You’ve got to opt for a pick-up if you need a 4x4 light commercial, right? Okay, you’ll have to deal with the fact that models such as Toyota’s Hilux 4x4 double cab are bulky and may not be the easiest of vehicles to park on a domestic drive or manoeuvre down a narrow country lane, but that’s life.
Actually, an off-roading pick-up is not the only solution if you need to stay mobile in the ice and snow or scramble up a muddy farm track. Models such as Volkswagen’s Transporter and Mercedes-Benz’s Sprinter can be acquired in 4x4 guise while Nissan’s Pathfinder 4x4 car is available as a van too, albeit only to special order.
The Mitsubishi Outlander 4x4 is yet another option if you want to keep rolling in conditions that might defeat a 4x2. The latest model was launched in the UK earlier this year, and though marketed primarily as a passenger car, it is also available as a five-door van under the 4Work banner, with the rear seats removed and replaced by a properly designed and equipped cargo area.
Nobody is likely to be inspired by the Outlander’s cab interior – it lacks style, and the quality of the materials used could stand to be improved a little – but all the basics are there. Storage facilities include a deep, lidded box between the two seats with a separate tray just under the lid, and bins in each of the doors with a moulding that can grasp a soft drink can. A capacious glove box is provided, there is a roomy cubby-hole at the bottom of the dashboard, and two cup-holders are present, with each one big enough to hold a proper mug of coffee, a feat that most cup-holders in other vans cannot manage.
The driver’s seat is height-adjustable as is the telescopic steering column, and the optional leather trim, priced at £921, is pleasant enough. All prices quoted here exclude VAT but include fitting by the dealer where relevant.
Access to the cargo bay is by means of a side-hinged door on both the nearside and the offside and via a rear hatch with a heated window and a wash/wipe system. Both the hinged doors are opaque as are the cargo bay’s sides.
Our demonstrator had a metal grille on the inside of the glass in order to frustrate thieves. It will set you back an extra £228.
Four load-tie down points are provided, while a half-height steel bulkhead topped off with a mesh grille (£272) should hopefully prevent anything that has not been lashed down from sliding forwards and finishing up in the cab.
Bigger than it appears to be at first sight, the 1.6m3 load area is protected against minor dings by a mixture of carpet and plastic mouldings. The protection extends to the wheel boxes, and the solidly constructed purpose-built cargo bed is carpeted for almost its entire length apart from an exposed steel plate at the bulkhead end. That carpet is likely to get very tatty very quickly if you carry the sort of item a typical builder transports, however, and may need replacing by some sort of lining.
A 12V socket is provided, and if you have a power tool or two to conceal then it is worth noting that there is a hidden compartment under the load floor. You can access it by opening either one of the side doors. Each door has a bin in it, a legacy of the van’s passenger car heritage.
Maximum load length is 1780mm. Maximum width is 1320mm, narrowing to 930mm between the wheel boxes, while maximum height is 1040mm. The rear loading height is 740mm, and in some ways it is a shame that the old horizontally-split rear door set-up has been replaced by a one-piece hatch because the previous Outlander’s tailboard gave you something to balance heavy items on prior to shoving them aboard. The rear door aperture is 1041mm wide and 863mm high. The dimensions for the side doors are 740mm and 1110mm respectively, but the bulkhead intrudes a little way into the apertures in both cases.
Gross weight is 2260kg, gross payload is 705kg – a big improvement on the previous offering – and a braked trailer grossing at up to 2000kg can be towed. A tow bar with 13-pin electrics was fitted for an extra £410, and a tachograph can be installed if required.
Power comes courtesy of a 16-valve, four-cylinder 2.2-litre common rail direct-injection Euro5 turbodiesel producing 150hp at 3500rpm. Top torque of 380Nm makes its presence felt across a 1750rpm to 2500rpm plateau. Although less powerful than its 177hp predecessor, the current engine offers the same amount of torque across a wider rev band, while it is worth noting that the new model is 100kg lighter than the old one.
The 4Work model comes with a six-speed manual gearbox as standard but does not have a low-ratio set of gears. That imposes a limit on its capabilities in the rough.
Chassis and steering
The suspension employs MacPherson struts at the front with top mounts that have been redesigned with an eye to reducing noise, vibration and harshness. A twin sub-frame has been installed with the aim of improving handling and stability as well as crash performance. It forms part of a safety package called RISE – Reinforced Impact Safety Evolution – designed to disperse energy loads during collisions.
A multilink system with newly designed trailing arms helps support the vehicle at the back and provides a far better ride than the leaf springs fitted to some 4x4 light commercials.
Decorated with smart plastic trims, our van’s 16-inch steel wheels were shod with Dunlop ST20 Grandtrek 215/70 R16 tyres. Power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering delivers a 5.3m turning circle between kerbs
So what’s the Outlander 4Work like to drive? Most users will find little to complain about so far as performance is concerned. It pulls away strongly from rest, digs in nicely on hills even when heavily laden, and surges to the top without holding up the traffic. The vehicle is perfectly happy cruising at the maximum legal motorway speed and does so quietly, although in our case the peace was regularly breached by an irritating rattle from the bulkhead.
A competent gear-shift makes it easy to slip from one set of cogs to the next and the suspension is capable of soaking up the impact from all but the deepest of potholes.
Drawbacks? The steering is over-assisted and fails to tighten up sufficiently at speed, which means you end up wallowing around bends. That said, the Outlander is remarkably manoeuvrable at low speeds and easier to edge into tight spaces than most 4x4s. Leave your Outlander in 4WD Eco mode and it will remain in front-wheel drive unless you start to lose traction. It is then that four-wheel drive comes into play. 4WD Auto is what you require when venturing off-road and know you will need all four wheels to be driven, while 4WD Lock can be deployed when in the mud and needing a bit more traction. To switch modes just requires pressing a button between the seats. The Outlander will traverse sodden fields quite happily and squelch its way up and down muddy embankments, but it does not have the off-roading capabilities of, say, a Land Rover Defender, and at 190mm its ground clearance is limited. It is, however, a far pleasanter vehicle to drive on ordinary roads than a Defender.
It’s good to see that climate control is standard as part of an equipment package that includes an MP3-compatible radio/CD player with remote controls on the steering wheel, electric windows, electrically adjustable and heated mirrors, and cruise control. Our demonstrator was additionally equipped with Bluetooth for £205 and a Kenwood satellite navigation system that costs £1083. Externally, the 4Work gets colour-keyed bumpers, door handles and mirror casings.
Buying and running
Service intervals are set at a rather short 9000 miles or 12 months, whichever arrives sooner. A three-year/100,000-mile warranty supported by a UK and European emergency roadside rescue and recovery service that also runs for three years is provided while the body is protected by a 12-year anti-corrosion perforation warranty.
Stop-start, an adjustable speed limiter and the illuminated eco-bar graph on the dashboard help to keep fuel usage down, but drive frugally and it will stay green. We averaged 47mpg compared with the official combined figure of 53.3mpg. No CO2 emission figures are quoted but the nearest equivalent car model has an output of 138g/km.
The 4Work lacks side rubbing strips and that leaves it vulnerable to all the little scrapes and scratches that can afflict light commercials.
Disc brakes – ventilated at the front, solid at the back – are fitted all round. They are supported by a safety package that embraces ABS, electronic brakeforce distribution, brake assist and hill-start assist along with an active electronic stability package that includes traction control. Driver and passenger airbags – the driver gets a knee airbag too – and side airbags are fitted, while reversing sensors are a £193 option.
A Thatcham Category 1 alarm is installed along with an engine immobiliser and remote keyless entry with deadlocks.
Though by no means perfect, Outlander fulfils a useful role as an alternative to more mainstream 4x4 lcvs. Worth a look if all you want to do is keep mobile in the snow rather than cross demanding terrain.
Moving from Airtrek to electric
Some 950,000 Outlander 4x4s have been delivered since the model initially debuted in Japan in 2001 as the Airtrek, and the vast majority have been sold as passenger cars.
Designed for occasional and moderate off-road use rather than for arduous work in harsh terrain, the Outlander appeared in its second incarnation in 2005, alongside rebadged versions by Citroen and Peugeot sold respectively as the C-crosser and the 4007.
The latest version appeared at the 2012 Geneva motor show and the big news is that it is being made available as a plug-in hybrid. Powered by a 2.0-litre petrol engine plus a pair of 60kW electric motors and equipped with a lithium-ion battery pack, it is said to be capable of an astonishing 147.9mpg. CO2 emissions are a mere 44g/km and the vehicle can travel for 32.5 miles on battery power alone, and so far as we can see there is no reason why this technology shouldn't be deployed in an Outlander van if that is what fleet operators want.