Road Test Blocks
Fiat's front grille styling
Poor towing capacity
Unrealistic MPG figures
Fiat wants to be a go to destination for light commercial vehicles and has made great steps to nurture a product line-up of the best vans in every sector.
Starting with the smallest van in the range it has the Fiat Fiorino, which shares its platform with the PSA models of Peugeot Bipper and Citroen Nemo. It’s a compact yet functional van that punches well above its weight. Next comes the Fiat Doblo, a city van of their own design that currently is exclusive to Fiat but was once shared with Opel as the Vauxhall Combo. The Doblo can transport more than most and has a range of useful body types including high roof and dropside.
In the mid van segment Fiat used to again partner with PSA in the production of the Fiat Scudo, but for Euro-6 that arrangement has ended and Fiat now gets its Fiat Talento model from Renault who produce the Renault Trafic and Vauxhall Vivaro – as well as supplying engines to Mercedes-Benz for its Mercedes Vito van. The Talento is based upon one of the best vans in the sector with a strong engine line-up and clever storage facilities. Finally, at the top end of the LCV segment there is the Fiat Ducato, a vastly successful 3 to 4 tonne van that is once again a joint venture with PSA and a copy of the Peugeot Boxer and Citroen Relay. Fiat uses its own engines in the Ducato and as a result it’s better than its French relations.
It’s a comprehensive – if a somewhat complicated – range when you consider the relationships and sharing involved, but there is one product missing; a decent pick-up truck. For their first foray in to the one-tonne pick-up sector (Fiat still produces a miniature pick-up, the Fiat Strada, in emerging markets) it has decided to establish a new LCV partnership with Mitsubishi and borrow the enormously successful and popular Mitsubishi L200.
Pick-up trucks are a huge market in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, with more than 650,000 sales per year, 22% of the total market for all light commercial vehicles, so it is no wonder that Fiat Professional is keen to capitalise on the demand with a solid pick-up product, something Fiat hopes is reflected in its choice of name. Marketing brains at Fiat believe the Fullback to be “a fundamental position in rugby or American football (the last man in the line of defence and a defender in attack) a player capable of dealing with any situation” – what we can take from that jargon is that Fiat hopes the Fullback pick-up will be a success both as a business tool and also as a lifestyle vehicle.
Based on the fifth generation of the Mitsubishi L200 – which was launched in 2015 – the Fiat Fullback gets the same basics of two power outputs, manual or automatic gearboxes, two- or four-wheel-drive, and three body types. It’s a straight forward badge swap, but Fiat has had the ability to tweak the styling slightly with two new grille sections. The Mitsubishi’s distinctive chromed front has replaced by a much more modest slatted plastic grille that is understated and utilitarian in comparison to the Japanese truck. The interior too is the same, with the manufacturer’s badge the only noticeable alteration, however, unlike the Mitsubishi L200 which has four trim levels, the Fiat Fullback will only be available with two options, the entry-level SX or the better equipped LX.
Standard equipment will include air-conditioning, seven airbags, Bluetooth, leather steering wheel and gear lever, 16-inch alloy wheels, LED daytime running lights, a switchable 4x4 system and a range of safety equipment that includes cruise control and speed limiter, traction control, Trailer Stability Assist and Lane Departure warning. Top trim LX models get a satin silver trim on the outside, chrome mirrors, door handles and side steps, dual zone climate control, bi-xenon headlights, 17-inch alloys and a reversing camera. Even as a basic vehicle, the Fullback feels well appointed as the interior is well constructed without feeling too rugged, something Mitsubishi wanted the L200 to achieve in order to stretch beyond its typically working background and in to the more premium SUV end of the market. It’s a long way off a quality 4x4 car in terms of its interior, but for a commercial vehicle the Fullback (and L200) is at the higher end of the spectrum.
While Fiat expects to have a varied audience for the Fullback, Mitsubishi is likely to sweep up the volume of the retail customers in the UK, but what the Fullback does is give Fiat an opportunity to offer its customers a complete range. Expect the Fiat Fullback to therefore sell mainly to fleet customers who have other Fiat products in their stable. For them the Fullback will make a lot of sense, as its working credentials are largely on a par with others in the sector.
The load bed measures 1,470mm x 1,470mm and has a depth of 475mm, making it slightly narrower than many of its rivals. The all-important one-tonne payload threshold – required for VAT and Benefit in Kind purposes – is met with a payload of 1,045kg but that figure increases by 5kg if an automatic transmission is specified over the standard manual.
Disappointingly the Fullback only has a towing capacities for a braked trailer of up to 3,100kg, a figure well below the 3,500kg that is fast becoming the norm for pick-up trucks including the Isuzu D-Max, Ford Ranger and Toyota Hilux. Loading height is 850mm so access to the rear of Fullback’s load bed can be difficult, while loads can be secured with six load lashing points.
Engines are usually Fiat’s forte, but the Fullback takes the same 2.4-litre turbodiesel common rail engine from the L200 made with an aluminium block and variable geometry turbos. There are two power ratings, a 151hp version with 380Nm of torque that appears in the SX and a 178hp unit producing 430Nm that can be found in LX models.
The entry-level SX model is a 4x2 with rear-wheel-drive, while standard four-wheel-drive models allow part-time all-wheel-drive. It’s not until you get to the top spec LX models that the Fullback gets permanent four-wheel-drive with a Torsen central limited slip differential to distribute power between the front and rear wheels. Part-time 4x4 systems use a low-ratio gearbox and locking rear differential while the LX’s systems allows the truck to be in rear-wheel-drive or four-wheel-drive modes for on road driving. In the previous generation, power was split 50:50 between front and rear wheels when in full 4x4 mode, however, the bias is now 60:40 in favour of the rear in order to split the torque to the steering axle and reduce understeer.
Pick-up trucks are never the best vehicles to drive on the road as their performance is always somewhat of a compromise, but the Fullback is an acceptable halfway house between off-road and on-road driving. Body roll is impressively low in corners, and the ride is generally composed, but poor road conditions do translate into shakes in the cabin and through the steering wheel.
Off-road, the Fullback can comfortably tackle steep inclines with loose surfaces even when in two wheel drive mode, but engage four-wheel drive and the Fullback becomes a formidable off-roader. Twist the dial further still and the Fullback’s low range gearbox allows it to go over almost any terrain with an approach angle of 30 degrees, a departure angle of 22 degrees and a lateral travel angle of 45 degrees.
Claimed combined fuel economy should see the best performing Fullback reach an average of 44.1mpg, but transmission and body type will affect the performance. Nevertheless, expect the fullback to achieve mid- to high-thirties in regular driving.
We expect the Mitsubishi L200 to battle it out with the Toyota Hilux in the race for the top selling pick-up truck, but somehow we don’t think Fiat will achieve such lofty levels of success. While the other two trade on their names (as well as their abilities) gobbling up the volumes in the retail market, the Fiat will be left to search out crumbs amongst its existing fleet customers. That may translate into some decent sized orders, but it won’t set the balance sheets on fire for Fiat.
What it does do is add another formidable string to their capable commercial vehicle bow. Whether you agree with the wave of badge engineered vehicles flooding on to the market, Fiat Professional are professionals at filling their product gaps with some of the best vehicles on the market, and behind Ford, the addition of the Fullback probably makes their range the next best on the market.