Car reviews - Fiat - Doblo - Maxi
Versatile practicality, bountiful space, clear vision for driver, likeable design inside and out, car-like suspension and ride, gutsy diesel
Room for improvement
Wide turning circle, clumsy and dated multimedia system, no auto option, no seat height adjusters, LHD biased barn-door arrangement, soon to be superseded
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19 Feb 2015
Price and equipment
ITALY and small vans aren’t synonymous, but Italy and style are, and that’s where the somewhat new Doblo fits in.
‘Somewhat new’ because a heavily revised version (already unveiled abroad) will bound into dealerships in the not-too-distant future.
Fiat’s answer to the Citroen Berlingo, Renault Kangoo and Volkswagen Caddy debuted last December in Australia, to broaden the light commercial vehicle choices with a distinctive yet sensible alternative.
To summarise, the 263-series Doblo is a second-generation front-drive van based on the existing Fiat Punto/Opel Corsa ‘Gamma’ platform, and in fact also begat the replacement for the long-lived Opel/Holden Combo in 2011. It sits below the company’s Scudo and Ducato vans.
Despite the light-car/supermini underpinnings, the $31,000 before on-road costs Maxi 155 Multijet 2.0-litre diesel LWB (long wheelbase, at 3105mm) range-topper tested here is one of the biggest in terms of both payload and pulling power, and even represents something of a value proposition when its manifold standard features are also taken into account.
At the other end of the price spectrum is the $22,000 Cargo Van 1.4-litre petrol opener, sitting on a 2755mm SWB short wheelbase. Between these is a $27,000 Cargo 1.6-litre diesel SWB manual and its semi-automatic sibling for $2000 more.
All models include sliding doors on both sides, climate control air-conditioning, powered door mirrors, a PVC floor, Bluetooth connectivity, steering wheel controls, front and front-side airbags, Hill Holder function, stability and traction controls, and a full-sized spare wheel, while the Maxi 2.0-litre diesel adds cruise control, rear parking sensor, body coloured bumpers and mirrors, and remotely actuated windows.
Sadly there is no full auto transmission available on the Doblo.
This is a van so let’s start from the back and work our way forward.
Barn doors are standard or buyers can choose a lift-up tailgate, glazed or otherwise. Measuring in at 1305mm high, 1714mm wide, and 1230mm wide, the interior designers have made the most of the Doblo’s boxy shape. Note that the barn doors are slightly left-hand drive biased in the way they open.
Fiat says the LWB has a load length of 2170mm (versus the SWB’s 1820mm) with a payload capacity of 1000kg (SWB: 750kg) and 4.2 cubic metres/4200 litres (SWB: 3.4 cubic metres/3400L) of volume. Up to 1450kg can be lugged between the rear wheels.
Aiding loading is a floor that’s just 55cm off the ground, tie hooks in the cargo area, interior lighting, barn doors that can be opened out to 180 degrees, and separate remote locking/unlocking for that rear section.
Wide apertures, low load heights, things to help secure your load, bright lights… the Fiat excels as a hauling device.
Up front only the high ceiling, vast windscreen (for a real panoramic view of things up ahead), massive exterior mirrors and acres of overhead cabin and door storage solutions give away the Doblo’s utilitarian focus, thanks to a car-like cabin featuring an appropriately hardy yet pleasingly presented dashboard that’s easy to navigate right from the get-go.
It’s all akin to a Punto hatch really, down to the infuriating and outdated multimedia set-up system that ranks as one of the most complicated we’ve ever encountered (the replacement for 2016 adopts a far simpler and more elegant solution).
The instrument dials, ventilation set-up, front seats and driving position all sit on the comfy car side of the ledger, even if a lack of seat-height adjustment is an oversight.
Just ensure you option up as much optional floor covering as you can. A quieter cabin would be nicer, since there is a typically van-like boomy cargo area assaults ears at speed on the open road. The optional fixed metal room partition would certainly help calm down the din.
Engine and transmission
Boasting 99kW of power and 320Nm of torque, Fiat’s 2.0-litre ‘135 Multijet’ Euro-5+ rated direct-injection four-cylinder turbo-diesel with particulate filter is also prone to some noise intrusion, but that’s really only at idle when cold.
On the move, its effortless performance delivery makes this Doblo a bit of a performance van (the red ‘Power’ badge on the grille isn’t without cause), leaping off the line quite smartly and then building speed up from there surprisingly quickly.
Fuel consumption isn’t bad either, though our spirited point-to-point commuting meant we didn’t get close to the 5.9L/100km claimed combined figure.
Even laden close to its maximum payload capacity, the 135 Multijet hardly registered the difference, plugging away strongly if you need a hauler you need to put the Doblo on your test-drive shortlist.
Driven with gusto, the six-speed manual gearbox can feel a bit notchy, but it does involve you in a way that most work vans don’t, making the most of the Punto/Corsa front-drive chassis underneath.
Ride and handling
Even acknowledging that it is a LWB Maxi, the turning circle is disappointingly wide, but that’s about the only whinge we have about the Doblo’s dynamic capabilities.
Agreeably weighty steering and a well-tied down MacPherson strut front and bi-link independent rear end help place the Fiat exactly where you point it, backed up by a strong set of brakes. The Italians don’t discriminate against the Doblo just because it’s a van driving for a living doesn’t have to be dull.
Finally, while nobody is going to mistake this for an old French limousine, the Doblo’s ride quality is a step up from most competitors’ efforts, thanks to that sophisticated yet compact rear end.
Safety and servicing
The Doblo is fitted with stability and traction control, as well as anti-lock brakes, electronic brake force distribution, hydraulic brake assist, Hill Holder and four airbags. No ENCAP rating is available.
The warranty period is for three years or 200,000km. Fiat roadside assistance is available for three years or 150,000km. No fixed price servicing is available.
Though a bit more expensive on paper, the Doblo Maxi 155 Multijet 2.0-litre Diesel has the space, performance, comfort, features and style to make hardcore van buyers think twice before settling on the LWB versions of the Caddy, Berlingo or Kangoo.
With its friendly bear-like face and eager-to-please packaging, there is plenty to like about Fiat’s foray into thisAustralian market.
In terms of functioning as it was designed to, the Doblo has held up remarkably well, especially for a six-year old, but there are some niggles that 2016’s extensively facelifted version will most probably fix.
Still, even in the here and now, the latest Fiat Professional offering really knows how to inject some fun into a workhorse van.
Renault Kangoo Maxi LWB diesel ($25,990 before on-road costs)One of the pioneers in the light van field, the Kangoo is extremely well priced and packaged, and is a hoot to drive, but the 1.5-litre dCi diesel is on the small side compared to the much gutsier and better payload-rated Doblo.
Citroen Berlingo Long Body Hdi ($24,990 before on-road costs)Like the Renault, the Citroen matches the Doblo in size but has a significantly smaller diesel engine and less standard features, but otherwise the other French van makes for a fine alternative, and is the only one to offer an optional three-passenger front bench.
Volkswagen Caddy Maxi TDI320 DSG ($33,290 before on-road costs)The segment bestseller equals the Fiat in terms of performance and goes one better by offering a standard dual clutch automatic transmission, but the German van costs more, isn’t quite as well equipped, and is getting on to nearly a decade old now. It’s also not as fun to drive.
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