The little Fiat is more than just a city van as Steve Banner gets in it for the long haul on an epic round trip to Ireland.
It’s a long way from Ross-on-Wye in Herefordshire to Belfast – over 360 miles, including the ferry crossing. Criss-crossing Northern Ireland and venturing across the border into the Republic of Ireland (easy enough at present, maybe less so once we’ve left the European Union) means that the long-term test Fiorino Cargo has now clocked up a fair few miles.
It’s done upwards of 7,500 over a mixture of routes embracing everywhere from Liverpool city centre to rural County Fermanagh, and for much of that time it has had some weight in the back – everything from building materials to domestic waste. During all those trips it has never missed a beat, happily trundling on and off ferries and up and down muddy country lanes, and has not developed any of the squeaks, creaks and groans that I feared it might after an extended work-out.
My view of the little van hasn’t changed all that much since I first drove it.
It handles well and its compact dimensions and manoeuvrability make it ideal for use in urban environments. At the same time, the Fiorino Cargo Adventure’s extra ground clearance, underfloor protection including a front skid plate, mud and snow tyres and Traction+ electronic diff lock give it an edge in the countryside.
I thought long hauls up the M6 might prompt me to mourn the lack of a sixth gear, but they didn’t, and the fuel economy remains perfectly respectable.
On the downside it is not the quickest van on the highway (the engine hasn’t loosened up to the extent that I hoped it would), it doesn’t ride especially well, the radio reception is poor, and I remain unhappy with the satnav, mainly because of the size of the touch screen.
Furthermore, the alarm sounds occasionally for no readily discernible reason. When I turn it off, a display on the dashboard tells me that there has been an attempted break-in, even though I know that is not the case. The presence of a solid, full-height bulkhead does, of course, mean that anybody who managed to force their way into the cab would not be able to get at anything in the cargo area.
On a completely different tack, if you go to Belfast and head past the Titanic Experience, you will come to HMS Caroline (see below).
Moored in the Alexandra Dock, and recently restored thanks to a £12.5m grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, she’s a 4,000t light cruiser launched in 1914 and the last survivor of the 1916 Battle of Jutland. Worth a visit if you are ever in the vicinity.
A less-glamorous task than hauling bags of old roofing felt taken off a garden shed to a council tip is hard to imagine. The felt was accompanied by various bits and pieces of ancient electrical equipment destined to be recycled plus a time-served garden plant trough with several large cracks in it.
Throwing all this rubbish into a Fiorino Cargo is a doddle thanks to a low loading height courtesy of front-wheel drive and access to the load area from three sides. Furthermore, a solid full-height bulkhead ensures you don’t end up wearing any of it if you brake too hard.
The tip in question is in the Forest of Dean, well-known for its steep hills.
I had to work hard with the Fiorino Cargo’s five-speed gearbox to get the best out of the engine and make decent progress up gradients, and thought twice about trying to overtake anybody where overtaking was possible given the little van’s less than brisk acceleration.
Fortunately, the gearbox delivers a smooth, unflustered change and the fact that there are five speeds rather than six isn’t really an issue even on the motorway.
I was also grateful once again for the raised suspension and presence of a front bumper with a skid-plate, both features of the Adventure specification. Like so much of the rest of the UK, the Forest of Dean’s highways boast plenty of potholes, and they multiply (rather like the local wild boar) once you venture onto any of the unclassified roads.
The van’s radio reception is no better, and I still can’t get on with the satnav – so it looks as though I’ll have to keep relying on my trusty Garmin. Park a van under a tree and you’re asking for trouble. I left the Fiorino Cargo overnight under an atlas cedar and returned to find it covered in needles. They got everywhere: in the well at the base of the windscreen where the wipers rest, under the bonnet, you name it.
The only way to shift them was to blast them away with a leaf blower. I got some funny looks but the majority of the needles disappeared and the Fiorino Cargo suffered no ill-effects whatsoever (although I’m still finding the odd needle stuck in the floor mat and in the rubber seals around the doors).
Blowing needles off the roof reminded me how substantial the Fiorino Cargo’s roof bars are – just what you need if you are looking for some extra carrying capacity.
Drive a small van equipped with aircon in years past and you could pretty much guarantee it would be ineffective.
Stuck in traffic on the motorway on a sultry, clammy day, you would turn it on expecting to be cooled down instantly, but would remain hot and sweaty as the system wheezed away arthritically to no good purpose. How times change.
When I switched the Fiorino Cargo’s optional aircon on fully during the baking hot days of mid-to late June I was rewarded with a very welcoming, arctic blast through the cab’s dashboard-mounted vents within seconds. The solid, full-height bulkhead means you can turn the cab into your own private fridge and stops the system over-reaching itself by trying to chill the load area too.
Nor are you punished by noticeably higher fuel consumption. Okay, opting for air-conditioning will cost you an extra £500 and in Britain’s climate you won’t need it all the time, but it’s a boon when the tarmac starts to melt, and in my view the extra money for such an effective package is money well spent
I’m steadily settling in to day-to-day living with the highly manoeuvrable Adventure, which is proving to be a perfectly competent urban and rural workhorse. Poor radio reception is starting to be an annoyance though. Furthermore, having to rely on the small five-inch touchscreen has caused me to abandon the optional built-in satnav system and use my portable Garmin instead should I have to go anywhere unfamiliar.
At least there is a 12V power point I can plug it into, although that means I have to trail a lead down the dashboard and past the gear and handbrake levers. The other drawback is that the windscreen ends up being decorated with the distinctive round mark left by the sucker used to attach my trusty Garmin satnav to the glass.
The Garmin is always removed when I’m not in the vehicle, but that mark looks set to act as a magnet for every thief in the district who might just want to see if I’ve left it in the glove compartment. Note to self: must remember to clean it off.
The unglazed rear doors and the equally opaque bulkhead mean that the optional reversing sensors are proving to be a boon. So is the Adventure’s healthy fuel economy, which almost matches the official combined figure, something that only happens rarely. It is particularly surprising given that a five- rather than a six-speed ’box is fitted. As yet I’m not particularly missing the extra cog and the gear-change is user-friendly.
Peering into the load area, I can’t quite figure out why Fiat Professional has opted to install six load tie-down points. Four in such a small cargo compartment is surely more than sufficient – or am I nit-picking for no good reason?
Standing back from Fiorino for a moment at the Three Counties Showground in Worcestershire having loaded it with enough plants to re-stock Kew Gardens – three cheers for the presence of a sliding door on each side of the cargo area – I cannot help but think what a handsome-looking little van it is. Maybe it’s the front skid plate, maybe it’s the wheels, maybe it’s the roof rails, maybe it’s the combination of all three – but there is no denying that this light commercial looks the business.
A long hike from Herefordshire to Peterborough then back to Herefordshire via Cambridge has given us a better idea of how well our little 95hp Adventure copes with seemingly interminable journeys from one side of the country to the other.
We gave it an especially good workout because our route included A and B roads as well as motorways and dual-carriageways, all topped off by a couple of trundles around city centres. The score card is by and large fairly positive.
Raising the suspension has thankfully not upset the Adventure’s handling. Behaving for all the world like an overgrown racing go-kart, it hangs on tightly through curves and seems unlikely to come unstuck unless you do something foolish.
The seats might prevent you from doing so. One passenger complained that the seat back failed to hug her into place sufficiently, which meant she slid from one side to the other whenever the driver took a bend quickly.
The suspension finds uneven road surfaces a bit of a challenge and acceleration from rest and up through the gears is a tad sluggish. Things should hopefully improve once we’ve covered a few more miles.
The Adventure’s gearchange is smooth enough and – perhaps surprisingly – we felt no urgent need of a sixth gear during recent runs down the M4 and M5 motorways. It’s early days, but the little van’s fuel economy looks respectable, and comes close to the official combined figure.
Put the Adventure into an urban setting and you soon discover how remarkably manoeuvrable it is. Its compact dimensions make it easy for the driver to dodge down side streets and squeeze into tight parking spaces.
Fiat Professional should be applauded for achieving Euro6 without having to oblige drivers to top up an AdBlue reservoir every so often. A diesel particulate filter is installed, however, which will need keeping an eye on to ensure it does not become blocked.
Less pleasing is the level of in-cab noise. Better sound insulation would be welcome and would mean the radio didn’t have to be turned up so frequently, or so loudly
Should all vans be like our long-term Fiorino Cargo Adventure and come with raised suspension and extra underside protection?
I was prompted to ask myself whether this might be a good idea by the loud bang that emanated from beneath the Adventure as I gingerly negotiated one of Herefordshire’s many sorely neglected rural side roads.
A deep, water-filled, pothole I’d managed to dip into retaliated by landing what sounded like a hefty smack on the little van’s front skid plate. I stopped, climbed out of the cab, and took a look at the plate expecting to find it severely dented. All I saw was mud, splashes of dirty water and a few barely visible scratches.
Which goes to show that the little Fiat is more substantially constructed than I had thought. I can’t help but wonder how much damage might have been done to a standard Fiorino Cargo with a lower ride height.
Happily, the Adventure’s optional burnished alloy wheels escaped unscathed. They look great, but I still cling to the view that alloys on a van are ill-advised given how likely they are to get bashed.
Some van drivers occasionally need to head into a muddy field or pull onto a building site. In most cases they do not need four-wheel-drive.
What they could do with, though, is just a touch more traction and raised underfloor clearance in case the going gets a bit sticky.
That’s where Fiat Professional’s Fiorino Cargo Adventure has a role to play. One of our long-term test vans, and newly arrived, it comes with raised suspension, mud and snow tyres, a front bumper with a skid plate, extra body protection and a Traction+ electronic diff lock.
The smallest van in the Fiat Professional line-up, the Fiorino Cargo can be ordered without all this kit and in a variety of other trims. They are Standard, Ecojet (put together with low CO2 in mind), SX and Tecnico, and you can order the Fiorino as a Combi too.
Power comes courtesy of an 80hp or 95hp 1.3-litre Multijet II diesel. A 75hp 1.4-litre petrol power pack is available as an alternative and a five-speed manual gearbox is fitted across the range.
Opt for Adventure and you benefit from electric windows and mirrors – the latter are equipped with heaters – a 12V power socket and a radio with a (rather small) five-inch Bluetooth-enabled touchscreen.
Our long-termer boasts a variety of options such as satnav. Other options fitted include reversing sensors, manual aircon, front fog lights and a USB charging point between the seats.
While overall quality seems good, the fact that the glove box lid doesn’t fit properly indicates that there are still one or two issues that need to be addressed. That said, the glove box itself is capacious and lockable.
Other storage facilities include a shelf at the bottom of the dashboard plus a bin in each door complete with a moulding designed to hold a small bottle of water or a soft drink can. There is a split tray on top of the dash plus another tray between the seats, along with a couple of cup-holders.
Rear access to the 2.5m3 load bay is by means of twin, opaque, asymmetric doors – the narrower of the two is on the offside – which can be swung through 90°. Undo the easy-to-release stays and they can be pushed through 180 degrees.
A sliding nearside door is included in the deal and our van is equipped with an optional offside door too. Whichever door you open, you will see six tie-down rings set into a cargo bed covered by a tailored mat. Half-height panels defend the doors against scratches and scrapes but the load bay’s sides and wheel boxes remain exposed to casual damage.
There’s a robust-looking, full-height, unglazed steel bulkhead. It is an option that replaces the standard ladder-style partition and bulges backwards into the load area to accommodate the van’s front seats.
The Adventure also comes with some substantial-looking longitudinal roof rails. Finally, Fiat Professional should be applauded for achieving Euro6 without having to oblige drivers to top up an AdBlue reservoir every so often. A diesel particulate filter is installed, however, which will need keeping an eye on to ensure it does not get blocked.