a small button on the dashboard to the left of the steering wheel – we’d like to see the button a lot more prominent.
EV Auto means that the van chooses whether to use electric or petrol power. If the available battery power has been used, the range extender engine will then run to produce power. This is the default setting if the prior selection was EV Auto, EV Charge or EV Later.
EV Now uses electric power only, until the range extender is required to charge the battery. Ford says that if the vehicle has been fully charged to 100% via mains electricity, it will automatically start in EV Now, and EV Now should be automatically selected if the vehicle is switched off when in EV Now mode.
EV Later maintains the level of battery charge by using the petrol range extender engine. This mode would be used when driving on a motorway before entering a city, when the mode could be changed to EV Now.
EV Charge mode charges the battery from the petrol range extender, for example if driving on a motorway before entering a city, if there isn’t sufficient battery charge. This is not as efficient as charging the battery from mains electricity. It will take about 50 miles of mixed driving to charge the battery from minimum to approximately 75%.
The above explains how the system should work in theory; in practice we wanted the van to run on electric only most of the time and so we wanted the EV Now mode, however there were various times when it was no longer in the mode selected – as though the van had changed the mode by itself.
As well as the EV mode button needing to be more prominent, the Transit also desperately needs big graphics in the instrument display confirming which mode you’re in. At the moment there’s a very small blue battery symbol with a small tick in a circle to tell you that you’re in EV Now mode – this needs to be much bigger and clearer. In our view the van – like all plug-in hybrid cars – should always start in EV mode – but it didn’t seem to do this.
The gear selector for the single-speed automatic transmission has a D setting and an L (Low) setting, the latter providing more brake regeneration.
Apart from the small button for the EV modes, there are also small buttons for the heated seats and the windscreen heater.
There’s a central touchscreen, with separate media buttons (good) and separate heating and ventilation buttons (good).
One important omission in our view is a reversing camera – one of the key things that is really useful in a van.
However you do get lots of drinks holders: the driver gets three drink holders, at the top right of the dashboard, at the bottom of the dashboard, and in the door pocket – and the passenger gets the same – so there are six drinks holders in total.
The Ford Transit Custom PHEV has an official WLTP combined fuel economy figure of 91.7mpg, WLTP CO2 emissions of 70 g/km, a WLTP combined electric driving range of 26 miles (or 30 miles for the WLTP City cycle) and a range of 310 miles using the petrol range extender.
We reviewed the Transit over a week and on the first day we tested it on the motorway when it returned 34.2mpg. For the remaining six days we used it every day both empty and with various loads, and our average economy over 100 miles was 999.9mpg. This is because it was used on electric power all the time (apart from the very brief times when the petrol engine was on inadvertently) – mainly doing short runs from home to a nearby storage unit and back.
The projected electric range after a full charge was 26 miles, and it appeared to deliver 26 miles in real-world use. It was also displaying a petrol range of 400 miles.
Using a domestic electricity supply, a full charge should take 4.3 hours. Using a wallbox should take 3 hours.
The charging port is at the front nearside corner of the van. This means that you generally have to drive forwards into a charging point and then reverse out, which isn’t recommended from a safe driving point of view. If the charging port was at the rear, you could potentially reverse into a bay and charge the van while you’re loading.
The Ford Transit Custom PHEV costs £47,814. Our test vehicle featured the options of Race Red Solid Paint (£360); SYNC 3 Audio with Navigation (£1,185) and Front and Rear Parking Sensors (£405), taking the total price to £49,764. In comparison, diesel Transits are available for around £25,000, so the PHEV is twice the price.
In addition to the Transit Custom Plug-in Hybrid van there’s also the Tourneo Custom Plug-In Hybrid people mover.
Diesel vans are a well known contributor to local air quality problems, so a van that can run on electric power is welcome. The Transit PHEV can manage around 26 miles of zero-tailpipe emissions before the petrol range extender kicks in. The trouble is, there are similar sized all-electric vans available that have a range of around 200 miles. So the Transit presumably has a specific niche in the market, for vans that need to cover up to 300 miles without charging, and then need to cover around 26 miles with zero tailpipe emissions. We’re not too sure who would have such a drive cycle, but if the Transit meant that money could be saved when driving in cities such as London with eg. Ultra Low Emission Zones (ULEZ), then the cost savings may start to offset the higher price of the Transit PHEV. The Ford Transit Custom PHEV gains a Green Car Guide rating of 7 out of 10.