Fiat has always been a bit of an also-ran in the UK van market, but there are signs that things are changing.
Now with its light commercial activities run as a separate operation under the Fiat Professional banner, the Italian manufacturer has significantly strengthened its van network by signing up a number of truck outlets. Virtually all either Daf or Iveco dealers — Iveco is part of the Fiat group — they bring a strong ethic of aftersales care to the party along with an in-depth understanding of the needs of commercial vehicle customers.
Then there’s the Fiat van line-up to consider. It’s stronger than it has ever been. Grande Punto, Fiorino, Scudo and Ducato are all in the catalogue and there’s not a dud among them. They’ve recently been joined by another potential winner; the latest version of the Doblò Cargo.
Redesigned from the ground up and with a choice of two wheelbases, Fiat’s newcomer is up for grabs with three different MultiJet 16-valve four-cylinder common rail diesels. Customers can pick from a 90hp 1.3-litre, a 105hp 1.6-litre or a 135hp 2.0-litre.
All three are produced in Euro 5 guise with versions of the two least-powerful that comply solely with Euro 4 also available. A 95hp 1.4-litre petrol engine can be specified too.
Noted for being environmentally-friendly, we went for a Euro- 5 1.6-litre. Top power kicks in at 4,000rpm while maximum torque of 290Nm bites at 1,500rpm. CO2 output is quoted as 136g/km.
Go the Euro 5 route and you get a particulate trap plus Start&Stop. It cuts the engine when you’re stationary and in neutral at the lights or in heavy traffic and leads to a 15 per cent drop in diesel consumption says Fiat. You fire up the engine again by dipping the clutch. It’s a sensible arrangement and one you soon get used to using. Euro-5 and Start&Stop together add £820 to the cost of a Euro-4 model. All prices quoted here exclude VAT.
Something else you get with Euro-5 is an indicator on the dashboard that tells you when to change gear, again with an eye to fuel economy. A six-speed manual gearbox is standard on the 1.6.
The latest Doblò Cargo is unusual in that it’s fitted with a sophisticated bi-link independent rear suspension system. Aimed at enhancing the ride and handling, it is light — good news again for diesel consumption and for payload capacity — and compact. As a consequence Fiat has been able to fit slim wheel boxes with extra space between them to ease loading and unloading.
Independent suspension with MacPherson struts is installed at the front along with an anti-roll bar. Our demonstrator’s 15in steel wheels with their smart-looking plastic trims were shod with Pirelli Cinturato P1 185/65 R15 tyres.
Disc brakes are fitted at the front while drums are deployed at the back and it’s slightly surprising that the manufacturer hasn’t opted for disc brakes all round.
ABS comes as standard along with Electronic Brakeforce Distribution and as great advocates of Electronic Stability Programme we’re a little disappointed that Fiat hasn’t elected to make ESP standard too. Instead it’s an extra-cost option. Power steering of course isn’t, and it’s hydraulically-assisted.
Our test vehicle was a short-wheelbase standard roof van in SX trim. Entry-level trim is the other specification option. Top payload is 750kg, gross weight is 2,060kg and this model can tow a braked trailer grossing at 1,300kg.
With a short-wheelbase standard roof Doblò Cargo you get a 3.4m3 cargo area to play with. Specify the high roof and the cube goes up to 4.0m3 and opt for the long-wheelbase model and you’ll be able to utilise 4.2m3.
SX derivatives come with a sliding door on each side of the load box plus asymmetric side-hinged back doors with easy-to-release stays. Half-a-dozen floor-mounted load tie-down points are provided along with a full-height bulkhead.
The cargo bed is protected from scratches and scrapes by a tailored cover while half-height plastic panels protect the doors. There’s no denying that the load bay is well-illuminated. As well as two lights you get a removable torch that can double as a supplementary light if necessary.
Maximum load length is 1,820mm. Maximum width is 1,714mm narrowing to 1,230mm between the wheel boxes, while maximum height is 1,305mm. Rear loading height is 545mm. The rear door aperture is 1,231mm wide and 1,250mm high. The dimensions for the side door aperture are 700mm and 1,175mm respectively.
While it’s good to see that big handles with plenty of room to accommodate thickly-gloved hands have been fitted to all the doors — including the cab doors — the handle on the rear nearside door felt a little flimsy. We wondered how long it would last in service; the only question mark we had about the van’s otherwise highly-impressive build quality. Our demonstrator was equipped with roof bars for an extra £125.
Styled conventionally, and none the worse for that, Doblò Cargo’s roomy cab interior boasts a comfortable driving position with plenty of head and shoulder room. Both the driver’s seat and the steering column are height-adjustable and the seat’s occupant is protected by an airbag.
Oddment storage facilities include a full-width shelf above the windscreen, a lockable glovebox and trays on top of the dashboard. That’s in addition to capacious bins in each of the doors that will take a half-litre bottle of water and an A4 clipboard apiece, and a concealed compartment under the passenger seat cushion. Good-quality plastics are used throughout.
Electric windows and exterior mirrors are fitted along with an attractive-looking MP3-compatible radio/CD player with remote controls on the steering wheel. You’ll find a 12v power point between the seats. A Blue&Me hands-free package was installed for an additional £350.
While we were initially sceptical about Fiat’s decision to fit independent rear suspension to a van, we needn’t have worried. It allows Doblò Cargo to offer a remarkably composed ride — far more composed than what’s on offer from many of its rivals — and helps it cope well with Britain’s rough and ready road surfaces.
It contributes to the quality of the handling too. Drivers can tackle corners with confidence and enjoy plenty of feedback through the steering while they’re doing so.
With ample torque for its size and plenty of top-end punch, the 1.6-litre diesel ensures that competitive delivery times can be maintained. Nor were we troubled by excessive noise. On the downside, however, the gearchange felt slightly rubbery and imprecise.
During the test period we averaged a respectable 56mpg.
Remote central locking is standard and the rear doors can be locked and unlocked separately from the ones at the front. Side rubbing strips help defend the van’s exterior against minor damage.
Service intervals are set at 21,000 miles while Doblò Cargo is protected by a generous three-year/120,000-mile warranty with no mileage limit in the first two years.
There’s precious little to dislike about Fiat’s new Doblò Cargo. It rides well thanks in part to the impressive independent rear suspension, it handles well too and the frugal 1.6-litre diesel we tested certainly didn’t lack performance. We had no issues over noise levels either and were impressed with the newcomer’s overall build quality. The cab interior offers a practical and pleasant working environment and the cargo area is sensibly laid out too. Even the comprehensive warranty gets the thumbs-up. On the downside the gearchange felt a little rubbery and imprecise at times, and while the brakes functioned fine we can’t understand why Fiat has stuck with a discs front/drums rear braking set-up rather than opting for discs all round. These points aside, Doblò Cargo gets our vote as one of the best vans in its class and one of the best Fiat light commercials we’ve ever encountered.