First drive: A plug-in hybrid powertrain adds further appeal to the Ford Transit Custom
What is it?
Electrification has already absorbed the car world – from EVs to a whole variety of hybrids – and slowly the same is happening in the van world.
Kickstarting with brands such as Nissan and Renault, along with more recent zero-emission additions from the likes of Volkswagen, Iveco and Peugeot.
Noticed a name missing from this list? Well if not, it’s Ford – Britain’s most popular commercial vehicle firm that keeps seeing its van sales going from strength-to-strength, and recorded its most successful year for new registrations in the UK in 2018.
The manufacturer has been slow to develop and launch any electrified offerings (across both cars and vans) – not that that has hurt sales in any way – but that is all about to change with the brand’s first plug-in hybrid vehicle (PHEV) – a revised version of the best-selling Transit Custom.
Aside from being Ford’s being first PHEV, this is also the first plug-in hybrid van on sale – just beating the LEVC LCV to market.
While following the crowd and making an all-electric Transit might have been the easy route, Ford says it’s chosen a plug-in hybrid for several reasons. First, it retains the same payload as the regular Transit and there is no need to worry about range anxiety. It also means that as more cities are set to implement low-emission zones, the Transit PHEV will likely still be exempt from emissions-based charges.
Aside from the powertrain, which we’ll cover in detail later, there isn’t much different about this plug-in hybrid Transit, aside from the charging flap in the front bumper and revised dials and eco switches in the cabin.
What’s under the bonnet?
As Ford’s first-ever PHEV to come to market, this is a key model for the firm, with this powertrain likely to be used in various cars from the brand in the future – likely the Fiesta and Focus.
The powertrain sees Ford’s popular 1.0-litre EcoBoost petrol engine paired with a 92.9kW electric motor and a 13.6kWh electric motor to produce a combined 124bhp and 355Nm of torque. Ford describes the engine as a ‘range extender’, though, over longer journeys, there is a heavy reliance on the engine for power.
The claimed electric range of 35 miles is ideal for city use, though in our mix of driving we found the electric ran dry well ahead of Ford’s predictions. But the key benefit for many will be the zero-emission capability, which does a sterling job of cutting CO2 emissions down to 70g/km, along with a claimed fuel economy figure of 91.7mpg.
What’s it like to drive?
Behind the wheel, it’s amazing just how easy this plug-in hybrid Transit is to drive, and it will likely be a pleasant surprise to those used to diesel-powered models.
The initial torque and silence off the line and at lower speeds is fantastic – a welcome change from a tractor-like chug. The dials also make it clear to see when you’re running on electric or the engine, too, while specific EV settings allow you to customise when you wish to use the electricity. For example, if you’re entering a low-emission zone and want to conserve the electric miles, you can flick it into ‘EV Later’ mode and then switch to ‘EV Now’ once you arrive at the location.
The only thing with the system is that once the electric runs out, the petrol engine itself is small and underpowered to move something of this size – leading to a rather unrefined drone from the one-speed automatic gearbox as you attempt to get up to speed.
How does it look?
Aside from the charging flap in the front bumper, which could look like a massive tow hook, the plug-in hybrid Transit looks identical to the standard van. That’s no bad thing, as the Transit is arguably one of the most stylish vans in its class.
More so when you pick the range-topping Limited version, which brings car-like looks thanks to 16-inch alloy wheels, body-coloured door handles and bumpers, as well as stylish LED daytime running lights – similar to those fitted to the Fiesta.
It’s worth noting that currently ,the PHEV is just available in a single L1/H1 body size, which can be had as a panel van or a Kombi with a set of rear seats. It’s also offered as the Touneo Custom – a more luxurious people carrier offering seating for up to nine adults.
What’s it like inside?
The ‘hardly unchanged’ look also continues to the cabin, though look closely and you’ll spot as few EV-specific details.
This is noticed mainly when you look at the dials, with a gauge showing when the van is either charging or using the engine replacing the rev counter, along with clear indicators of how many miles of electric range you have remaining, alongside the overall range. There is also a button for the EV modes in the middle of the dash, though it could be more handily positioned.
Mid-spec vans upwards also come with Ford’s excellent Sync 3 eight-inch infotainment system – allowing for a host of connected services, as well as satellite navigation and mobile apps that come from in-built Wi-Fi.
But one of the stand-out highlights of the Transit PHEV is its unchanged 1,130kg payload from a regular diesel Transit – an impressive feat given the additional weight that electrification adds. It also sets the hybrid apart from regular all-electric vans, which often see their payloads significantly reduced. This is undoubtedly a key benefit of choosing a plug-in hybrid over an EV at this current stage on the way to electrification.
What’s the spec like?
Electrified versions of vehicles always cost more than the standard combustion engines, but just how much more the Transit PHEV costs than its equivalent diesel version is alarming.
The standard Transit range starts from an affordable £22,840, but the equivalent version to the PHEV costs from £26,490. So, what about the PHEV itself? Well, that will set you back an eye-watering £39,145, though Ford says it should hold its value far better, but it will be a big initial offset for businesses to make.
It’s offered in three grades, which admittedly are better-equipped than the standard van. The entry-level Leader comes with Bluetooth, electric front windows and air-conditioning.
Trend brings a leather steering wheel, front and rear parking sensors and automatic lights and wipers, with the range-topping Limited version adding heated front seats, 16-inch alloy wheels and body-coloured bumpers to get rid of the classic cladding.
By opting for a plug-in hybrid as its first electrified powertrain, Ford has successfully dodged the limited electric ranges and limited loads carrying ability typically associated with all-electric vans.
While the limited electric-only range makes this PHEV a version that’s best-suited to cities, it could be ideal for businesses needing to do that mix of rural and urban driving – but wanting to ensure they can save the electric for once they get to the city.
But the high list price next to the diesel model is the elephant in the room that could prohibit many from switching over to an electrified powertrain. Either way, this new plug-in hybrid is a great addition to the Transit line-up, which offers a further option to those looking to cut their businesses’ carbon footprint.