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Fiat is keen for its Doblo Cargo van to realise its potential. Jonathan Crouch reports.
These days, compact vans come in all shapes and sizes and, like its main rivals, Fiat can offer you plenty of choice, the smallest option being its Fiorino model, which can take up to 2.8m3. But versatile though that LCV may be, there's sometimes no substitute for space. The problem is, in pursuing that, you don't want to end up with an LCV so big that it's unwieldy around town and costly to run. The solution, says the Italian brand, is this van here, the Doblo Cargo. The original curiously-styled version of this vehicle offered little you couldn't get elsewhere from Citroen Berlingo and Peugeot Partner-class vehicles, nor did it have the kind of high-roof, extended wheelbase option that would make it a realistic compact alternative to something Transit-sized. All that was put right with a second generation model we first saw in 2010, a vehicle that was 95% all new and which instantly beat most of its contemporaries in payload, load volume and running costs - in other words, all the things that really matter. Not too long ago, this model was updated, with smarter styling and the option of ultra-efficient 'Eco-Jet' engine derivatives. Sounds promising.
Predictably from a manufacturer that pioneered the common-rail diesel technology that now dominates the engine bays of our top commercial vehicles, Fiat has given the Doblo a strong range of engines. There are various Multijet common-rail diesels; a 1.3-litre unit offered with either 80 or 95hp. And a 1.6-litre powerplant with either 105 or 120hp. In recent times, the cornerstone 1.3-litre and 1.6-litre turbo-diesel engines have benefitted from enhanced responsiveness - more torque from lower revs, resulting in greater flexibility for more relaxed and efficient driving as well as livelier performance when circumstances demand. Fiat also talks of improved efficiency of up to 12 percent. Most compact vans have a heavy duty torsen beam suspension set-up, but the Doblo goes for a transverse linkage hinged from a central anchor point. It means operators can expect a little extra finesse from this Fiat over the bumps.
This Doblo Cargo model has been around on the LCV market for some time, but still looks quite smart. The sculpted bonnet and distinctive headlamps combine with a bold grille, a smart front bumper, sleek intakes and sharply-styled fog light shrouds, while at the rear, curved light clusters round out the Doblo's aesthetic attributes. Inside, the interior remains unchanged, benefitting from ample storage space, high comfort and specification levels and an ability to shrug off the rigours of daily use with ease. Responding to customer feedback, Fiat has striven to give this Doblo a light and fluid clutch action coupled with a short and positive gear change, while plentious soundproofing has resulted in very decent levels of cabin refinement.
For a compact van, the Doblo Cargo has a wide model range, with a number of different versions including Cargo, Maxi Cargo, Cargo XL, Passenger, Maxi Passenger, XL Passenger, Crew Van, Work up and Maxi Platform, making it suitable for a variety of business needs. Prices start from around £16,000 exc. VAT, which is very competitive in this segment. There are four trim levels available; Standard, SX, Tecnico and Sportivo. The Standard specification offers a selection of safety and comfort features, as well as an Eco pack which adds Stop&Start, a smart alternator and an electronically-controlled fuel pump to save energy and ensure higher combustion efficiency. The SX trim builds on this adding a near-side sliding door, driver height-adjustable seat and body coloured door mirrors. The Tecnico trim adds air conditioning, reversing sensors, satellite navigation and cruise control, while the Sportivo tops the range and is available exclusively in black metallic with 16-inch alloy wheels and folding electric heated door mirrors.
With its best-in-class load area of up to 5.4m3 and class leading payload of up to 1 ton, the Doblo is suitable for most tasks. Loading capacity figures start from 3.4m3 for the smallest body shape. The load area is where the Doblo Cargo should live up to its name and the signs are good. Access is through optional sliding side doors and asymmetrically-split side hinged doors at the back. That rear loading aperture is 1,231mm wide, 1,250mm high and 545mm off the ground. There's also 1,230mm between the wheelarches, so whatever goes in through the rear doors will fit right down inside the van. The total load length is dependent on the model you choose but can be extended by folding down the passenger seat. And inside the cab? Well some small vans neglect storage capacity in the quest for more cabin and load space but the Doblo Cargo fares reasonably well here. There's a large shelf above the windscreen and a lockable glovebox with space for a smallish laptop computer. The door pockets will each take a couple of small drinks bottles and a document clip can be assigned to the dashboard from the options list.
The Doblo cargo remains a genuinely competitive contender for Fiat in the compact van segment. With the brand's excellent diesel engine range put fully to work, running costs are low, while short and long wheelbase options with two roof height choices mean practicality levels are high. And this LCV is properly Italian when it comes to more tactile things like the great-looking interior and the sharp styling. As a result of all this, there's little doubt that this van will certainly continue to grow Fiat's LCV business. Try one and you might well feel that it'll grow yours too.
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