Boxing clever

By Nick Jones

Tuesday, 2nd August 2011, 4:39 pm

Small cars have long been one of Fiat’s recognised fortes.

But few people realise that the Italian mass vehicle maker, and corporate parent to sports car marque Ferrari, also has a long history of making small vans.

Go back to the 1970s and Fiat was churning out the likes of the Fiorino, a van based on the diminutive 127 car.

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The trend may have shifted slightly, with many cross-purpose vehicles now created from adding seats and windows to vans, but Fiat is still at the forefront of the genre.

For commercial users needing loads of lugging space, it has the Ducato range. For the mid-sector it produces the Scudo (as advertised by world champion Michael Schumacher shortly after he relinquished his Ferrari F1 seat). At the bottom end there is the tiny Qubo.

And between the Qubo and Scudo is the Doblo, a van that blends decent carrying capacity with the nimbleness and agility of a city-oriented car (which it is in another guise).

In the market, the Doblo competes squarely, visually and rhetorically, with Citroen’s Berlingo and its stablemate the Peugeot Partner, Renault’s Kangoo and even Ford’s smaller than normal Transit, the Connect.

Like the Doblo, the Berlingo, Partner and Kangoo all have car derivatives, and very practical family transport they make too.

Being van-based they are all rather square in the rump, but from a commercial perspective this is a good thing as it makes it possible to carry larger, squarer loads.

On the looks front the Doblo is a match for the best of the bunch – it has thick bumpers all round, a blacked-out A-pillar that blends in nicely with the bodywork and the wheel-arches that widen the stance.

It’s not particularly tall but sits squat and compact, giving it a decent road presence.

At the boxy rump, users can choose whether to have a tailgate that rises estate car-style or offset doors that lopen in the more traditional van style.

The Doblo has a choice of two wheelbases and two roof heights, giving, obviously, varying load capacities; you can also specify a combi version of the van which adds a second row of seats.

Fiat makes small cars rather well these days, so all that know-how and technology can’t help to filter into the commercial sector and are standard DNA for the Doblo.

Take the engines for instance. You can have Multijet common-rail diesels in 1.3, 1.6 and 2.0-litre guises. For the handful of buyers who want a petrol Fiat offers a 1.4-litre 16-valve option.

The smaller diesel engine stirs a decent 90bhp and the bigger engines, obviously, deliver more power – the 2.0-litre churning out 135bhp. Fiat has a very good reputation when it comes to emissions too and these engines are state-of-the-art with 50mpg achievable.

Top speeds are usually irrelevant in this company so let’s just leave it that with the bigger engines the ton is easily achievable.

The MacPherson strut suspension arrangement, which is the same as most cars offer, means it’s quite nimble and comfortable. Most vans have torsion beams at the rear for rigidity and weight-carrying capability but that makes them bouncy when empty.

The load area is all-important to commercial fleet buyers and the Doblo won’t disappoint. The rear loading area is 1,231mm wide, 545mm off the ground and 1,250mm tall. If fitted, the optional passenger seat will fold out of the way.

Most vans sacrifice space in the rear for passenger comfort, but to me the Doblo doesn’t have to. It has an abundance of space in the cabin, with a large shelf above the windscreen and good, deep pockets plus a glove box.

Standard kit includes power steering, height adjustable driver’s seat, electric windows, central locking and a CD/stereo, plus the option of Fiat’s hands free phone system (surely a must for delivery drivers) plus an integrated satellite navigation system for an extra fee.

Prices start at £14,162 for the petrol, £14,996 for the diesel and rise to £15,495 for the 2.0-litre EURO5 engine.

There you go – a neat, compact tidy little van, with a really wide choice of engines and payloads.