The harsh winters of the past couple of years have brought many businesses to a standstill, forcing them to leave fleets of vans idle until the cold snap has run its course.

In the current economic climate, being brought to a standstill is not only frustrating but, for some firms, a threat to survival.

When being forced off the road is not an option – when it is imperative that both heavily laden van and crew reach an isolated site despite the icebound or just plain muddy conditions – that’s when a 4×4 comes into its own.

The Ford Transit All-Wheel- Drive, winner of the 2011 4×4 Van of the Year prize, is not designed for serious off-road adventures – it doesn’t have the ground clearance as its ride height is the same as the standard model. But what it can do is negotiate the hazardous roads that force two-wheel drive vehicles to be left at the depot, or worse still stuck in a ditch.

Powering the AWD Transit is a 2.4-litre Duratorq TDCi four-cylinder, 16-valve common rail diesel unit producing 140hp at 3500rpm. This Transit is no slouch on the motorway. Top torque of 375Nm kicks in at 2000rpm ensuring rapid acceleration, while the six-speed manual transmission is, like all Transits extremely slick. Ample feedback through the steering means the van handles well too.

Independent suspension with MacPherson struts is fitted at the front with an anti-roll bar while leaf springs support the rear.

Power-assisted steering enables an 11.9m kerb-to-kerb turning circle, gross payload is 1284kg and the Transit AWD can tow a braked trailer weighing up to 2.8 tonnes.

A full-height glazed bulkhead separates the cabin from the rear cargo bay, which offers a substantial 5.7cu/m of loadspace.

Access is through twin back doors that swing through 90° or on to 180° by pressing a button to release the stays.

Four lashing points are mounted in the floor as well as one above each wheelbox to secure loads. Hard plastic protects the wheelboxes from damage while a tailored mat helps to keep the floor scratch-free. Half-height hardboard panels guard the doors and sides. 

Maximum cargo length is 1893mm, maximum height is 1645mm with the medium roof version and maximum width of 1762mm narrows to 1390mm between the wheelboxes.

The Transit Double Cab-in-Van version, meanwhile, comfortably seats six in a well laid-out cabin that includes a capacious glovebox, a large bottle holder and a cup holder at either end of the dashboard. A lidded compartment above the instrument binnacle contains a 12V power point, one of two in the cab. A lid covering the shelf on top of the middle section of the dash transforms into a handy desk with a pair of cup holders and a pen slot, too.

The MP3-compatible radio/CD has pleasantly user-friendly controls, and options available include air-conditioning, Bluetooth, cruise control, electric front windows and electrically adjustable and heated exterior mirrors.

Highly Commended is Nissan’s Pathfinder, revised this autumn, which boasts a revised 2.5-litre diesel engine to beef up power and torque. Electronically selectable four-wheel drive comes with a low range setting for serious off-roading. Load length stretches to 1975mm and gross payload is 650kg.