Not everybody needs the exemplary off-road performance offered by the likes of Land Rover’s Defender and Iveco’s Massif. What they want is a 4x4 that will simply get them up an icy rural lane in the middle of winter or across a boggy field. They also want something that will be pleasant to drive on ordinary roads too; because that’s where it will be spending most of its time.
It’s a need manufacturers have recognised with the introduction of a new breed of 4x4 soft-roader van. Mitsubishi is well to the fore with the creation of its Outlander Commercial and we’re happy to hand the five-door our 4x4 Van of the Year accolade for 2008.
Pop open the bonnet and you’ll find a 138hp 2.0-litre diesel sourced from Volkswagen and hooked up to a six-speed manual gearbox. Four-wheel drive is selectable.
Drive goes to the front wheels when you’re in 4x2 mode, with four-wheel drive engaged electronically by turning a knob mounted just behind the gearstick. Twist it to 4WD and torque is channelled to whichever wheels happen to have the most grip subject to a maximum 70/30 front/rear split.
If the terrain starts to get a bit more demanding then you turn the knob to Lock. By doing so you lock the centre diff giving you a 50/50 front/rear split. ABS comes as standard along with Electronic Brakeforce Distribution, Traction Control and an Active Stability package.
Access to the vehicle’s 2.0m3 cargo bay is by way of an unglazed hinged door on each side plus a rear hatch. Top payload capacity is 705kg and Outlander Commercial can tow a braked trailer grossing at 2,000kg.
In-cab equipment levels are more than acceptable and include air-conditioning, electric windows and electric exterior mirrors.
Nobody ever got shot for specifying a VW diesel engine and drivers will be impressed with the level of performance available from the respectably frugal 2.0-litre and the smooth, unflustered way in which it is delivered. It’s an engine that packs plenty of mid-range punch and offers relaxed cruising at motorway speeds.
Nor is the gearchange likely to hinder your pleasure. It’s precise and glitch-free. The steering is equally accurate, offering plenty of feedback and allowing whoever is behind the wheel to corner with confidence.
Britain’s potholed and badly maintained roads are guaranteed to give van suspensions a hammering, but Outlander Commercial remains remarkably composed under pressure. Its suspension set-up will happily deal with all the ridges, humps and bumps that the van is likely to encounter. Off-road Outlander Commercial can ascend and descend some surprisingly steep and slippery slopes and is unlikely to be deterred by muddy farm tracks.
Although it operates in a niche market, Mitsubishi’s load shifter does not lack competitors. Despite its still relatively-unfamiliar name, one potentially strong challenger is SsangYong’s Kyron C-S 4x4. It’s well-put-together, well-equipped and offers more than sufficient performance plus a decent gearchange. Again it’s a five-door and features a 2.4m3 cargo box. Most importantly given the present economic situation, it’s remarkably good value for money. As a consequence we’re happy to hand it our Highly Commended prize.