All-wheel drive can fit the bill for customers going off-road but the expansion of ESC technology means more vans now come with traction control systems as James Dallas reports
The 4x4 van market may be a niche segment but it serves the needs of customers requiring a vehicle with off-road capability but do not want to plump for the most hardcore solution of getting a full-size, heavy duty pick-up truck.
Mitsubishi recognises this demand and in July extended its range with a SWB version of its Shogun. It has given the newcomer the Babarian moniker, echoing one of the high-end models in its L200 pick-up line-up.
Like the LWB Shogun, the new Barbarian version incorporates a short front overhang, upright windscreen, high flanks, flared wheel-arches and a rear-mounted spare wheel.
Its 20-inch alloy wheels indicate it may not be the most rough and ready off-road workhorse however, and it also gets the L200 style leather interior, DAB radio, a colour-coded spare wheel cover and an ally pedal kit.
Prices for the two-seater Barbarian Commercial models are £26,759 for the five-speed manual and £28,107 for the five-speed automatic – excluding VAT.
Both are powered by a meaty 3.2-litre 190hp diesel drivetrain that delivers peak torque of 441Nm at 2000rpm. Payload capacity is 580kg and the model has a braked towing limit of 3000kg in both manual and auto modes. Useful for farmers or specialist services is a 700mm wading depth.
Meanwhile, the Highways Agency has confirmed Mitsubishi as a preferred supplier by ordering a further 40 LWB SG3 Shoguns for its traffic officers, in addition to the 30 vehicles delivered in March. The manufacturer will convert the latest order for the HA at its Specialist Vehicle Operations Centre in Cirencester.
Mitsubishi is also imminently set to launch a commercial 4Work version of its Outlander PHEV plug-in hybrid, as revealed in WhatVan? in May.
In March Ssangyong released a revised version of its SUV-based Korando Sports pick-up.
It now has speed-sensitive power steering and a choice of three improved Pegasus hard-top covers for its load area. Ssangyong has also upped its towing capacity from 2.3 to 2.7 tonnes.
But with a payload of just 643kg (630kg for the auto) it definitely won’t be on the wish lists of any big fleets.
“Small businesses who do a lot of on-roading are our main customers,” says marketing boss Steve Gray, who has a clear vision of where the Korando fits into the market. “It’s more like a 4x4 than a pick-up. If you want a crossover to cover long distances, we win. If you want payload, we lose.”
The Korando Sports has a starting price of £15,042 excluding VAT for the SX trim version. The problem is that with its sub-1.0t payload, the VAT cannot be reclaimed unless the buyer can prove the vehicle will be used solely for work purposes. If not, the addition of the 20% tax raises the price to £17,995.
Customers looking to combine the practicality of a panel van with some off-road ability now have a wider choice.
Mercedes offers its Sprinter with selectable all-wheel drive to improve traction and stability off-road and in adverse weather conditions.
The switchable AWD system transfers engine power to all four wheels simultaneously at a 35:65 ratio to the front and rear axles and Mercedes says the optional low-range drive ratio enhances grip on particularly difficult terrain.
The Sprinter uses a fully automatic electronic traction system, 4ETS, rather than mechanical differential locks. It engages when one or more wheels start to spin, braking the spinning wheels individually and increasing the drive torque at the wheels with sufficient grip.
Mercedes’ new behometh, the Sprinter 6x6, available at 3.5 and 5.0-tonnes, is distributed solely in the UK by Hampshire-based Rossetts Commercials.
Renault has made ESC standard on its revised Master heavy van and with it comes the Grip Xtend traction control system. It’s not a hardcore 4x4 system but should help operators tackle most conditions.
With ESP now standard on the FWD Ducato, Fiat’s Traction+ with Hill Descent Control is a worthwhile option. For £75 it ensures greater traction on poor grip surfaces such as snow and mud. The presence of Electronic Stability Control on the Peugeot Boxer and Citroen Relay, which are built on the Ducato platform, means these models are also now available with anti-slip technology.
In addition, Citroen’s light van the Berlingo, which the brand updated late last year, now includes ESC with traction control for all models equipped with the ETG6 automated manual transmission.