But, as with pick-ups, the 4x4 market has changed slightly as company car drivers have realised the tax and VAT benefits of driving a two-seat version of the latest 4x4 car.
Land Rover capitalised on this trend, with both Freelander and Discovery vans in the past, though at present neither is available, leaving the farmers and construction workers with their trusty Defender commercials. But Mitsubishi has been quick to spot the gap, putting forward Shogun, Shogun Sport and Shogun Pinin vans in an unrivalled range of vehicles.
Nissan’s faithful Terrano continues as a road-going 4x4 with real off-road capabilities, while newcomers to the scene include the Koreans, as Kia is trying to increase sales of its competitive Sorento by dropping the rear seats and filling in the side windows. And the Santana takes the Defender concept and gives it a Spanish twist. We’re not including larger vans, like VW’s Transporter 4Motion or the Sprinter 4x4, as they’ve been covered elsewhere, as has Renault’s Kangoo 4x4. But if you are looking for a car-based 4x4 van, this is the first part of a two-issue look at what’s available.
Jeep Cherokee Pioneer
JEEP joined the 4x4 van party a couple of years ago, by stripping the rear seats out of its popular Cherokee car and fitting a load carrying surface in the rear to create the Pioneer. That original model has since been updated, with the addition this year of a 2.8-litre diesel engine and a six-speed manual gearbox.
This variable geometry turbo engine was just what the doctor ordered, offering a healthy boost over the outgoing 2.5-litre, with 161bhp on tap.
The six-speed gearbox also has a useful set of ratios for relaxed long-distance driving on the road and for serious use on the rough.
Being based on the CRD Sport model, the Cherokee Pioneer is well equipped, with airbags, headlamp levelling, air conditioning, ABS brakes, electric windows and a single CD player as standard. An automatic transmission is available as an option.
At the working end you get a 1.2 metre-long load area, which is 1.2 metre-wide and 1 metre high.
Load-carrying capacity is 370kg for the manual and 380kg with the auto box, which admittedly isn’t much, but the Pioneer has a towing capacity of almost 2.7 tonnes with the manual gearbox and a massive 3,360kg for vehicles equipped with the auto transmission.
If most of your time is going to be spent on the road, and you haven’t got much to carry, this is about as good as it gets.
Jeep Cherokee Pioneer (manual/auto)
Power: 161bhp @ 3,800rpm
Torque: 295lb-ft @ 1,800rpm
Load box length and width: 1,200mm x 1,200mm
Gross vehicle weight: 2,650kg/2,675kg
Payload: 370kg/380kg (incl driver)
Price: £17,512-£18,362 + VAT
KIA jumped on to the 4x4 van bandwagon late last year, with the launch of the Sorento XE-C. Based on the 2.5 CRDi XE car, the van has a good specification. That 2.5 litre motor pumps out 138bhp and 252lb-ft of torque and drives through a choice of five-speed manual or automatic gearboxes.
The Sorento uses an electronic transfer box system, operating in two-wheel drive high ratio on the road and offering four-wheel drive in high and low gear ratios for the slippery stuff.
You get a bit more room in the rear than in the Jeep, with a load length of 1,610mm and a width of 1,370mm, it is a bit lower though at just 930mm to get under that curving roof. It’s easy to get into the back, with twin side doors, a tailgate and separate flip-up tailgate glass.
Up front, the Kia driver does all right too, with air conditioning, electric windows, front and side airbags and a CD player.
The real decision maker is going to be the price.
At £14,999, the Sorento is very good value considering the specification. Kia is hoping to sell 300 XE-C vans in the UK this year, which shouldn’t prove too hard to do.
Kia Sorento XE-C (manual/auto)
Power: 138bhp @ 3,800rpm
Torque: 252lb-ft @ 1,850rpm
Load box length and width: 1,610mm x 1,370mm
Gross vehicle weight: 2,600kg
Payload: 544kg/541kg (incl driver)
Price: £14,999-£15,935 + VAT
Land Rover Defender
WITH both the Freelander van and the last generation Discovery van now out of production, the green oval’s flag is once again being carried by the stalwart Defender range alone. Defender hard-tops come in short and long wheelbase 90 and 110 versions, and you can choose regular vinyl trim or the slightly more luxurious County cloth seats.
All Defenders use Land Rover’s TD5 2.5-litre diesel engine, which offers a fairly pedestrian 122bhp at 4,200rpm and 221lb-ft of torque at 1,950rpm. This is not a machine for extended motorway driving, but when it comes to an off-road workhorse there are few finer vehicles.
Rumours of a replacement have been around for years, yet Defender soldiers on, almost unchanged.
In terms of a useful box, the 90 has a load length of 1,144mm and an internal width of 1,430mm. It’s a more generous story in the 110 of course, with the same internal width, but a cavernous 1,900mm load length.
When it comes to payload, the 90 can manage 720kg including the driver, while the longer 110 will haul 1,565kg, making it the first choice in this sector for anyone who needs to carry a heavy load.
Both models will pull a 3.5-tonne braked trailer, again way ahead of most others in this class.
Land Rover Defender 90
Power: 122bhp @ 4,200rpm
Torque: 221lb-ft @ 1,950rpm
Load box length and width: 1,144mm x 1,430mm
Gross vehicle weight: 2,400kg
Payload: 720kg (incl driver)
Price: £14,822-£17,014 + VAT
Land Rover Defender 110
Power: 122bhp @ 4,200rpm
Torque: 221lb-ft @ 1,950rpm
Load box length and width: 1,9003mm x 1,430mm
Gross vehicle weight: 3,050kg
Payload: 1,565kg (incl driver)
Price: £17,184-£18,291 + VAT