On a trip to New Zealand back in 1997, I remember being staggered at the number of Japanese 4wd panel vans on the roads (I hadn’t seen one before) and I recall wondering why there weren’t any for sale in Britain.
Our ‘local’ manufacturers seem to have been slow to catch on to the sales oppportunities offered by such vehicles, but gradually things are changing.
Both Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen already have mud-plugging LCVS and latest to enter the fray is this handy – and very capable – offering from Ford, the Transit AWD.
You’ll notice the van is called AWD and not 4WD and that’s for a very good reason.
Ford’s new offering takes all the decisions out of whether to use two wheels or four – the clever engineering fangle-danglery underneath takes care of it all, thus making driving safer and also saving fuel into the bargain, by swapping back to two wheel-drive as soon as AWD isn’t necessary.
And it’s not only panel vans that will benefit from the AWD technology. Chassis-cabs and minibuses are also available, for a price of £3,995 more than a standard counterpart.
However the AWD is limited to one engine – the 2.4-litre TDCi unit with 136bhp with a six-speed manual gearbox.
The vehicles don’t look any different from the outside – Ford’s designers decided that for most fleet purposes, the Transit is high enough off the ground already so didn’t need jacking up.
That way, cargo can be loaded and unloaded easier.
The only thing that distinguishes the AWD models from their standard brothers (unless you look underneath) is a small AWD badge.
As the 4wd gubbins only weighs 50kg, it does not affect the vehicles’ load carrying capacities unecessarily.
Ford’s marketing men admit they really can’t make too many predictions about who will buy these vehicles.
A conservative estimate of between 300 and 600 a year could be well wide of the mark if they manage to blag a couple of big fleet deals.
And that could well be a possibility as several construction firms and utilities have already expressed an interest.