These fleet workhorses are admirable performers on road and in many ways are the backbone of British business, but show them an acre of mud and a few hills and they just can’t cope.Which poses a problem for fleets like the Forestry Commission and those involved in the construction and agricultural industries.
Faced with the possibility of getting their vehicles stuck on a regular basis, they have little alternative but to cough up for a pukka 4x4, which will not only be considerably more expensive but is also unlikely to have either the payload or the load volume of a van.
Spotting an unplugged niche in the market, Citroën has come up with an ingenious solution in the form of the Berlingo XTR+.
It isn’t a four-wheel drive vehicle but it has enough hi-tech gubbins under its wings to cope with most things that Britain’s terrain is likely to throw at it.
The XTR+ uses Citroën’s 2.0-litre HDi common rail diesel powerplant, which gives a lively 90bhp at 4,000rpm and 151lb-ft of torque at 1,900rpm.
But underneath, ground clearance has been raised by 40mm, there is an uprated heavy duty suspension system, hefty underbody protection, wheels are larger at 15 inches in diameter and tyres are Michelin Synchrone 4x4 185/65 R15s, which provide a claimed optimum combination of on-road and off-road grip.
But what really makes the XTR+ special is its multi-plate limited slip differential. In slippery conditions, the system automatically apportions up to 75% of the engine’s torque between the two driving wheels.
It means the wheel with the most grip gets the most power, without the driver having to do anything.
Price of the new model, which is on sale now, is £12,045 ex-VAT, which is £1,400 more than the equivalent ordinary Berlingo.
Model: Citroën Berlingo XTR+
Gross vehicle weight (kg): 1,805
Payload (kg): 569
Load volume (cubic metres): 3.0
Max power (bhp): 90/4,000
Max torque (lb-ft/rpm): 151/1,900
Price (excluding VAT): £12,045
Behind the wheel
TO be honest, I wasn’t expecting much from my driving experience of the Berlingo XTR+. I have attended many events like this in the past and what I normally find is an ‘off-road’ course which consists of a couple of puddles, a few trees and the odd mole hill.
Citroën is in no way pretending that the XTR+ has the capabilities of a true off-roader and quite rightly points out that the fleets this vehicle is aimed at aren’t going to be scaling Mount Kilimanjaro, but instead want a van that can get through muddy lanes and ploughed fields.
So imagine my surprise when I pitched up to find that Citroën had booked a real mud-plugging course for the event – steep hairy inclines, more mud that you’d need to bathe a herd of hippos and puddles the size of swimming pools.
Blimey, I thought, I hope they know what they are doing!
Now I don’t profess to be an expert off-roader so I was quite pleased to discover that I was to have a member of staff sitting with me, to point out the best lines to take, and advise me when to ease off on the throttle and which gears to choose.
The first thing to learn about the XTR+ is that it doesn’t handle like a 4x4, so it’s no good just pointing it at an obstacle and expecting it to just plough on through. It’s very much a case of easy-does-it. That diff won’t work if you keep revving up and hoping for the best. As we tackled ever more precarious twists, humps and turns, I began to have enormous respect for this willing little performer.
Inevitably, we ground to a halt as the vehicle in front made a mistake. I had to sit in one spot for a few seconds and it was enough to beat the Berlingo – I thought.
But it was me, not the van, that was stymied. Once my instructor took to the driver’s seat, he’d winkled the van out of its hole in seconds, leaving me to realise that there just might be more to this off-road lark than I’d imagined.
As the 20 or so journalists gathered for lunch after the event we spoke at one voice – that ain’t half a bad little mover.
FLEETS with a need to get into the rough won’t find a cheaper and more effective way of doing it. The XTR+ is a little star, so much so that the Forestry Commission has already ordered 35 of them.