It’s a niche sector in the light commercial vehicle market, but for customers who need to get to the parts other vans cannot reach, a 4×4 is the only option. For utility companies, country vets, emergency services, forestry workers and others for whom leaving the tarmac behind is a regular occurrence, a vehicle that can be relied upon to take them off and then get them back onto the road is a vital piece of kit. The sort of winters we’ve had for the past couple of years have also highlighted the importance of not getting stuck on snowbound roads.

The iconic Land Rover Defender leads the way in the 4×4 sector by a country mile. Last year, 4484 Defenders left showrooms, according to Jato, dwarfing sales of the next biggest-selling 4×4 van, its stablemate the Discovery, on 373. It is a show of the Defender’s strength and success that it hasn’t changed much in its 60-year history, although the old warhorse is finally set to retire in 2015.

“It’s no mean feat to try and replace it,” says a spokeswoman for Land Rover, who adds that a number of options are being considered. In the meantime the manufacturer has rapidly sold out of the limited edition Defender X-Tech model it launched in the UK in March this year after its unveiling at the Brussels motor show in January.

Priced from £24,995, the Defender X-Tech was available as the short-wheelbase 90 Hard Top derivative. It is powered by a 2.4-litre common-rail diesel engine developing 360Nm of torque.

According to Glass’s, the Defender continues to perform strongly at specialist 4×4 venues even with high mileage. Recently, according to the RV experts, 90 hard-tops and highly specced 110 double cab pick-ups have attracted most interest. However, Glass’s reports waning demand for commercial Freelander, which Land Rover stopped producing as a commercial vehicle late last year, and Discovery models.

With its L200, Mitsubishi has long dominated the pick-up sector in the UK and it is increasingly turning its attention to other segments of the 4×4 market.
It now produces light commercial versions of its Shogun, Outlander and ASX 4x4s with conversions from passenger car formats carried out in the UK.

The ASX 4Work light commercial is the most recent addition to the range having come on board at the start of this year as a little brother to the larger Outlander. It is available in just one highly specced trim level priced at £19,624 excluding VAT. This actually makes it a tad dearer than the Outlander, which has a price tag of £19,457, being based on a lower trim of its equivalent passenger car.
The ASX 4Work is powered by a 1.8 147hp diesel engine. It has a payload of 535kg and a load volume of 1.2cu/m, which is comparable to car-derived vans, although its 4×4 capability means it has no natural rivals. A good quality interior and refined driving performance stem from its passenger car roots. The high level of standard equipment includes alloy wheels, Bluetooth, cruise control, heated front seats and auto lights and wipers. It will be interesting to see if such relative luxuries will prove persuasive to customers in the commercial market.

Based on the seven-seat 4×4 Outlander, the 4Work LCV version has inherited the same cabin, which means it offers a level of comfort and finish not usually seen in the commercial sector. Climate control, passenger airbag, heated door mirrors and cruise control come as standard. Mitsubishi gave the Outlander a new and refined 175hp 2.2 diesel unit last year, which results in a car-like driving experience for the 4Work derivative. Power has increased by 21hp with the new engine, yet CO2 emissions are down 12% to 165g/km while fuel economy is 44.8mpg.

The Outlander 4Work is £3500 cheaper than its rival, the Nissan Pathfinder, and also offers more interior quality, over 10 more mpg and is better to drive. However, it loses out with a lightweight payload of 525kg compared with the Nissan’s 740kg, while loadspace is 1.7cu/m compared with the Pathfinder’s 2.2cu/m.

Based on the Pathfinder SUV the Pathfinder Van is a product of Nissan’s ‘Good to Go’ conversion operation. It was revised last October, which is when payload was increased from 650kg.
Nissan also installed a new 2.5dCi unit producing 190hp (up from 171hp) and an impressive 450Nm of torque. Despite an average fuel economy of 33.2mpg lagging behind that of the Outlander 4Work, it actually represents a 15% improvement on the previous model, helping the Pathfinder to achieve CO2 output of 224g/km.

Underfloor high-security lockable compartments have been added to the conversion to enable small items to be stowed out of sight.

Two model styles
The Pathfinder Van is available in two model styles. The Obscured Glass Van features blacked-out rear windows to deter prying eyes from ogling the cargo while the rear side windows have been deactivated in line with Type Approval regulations. The second variant is the Panelled Van where the side glass of the second two rows has been replaced with aluminium outer and steel inner panels.
As well as having a bigger appetite for load swallowing than its Mitsubishi rival, the Pathfinder can also out-muscle it when it comes to towing, with a braked trailer weight of 3000kg – a third more than the Outlander 4Work. Nissan’s All-Mode 4×4 system includes selectable low-range gears and two 4WD lock modes for more serious off-road work.

Upgrades in the cabin include a new centre console and improvements in trim quality. The van is equipped with dual-climate control, front powered windows, electric mirrors, a CD radio and Bluetooth connectivity. On the outside it has a new-look bonnet, grille, bumpers and headlights to align it with the passenger car version. Nose length has increased by 80mm.

Although Nissan claims car-like road holding and ride for the Pathfinder Van, it can’t match the Outlander for refinement and drive quality on-road. It is more rugged off-road however and also boasts superior load-lugging credentials. Horses for courses, as they say.

Competition for light commercials converted from passenger cars diminished when Kia withdrew its Sorrento CV upon updating the range in 2007. It currently has no plans to re-enter the segment.