The four-wheel drive van market will always be niche, but there are a surprising number of car-derived options on offer. Vans like the Mitsubishi Outlander/Shogun, Citroën C-Crosser and Land Rover Freelander/Discovery/Defender offer a solution, but what if a company needs a proper panel van-sized four-wheel drive?
Ford has the answer with the latest addition to the ever-expanding Transit range; the AWD. As its name suggests this is no ordinary Transit, it’s all-wheel drive. Based around the 2.4-litre 140hp Duratorq TDCi engine with six-speed manual gearbox it can be had as a van, minibus or chassis cab and the beauty of the drive system is that there is no need for any driver intervention should four-wheel drive be necessary. It is totally unobtrusive and automatic.
This isn’t the first time Transit has gone 4x4, of course. Previous generations have been available converted by County and featured a manually-engaged system and a raised ride height.
One of the beauties of the AWD is that the ride height, and hence the loading height, remains the same as that of the standard vehicle. This does mean, however, that’s its off-road ability is limited by ground clearance, but as it’s aimed at customers like utilities companies this shouldn’t prove to be an obstacle.
A Swedish-designed Haldex twin-clutch differential is the secret at the heart of the AWD’s drive system. The starting point is a rear-wheel drive powertrain and under normal driving conditions it uses rear-wheel drive only. Should either or both of the rear wheels begin to lose traction a hydraulically controlled torque sensor begins to close one or both of the small multiplate clutches which will then gradually feed torque though to one or both of the front wheels, depending on necessity. Once all the wheel speeds are roughly identical the system disengages automatically by releasing pressure from the clutch system.
As long as the front wheels rotate on a dry, solid surface at the same speed as the rear wheels, both clutch pumps remain static and the clutches remain open, disengaging the front wheels from the drive system.
We’ve driven a left-hand drive prototype on tarmac in the past, but recently had the chance for a brief run around a laid-out track in a muddy field. Transit AWD has no low ratio gears to draw on and the demonstrator was shod with intermediate tyres, rather than full off-roading rubber, but we were impressed.
As soon as the rear wheels begin to spin, the front wheels can be felt to bite and the Transit continues on its merry way. It also performed well up and down steep lose-surface slopes.
From the outside Transit AWD looks identical to any other of version of the UK’s favourite panel van — there isn’t even a centre diff casing hanging below the chassis — so you have to look carefully for the AWD badge. For an additional £3,995 owners might expect a bit more, but like the drive system itself, it’s a discreet off-roader.
A sensible approach from Ford once again and although the ticket price is a bit on the high side the additional weight of the system isn’t at 40kg. This is one for the utility companies which need to get men, equipment and tools to remote sites.