Fiat enters the small van market with the car-like Doblo
Completing Fiat Professional's trifecta in the LCV segment is the new small van, the Fiat Doblo, which joins the Scudo and the newly revised Ducato as part of an aggressive growth campaign for the brand.
The Doblo is available in four configurations - SWB petrol five-speed manual, SWB diesel six-speed manual, SWB diesel six-speed Comfort-matic and LWB diesel six-speed manual.
We drove the SWB diesel with the 6-speed Comfort-matic (robotised manual) gearbox on an urban loop in Melbourne - and to make our commercial van experience more real, we had a job to do...
With Christmas nearly here (again), it is worth taking time to think of those less fortunate, and Fiat Professional had arranged a delivery of presents to Smith Family charities across the city.
Reindeer antlers fitted and Santa's sack securely stowed in the 3400L load bay, we set off in the Doblo with good karma on our side.
There is a cute 'face' with large headlamps and optional driving lamps flanking a large, Audi style grille.
The windscreen wraps around black A-pillars smoothly into the side windows, giving the Doblo an almost cartoon jumbo jet appeal.
Inside, the cabin isn't the most modern on the market, but is airy enough and gives excellent headroom - even with the handy parcel shelf above the windscreen.
The controls are all easy to reach but some of the symbols are non-standard and may require a visit to the owners manual to confirm what they are!
Audio and phone controls are on the steering wheel and are familiar to other FCA cars - including our ex-Long Term Alfa Guilietta. Typically of the Italian marque are a multitude of button placements and functions, making initial use a bit confusing...
You sit a bit further 'in' the car than in many others, which feels a bit funny in the first instance (it is hard to rest your elbow on the sill - true tradie style) but you do get used to it. The footwell on both sides isn't brilliant for big Australian feet, but generally the Doblo is a comfy, and pleasant place to be.
On the road the little Fiat doesn't feel particularly rapid off the mark, and the Comfort-matic gearbox needs to be driven properly (lift off on shifts) to get the smoothest changes, but once you get moving the Fiat chugs along quite happily.
The 77kW/290Nm 1.6-litre turbo diesel isn't the pokiest around but it does what it needs and offers a claimed economy from just 4.9L/100. Our test drive saw figures in the high 6's - not bad for lots of stop/start traffic.
Speaking of which, the Comfort-matic is paired with automatic start-stop, which does assist in fuel consumption, but is annoyingly slow to react - especially when transitioning from a complete stop.
The button to switch it off is marked with an 'S' not an 'A' as in EVERY other car, but hey, Italy!
Running through western Melbourne's light industrial traffic to our Smith Family delivery in Sunshine, the Doblo is a happy little car. It works well as a cross-town Christmas sleigh and completes the day's task efficiently and comfortably.
There is a class leading 750kg payload capacity in our SWB version and up to 1000kg in the LWB Doblo. All versions are equipped with dual sliding side doors and 180-degree opening rear barn doors (a lift-up tailgate is an option). The cargo bay is relatively square and comes with a PVC coated floor protector and six D-shackle hooks to help secure loads. There is even a small cage behind the driver to help protect against shifting cargo.
The Doblo features Fiat's new bi-link rear suspension component which reduces lateral movement from the rear suspension, providing better on-road behaviour particularly when loaded up. It helps too as the car (even with our boxes of LEGO and stuffed bears on board) feels very composed on undulating surfaces and over speed humps.
It's easy to see why this segment has seen almost 11 per cent annual growth - these car-like small vans are easy for anyone to drive, and when paired with clever signage are a great marketing and logistics tool for small business owners.
With the VW Caddy owning over 50 per cent of sales in the category, the little French and now Italian offerings need to step up in terms of value and reliability to make real inroads.
The Doblo starts from $22,000 (plus on road costs) - $2000 more than the Citroen and Renault and $600 less than the Volkswagen. It has a good range of standard kit (Bluetooth phone, USB, four airbags and rear parking sensors) and with Fiat Professional's commitment to expanding their dealership and support network, presents yet another good option for buyers.
Stay tuned for early 2015 when we pitch all vans in this segment together in a little load lugger comparison.
Click on the Photos tab for more images by James Ward.