If you want a light panel van that isn’t afraid of getting its feet muddy – i.e it won’t get stuck in a field – the choice is pretty limited.
If you want a pukka 4x4, you have a choice of two – the Volkswagen Transporter 4Motion which weighs in at £19,300 ex-VAT, or the all-wheel drive Ford Transit 260 AWD at £19,720. Both are extremely capable vehicles in the rough, but aren’t exactly cheap.
So if your requirement is little more than the capability of getting through a muddy field, the van on test here, the Citroën Dispatch XTR+, may well suffice.
For starters, it weighs in at £17,445 ex-VAT, which sets it at a great advantage over the other two rivals aforementioned – and being a Citroën there are likely to be some cracking deals available on front-end price.
So if it isn’t AWD, what exactly has this van got going for it? The key to the enhanced off-road capability is its multi-plate reinforced traction limited-slip differential.
In slippery off-road conditions this differential automatically apportions up to 75% of the engine’s torque between the two driving wheels without any input from the driver.
The ability to automatically transfer the majority of the available torque from the driving wheel with the least grip to that with the most grip greatly enhances off-road performance.
It also has 30mm more ground clearance – achieved through the use of heavy-duty suspension and Michelin Agilis 5-1215/60 R16 tyres.
A spokesman said: “Enhanced traction and higher ground clearance enables the van to deliver the improved off-road capability that its target customer base requires.
“But, retaining its two-wheel drive configuration, it ensures that this improved off-road capability is achieved without compromising its on-road characteristics – and without the higher running costs associated with 4x4 vehicles.
“It also offers higher payload capability than most 4x4s, as well as greater load security/weather protection and three-way load accessibility.”
Looking at the price differential between it and the rivals, we’d tend to agree.
Behind the wheel
I must admit I was a tad disappointed when this van arrived for testing – I was expecting a chunkier, more macho version than the standard Dispatch but in fact it doesn’t look any different to the untrained eye, apart from a slightly raised profile.
There isn’t even at XTR+ badge on the back. The only way you’d tell this was something special was by looking under the bonnet and spying the chunky scuff plate underneath.
It’s the same on the road. The Dispatch maintains its very capable road manners, its slick gearchange and its pin-sharp handling.
It’s not until you get into the rough that things start to alter – and of course thereby lies a problem, for the likes of me. As I don’t have my own private off-road course in the back garden, my test week was limited to a couple of muddy car parks – not really much of a challenge to the XTR+. However, I do recall testing this van’s partner, the Berlingo XTR+, on a proper course and being left mightily impressed.
I had been expecting a few muddy puddles and hillocks, but no – this was a pukka off-road course that is usually inhabited by Land Rovers and the like – and our Berlingo just laughed at all the obstacles.
I remember we did get stuck once but that was through my incompetence and not the van’s. My professional co-driver jumped in to the driver’s seat and soon had us out, much to my embarrassment.
This van simply doesn’t have any direct rivals, so if low-level mud-plugging is your necessity, there isn’t much option but to buy one. The Dispatch is a hugely competent light van and the price is very competitive.