Fiat Professional has proclaimed 2016 as a “pivotal year” for the company – as it unleashes its full, expanded model line-up upon the market.
Playing a crucial role in the brand’s product launch campaign is it debutant pick-up truck, the Fullback.
The model is a re-badged version of one of the sector’s major players, the Mitsubishi L200, and Fiat will be hoping it can make its mark in the crucial South American, African and Middle Eastern markets as well as establishing a presence in the UK.
This could be easier said than done with the sector set to become increasingly crowded with new entrants such as Renault and Mercedes, as well as new or facelifted product from the established contenders like Nissan, Ford, Toyota and VW. Not to mention the slump in the construction industry – a big market for pick-ups – that has been cited as an early casualty of Brexit.
And although the Fullback is based on a model with a proven track record in the field, Fiat needs to persuade customers why they should opt for a truck from a passenger car and van manufacturer, rather than the L200 original from Mitsubishi, a dedicated 4x4 and pick-up specialist.
Nevertheless, the brand is confident the Fullback can appeal to both lifestyle and business customers and prove to be “a major leap towards the growth of Fiat Professional as a global brand”.
Fiat Professional unveiled the Fullback at the Commercial Vehicle Show in April and the then UK boss Ricky McFarland, who shortly afterwards left to join Mercedes’ LCV team, shed light on the brand’s decision to introduce the vehicle to the UK in flagship, double-cab format.
“At first we want strong residual values and [to establish] a great perception of the vehicle” – then, in 2017, he told What Van?, Fiat would introduce a single-cab version aimed at customers in the utility sector.
“The pick-up is a huge brand builder. It’s desirable – we’ve never had a product so attractive before,” added McFarland.
Domenico Gostoli, Fiat professional’s head of EMEA (Europe the Middle East and Africa) describes the introduction of the Fullback together with the Talento medium van as “one of the most important moments in the history of our brand”.
He says that before committing to a partnership with Mitsubishi Fiat Professional had had to ensure the Japanese manufacturer’s production processes in Thailand were “in line with our quality”.
“The perception of quality is important,” he adds and acknowledges that this is an area Fiat Professional is striving to improve.
Like the L200, the Fullback comes with a 2.4-litre diesel engine with outputs of 150hp and 180hp.
UK prices start from £20,995 (all prices listed exclude VAT), which is a bit of a step up from the £19,749 starting point of its L200 donor model.
Customers can choose between the SX, which is only available with the 150hp powertrain, the 180hp LX and the 180hp LX automatic (five-speed).
This is a more limited choice than Mitsubishi offers for the L200, which is available in four trims, 4Life, Titan, Warrior and Barbarian.
Beneath the skin the Fullback is to all intents and purposes the same as the Mitsubishi truck but Fiat Professional has made some cosmetic styling changes to the exterior. The grille, for example, has horizontal rather than vertical bars and generally, the Italian brand seems to have gone easier on the chrome, although the LX does sport chrome-finished door mirrors, door handles and side steps as well as silver trim around the sump protector.
Otherwise, however, the Fullback retains the L200’s chunky bumper and sleek shape that integrates the cab and load bed more successfully than most pick-ups.
The entry-level SX gets 16-inch alloys while the LX upgrades to 17-inch alloys and body-coloured wheel arch protectors.
We drove the higher spec LX Fullback with automatic transmission. The interior is finished in a tasteful and understated black and silver two-tone, which contrasts to the sportier trim finishes that Mitsubishi is prone to adorn the L200 with.
The cabin is spacious, although the exception to this is the middle rear seat, which does not offer the occupant much wriggle-room. Four passengers, however, can travel in reasonable comfort but without a load on board the ride can get bumpy on rougher road surfaces, especially for those in the back.
A decent level of equipment from the entry-level trim includes: remote central locking, electric windows and mirrors, Bluetooth connectivity, DAB digital radio, a leather-trimmed steering wheel and gear knob, steering-wheel mounted remote audio controls, air conditioning (including rear vents), start & stop, front fog lamps, a tubular side step and safety features including seven airbags, advanced ESC with ASR, TSA (Trailer Stability Assist), LED DRLs, hill start assist and cruise control with a speed limiter.
The LX version adds a lane departure warning and a reversing camera.
The 180hp engine produces maximum torque of 430Nm and is coupled to a four-wheel drive system that encompasses four electronically-controlled settings simply operated by a central dial near the (auto) gear lever.
When on-road on reasonably sound surfaces 2H suffices and 4H, which can be selected at speeds of up to 62mph, is likely to provide adequate traction for almost all other applications, such as farm work or driving on building sites. When the going gets really tough the driver can switch into 4HLc and for the most challenging off-road assignments 4LLc is available with a locking central differential for even more grip. These last two modes are engaged when the vehicle is in neutral and stationary.
We drove the Fullback on a lengthy course of rock-strewn and deeply rutted woodland tracks and it coped with aplomb with all it encountered although, not surprisingly, at the end of it you do feel as though you’ve been tossed out of a spin drier.
The official combined-cycle fuel economy figure for the LX (manual) is 42.2mpg and its CO2 emission figure is 173g/km. This compares to 44.2mpg and 169g/km for the base 150hp SX and both correspond to the equivalent L200’s figures. The LX auto however, can only manage 39.2mpg and 189g/km.
Nissan’s new flagship 2.3 190hp Navara Tekna now claims to be the greenest top of the range pick-up with consumption of 44.1mpg and CO2 of 169g/km in manual and 40.3mpg/183g/km in auto.
Standard equipment on the LX includes keyless ignition, leather upholstery, electrically-adjusted and heated front seats, dual-zone climate control, bi-xenon headlamps with washers, privacy glass and a 6.1-inch touchscreen infotainment system with DAB, Bluetooth connectivity and satellite navigation. Comfort-oriented “Touring” suspension is also bundled in and when equipped with the five-speed automatic transmission driven here, the LX version adds an upgraded seven-inch infotainment system and transmission paddle gear shifters.
The five-speed auto is reasonable, albeit with a little delay between shifts, and makes for a less tiring drive than the manual version, but is no match for the consummately smooth eight-speed automatic derivative of the facelifted Volkswagen Amarok, which has raised the bar across the sector.
Where the Fullback, like the L200, wins out is in its maneouverability, which is a boon to city-based operators and makes life easier when required to tackle a series of hairpin bends, perhaps when engaged in forestry or utility work, for example. It has a turning circle of 11.8m curb-to-curb, which is tighter than the Isuzu D-max (12.2m), the Navara, Toyota Hilux and Ford Ranger (all 12.4m) and the Amarok (13m).
But it loses out when it comes to brute strength, while its payload of 1050kg is on a par with the competition, a towing capacity of 3.1-tonnes falls short of the sector leaders, the Ranger, D-max and Navara, which can all pull 3.5-tonnes.
|Fiat Professional Fullback 2.4 180hp LX Auto|
|Price (ex VAT) 24,395|
|Price range (ex VAT) 20,995-24,395|
|Load length 1470mm|
|Load width (min/max) 1041mm/1470mm|
|Gross payload 1050kg|
|Engine size/power 2442/180hp|
|On sale July 2016|
|Combined fuel economy 39.2mpg|
The Fiat Professional Fullback is based upon one of the sector’s leading models but the brand may struggle to gain a foothold in a competitive market