What is a commercial 4x4?

  • What makes a commercial 4x4 different to regular vans and pickups
  • What they can do and why they might make sense for your business
  • All the current models, those coming soon and some classic examples

The commercial 4x4 sector of the van market is made up of passenger SUV models that have been converted for light commercial vehicle (LCV) use. In this sense, they are essentially similar to car-derived vans – which are based on ordinary passenger cars – but generally much larger and with far greater off-road capability.

In fact, the ability to transporter tools and equipment (and even goods) off-road is the entire purpose of commercial 4x4s – the ability to tackle the roughest terrain elevating them above pickup trucks and four-wheel drive versions of conventional vans.

The most obvious and famous example of a commercial 4x4 is the Land Rover Defender. Though the van version of the latest Defender – known as the Defender Hard Top – doesn’t go on sale until 2021, LCV variants of the original were on sale for decades, becoming firm favourites among the farming community and essential to utility companies with need to access remote locations to service pylons and the like.

How is a commercial 4x4 different to a regular SUV?

The conversion from passenger SUV to commercial 4x4 is pretty straightforward. All rear seats are removed and replaced by a dedicated load space – leaving room only for passengers in the very front – and any rear side windows are blanked out.

Typical commercial 4x4 load space conversion

The seat mounting points have to be thoroughly disabled and the removed seats destroyed in order to meet proper commercial vehicle status for tax purposes. This is so you can’t put the rear seats back in and carry on taking advantage of the cheaper van tax rates while driving around the place with all your family.

These days you’ll find a sturdy bulkhead between the load space and the remaining front seats – usually with a mesh portion so that it’s still possible to see out of the rear-most window, which is typically left in clear glass rather than replaced with a solid panel.

Features from the standard SUV such as opening rear side doors remain – and often you’ll find the now redundant interior trim still attached to these. By the windows are replaced by permanent panels with no opening mechanism. Depending on the vehicle, you’ll sometimes find the rear doors offer access to additional storage space under the rear load bed.

What are the advantages compared with a traditional van or pickup?

In addition to the off-road prowess, commercial 4x4s benefit from being based on passenger vehicles in three other main areas.

Firstly, sounds stupid and obvious, but they don’t look like traditional vans. This should mean they are less immediately attractive to tool thieves and the like, who typically target commercial vehicles for the purposes of crime. Compared with a pickup, the loadspace is well secured as well. And/or you may simply prefer to have something that doesn’t look like a van parked on your drive.

New Land Rover Defender off-roading with conviction

Secondly, they still drive like the cars they are based on. Now, in the old Defender’s case, this probably wasn’t such a good thing. But when it comes to modern SUVs this generally means much greater comfort, refinement and performance than you’ll get out of most modern vans – let alone pickups, which are typically cruder still.

Thirdly, since the only changes inside are aft of the front seats, the actual driving environment – the cab, if you like – is usually much more nicely appointed than even a very posh van. Creature comforts and safety equipment therefore abound, and longer journeys stop requiring earplugs and anti-inflammatories.

What are the disadvantages compared with a traditional van or pickup?

As passenger vehicles with some of the seats removed, commercial 4x4s are substantially outclassed by ‘proper’ vans and pickups when it comes to load practicality.

New Land Rover Defender Hard Top - towing

They carry lower payloads, have less load space inside (more so compared with vans than pickups, admittedly), and have tall loading heights – so whatever you’re placing in the back will have to be lifted far from the ground (this is an issue for pickups as well, of course).

They also have interiors and components that may not have been engineered for heavy-duty commercial use, and thus may wear out faster, incurring additional costs. Service intervals and pricing may also be less convenient.

>> Van and pickup tax – what you need to know

>> Van and pickup speed limits explained

What commercial 4x4s are available today?

Following a bit of lull after the death of the original Defender, the commercial 4x4 market has been experiencing an expansion in choice in recent years.

Mitsubishi Outlander Commercial 4x4

Mitsubishi is presently in the process of withdrawing from the UK, which means access to its models may be somewhat sporadic – but the firm still lists the Outlander Commercial and the Shogun Sport Commercial among its current product line.

Toyota Land Cruiser Commercial 4x4

Very much present and readying itself to take on the new Defender Hard Top is the Toyota Land Cruiser Commercial, which comes in two lengths and offers outstanding off-road capability and surprisingly charming on-road manners. The 2.8-litre motor makes these hilariously quick, and an interesting alternative to the Hilux pickup if you don’t need 1,000kg (one-tonne) payload capacity.

Land Rover Discovery Commercial 4x4

Land Rover brings the Defender commercial back to life in 2021, but will also continue to sell the Land Rover Discovery Commercial alongside it – an expensive but exceptionally luxurious take on the utility 4x4. Both models are prepared in-house by the firm’s Special Vehicle Operations division.

Any older ones worth a look?

If you’re on a budget, the Dacia Duster Commercial may be seeking out, while Mitsubishi previous did a Commercial version of its long-standing Shogun off-roader.

Dacia Duster Commercial 4x4

The original Defender is an amazing all-terrain machine, but by modern standards they are hard work to drive, not great for safety kit and don’t have a brilliant reputation for reliability (though they should be straightforward to fix).

And future commercial 4x4s on the horizon?

Besides the Defender Hard Top that we’ve mentioned far too many times already, the Suzuki Jimny is becoming a commercial 4x4 for the UK and European markets, as it no longer meets the emissions requirements for cars.

Dacia had booked a space at the cancelled 2020 CV Show, prompting rumours that a new Duster Commercial was on the way – but this has never been official confirmed.

Also read:

>> Our full Toyota Land Cruiser Commercial review

>> Land Rover Defender Hard Top – full details of new commercial 4x4

>> Suzuki Jimny to be reborn as commercial 4x4

>> Renault Zoe Van vs Ford Fiesta Van

>> The Parkers pickup group test - every major model compared