by Brian Byrne.

“It’s amazing what you can see over the hedges.” My other half was passenger in the Ford Transit Custom I drove for a while recently, and was realising one of the things that I like about vans.

Of course, it was a particularly comfortable Transit Custom, fitted with heated seats among a range of other goodies. This time of year, and given the cold snap we’ve been getting, heated seats are a big plus.

How soft we are getting …

Still, vans are an important part of my motoring life. They’re getting even more important in everyone’s life in these times, with the virtual explosion in package deliveries that is keeping the nation supplied with all sorts of goods.

The Transit Custom is no doubt a beneficiary of this logistics growth, and Ford is hoping that the particular one I had out will find its own particular niche.

That’s because it is the first plug-in hybrid van on the market, to the best of my knowledge. And in its careful LCV electrification strategy, the blue oval brand has come up with its own powertrain direction, which I think works very well. In general, everyone must be aware of what PHEV is by now. Usually a petrol engine and electric motor setup, with a traction battery that is bigger than a standard hybrid’s, but smaller than that in a full electric-powered car. Typically there’s an electric range possible of around 50kms.

Then you have whatever range the petrol engine will offer, operating in normal hybrid mode. There’s a mix and match in most, including the Transit Custom PHEV, where the electric charge can be held until use where it is most efficient, in urban traffic, or the battery can be charged on the run so as to have as much as possible EV range.

In the Ford van, unusually, power to the wheels is from the battery at all times. The engine, a 1.0 125hp three-cylinder unit, is only used to generate charge to the battery when needed. That means the engine can be run always in an optimal way for emissions and fuel economy control. Because it never has to work through a gearbox in varying driving conditions. Essentially, the Transit Custom is an electric van with a range-extender petrol engine. That’s the way I drove it. As far as possible I tried to have it fully charged each morning, so that whatever local tipping around I did was always without the engine needing to kick in. Only when I had to travel further than the all-electric range did I start using fossil fuel.

The Transit Custom is a fine drive, and it is never a chore to take it out as my personal vehicle. In the PHEV form, it was even nicer, absent the constant diesel thrum of a normal van. For urban use, this is a very relaxed space for the operator. Especially as, by their nature, hybrids are also automatic. Being electric direct drive, the accelerator response in the review van proved fast, and did take a little getting used to. As did the ‘one-pedal’ mode by which lifting off the pedal slowed and regenerated. You get to like hardly ever using the brakes. Here’s the hard bit.

The Transit Custom PHEV is almost twice the entry level price for the basic van model. That means an intake of breath … and some serious figuring. If you do a lot of urban delivery driving, that figuring might well show serious savings against the standard diesel version, over the life of the van.

Electricity is cheaper than diesel, and the wear and tear on engine and vehicle generally will be much less using electric power. If the work, though, is distance inter-city, diesel is probably best. Remember too that in the price of the review van there’s a big uptick in specification over the basic vehicle. Body mouldings, chrome, alloys, uprated seats, leather trim, the high-end infotainment, rear-view camera and more. Like I said, it needs figuring out. PRICE: Basic Transit Custom €26,630; review van €52,765. WHAT I LIKED: Lots, as well as the view.