Car reviews - Ford - E-Transit
Seamless thrust, more payload than a diesel Transit
Room for improvement
Limited range, huge price
Ford’s first EV Down Under makes a fine load lugger – but can operators stomach the cost?
18 May 2023
By TONY O'KANE
THIS is undeniably the un-sexy end of the car market. Slab-sided steel boxes with blunt noses and with a distinct lack of anything approaching luxury, commercial vans are not things that folks dream about – unless vinyl floors and capacious innards are what get them going.
But for Ford Australia, it’s a humble van that’s bringing forth its vision for the future. The E-Transit is, after much delay, finally here as the company’s first all-electric vehicle to hit local showrooms - and as a vehicle destined to spend as much of its life as possible out on the road, its importance from an environmental point of view is arguably greater than that of any battery-powered passenger car or SUV.
Others will follow it. The Puma EV and Mustang Mach-E are locked in, as is the E-Transit’s smaller sibling, the E-Transit Custom, but it is the E-Transit that spearheads Ford Oz’s all-electric effort.
It also carries the distinction of being one of the company’s most expensive products, with a $104,990 plus on road costs sticker that makes it one of the priciest methods of moving cargo from A to B. In the E-Transit’s defence, it’s not alone up there: the LDV eDeliver 9 that’s its principal rival is a $116,537 proposition.
At an asking price nearly double that of the diesel-powered van that it’s based upon, what will the E-Transit give businesses and fleet operators?
Beyond the marketing value of having a zero-emissions vehicle to whack corporate signage on, the E-Transit promises ultra-low running costs, a torque-laden rear-wheel drive powertrain, plenty of modern connectivity tech and, interestingly, a 390kg payload advantage over the regular Transit 350L.
On the flipside, it’s got short legs – its 68kWh battery, cribbed from the Mustang Mach-E, only supplies enough energy for a 230km range under the WLTP test (307km in best-case conditions) for the E-Transit mid-roof, and 222-295km for the slightly draggier high-roof variant.
That equates to a per-100km energy consumption between 22.15-29.5kWh/100km.
It also can’t tow, but neither of these things worry Ford Australia’s product planners too much. They envisage the E-Transit being taken up by box-delivery operators and other businesses that carry cargo internally, and largely operating from distribution hubs where frequent charging can be carried out to extend its daily range.
That expected use case even informs the standard fit-out, with no emergency charge cable supplied. Instead, a Mode 3 32-amp charge cable that’s designed to go from a three-phase wall box charger to the van’s charge port is supplied – Ford does not expect users will require a top-up from a regular household outlet.
Charging takes 8.2 hours for a complete fill on a three-phase 11kW charger, while a 115kW DC fast charger can take the Transit from 15 per cent to 80 per cent in 34 minutes.
The vehicle’s integrated navigation system, accessed via a huge 12-inch display running Ford’s slick SYNC 4 infotainment OS, can also calculate the van’s maximum reach dynamically, allowing drivers to ensure they don’t get stranded for a lack of electrons.
Though the integration of an under-floor battery pack along with the unique rear suspension cradle and motor assembly results in a floor that’s roughly 10cm higher in the chassis than a diesel Transit 350L, the added weight of the battery pack brings enough suspension squish to put the E-Transit’s floor at nearly the same level when measured from the ground.
And yet despite that additional weight over the rear axle, the payload stats actually give the electric variant an advantage. With 11 cubic metres and a 1611kg capacity for the mid-roof and 12.4 cubic metres and 1566kg for the high roof, cargo volumes are identical to the diesel-powered Transit 350L variants.
Payloads are well ahead, though, with both the mid-roof and high-roof E-Transits capable of toting 390kg more than their diesel-powered, RWD brothers. That’s all thanks to a substantial GVM upgrade (to 4250kg) applied to the E-Transit as a result of its under-floor structural changes.
It’s a hefty unit, for sure, but that’s offset by the extra muscle of the E-Transit’s motor. Packaged as a transaxle/suspension cradle assembly under the rear floor, the E-Transit’s motive force comes from a 198kW/430Nm single motor, driving the independently-sprung rear wheels.
Compare that with the 125kW/390Nm offered by the 2.0-litre diesel of the rear-drive Transit 350L, and the electrified load-lugger clearly has the additional grunt necessary to offset its 300-odd kilos of extra mass. But how does it all mesh on the road?
We were only able to have a brief taste of the E-Transit out on the road, but the first impression is positive. For one, it’s all largely familiar. There’s no electric-esoteric weirdness to the E-Transit, and any operator who’s ever spent time in a regular Transit should be instantly comfortable.
The gigantic 12-inch screen and rotary drive selector are new bits of furniture, but they’re easy enough to get to grips with – and that ease of use is critical for any workhorse.
A steel bulkhead is standard-issue and helps keep the cabin temp and sound levels at civilised levels, and the general fit and finish of this Turkish-made van is hard to fault.
Like the regular Transit, there’s under-seat stowage for whatever you wish, however the provided Mode 3 charge cable takes up most of the room. The gaping chasm under the bonnet would have been a good place for a storage bin of some description, but it’s unfortunately an under-utilised space.
Powering it up and slipping it into drive is slightly spooky on the first go. It’s an alien experience piloting something the size of a Transit without any kind of diesel grumble coming from within, especially as it seems so eager to move.
Coupling that alert powertrain with such light steering, the nearly six-metre-long E-Transit feels more like a Fiesta in terms of driving ease – just watch those mirrors intently.
Typical ‘white van’ drivers will probably cherish this thing. With 430Nm available from zero RPM, the E-Transit launches from stoplights with surprising rapidity – but also a smooth and progressive, rather than abrupt and aggressive, acceleration.
Our time with the Transit was also spent driving entirely unladen, but perhaps that was a deliberate move by Ford to show off the E-Transit’s unique ride quality.
With no heavy diesel up front and a heavy battery pack and motor unit in the middle, the E-Transit feels secure and stable at speed. Meanwhile, the rear axle is no longer a live unit with leaf springs but rather a pair of independent semi-trailing arms with coils, and the E-Transit feels substantially more civilised than your typical large van as a result.
A more critical assessment requires more time behind the wheel, but it’s clear that the Transit is broadly improved by being electric – short range notwithstanding. It arguably shows its rivals how an electric van should be done.
But it will be interesting to observe how much traction it gets in this country. Electric vans are in fashion over in Europe, where smaller, denser cities are the norm and operating cycles are shorter.
Aussie cities are built differently, and it will take a disciplined operator to make the most out of the E-Transit’s limited battery capacity.
It’ll also take a well-heeled – or at least financially astute – operator to acquire one. The price tag is so considerable, that it may well negate the running cost advantages offered by that electric motor and battery, and aspiring E-Transit owners will need to run the numbers through their spreadsheets to see if the total cost of ownership will actually make sense for their business.
Commercial vehicles live or die by that critical TCO metric. The E-Transit starts behind the 8-ball in that regard, but it’s early days for electric vans in this country, and you have to start somewhere.
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