It’s mainly aimed at companies who need to drive in cities, where the electric powertrain makes most sense, both for urban pollution and for fuel economy. Stop-start traffic plays havoc with diesel engines and leads to all sorts of maintenance issues, in addition to costing more in diesel. It’s perfect for electric motors though, which have instant power at low speeds and auto transmissions which mean there’s less stress for the driver too.
For 26 miles or so, the Transit is just like any other electric vehicle. Once the battery is depleted (or you choose one of the special modes to charge or preserve the battery power) a comparatively tiny 1-litre petrol engine kicks in. Instead of sending its power to the wheels through a gearbox like in a conventional vehicle, the engine is purely a generator which creates power for the electric motor.
In theory, if you started off with a full tank and charged battery, the Transit would be able to cover over 300 miles without stopping. While that’s great to have in case you need it, if you are regularly trudging off up the motorway you’ll be better off with a diesel. But if you are regularly in town, the Transit PHEV’s powertrain is going to be better for you, especially as it could take you all day to drive 26 miles in a city like London.
The other cost advantages come from tax and grants. As it has electric-only capability, the Transit is exempt from congestion charges, can enter zero and low emission zones and can scoop up all sorts of incentives too.
Transits tend to be bought by accountants rather than driving enthusiasts, but the good news is that the PHEV drives really well for a van. Despite the tiny-sounding engine, it’s perfectly capable of hauling loads, and although the engine note sounds a little strange at first, there’s no doubt that it’s better than the harsh clatter of a diesel.
Is the PHEV the future of vans? It will certainly make sense for a narrow niche of businesses. But there are fully electric vans on the way from Vauxhall and others – including Ford themselves. They might make this look like a bit of a stop gap.