When it comes to fleets that need a vehicle with off-road capabilities, there really is no substitute for a true mud-plugger, such as the Ford Ranger or Toyota Hilux.
However, pick-ups are severely restricted in their load-carrying capacity and are rendered virtually useless if a tonne or two of large-scale gear needs to be lugged across a few muddy fields.
On the assumption that most off-roaders never reach their true limitations – and in its never-ending quest to fill every available gap in the LCV market – Ford has launched a new Transit AWD (all-wheel drive), a vehicle that carries 9.5 cubic metres of cargo yet is still pretty much guaranteed to grind its way across most types of rough terrain.
The Transit has been offered in AWD format for a few years, but it is new for the upgraded model, which appeared last year and won the title Van of the Year at the last Fleet Van Awards (the forebear of the Commercial Fleet Awards – see page 23 for details). The Transit is a leap forward over the old model – new from the nuts and bolts up and featuring fresh chunky looks, better build quality, a much more comfortable cab and more frugal diesel engines.
AWD models are available as a van or double-cab at 125hp and 155hp. Our test model was the medium wheelbase hi-roof van version, featuring Ford’s tried and trusted 2.2-litre 155hp diesel powerplant and a 1,335kg payload.
Priced at £31,825 ex-VAT, the AWD is £4,830 more than the standard model. Meanwhile, fuel economy suffers with the off-road system on board. Economy on the combined cycle is 29.1mpg, compared with 35.8mpg for the standard van.
The AWD operates halfway between a conventional drive and a full off-road system. The joy of it is it takes no intervention from the driver – the system swaps from rear-wheel drive to all-wheel drive if it senses the front wheels losing traction.
On the plus side, the workings are tucked away out of sight under the van, so it doesn’t have to be jacked up higher, as with some of its rivals. This means load height isn’t affected, at 668mm – an important point if heavyweight equipment is to be lugged around.
On the minus side, it does somewhat restrict this vehicle in particularly boggy ground, although clearance is still a respectable 320mm.
It’s also worth noting that the system doesn’t offer high and low ratio options. However, utilities, forestry firms and other users who are interested in this vehicle will be well satisfied with what’s on offer.
On the road, this Transit is much like all the others to drive, although the drivetrain felt a little more clunky, with the odd bit of mechanical noise from time to time. This model has a slightly lower gear ratio than its standard brother too, which accounts for the difference in fuel economy.
In the rough, the AWD is surprisingly agile – so much so that we didn’t dare push it anywhere near its limits.
Although very much a niche product, the Transit AWD will prove invaluable to the right fleets and is pretty much guaranteed to get through anything this country can throw at it terrain-wise.