I want to get a couple of numbers out of the way right at the start of this. The first is 91mpg - the official WLTP economy for this Ford Transit Custom PHEV. The second is £50,160 which is the price for this particular plug-in hybrid van after options.
For reference, the Transit Custom range starts at around £23,000 so this hybrid is, on the face of it, not a cheap option.
But it’s a van with a very particular audience for whom the steep on-paper price is balanced by the real-world costs.
As more and more cities introduce low-emissions zones businesses need to adapt their fleets with less-polluting models to avoid punishing charges. But for many firms a big load-lugging van is still a necessity.
Ford Transit Custom Leader PHEV
- Price: £47,214 (£50,160 as tested)
- Engine: 1.0-litre three-cylinder petrol/92.9kW electric motor, 13.6kWh battery
- Power: 124bhp
- Torque: n/a
- Transmission: Single-speed automatic
- Top speed: 75mph
- 0-62mph: n/a
- CO2 emissions: 69g/km
Manufacturers are rapidly bringing out 100 per cent electric vans which are great if all your business is conducted within a small geographical area but if you need to move goods long distances they can’t match an old-fashioned diesel van.
That’s where this Ford Transit Custom PHEV comes in, offering the ability to pootle around in EV mode for up to 35 miles yet cover around 310 miles on a full tank and battery.
Under the bonnet where you’d usually find a 2.0-litre diesel is a 1.0-litre EcoBoost petrol engine, like you’d find in a Fiesta. Even more unusually, this isn’t actually connected to the wheels. Instead it acts as a range-extending generator for the 92.9kW electric motor and its 13.6kWh battery.
As long as there’s some charge in the battery, the Transit will start up in pure EV mode and operate like any other electric vehicle. That means pick-up is smooth, immediate, linear and surprisingly sprightly off the mark. However, after that initial surge the 124bhp motor doesn’t have a surfeit of shove.
It’s also remarkably quiet despite the echo-chamber shape of the van. It is only when the engine kicks in that things get a bit rough and shouty, especially if it is powering the motor directly.
Four drive modes let you choose how the van uses its power sources. EV Now locks it into pure EV mode, EV Later fires up the motor to keep the batteries topped up, EV Charge uses the engine to charge the battery and power the motor at the same time while EV Auto figures out the best arrangement for the driving conditions.
What you get out of this arrangement depends on how you plan to use. Long-distance runs will deplete the battery reserves fairly quickly, especially at motorway speeds, leaving you burning a gallon of fuel for every 30 miles or so. The payoff is that if your van is used primarily for a lot of short local runs you’ll use very little fuel as it operates in EV or hybrid mode.
While the drivetrain is unconventional, everything else about the Transit PHEV is pleasantly familiar.
The PHEV is only available in the shorter wheelbase, low-roof bodystyle (L1H1) but offers the same six cubic metre capacity in the load area as any diesel powered version and a slightly lower net payload of 1,130kg. So for most users it’s as capable of the day-to-day tasks as any other Transit.
And in the cabin it’s a familiar story with an upright but comfortable driving position and the usual endless storage spaces that’ll hold everything from loose change and phones to two-litre drinks bottles and A4 folders.
Standard Leader spec vans come with a basic 4.2-inch TFT screen and DAB but our test vehicle was specced with the £1,332 ICE Pack that adds an eight-inch touchscreen with smartphone mirroring, sat nav, emergency assistance and two extra USB sockets.
Other options including bright-as-day LED lighting in the load area and metallic paint pushed the price of our van up from £47,214 to £50,160.
That’s a lot of money for a van and the Transit Custom PHEV’s value will depend hugely on how you use it.
The idea of a long-range hauler with the capacity for zero-emissions “final mile” work is an appealing one but the PHEV is better thought of as an low-emissions urban vehicle that’s capable of taking a 250-mile trip in its stride.
Used like that and with a charge time of under three hours, it’s an attractive prospect for city-centre businesses especially when you start to consider the tax benefits of its sub-70g/km emissions.