What is a commercial 4x4? And which are best?

  • 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 current models reviewed and rated, plus classic and future examples

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

Transporting tools, equipment and 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 4×4 is the Land Rover Defender. The latest version, called the Land Rover Defender Hard Top, was launched in 2021 and is an all-new model.

Before this, van variants of the original Defender were sold 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 4×4 different to a regular SUV?

The conversion from passenger SUV to commercial 4×4 is 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 windscreen, 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. Often you’ll find the now redundant interior trim still attached to these, but with rear windows replaced by permanent panels with no opening mechanism.

Depending on the vehicle, sometimes the rear doors offer access to additional storage space under the rear load bed. The Land Rover Defender 110 Hard Top and Discovery Commercial models both have excellent examples of this.

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 criminals who target commercial vehicles for tool theft and other crimes. Compared with a pickup, the loadspace is well secured as well. Plus many buyers simply prefer to have something that doesn’t look like a van parked outside.

New Land Rover Defender off-roading with conviction

Secondly, they still drive like the cars they are based on. 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 behind 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 abound, and longer journeys stop requiring earplugs and anti-inflammatories.

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

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.

Examples of particularly practical off-road vans include the Iveco Daily 4×4 and the Vauxhall Combo Cargo 4×4.

>> Van and pickup speed limits explained

What are the best commercial 4x4s available today?

Following a bit of lull after the death of the original Defender, the commercial 4×4 market seen a big increase in choice in recent years. Here’s a quick rundown of the models available, what we think of them and links to our full reviews, where you’ll also find full dimensions information.

6. Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV Commercial

Best commercial 4×4 for the eco-conscious

Best commercial 4x4 - Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV Commercial

Mitsubishi is withdrawing from the UK before the end of 2021, which means access to its commercial 4×4 models may be limited if you want to buy new – but the firm still lists the Outlander Commercial and the Shogun Sport Commercial among its current product line.

The Outlander is perhaps the more interesting of the two, but also arguably the less sensible. It is only sold as a petrol-electric plug-in hybrid now, which means there is a lot of complexity underneath. Fuel economy is excellent if you’re able to maximise use of its pure-electric driving range, but since this is only around 30 miles per charge, longer journeys can become costly.

The latest PHEV models have a payload rating of 510kg, and a 1,609-litre load area (just over 1.6 cubic metres), A diesel model was available at launch, and you should be able to find these used if you’re interested.

>> Read our full Mitsubishi Outlander Commercial review

>> Find a Mitsubishi Outlander Commercial for sale near you

5. Mitsubishi Shogun Sport Commercial

Best commercial SUV for pickup-grade toughness

Best commercial 4x4 - Mitsubishi Shogun Sport Commercial

Another slight oddity from Mitsubishi, the Shogun Sport Commercial is van based on an SUV based on a pickup – for underneath that smoothly finished bodywork lies the same platform as the Mitsubishi L200.

This means a ladder-frame chassis instead of the unibody construction used by every other commercial 4×4 in this list – good news for strength and towing, in some respects, but not great for refinement or suspension sophistication.

Still, it comes with lots of standard kit, and has decent off-road capability, including a 700mm wading depth. Payload is an improvement over the Outlander PHEV at 605kg, but cargo volume is lower at 1,488 litres (just under 1.5 cubic metres).

>> Read our full Mitsubishi Shogun Sport Commercial review

>> Find a Mitsubishi Shogun Sport Commercial for sale near you

4. Dacia Duster Commercial

Best commercial 4×4 for staggeringly low pricing

2021 Dacia Duster Commercial

The second-generation Dacia Duster Commercial was announced in early 2021, and as yet we haven’t been given the opportunity to try it. It’s another slightly unusual candidate for your cash, because only the very top-spec diesel model actually comes with four-wheel drive.

The rest of the range are front-wheel drive only. In fact, the whole vehicle is so light that it technically qualifies as a car-derived van, something that no other current commercial 4×4 can manage and may be useful for the higher speed limits this allows.

Starting at £11,995 before VAT, pricing is super cheap – it’s the least expensive mainstream new commercial vehicle of any type at present – and it represents great value as a result. But the load area is between 1.3 and 1.5 cubic metres in size, and maximum payload is just 495kg.

>> Dacia Duster Commercial full details

>> Find a Dacia Duster Commercial for sale near you

3. Land Rover Discovery Commercial

Best commercial 4×4 for luxury and on-road performance

Best commercial 4x4s - Land Rover Discovery Commercial, wading through mud

These are not cheap, but that’s not putting off buyers – one-in-four of these Land Rovers sold in the UK is apparently a Commercial variant. They look nothing like a van from the outside, but some clever adaptation from LR’s Special Vehicle Operations (SVO) department means they are remarkably practical inside.

The Discovery is also hugely luxurious, with an enormous amount of standard kit on even the most basic version – including a powered tailgate and a very fancy infotainment system. They are also highly capable off-road, and nicer to drive on-road than the Defender Hard Top (though there’s not much in it).

Currently, only the massively powerful D300 mild-hybrid engine is offered, with 306hp and 0-62mph in 6.9 seconds, though less powerful engines are available used. Payload is an impressive 784kg, while the official load space volume is 2,024 litres (just over 2.0 cubic metres).

>> Read our full Land Rover Discovery Commercial review

>> Find a Land Rover Discovery Commercial for sale near you

2. Toyota Land Cruiser Commercial

Best commercial 4×4 for no-nonsense capability and reliability

Best commercial 4x4s - Toyota Land Cruiser Commercial

The closest commercial 4×4 challenger to the Defender Hard Top in terms of capability and ethos is the Toyota Land Cruiser Commercial. As with the Defender, this is based on a hard-core off-road vehicle and comes in three-door short-wheelbase (SWB) and five-door long-wheelbase (LWB) body sizes.

These are outstandingly effective off-road – you’ll find the basic vehicle at home in the world’s harshest environments – but they also have surprisingly charming on-road manners. The 2.8-litre motor makes them hilariously quick, and an interesting alternative to the Toyota Hilux pickup if you don’t need 1,000kg (one-tonne) payload capacity.

In LWB guise load space is over 2.2 cubic metres, with the SWB model swallowing nearly 1.6 cubic metres. Payload is slightly less impressive, ranging 488-593kg for the smaller version and 661-756kg for the larger model. An excellent choice if practical dependability is your primary need.

>> Read our full Toyota Land Cruiser Commercial review

>> Find a Toyota Land Cruiser Commercial for sale near you

1. Land Rover Defender Hard Top

Best commercial 4×4 for all-round ability and image

Best commercial 4x4s - Land Rover Defender Hard Top, 90 SWB, driving off-road

The Defender made a triumphant return to the commercial 4×4 sector in 2021 with this all-new Hard Top model. The Defender Hard Top name is being used specifically for the van version – the roof isn’t actually removable like it was on some older versions.

It does, however, come in two sizes: the short-wheelbase Defender 90 Hard Top and the long-wheelbase Defender 110 Hard Top – the latter based on the five-door model, the former on the three-door. The retro-tastic design inside and out may seem a bit kitsch at first, but they are both great fun to drive on-road and absolutely amazing off-road.

Practicality is first-rate, too. The Defender is the only commercial 4×4 with a three-seater cab option, has loads of storage options and 3,500kg towing capacity. Cargo space is 1,355 litres in the 90 and 2,059 litres in the 110, while maximum payload is 888kg. It’s not cheap, but feels worth every single penny.

>> Read our full Land Rover Defender Hard Top review

>> Find a Land Rover Defender commercial for sale near you

Any older ones worth a look?

If you’re on a budget, the original Dacia Duster Commercial may be worth seeking out, while Mitsubishi previously 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?

The Suzuki Jimny Light Commercial Vehicle is a new commercial 4×4 version of this iconic off-roader for the UK and European markets. But this is a very small vehicle, and will only really be suitable for specific and limited usage. Private buyers looking for a two-seater Jimny will love it, however.

More interesting for true working use is the Ineos Grenadier. This new British-backed ladder-frame SUV looks like an old Defender but runs on modern BMW engines and is being built with durability firmly in mind. Both passenger and commercial 4×4 variants have been confirmed, and it goes into production in 2022.

Also read:

>> What is a car derived van?

>> Renault Zoe Van vs Ford Fiesta Van

>> Best pickup trucks in the UK