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A pretty ugly van

Piano black plastics can look grubby

­­­­Since its re-launch three years ago, Fiat has maximised the potential of their mid-sized city van by offering more than just a range of panel vans.

The Doblo has a versatile range of body options for a light van, ranging from the low roof, SWB (3.4m³) to the high roof, LWB (5.0m³) aptly named the XL.  There are a choice of two loading lengths (1870mm and 2170mm) and two load heights (1305mm and 1550mm), and is generous with its carrying weights, too. The heavier, 2.2t GVW vans offer a joint best-in-class payload of 1,000kg, while the lighter, 2.0t vans offer a respectable 750kg payload.

Versatility continues into the engine department, where five power options (all front wheel drive) are available, and extends to the body configurations where panel vans, five-seater kombi vehicle, dropside and chassis cab models exist.

Driveline

A total of four engine choices are available in the Doblo range, with both petrol and diesel powerplants. A 95hp 1.4-litre unit is the only petrol option, but the range of MultiJet diesel engines starts with a 1.3-litre 90hp unit.  A larger 1.6-litre engine also provides a 90hp output, however, that is paired with Fiat’s automated manual Comfortmatic six-speed transmission, while the 105hp unit is available with a five speed manual. A diesel 2-litre 135hp engine completes the range.

Our experience of the 2-litre engine was that with its 320Nm of torque, it was prone to unintentional wheel spin; while the 1.6-litre 90hp version, which has just 200Nm of torque, felt a bit gutless across the full rev range. If you’re in the market for a diesel, the 1.6-litre 105hp is best suited to a van of this size, ahead of both the 90hp and 135hp outputs. Like the story with the three bears, the middle one is just right.

Prouductivity

The Doblo has been a big hit with local authorities and municipal services, not least because of its towing capabilities. The standard towing capacity of 1,300kg – over 300kg more than many of its competitors – can be extended to 1,500kg with the 2-litre MultiJet.

As opposed to the traditional leaf springs for this size of commercial, Fiat have taken the initiative and opted for bi-link suspension. The extra arm raises the maximum rear axle weight to 1,450kg (best in class), and gives the Doblo a respectable payload of 1,000kg.

As well as increasing payload, Fiat’s bi-link suspension has the hidden advantage of allowing the springs to sit below the cargo floor. This means the rear wheelarch intrusion into the cargo area isn’t as severe as leaf sprung rivals, which in return gives a generous 1,230mm loadspace width at the narrowest point.

For the first time, the 2,170mm load length is available with a high roof, giving a 1,550mm loadspace height and creating 5m³ of load volume. Accessibility is also a plus point, with offside and nearside side loading doors fitted as standard, a class leading rear aperture width, and a loading height of just 545mm. SX models also get a PVC protective floor lining.

Model Wheelbase Length Width Height Loadspace Length Loadspace Width Loadspace Height Volume Payload
L1H1 2755 4390 1832 1845 1820 1714 1305 3.4 750
L2H1 3105 4740 1832 1880 2170 1714 1305 4.2 1000
L1H2 2755 4390 1832 2125 1820 1714 1550 4.0 750-1000
L2H2 3105 4740 1832 2125 2170 1714 1550 5.0 1000

 

Cab Comfort

As you’d expect with a relatively recently designed van, you are greeted with a very stylish and modern interior. But the most striking element of the cab is just how much space there is – it really is huge.

The reach and height adjustable seat is complemented by great all round visibility – although tall people should note that the seat doesn’t go quite as far back as a typical van of this size.

The cab is very ergonomic, with the gear stick within comfortable grasp and a reach and rake adjustable steering wheel to accommodate drivers all shapes and sizes. The cab is furnished with a CD player/radio, electric windows, central locking, ceiling storage shelf and a full height panelled bulkhead as standard on the base model, while SX customers benefit from remote central locking, an MP3 player, passenger airbags, a soundproofed bulkhead, and, a fairly limited, under-seat storage compartments.

The most striking element of the cab is just how much space there is

On the Road

The Doblo is a top performer on the road, as its bi-link suspension allows the body to maintain a firm stance around the corners, while the 290Nm of torque in our recommended model means there’s no struggling with a full load, or whilst traveling up steep inclines. 

A soundproofed bulkhead is also available and is of particular benefit on the open motorway, where, in sixth gear at around 2,000rpm, the noise levels in the cab are comfortably low.

Handling is composed and there is a good connection with the road, but the steering is a fraction too light for our taste. While this helps with city parking, at motorway speeds the lightness, coupled with the direct steering tends to make the van wander over the road a fraction. It is however, a comfortable van to drive in any environment, coping particularly well with poor road surfaces.

Doblo is a comfortable van to drive in any environment

Safety

Neither the passenger or commercial version of the Doblo has been tested by NCAP, but the little Fiat does host an impressive range of safety features.

The innovative Fire Prevention System is a standard feature on the van that isolates the fuel tank in the event of a fire, as is the four point sensor ABS and EBD (Electronic Brakeforce Distribution). Also available at an extra cost are ESP (Electronic Stability Program), HBA (Hydraulic Braking Assist)and HHA (Hill Holder Assist).

Front ventilated disc brakes and a full height bulkhead are also standard.

Cost of Ownership

Doblo users benefit from some of the lowest total life costs in the market, mainly due to low fuel consumption, which from 55.4mpg on the 90hp 1.3 to 47.9mpg on the 2.0-litre, and the long, 21,000 mile service intervals.

Confident of its reliability, Fiat recently upped the mileage cover on the warranty to 120,000 miles or three years; whichever comes first, with a 12 month parts and repair guarantee.

Since the divide with Fiat’s passenger car operations in 2007, the commercial or “Professional” products have only been sold through 153 authorised Fiat and Iveco truck dealerships. Prices start from £12,565 plus VAT.

Summary

It is no surprise that Fiat chose to pursue sales with niche products with the Doblo as the small van market is fiercely competitive, but on paper, it’s probably one of the best vans in its class.

Running costs are low, and Fiat includes a lot of equipment as standard for what is a low-to-medium priced van in the segment.

The bi-link rear suspension sets the Doblo apart amongst other vans, and contributes to a very comfortable and enjoyable ride. Rear loadspace is generous and with larger versions like the XL (pictured), Work-Up dropside and long wheelbase Maxi model available, customers have a broad choice of bodies.

A new Doblo will arrive in 2015, but for the time being the Fiat has to be one of the best picks in this weight range away from the premium brands.

Fiat includes a lot of equipment as standard for what is a low-to-medium priced van
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