Italian manufacturer Fiat is bullish in its aim to increase sales in Australia, and a key element of its growth plan is in the commercial vehicle segment through its Fiat Professional sub-brand.
It’s under that umbrella that the new Fiat Doblo range sits, with the compact van range taking aim at the likes of the best-selling Volkswagen Caddy and popular Renault Kangoo. Fiat will sell the Doblo alongside the mid-sized Scudo and larger Ducato.
On the back of the local launch in late 2014, CarAdvice recently took some time to get to know the Fiat Doblo more intimately. In particular, we wanted to see what it was like to live with the van – in mid-spec, short-wheelbase diesel guise.
At $27,000 plus on-road costs, this new six-speed manual, 1.6-litre turbo diesel model is slightly dearer than some rival models. Indeed, you could get the Citroen Berlingo diesel with an automatic ‘box for about the same cash.
However, the price you get niceties such as a four-speaker stereo with Bluetooth phone connectivity (no audio streaming), rear parking sensors, single-zone climate control, cruise control, four airbags (dual front, front side) and electronic stability control.
The cockpit is nicely presented, with comfortable seats and sturdy switchgear, not to mention reasonably good storage including big door pockets and the ever-useful overhead shelf for folders, laptops or loose bags.
The glovebox is also big enough to hold a small laptop or tablet and it can be locked for extra security, and there’s a hidey-hole in the base of the passenger’s seat, but there are fewer useful small item storage caddies in the Italian van than you’ll find in French and German rivals.
We also found the coarse texture of the plastic used for the steering wheel and gearknob a little grating after a few days of driving
The driving position is good for people of most shapes and sizes, and offers reasonably good visibility from the pilot’s seat due in large part to the Doblo’s clever split mirrors that help you see what’s behind and beside the body of the van when parking.
Unlike many vans in this price range, there’s a docking port for an optional TomTom navigation system (it costs about $640).
At the business end there is 3.4 cubic metres (or 3400 litres) of space on offer, and Fiat claims a payload capacity of 750 kilograms. A PVC cargo mat comes standard, and there are also six tie-down points and a rear cargo area light, as well as a standard protective ladder that’s positioned behind the driver. A metal bulkhead partition with a centre window can be optioned for $250.
The cargo area measures 1820 millimetres long, and with a width of 1230mm between the wheel arches it is capable of swallowing a 1165mm-wide pallet with a little room to spare.
While this is the low-roof version (and there’s no high-roof type available in Australia), the space between the floor and ceiling is copious at 1305mm.
The key has independent locking buttons for the cargo area and passenger zone – and the driver’s door has an unlock button to disable the auto-locking function when you stop at your destination. The key fob itself features a cool design that makes it easy to find, too.
Access to the load space can be had from either the dual sliding side doors (neither of which are glazed, and nor can they be optioned as such), or the standard rear barn doors. Buyers who prefer a lift-up tailgate (with heated rear window and windshield washer/wiper) can choose one for $500.
The barn doors feature a chunky door handle that’s easy to grab with your hands full, and a simple latch system that allows the doors to open to 90 degrees. If you need further room to manoeuvre your cargo, the doors can open to 180 degrees, though you’ll need to be careful if you do this when its windy as there’s no mechanism to stop the doors from swinging back to their right-angled setting.
The 1.6-litre four-cylinder unit is a reasonably punchy thing, with 77kW and 290Nm sent to the front wheels through the aforementioned six-cog transmission.
Despite its modest capacity the engine revs nicely, with torque on tap from 1500rpm. It offers linear power delivery, with only a slight hint of lag from take-off, and enough torque to allow you to leave it in third or fourth gear to amble along in traffic.
Fiat claims fuel consumption for the 1.6-litre diesel manual of just 5.4 litres per 100 kilometres, and during our mainly urban drive loop over 250km, we saw an impressive average of 6.4L/100km on the trip computer. That figure could be lower with a stop-start engine system, but you need to option up to the dearer five-speed Comfort-matic semi-auto version for that (it adds $2000 to the asking price).
Almost all small vans on sale right now tend to drive exceptionally well, and the Berlingo is no exception.
It rides around town with little fuss, only stumbling a little over sharp-edged bumps. Other than that, the compliance and body control on offer is superb, particularly at the rear where Fiat’s bi-link suspension works to limit the amount of lateral movement.
The steering, too, is light and precise – perfect for the purpose of the van, as it’s simple to turn in to sharp corners or perform tight U-turns. The
As vans are often driven a lot further in a lot less time than regular cars, Fiat Professional is offering a three-year/200,000km warranty on its commercial vehicle range. There is no capped price service plan, though.
The new Fiat Doblo is an impressive van in a class where there aren’t many duds. It doesn’t quite have the same level of intuitive storage in the cabin, but makes up for it with arguably better presentation, a great load space and good road manners.
While we suspect the five-speed semi-automated version diesel could be enticing if all you do is urban driving, the manual is so easy to use it could just as easily do the job for small business owners or delivery drivers.
Click the Photos tab for more images by Christian Barbeitos.
Want to find out how the Fiat Doblo stacks up against the Citroen Berlingo? Read our comparison review here.