If you need to tackle deep mud, slippery ascents and descents, and ford the occasional stream, you need a 4x4, right? Wrong, at least according to Citroën.
While quietly dropping the all-wheel drive C-Crosser Enterprise van from its range during the early part of 2010, it’s instead placing all the off-roading emphasis on a pair of 4x2 models; the Dispatch XTR+ and the more recently introduced XTR+ version of Berlingo.
So what makes Citroën think a 4x2 can do the job of a 4x4? It’s all down to a bit of intelligent design. For a kick off, both vans are equipped with a multi-plate limited slip differential which can automatically apportion up to 75 per cent of the engine’s torque between the two front driven wheels. If one wheel starts to spin then the torque instantly shifts to the one with greater grip.
Then there’s the increased ride height — 30mm in both cases — which helps ensure the underside won’t ground. If it does, then at least it’s well protected against bumps and bashes.
Heavy-duty suspension is fitted along with tyres that are at home in the slippery stuff. Berlingo’s 15in wheels are shod with Michelin Synchrone 4x4 195/65 R15 rubber while Dispatch’s 16in wheels wear Michelin Agilis 51 215/60 R16 snow and ice boots.
So why go for a vehicle like one of these rather than a pukka four-wheel drive? Lower fuel consumption is one consideration. So is the relatively modest price. Based on the L1 625 1.6HDi 90hp LX, the 596kg-gross-payload Berlingo kicks off at £14,160. Derived from the L1 H1 1200 120hp 2.0HDi, and able to handle a 1,200kg payload, the Dispatch begins at £17,445; both prices exclude VAT.
So are they any good? No question about it; in fact their performance is quite extraordinary, as a trip around a, fairly demanding, 4x4 course just outside Reading revealed. Both vans happily tackled deeply-rutted tracks, slithered up hills and down the other side, and sploshed through water. For the most part all you had to do was slot them into first gear and let them get on with it, occasionally giving them a bit more gas when they needed to forge their way up a slope.
Although Dispatch hesitated at the base of one incline, the hesitation was momentary, and it was soon at the top. The only real criticism we had to make was of Dispatch’s steering. Even though the geometry has apparently been revised for this application, it was just that bit too quick for off-road use, leading the driver to over-correct constantly until he had got used to minimising steering inputs.
On the road the Citroëns are little different to drive than the standard models. OK, the increased ride height affects the handling and the tyres specified don’t do the ride any favours; but not to the extent that the vehicles become unpleasant to use.
If you’re a long way from the highway, the ruts are really deep and the boulders scattered about ahead of you resemble small mountains rather than, er, boulders, then you’ll probably wish you had a Land Rover Defender. But if all you need to do is nip up a farm track once or twice a week, or get to an awkward-to-access sluice gate out in the middle of the Fens, then these two vehicles would seem to us to be a cost-effective option.