Just because one box looks much the same as another that doesn't mean to say that its contents match. Take Fiat's perky little Fiorino for instance. Aside from its badges it looks virtually identical to Citroën's Nemo and Peugeot's Bipper; not really surprising given that it's one of the fruits of a major joint venture between Fiat and PSA, Citroën and Peugeot's parent company.
Flip open the diesel version's bonnet, however, and it's a different story. While Nemo and Bipper are both powered by the same 70hp 1.4-litre HDi unit, Fiorino employs the much-respected 75hp 1.3-litre MultiJet engine; more poke from a slightly smaller package. Both the four-cylinder lumps employ common rail technology.
MultiJet's maximum horsepower makes its presence felt at 4,000rpm. Peak torque of 190Nm — 30Nm more than its HDi rival can muster — bites at 1,750rpm and the engine is married to a five-speed manual gearbox with a nice chunky lever. A 73hp 1.4-litre petrol engine is also available. So is a Comfort-Matic semi-automatic gearbox, but only on the diesel.
MacPherson struts dominate the front suspension while an independent trailing arm arrangement helps support the back of the vehicle. Anti-roll bars are employed front and rear and our test van's 14in steel wheels, resplendent in smart plastic covers, were shod with 175/70 R14 Michelin Energy Saver tyres.
Power steering is fitted with 2.8 turns lock-to-lock and provides a 10.0m kerb-to-kerb turning circle rising to 10.5m wall-to-wall. You'll find ventilated disc brakes at the front, drums at the rear, and ABS and Electronic Brakeforce Distribution are both standard features.
Fiorino grosses at 1,700kg which ensures that it is subject to car speed limits instead of the more onerous ones imposed on commercial vehicles exceeding the two tonne breakpoint. Maximum gross payload capacity is 610kg and our demonstrator could tow a braked trailer grossing at 600kg.
Rearmost entry to Fiorino's load compartment is through asymmetric twin doors with the slimmer of the two mounted on the offside. They can be pushed through 90° and through 170° if you release the easy-to-unlatch door stays.
Our test van's back doors had heated windows with a wash/wipe system on the wider one for a total of £155. We'd have preferred no glazing on security grounds. Because our Fiorino was in SX trim it boasted a nearside sliding cargo area door. Our demonstrator had an offside slider fitted too for an additional £200. The alternative to the SX is the Base, with no side doors at all unless you're willing to pay extra.
The four doors help enfold a small but nonetheless useful 2.5m3 load box equipped with half-a-dozen load tie-down rings. That's quite a lot for a van of this size although one suspects few customers will use them. If they fail to do so and the load slithers forward then the driver at least is protected by a restraint frame that angles backwards into the cargo area. The doors are lined to half their height but the rest of the load bay will need some protection against minor scrapes and scratches.
Maximum cargo length is 1,523mm and if you want to extend it further you can always specify a fold-flat passenger seat. It extends the available length to 2,491mm. Load bay width is 1,473mm, narrowing to 1,046mm between the wheel boxes, while maximum height is 1,205mm. Rear loading height is 527mm.
The rear door aperture is 1,060mm high and 1,140 mm wide while the dimensions for the side door aperture are 1,041mm and 644mm respectively.
While Fiorino's cab looks small from the outside, once you're behind the wheel you quickly discover that it offers far more space than you expected
There's plenty of head, leg and shoulder room and both the steering wheel and the surprisingly comfortable driver's seat are height-adjustable. The seat's fitted with an adjustable lumbar support too, along with a nearside armrest.
Large, electrically-adjustable and heated, outside mirrors made it easy for the driver to see down the van's flanks, despite the lack of a wide-angled section. A deep windscreen and deep, power-operated, windows in the doors aid vision ahead and to each side. Oddment stowage space includes a big glovebox and a bin in each door with a moulding that can accommodate a small bottle of water or a can of fizzy drink.
A driver's airbag comes as standard and a 12v power point (for an extra £10) and two cup-holders can be found between the seats. The one next to the handbrake plays host to the removable ashtray.
If you are going to use it — and there are still circumstances under which it is perfectly legal to smoke in a van's cab — then it might make sense to take it out of its receptacle first. If you don't, then you risk burning a hole in the upholstery because it sits so close to the driver's seat.
There is a pen tray directly in front of the gearstick, a tray for small change to the right of the steering column, change trays in each door, a tray in front of the handbrake lever and more trays on top of the facia. The dashboard was slightly ill-fitting, the only example of indifferent quality we spotted.
We enjoyed the use of a radio/MP3-compatible CD player (£180) and air-conditioning (£350). The cab boasted Bluetooth compatibility for a further £120.
Controlled by a button on the dashboard, central locking provides a useful first line of defence against thieves and can also be triggered remotely. The load bay can be locked separately and all the doors lock automatically once Fiorino is in motion.
There's no denying that Fiorino is a lively little mover. It nips through big city traffic briskly, tackles rural routes with aplomb and is a far better motorway cruiser in practice than it appears to be on paper.
A slick gearchange allows drivers to get the most out of MultiJet and there's ample feedback from the responsive steering. That's good news for the, surprisingly impressive, handling. Noise levels are well under control for such a compact vehicle.
There is a downside, however, and that's the ride. Even when Fiorino was half-laden it was, to say the least, choppy. We felt every pot hole — even the small ones — and the whole van seemed to vibrate every time we crossed a ridge.
So is diesel Fiorino any livelier than the Nemo and Bipper diesels? It is, but only ever so slightly and the extra spring in its step doesn't seem to affect fuel usage. We averaged 55mpg; the same figure we achieved when we sampled the Nemo. CO2 emissions are quoted as 119g/km, again the same as diesel Nemo/Bipper's.
Side rubbing strips help protect Fiorino's paintwork — ours was metallic for another £200 — against minor damage. Open the self-supporting bonnet and you'll obtain ready access to the dipstick, the screenwash reservoir and the oil top-up point.
At 20,000 miles service intervals are generous. Fiorino is protected by a three-year/100,000-mile warranty, with no mileage limit for the first two years and a roadside rescue package for the first year. It's additionally covered by an eight-year anti-perforation corrosion warranty and a three-year paintwork warranty.
Fiat's Fiorino might be small, but there's no doubt that it's big-hearted. It offers bags of performance for its size, handles well with more than sufficient feedback from the steering and its exemplary fuel economy should make oil sheiks weep. There's plenty of room in the cab and while the cargo box isn't enormous, a lot of operators will find it sufficient for around-town delivery work. City streets represent its natural playground and its compact dimensions and high degree of manoeuvrability make it easy to park. There's only one drawback and that's its choppy ride even when laden. But if you can live with that you'll find that Fiorino is a real little winner.