Ford Transit Custom PHEV: long-term review

Second report: our Ford Transit Custom PHEV van adds light entertainment to its list of talents


  • 3.0 out of 5

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    Verdict

    As expected, longer trips mean fuel economy has taken a hit, but it’s not quite as bad as anticipated. What hasn’t changed is the Ford Transit Custom PHEV’s excellent load-carrying ability, whatever the time of day.

    • Mileage: 5,198
    • Economy: 37.3mpg
    • According to some fella from the West Midlands, all the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players. As it turns out, the cargo bay of our Ford Transit Custom PHEV is one of the more appealing stages on offer. My son Rhys is a bit of a show-off, and is eager to put on a song and dance at the slightest provocation, including whenever I open up the van.

      I think it has something to do with the lighting inside. Ford has seen fit to deck out the Transit Custom’s six-cubic-metre cargo space with four super-bright LED light units, so the area is always well illuminated. Like a moth drawn to a flame, the spotlights clearly have an effect, because whenever the van is open and the cargo area is clear, Rhys is in there, dancing away. Combine that with the large open floor, and it turns out that a van can easily keep a child amused. Thanks to the hard-wearing plastic floor, there’s plenty of opportunity to slide around without scuffing any paint, too.

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      This new-found capability is just another string to our versatile van’s bow. It’s come in massively useful for carrying a wide variety of clobber, and the three-seat layout in the cab offers excellent space. Our Limited-spec van comes with touchscreen infotainment including Apple CarPlay and a WiFi hotspot, so once Rhys is done performing, there are plenty of buttons and switches to play with, and connectivity for his electronic devices.

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      In our last report I was ruing the fact that cold weather put quite a dampener on the PHEV’s all-electric range, because I was registering no more than 15 miles from a fully charged battery. With the warmer weather, that has jumped up to a healthier 25 miles or so from a full charge. But when Ford quotes a range of 35 miles, this is still a bit disappointing; only once have I managed more than 30 miles.

      However, a little experimenting with the trip computer has revealed that the predicted electric range has tended to underestimate how far you can drive before the petrol engine kicks in. Stay at urban speeds, drive smoothly and put the van in ‘L’ mode for extra regenerative braking, and you should be able to add a couple of miles to your range without much effort.

      That’s all well and good, but I’ve been doing a lot more long-distance journeys in the Transit Custom lately, so fuel economy has taken a pounding. The EcoBoost 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbo petrol engine is a range-extending unit, so it sits under the bonnet acting as a generator for the electric motor, rather than ever driving the front wheels directly. As a result, there are more transmission losses, so although I was returning a respectable 66.3mpg earlier in the year when I was keeping things local, economy has now dipped, with an average figure of 37.3mpg.

      That’s a significant benchmark if you’re thinking of buying a Transit Custom PHEV, because past experience with diesel-powered versions of the mid-sized Ford van reveal that you can easily achieve this in the right driving conditions.

      With longer trips comes more frequent charging to make sure I’m getting the maximum benefit from the battery. While the PHEV has the facility to recharge the modest 13.6kWh pack when you’re on the move, this hurts fuel economy even further, so I have religiously plugged the van in at home every time it’s parked. It takes around four hours to recharge the battery from a three-pin plug at a cost of around £1.60 on a standard electricity tariff.

      By way of comparison, if that gives you 20 miles of range, then you’d have to spend around £3 in petrol to cover the same distance – and a little bit more if you’re driving a diesel. Do lots of short journeys, and those savings will really stack up.

      Ford Transit Custom PHEV: first report

      Does the new plug-in hybrid Ford Transit Custom van stack up?

      • Mileage: 4,792
      • Economy: 66.3mpg

      On paper, it seemed like a good plan. We tested a Ford Tourneo Custom PHEV, the petrol-electric people-carrying variant of the big-selling Transit Custom van a while back. It was fine as passenger transport, but thanks to our brief time with it, we didn’t use its plug-in hybrid drive system properly, and recorded some disappointing fuel economy figures as a result. So, we made a call to Ford, asking if we could run a PHEV for a longer period, so that we could use the hybrid system as intended and get some more realistic economy figures.

      Ford obliged, and the Transit Custom PHEV you see here arrived the week before Christmas. So, with the trip computer zeroed and two charging leads at our disposal, we started life with the plug-in van. 

      As well as the standard Type 2 cable that’s needed to plug the Transit Custom in, Ford also supplied us with a lead that allows us to charge the van from a three-pin plug socket (chez Gibson has yet to upgrade to a home wallbox). So it’s been my mantra to plug
      the van in every time it’s parked.

      However, while I’ve been charging the van religiously, we’ve been having issues with its all-electric driving range, which has been nowhere near the 35 miles claimed in the Transit Custom brochure. There’s no problem with the van, though, it’s the weather that’s the culprit.

      Lithium-ion batteries don’t like freezing temperatures, so through all of January and February (and without the luxury of battery preheating on offer), the cold weather has meant the Transit Custom PHEV has only been able to offer a range of around 15 miles from the fully charged battery. 

      Lockdown 3 means that this hasn’t been too much of an issue, because shopping trips have been well within the van’s electric range. But venture even a little further afield, and the engine (which acts as a generator for the electric motor, and isn’t connected to the wheels) cuts in with its three-cylinder drone. As a result, the trip computer – which started at 99.9mpg, thanks to electric running over Christmas – fell to 66.3mpg even after a few short trips in January. That’s still better than a diesel Transit Custom by about 25mpg, though.

      We’ve already seen the benefits of warmer temperatures, with 23 miles on offer from a full charge now that the thermometer has crept back into the teens. This longer electric range means more efficient running should be possible, at least until lockdown ends, after which there are likely to be more longer journeys on the cards.

      While fuel economy hasn’t quite been up to scratch, the rest of the Transit Custom is living up to the Best Van title it won at 2020’s New Car Awards, with great tech on board and that vast load bay to play with.

      Model: Ford Transit Custom PHEV Limited
      On fleet since:December 2020
      Price new:£44,996
      Engine:1.0-litre 3cyl plus e-motor, 124bhp
      CO2/tax:70g/km/£265
      Options:Metallic paint (£780), Enhanced Park Assist (£360), Visibility, Pack – Premium (£660)
      Insurance*:Group: 39
      Mileage/mpg:5,198/37.3mpg
      Any problems?None so far

      *Insurance quote from AA (0800 107 0680) for a 42-year-old in Banbury, Oxon, with three points.

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