With exemplary handling, a high standard of build quality and an equally-high degree of practicality in demanding working environments, Fiat Professional’s Doblo Cargo scoops What Van?’s Light Van of the Year award for 2016.

The Turkish-built load lugger received a modest makeover a year or so ago and the alterations have all been positive. They included cosmetic changes but what really matters is what has gone on under the bonnet.

Doblo Cargo’s already-highly-regarded 1.3- and 1.6-litre MultiJet diesels have been given the ability to dish out extra torque lower down the rev band. Doblo Cargo has shrunk its carbon footprint too – another welcome development – with EcoJet versions of both engines on offer with Start&Stop, low-rolling-resistance tyres and a new aerodynamic pack among other measures.

Working together they reduce CO2 emissions to as low as 115g/km and enable the driver to achieve fuel economy levels of up to 64mpg according to official test figures.

A key reason for applauding Doblo Cargo is the breadth of choice offered to customers. The line-up embraces two roof heights and two wheelbase lengths offering load area volumes of  3.4cu m, 4.0cu m, 4.2cu m and 5.0cu m.

Gross payload capacities range from 750kg to 1005kg.

Four trim levels are up for grabs – Standard, EcoJet, SX and Tecnico – and buyers can select from four different diesels.

The 1.3-litre generates 90hp, the 1.6-litre pumps out 105hp falling to 90hp if you specify the Comfort-Matic automated manual box while the  2.0-litre is good for 135hp. A 95hp 1.4-litre petrol lump completes the engine portfolio.

Mention should also be made of the handy little Work Up dropside pick-up – precious few manufacturers market compact pick-ups these days, alas – and the availability of a platform cab and a crew van.

Useful options include Traction+, already available in Fiorino and Ducato but a new feature for Doblo Cargo. It helps drivers keep going through mud, snow and sand without the need for a full-blown 4×4 system.

What Van?’s favourite is the ugly duckling of the line-up; the long-wheelbase high-roof Cargo XL. With a 5.0cu/m cargo box it is  the biggest beast in the Doblo Cargo jungle.

While few prospective purchasers are likely to applaud it for its looks – its roof extension looks as though it has been glued on as an aftermarket afterthought – its carrying capacity makes it a practical alternative to a larger, pricier, and potentially under-utilised panel van in some applications.

When Doblo Cargo was initially fitted with a clever and somewhat unusual bi-link independent rear suspension set-up some time back critics suggested that it would not be durable enough to withstand the rough and tumble of van operation. How wrong they were.

Compact and light-in-weight, the package has worked well; and helps Doblo Cargo deliver a comfortable ride as well as surprisingly-good road holding.

No manufacturer can hope to succeed in a hard-fought market without the presence of a competent dealer network that delivers the support that van operators need and deserve. Fiat Professional scores well here because half of its dealers also hold Daf and Iveco heavy truck franchises; and hauliers are uncompromising when it comes to demanding top-notch service and parts back-up.

Did you know?

Fiat Chrysler markets Doblo in the USA as the RAM Promaster City.

Highly Commended: Volkswagen Caddy

Despite the well-publicised difficulties the manufacturer concerned is experiencing, our Highly Commended pick is Volkswagen’s latest Caddy.

While Doblo Cargo’s build quality is impressive, Caddy’s is phenomenal. To that can be added a praiseworthy approach to safety, on-the-road performance that easily competes with what is on offer from the competition and one of the best van transmissions we have ever encountered in the shape of the optional automated six- or seven-speed Direct Shift Gearbox.

OK, you would not buy a Caddy for either its internal or external styling. On the other hand you can work it hard day after day without breaking it and in our experience it is fuel-frugal too; and VW of course boasts a highly-competent stand-alone dedicated light commercial dealer network.