19 August 1997

THE COMMERCIAL

ROUTE THAT PAYS

YOUR VAT BACK

Commercial 4x4s offer an

intriguing mix of style, driver

comfort and practicality. And

theres the bonus of a handy cost saving for buyers who can reclaim the VAT on their purchases.

Peter Hill checks out whats available

SO, you want a work vehicle that can carry anything from a wet dog to a pile of fencing stakes but with a little comfort and style up-front for those longer journeys collecting urgently needed spares?

Instead of buying a conventional pick-up and plonking a GRP cover over the load bay, the smart money goes on a commercial 4×4 that trades passenger seating for practical load space, and side-window visibility for recoverable VAT.

The result? A vehicle with all the off-road performance and much of the street-cred of the original off-roader, complete with the view-over-the-hedge elevated driving position.

Land Rovers Discovery Commercial is one of the best executed of the breed, combining popular good-looks with the practical features of a well thought-out conversion to van-spec.

Isuzus Trooper Commercial and the Ford Maverick 4×4 Van get nearest the Discovery formula, while the Daihatsu Fourtrak Fieldman offers similar doses of looks and ability in a smaller package and with a choice of long and short wheelbase variants.

The diminutive Suzuki 4wd Vitara Van and basic but robust Lada Niva provided further alternatives until both vehicles recent withdrawal from the UK.

Ubiquitous Defender

Alongside the 4×4 van conversions, it is relevant to consider the ubiquitous Land Rover Defender hard top. With assorted alloy wheel and go-faster stripe accessories, the Landie can be had with more style than hitherto for those to whom an individual vehicle is important. Yet the time-proven practicality and ruggedness of the original vehicle remains unchanged.

Available in both short wheelbase Tdi 90 and long wheelbase Tdi 110 models, and with improved road manners and performance these days, the Defender nonetheless struggles when it comes to offering drivers a satisfying, low-fatigue drive.

As farmers weekly Country Car testers noted when comparing the Defender Tdi 90 hard top with the similarly-dimensioned short wheelbase Fourtrak Fieldman, the Defender is comparatively noisy, the seating position crumpled, and the view out somewhat restricted by the flat, shallow windscreen and small side windows.

Conventional stance

In comparison, the Fieldman offers a more conventional driving stance in seats that are lower and therefore easier to slide on to. Its cabin is lighter and airier, too, thanks to more glass and, according to the test team, has a significantly more effective heater for those cold early morning starts.

There is less to differentiate the two when it comes to road and (surprisingly) off-road driving since both were considered to have lively engines (the Defender has a touch more power and torque at hand but is heavier), with the Solihull vehicle getting the vote on ease of gear change and braking feel. Its more substantial pedals are also reckoned to better suit market boot-shod feet.

When it comes to practicality as a commercial carry-all, though, the Defender scores a clear win with its rubber matted metal floor and capacious load bay, complete with squared-off wheel arches that, at a pinch, can double as temporary seating.

The Fieldman offers nothing but a carpeted floor.

In contrast, Land Rovers Special Products Division takes a more pragmatic line in creating the Discovery Commercial by fitting marine ply flooring to create a firm, level deck finished off with a sheet of either heavy duty vinyl or aluminium treadplate.

Lashing rings can be added to the latter and the treadplate extended to the inside of the rear door; a mesh screen can also be fitted here to protect the rear window from wayward items and provide an element of added security.

At 2.2cu m, the load area is one of the tallest, most voluminous of anything this side of a purpose-made van.

Also thoroughly practical is the half solid, half mesh steel bulkhead which prevents items entering the cabin while braking for a roundabout or tight bend, while rubber mats cover the front carpet in the driving compartment itself. Occasional passengers can occupy the Discoverys optional fold-away rear seats instead of being confined to the floor.

Surprisingly effective

Unusually, the Disco Commercial can be had with an automatic gearbox which, as Country Car testers found, is a surprisingly effective companion to a diesel power plant that has plenty of torque at modest revs.

The 300Tdi direct injection turbo motor has enough urge to cope with long hills, with the gearbox lock-up failing to discourage the power unit from keeping things going at a lively pace.

Heaps of leg room and a conventional driving position, an adjustable steering column, electric windows and exterior mirrors, remote central locking, individual driver/passenger heat and ventilation controls serve to remind the origins of this van, let alone the optional air conditioning.

Country Cars report on the Isuzu Trooper Commercial suggests a vehicle in a similar mould but with a little less load space (which for most users is rarely a problem) and a less thorough conversion from passenger to goods conveyor.

A deep well behind the driver and passenger seats provides a useful stowage area for tools and the like but the lack of a bulkhead to seal off the front of the load area is a disappointment. The optional plastic load liner goes some way to addressing this shortcoming, protecting the load bay carpet, wheel arches and lower sides, as well as providing a barrier to items wanting to join the driver under braking.

Plus-points of note, say Country Car testers, include decent performance from the big capacity (3.1-litre) turbo diesel engine, which remains quiet if a little hoarsy as the revs climb while delivering a steady pull with little turbo lag or fuss.

Comfort not lacking

A light gear-shift coupled to a hefty clutch is noted but, with plenty of room beside the pedal to rest a big booted foot and a roomy adjustable seating position, comfort is not lacking in the Trooper.

The latest-spec transmission allows on-the-move shifts into four-wheel drive which, together with a limited slip differential, should help drivers get through unexpectedly slippery patches, while long axle travel and generous ground clearance help when the going gets rough.

Engine characteristics are a help with off-road work, accepting high gears without moaning and enabling the motor to respond again after backing off to find grip in a slippery situation.

Altogether, an easy-to-live-with variant of a proven and popular 4×4.

As is the Ford Maverick which, in second-generation guise, is a considerably better beast than the original. A combination of more appealing looks and more power from the Nissan inter-cooled 2.7-litre turbo diesel, along with neater interior trim helps the package enormously.

And the short wheelbase Van version, converted by dealer Potters of Woodbridge in rural Suffolk, and sold throughout the Ford dealer network, benefits just as much as its passenger-carrying alter ego.

Performance still disappointed Country Car testers when they tried the long wheelbase model, expecting livelier character from the 125hp/205lbf ft motor. The lighter-weight stripped-out three-door should be better.

Once settled, though, the engine is reckoned to be both smooth and quiet, with the manual transmission doing its best to make life easy for the pilot with a finger-tip light gear change and modest clutch pedal weighting. Four-wheel drive is available in high and low ranges but everything has to come to a halt while the front hubs sort themselves out when shifting to all-wheel-drive.

A rear differential of the limited slip variety helps maintain a decent quota of grip on slippery surfaces. This is further helped by the generous articulation of the rear live axle, less so the front-end combination of wishbones and torsion bars. Underbody clearance is enough for all but the most extreme driving situations.

From the practicality point of view, the Maverick is the least commodious of the 4x4s turned vans but has a decent payload capacity.

Isuzu Trooper Commercial is based on the short wheelbase model with rear seats removed and side windows blanked – but little else to prepare it for a working life. 3.1-litre motor provides plenty of performance.


Commercial 4x4s

PayloadTowingEngineTransmissionPrice

capacitycapacityex-VAT

(kg)(kg)(£)

Daihatsu Fourtrak95035002.8-litreSelectable 4wd;13,400

turbo diesel5spd manual

Fieldman 2.8TDS/TDL830350098hp/180lbf ft14,250

Ford761n/a2.7-litre turbo dieselSelectable 4wd; 5spd manual;14,289

Maverick 4×4 Van125hp/204lbf ftauto front hubs; limited slip rear diff

Isuzu78033003.1-litre turbo dieselSelectable 4wd; 5sp manual;15,502

Trooper Commercial113bhp/192lbf ftauto front hubs; limited slip rear diff

Land Rover660/800*35002.5-litre DI turbo dieselFull-time 4wd; 5spd manual;14,672

Defender Tdi 90111bhp/195lbf ftcentre diff lock

Land Rover1130/1570*35002.5-litre DI turbo dieselFull-time 4wd; 5spd manual; 16,025

Defender Tdi 110111bhp/195lbf ftcentre diff lock

Land Rover67935002.5-litre DI turbo dieselFull-time 4wd; 5spd manual 17,573

Discovery Commercial111bhp/195lbf ftor 3spd auto; centre diff lock

3.9-litre V8 petrol17,973

182bhp/231lbf ft

Towing capacity with over-run braked trailer; prices exclude delivery, number plates and options. *Optional heavy-duty version

Left: Daihatsu Fourtrak Fieldman offers a good combination of on- and off-road ability, load practicality and driving ease. It can be had in short and long wheelbase (pictured) versions.

Left: Daihatsu Fourtrak Fieldman offers a good combination of on- and off-road ability, load practicality and driving ease. It can be had in short and long wheelbase (pictured) versions.

Left: Neat load liner in Ford Maverick 4×4 van lacks a full bulkhead but protects wheel arch and front side trim while preventing loose items getting under the drivers feet. Its not huge but load volume will be enough for many. Above: Land Rover Discovery Commercial has most thorough conversion with plywood floor trimmed with aluminium plate or vinyl and deep steel bulkhead topped with mesh to the roof. Theres plenty of performance, too, from the turbodiesel, in both manual and auto versions.

Land Rover Defender can be made a tad more stylish these days with fancy alloy wheels and colour schemes. But it remains cramped and noisy. Load space is roomy and floor is rubber-matted metal, however.