The Citroen Dispatch gets tough in XTR+ guise. Steve Walker reports.
Ten Second Review
Citroen's Dispatch XTR+ is a beefed-up panel van with for drivers who regularly travel off the beaten track. Tougher suspension raised by 30mm, under body protection, snow tyres and a limited slip differential make the van more suited to adverse conditions. There's a small penalty in terms of on-road performance but demanding businesses will happily live with that.
Vans are built to take a pounding during their working lives but some operators have a different definition of rough treatment than others. Drivers with a hard job to do and a chronic shortage of mechanical sympathy can easily reduce a perfectly good vehicle to a twisted mess in very short order and it's for these individuals that Citroen has developed its Dispatch XTR+. Don't take this as a challenge but the French marque is quietly confident that its beefed up panel van can take the worst that you can throw at it. Citroen has applied its XTR recipe to a number of models in its range, passenger car and commercial vehicle. What it amounts to is a way of giving a product greater protection and capability for tackling difficult surfaces without going the whole hog and employing a four-wheel-drive system. XTR passenger car models have been given body cladding and pumped-up styling to suggest extra off-road ability when they've really been as useful in the mud as one flip flop with a hole in it but the modifications on the Dispatch XTR+ are reassuringly functional and should be of real benefit.
In no way should the Dispatch XTR+ be considered an off-road vehicle. It's designed for operators who might spend a lot of time on unmade roads or dirt tracks, those who have to cross muddy building sites or people whose business takes them to remote locations where ice and snow are regular hazards. There's no all-wheel-drive transmission but the suspension is raised by 30mm compared to the standard dispatch, a limited slip differential is fitted to the front axle and Michelin S-I snow and ice tyres are fitted as standard. As well as lifting the important bits up and out of harm's way, the suspension is also more robust than on standard Dispatch vans and there's full under body protection to help avoid damage should the extra ground clearance prove insufficient. On the road, the upshot of all this is a rather unsettled ride with the revised suspension hopping around on surface imperfections more than the standard models would. Drivers familiar with the everyday versions of the Dispatch may also notice the higher centre of gravity of the XTR+ resulting in a less planted feel when cornering. In general the differences are fairly minor and the Dispatch continues to perform well with the 120bhp 2.0-litre HDi engine fitted to the van enabling swift progress. It's worse on the road than the standard model but off the beaten track, it's way better. A swift drive down a pot-hole strewn track sees the XTR+ bounce along with ease. Over the same terrain at the same speed, a standard model would be emitting an eye-watering crunch every time it dropped a wheel into one of the vicious-looking indentations, possibly leaving part of its anatomy behind as a souvenir. The tyres and the differential are similarly effective in the mud or snow where they maximise what traction there is and help keep the XTR+ plodding forward.
Design and Build
There's little to mark an XTR+ Dispatch out from the standard models as the modifications have been made almost exclusively on its dirty side. A lack of telltale badging ensures it's even more low key but the trained eye will spot the tell-tale void in the wheelarches caused by its higher suspension. Buyers seeking an off-road capable van that looks rough and ready are unlikely to be impressed but few 4x4 models can carry as much as the Citroen or match its practicality. Based on the Dispatch L1H1 1200 body, it offers a 1,200kg payload and a load volume of five cubic meters. The cab area has been thoughtfully designed with firm, supportive seating and a respectable amount of storage space to keep oddments in check. A three-seat capacity is claimed but, as is so often the case in small panel vans, the legroom for the middle berth is severely restricted by the dash-mounted gear lever.
Market and Model
Equipment levels look generous with Citroen offering the headline-grabbing Smartnav satellite navigation system as standard along with ABS, EBA, a driver's airbag, a CD Stereo with wheel-mounted controls and electric windows. With these and other features taken into account, the Dispatch looks a conspicuously good value van - but what else did you expect from Citroen? Buyers are asked to pay a premium for the tough underpinnings of the XTR+ but it's nothing like the expense that would be attached to a proper four-wheel-drive system. There are 4x4 options out there but the Citroen is unique in its offer of extended off-road ability in a vehicle of this size at this kind of price. That should be enough to spark some interest.
Practicalities and Costs
Like all Dispatch models, the XTR+ comes with a 2-year unlimited mileage warranty or three-year cover if it stays under a 100,000-mile limit. The 2.0-litre HDi engine needs servicing every 20,000 miles and insurance is a reasonable group seven. The official combined economy figure is 39mpg, which is rather better than you'd get from a panel van lugging around a full 4x4 system.
The Citroen Dispatch XTR+ is quite a specialist product residing somewhere between the conventional panel vans and commercial vehicles with 4x4 mechanicals. As such, it offers extra capability in the rough stuff and the ability to cope with some harsh treatment, all at a very attractive price. There's a penalty to be paid for the robust qualities of the XTR+ in the form of a drop-off in composure and handling on the road but the difference is quite small and operators which regularly take their vehicles over more demanding terrain will experience real benefits.