WHEN Fiat's local team took up the responsibility of the Fiat commercial range a few years ago, the plan was for light commercials to play a much bigger part in the brand's presence on Australian roads.
At this stage, the strategy seems to have worked. The results have been impressive, with a 15.6% improvement in sales volume over the same period last year, and an expansion to the product range that seems likely to bring new customers to Fiat dealerships.
A brand new entrant to the market is part of that growth, and in January Fiat dealerships will receive first supplies of the all-new Doblo light van, with a range of engine options that are aimed at covering all preferences. In fact, there are probably too many engine/transmission options, and I can see a couple dropping off as the model gets established.
If you want the longest wheelbase Doblo, it will be the 2-litre diesel, as all the other versions are short wheelbase and low roof.
The level of standard equipment is high and, as is the case with passenger cars, focuses on connectivity and safety. All models have electronic stability control, four airbags and sliding doors each side. The side cargo openings are large and the doors light and easy to operate. At the back are 180-degree opening barn doors that reveal a wide and squared off load space for maximum versatility.
The wheel arches intrude minimally on the load deck, partly due to a bi-link modular independent suspension system at the rear, which is rated for a 750kg load in the short wheelbase models and 1-tonne in the long wheelbase version. A PVC floor cover is standard fitment and Fiat people claim it will stop loose cargo sliding around the floor. Doesn't work for overnight bags though.
I drove the optimistically named "Comfort-Matic" automated manual and it almost immediately convinced me. I'd only buy the manual. This AMT is miserably slow on the change and often flares when you're trying to make it work better. On a commercial vehicle this size, a full automatic should be the only alternative for those who can't use their left feet.
But gearshifts aside, the Doblo is a light, airy place to work and the road performance of the 1.6-litre I tested is sharp and perfectly suited to metropolitan deliveries. Styling is more funky than utilitarian, and if Fiat advertise it well this new Euro van could attack the dominant VW Caddy range head-on.
Mum and Dad will certainly be happy, The Ducato is quiet, smooth and comfortable, with excellent vision for both driver and passenger. I was startled at how little road noise the Ducato generated, and I couldn't hear any wind noise either. It's a lot quieter than its competition.
The safety package is substantial. Reversing sensors, Electronic Stability Control (ESC) complete with Rollover Mitigation, Load and Centre of Gravity Detection (LAC) and Hill Holder are all standard. Traction and Hill Descent Control are optional.
There are three wheelbases and two roof heights, and the heaviest load you'll carry is 2.11-tonnes. Maximum cubic volume is 15 cubic metres.
With a new smaller model crossing over into the largest of the mid-sized Scudo range, Fiat now has most van categories covered.
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