Launched in the UK earlier this year, Mitsubishi's Outlander five-door 4Work is our 4x4 Van of the Year for 2014. While it is not designed for tackling heavily-rutted or boulder-strewn terrain it should certainly get you down a snowy rural lane or up a muddy farm road, and that is all many buyers of 4x4 light commercials require from their vehicles.
It is certainly a more pleasant vehicle to drive on paved highways than most of the more rugged 4x4 light commercials we’ve encountered. Ease of access to its 1.6m3 load area is a definite plus-point. You will find a hinged door on each side – a legacy of its passenger car origins – and a hatch door at the back.
Four tie-down points are provided and the load bay is well-protected against minor scratches and scrapes by a mixture of carpet and plastic mouldings. A solidly-built, though carpeted, cargo bed is fitted with a useful hidden compartment underneath that allows you to conceal power tools and other items you would rather not lose. Gross payload capacity is 705kg, which is significantly more than the previous model could handle. Gross weight is 2260kg and the Outlander 4Work can tow a braked trailer grossing at up to 2000kg. A tachograph can be fitted if needs be to help keep you legal.
Under the bonnet sits a 150hp 2.2-litre common rail diesel mated to a six-speed manual gearbox. Turning to the 4x4 system, all you need to do in order to switch modes is press a button between the seats.
Keep your Outlander in 4WD Eco and it will stay in front-wheel-drive unless you start to lose traction. It is then that the four-wheel-drive kicks in automatically. 4WD Auto is what you need if you are heading off-road and know you will require all four wheels to be driven continually while 4WD Lock can be resorted too in the most extreme conditions.
Under those circumstances you need to keep a cool head so it is worth noting that climate control is a standard feature. So is a safety package that includes Electronic Brakeforce Distribution, Brake Assist and Hill Start Assist along with an active electronic stability package, and interior quality that illustrates the Outlander’s passenger car-based roots.
The Outlander 4Work certainly does not lack performance, a competent gear-change allows you to get the best out of the engine and ride comfort is perfectly acceptable. Slithering over muddy fields and up equally muddy slopes is well within its capabilities.
Our Highly Commended choice for 2014 is a vehicle that’s not quite so off-road orientated – the 4x4 version of Mercedes-Benz's Sprinter. That is not to say the Sprinter cannot play in the mud: it is simply that seeing a van of that size in the middle of a field seems somehow wrong.
A low-rise 4x4, what the all-wheel drive Sprinter lacks in ground clearance it makes up for in carrying capacity and impressive off-road traction. Up for grabs at either 3.5 or 5.0 tonnes, it can be ordered as a chassis cab or chassis crew cab as well as with a van body, or even as a people-moving Traveliner.