Ford E-Transit Custom review

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Not convinced by the current crop of mid-sized EV vans? Jonathan Crouch thinks you might be by this one, Ford's E-Transit Custom.

Ten Second Review

Ford's E-Transit Custom sets a new standard for what an all-electric mid-sized van can be. Not only in driving range - at 236 miles - but also in ease-of-use and operating efficiency. If you're needing a full-battery LCV of this size, you can't ignore it.

Background

Could this be the most significant road test you'll read all year? Quite possibly. This is after all the very first all-electric version of Britain's best selling vehicle of any kind. Welcome to Ford's E-Transit Custom.

The significance of this model is difficult to over-state. There are more Ford Transits - and particularly Ford Transit Customs - on the road than any other van. Imagine the environmental impact of a growing proportion of them switching away from smoky diesel power, a change which starts right here and now with this battery-powered LCV.

Unlike the larger '2 tonne'-series E-Transit model that we tried and liked recently, this E-Transit Custom isn't Ford's own work but the product of a shared project with LCV partner Volkswagen. The fruit of which will also be mechanically identical EV version of the new generation Volkswagen Transporter. Ford also produces an E-Tourneo Custom passenger carrying MPV version of this model. But it's the E-Transit Custom panel van that's our focus here.

Driving Experience

The E-Transit Custom's 400-volt, 74kWh (useable) battery pack uses 82Ah pouch cells shared with the US-market Ford F-150 Lightning to deliver 12% more energy density than the battery pack in the larger E-Transit. The battery enables a targeted range of up to 236 miles - over four times the average one-tonne van driver's daily mileage, according to Ford Pro customer data. The battery's direct-to-body mounting improves durability and reduces weight for optimum range.

Customers can choose between 136PS or 218PS electric motor power outputs to suit their needs, each offering a class-leading 415Nm of torque. The drive motor is fitted directly to the vehicle's rear floor, removing the need for a dedicated subframe, and is rotated 90 degrees to maximise load space and reduce weight and complexity. There's also a brake regeneration system that promises 'one pedal' driving so that you'll hardly ever need to use the brake when you come off the throttle.

The powerful electric drivetrain delivers a class-leading towing capacity of up to 2,000kg, meaning this E-Transit Custom could replace diesel vehicles in roles that no other all-electric van can match. This Ford is also the first-ever electric vehicle to use (as standard) vapour-injected heat pump technology to heat and cool the cabin. It's a system designed to deliver improved energy efficiency for optimum driving range.

Design and Build

The E-Transit Custom gets its own unique front grille, which as on other variants is flanked by angular, slim LED headlamps which are topped by wrap-around daytime running lights. Ford talks about the 'rebalanced proportions' and 'confident stance' of this MK2 design, which become more obvious as you walk around it.

Inside, the column-mounted shifter, electronic handbrake and 'squircle' steering wheel combine to help cross-cab access - a valuable feature for drivers who park in tight areas and want to avoid getting out into live traffic. Every E-Transit Custom is fitted with a 13inch landscape touchscreen angled towards the driver for ease of use, equipped with Ford's advanced SYNC 4 communication and infotainment system powered by a 5G modem for superfast connectivity to the Ford Pro tech stack. Ford has also introduced a segment-first roof-mounted airbag that enables dashboard storage large enough to take a laptop or A4 file.

The brand's designers went to such lengths when considering how owners would use this Transit Custom that even the grains on materials used in the cabin and load area are designed to use textures that avoid trapping dirt and water, giving the best balance between offering a firm footing for wet or muddy boots and enabling heavy items to be slid in and out easily. 

As van drivers often occupy the cabin alone, the heating and ventilation system has a new 'Driver Focus Mode' option that uses sensors to direct airflow only to occupied seats. An intelligent windscreen monitors temperature and humidity, and automatically makes small heat and airflow changes to proactively keep the windscreen clear for improved efficiency and ease of use. 

Market and Model

You'll need to put aside around £45,000 as a price starting point for this E-Transit Custom, available in 136PS forms in 'Trend', 'Limited' and 'Active' forms. If you want the faster 218PS version, you'll need top 'Sport' trim. As with all the brand's LCVs, the vehicle is being sold by 'Ford Pro', the Blue Oval brand's commercial vehicle division and there's a choice of short or long wheelbase body shapes.

Even entry-level 'Trend' versions are pretty well equipped, with automatic headlamps, tinted glass and a 13-inch 'SYNC 4' centre touchscreen with a 5G embedded modem. Plus air conditioning, body-coloured bumpers and wheel covers. Plusher 'Limited' variants get 16-inch alloy wheels, keyless entry, a 'Sensico' leather-covered steering wheel and an alarm.

On to options. Your E-Transit Custom can feature vehicle-to-load power sockets up-front, allowing you to tap into the vehicle's battery in order to power devices up to 2.3kW, like lap tops or kettles. A clever tilting steering wheel headlines the 'Mobile Office' option pack and is capable of becoming an ergonomic stand for tablets and laptops as well as a flat-topped table to make writing and lunch breaks more comfortable. There's a 'Digital Key' option so company drivers don't have to mess about with keys and can open and start the vehicle using their smartphones. We also like the optional 'Delivery Assist' feature, which activates when the driver shifts into park. The E-Transit Custom will then automatically switch on its hazard lights, close any open windows, and lock the door once the driver leaves the van. When returning, the driver can keylessly enter and start the vehicle. The hazard lights will switch off and the windows will return to their previous position.

Owners who want to carry up to five occupants as well as longer items like pipe, planks or kayaks can specify the clever L-Shaped Bulkhead, with a two-seat second row as well as a full-length cargo area with composite bulkhead. This segment-unique factory design removes the need for customers to make their own solutions if they need to carry passengers and lengthy cargo.

Practicalities and Costs

There are few loading compromises with this full-electric model, so as with a diesel Transit Custom, you've the choice of two wheelbase lengths, L1 and L2, measuring in respectively at 5,050 and 5,450mm. And two roof heights, H1 and H2. That means a cargo volume that can be anywhere between 5.8m3 and 9.0m3 depending on your body shape of choice. The L2 variant offers a maximum load length of 3,450mm. On all models, the cargo area width is 1,777mm, narrowing to 1,392mm between the wheel arches. The door aperture height is 1,314mm on H1 versions and 1,814mm on H2 variants. Maximum gross payload is 1,100kg (227kg down on the diesel version).

Double-cab-in-van and kombi body styles are also available, all with a choice of short or long wheelbase and low or high roof. The vehicle's load floor is lower than the previous generation Transit Custom model, to make loading cargo and accessing the cab easier. Engineers comprehensively analysed packaging, materials, safety and weight to deliver an architecture that integrates the battery into the load floor above the sill flange, eliminating the need for separate crash structures. Other underbody components are "shrink-wrapped" around the battery for optimum space and weight efficiency.

The E-Transit Custom's overall height is under two metres to help access in height-restricted areas such as multi-storey car parks, garages, and underground loading bays. A classleading side load door aperture enhances loading, and an integrated access step makes climbing up to the load compartment easier.

On to running costs. The E-Transit Custom's 11kW AC three-phase onboard charger is capable of fully recharging the battery in 7.8 hours, so customers will be able recharge overnight after a shift. During busy days, they can track current charge state on-the-go using the FordPass Pro smartphone app. Plus clever Ford Pro Charging software can ensure that your E-Transit Custom is always charging on the most affordable electricity rates.

The E-Transit Custom also supports DC fast charging up to 125kW for a 15-80 per cent recharge in 41 minutes. A new charge profile front-loads the energy to enable quick, useful top-ups; the system delivers almost 24 miles of range in just 5 minutes using a 125kW charger. Ford Pro customers can access the Blue Oval Charging Network - Europe's largest, with over 300,000 chargers and growing - and every ETransit Custom is sold with a 12-month complimentary subscription to access public charging via the Blue Oval Charging Network.

Summary

The E-Transit Custom represents the next generation of mid-sized full-electric vans and as such, makes most of its more familiar competitors look distinctly out of date. Longer driving range you probably expected, but the E-Transit Custom also delivers whole series of clever ideas that will make running an LCV of this kind easier. We particularly like the 'Ford Pro Charging' software to help with scheduling cheaper charging, the tilting steering wheel, the clever 'Delivery Assist' feature, the Digital Key and the 'L-Shaped Bulkhead' option.

Given the continuing wave of demand for vans of this size, fuelled by the British public's insatiable desire for home delivery, this Ford probably didn't need to be as good as it is for sales success. But it is, the only potential issue being pricing - which could make some operators think twice and which will need to be alleviated by competitive finance rates. If convinced on that, and by Ford Pro electric technology, we might be more tempted to pay the only slightly plumper asking price required for the larger '2-tonne'-series E-Transit model. But if you settle on this E-Transit Custom version, you won't be disappointed.

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