Our friends in the Nordic countries love a van with four-wheel-drive. Around 75% are specified with some sort of permanent or selectable system. It goes without saying that they have a very different climate, but that doesn’t mean to say there aren’t people in the UK who could do with a small 4x4 van. And that’s convenient because now there is one – the Vauxhall Combo Cargo 4x4.
It comes direct from Vauxhall, or more precisely the shared PSA Group plant in Spain, but the 4x4 version is also finished off-line by specialist converter Dangel, which provides rear differentials, driveshafts and a transfer box to help transform the standard front-wheel drive van into an off-roader.
Two versions of the van are available, both of which use the 1.5-litre 130hp TurboD engine. There are two body length options, L1 or L2 and these are based on the Sportive trim level that means the van is well equipped with Bluetooth connectivity, air conditioning, cruise control and parking sensors amongst the many standard-fit items. The full range of Vauxhall options are also available to be added to the van on request.
Despite a four-wheel drive system adding 110kg to the van, the Combo Cargo 4x4 still manages an impressive maximum payload of 892kg for the short-wheelbase model and 848kg for the long-wheelbase van. They can transport 3.3m3 and 3.9m3, respectively.
Like the standard van, the 4x4 variant manages to be very practical and adds to its abilities with a 1.2t towing capacity. Other 4x4s, like a pick-up truck, can move more (up to 3.5t, usually) but for a small van it will likely be enough for most uses.
But what are those uses? According to Vauxhall, this van is for buyers who want to go that little further off-road than normal. The sort of customer that might need to traverse some fields, stray onto a building site or that might in fact need a vehicle to spend its entire life off the road, in a quarry for example. Whatever the use case, the ability to have selectable 2WD and 4WD means the Combo Cargo 4x4 can be used both on and off-road.
By default, on start-up, it’s in front-wheel drive mode but a rotating dial engages the four-wheel drive system, which automatically pushes power to the rear wheels when the front
lose traction. This happens through a viscous coupling transferring as much torque as necessary to the rear. When traction is regained it automatically and seamlessly transfers the power back to the front axle, ensuring that it isn’t using four-wheel drive unnecessarily, making it more fuel efficient.
We tested the Combo Cargo 4x4 over a variety of surfaces, from rutted tracks to full-on mud mounds, and it capably scrabbled over everything. The increased ride height you get on the van adds 90mm giving it a 185mm ground clearance. While that doesn’t sound like much, it proved ample for getting over a variety of obstacles and only challenged its enhanced underbody protection once or twice.
More challenging is keeping the Combo Cargo going in a sympathetic manner. With no low-range gearbox, most of your off-roading will be done in first gear, which doesn’t sound great.
As the viscous coupling needs the front wheels to be spinning before it pushes power to the back, you need to keep the power on constantly to avoid becoming bogged down. That means high revs and a lot more noise.
If you back off on a muddy, steep or challenging surface it is surprisingly easy to stall the van, which can be disconcerting, but the stop/start system usually prevents you from having to do a full restart – simply dip the clutch. It’s an easy enough way of off-roading to
get used to, and proves quite effective.
If you intend to do more severe off-road work, then there’s the option of a 4x4 Plus Pack, which adds a rear differential, increases ride height by 20mm and puts mud and snow-rated tyres on the wheels.
On balance it’s a formidable bit of kit, but it comes at a price – £36,135 (excluding VAT). It is supported by a three-year warranty covering 60,000 miles, but you’ll have to service it more regularly because of the transfer case and rear axle, which means intervals are just 16,000 miles or every two years.
Vauxhall Combo Cargo 4x4 L1 Sportive
Price (ex VAT) £36,010
Price range (ex VAT) £36,010-£37,365
Insurance group 35E
Warranty 36 months/60,000mls
Service intervals 16,000mls
Load volume 3.3m3
Engine size/power 1,499cc / 150hp
Expensive, as you’re paying a high-end pick-up truck price for a smaller vehicle, but there aren’t a wealth of small 4x4 vans available.